Ed Gein: Stories, Trivia, And Facts You Didn't Know Until Now
Ed Gein: The Wisconsin cannibal. The hungriest mama's boy of the 20th century. He's long-held a strange place in Americana, but no one living in Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1940s and '50s gave him a second look. He was a shy and quiet man who was devoted to his mother, a browbeating woman who was, let's face it, a bit of a prude. She was such a larger-than-life figure in Gein's brain that when she passed away, it finally broke the 41-year-old man. He boarded up her bedroom and the living room, choosing to live in squalor in the rest of the house. More troubling was his new routine of making the local graveyard his playground, and not in a fun, goth way, but it would still be nine more years before he committed his first murder. Gein's gruesome crimes have inspired writers and filmmakers from the moment stories about his home hit the papers, and they're still as horrifying today as they were in 1957.
Gein murdered two women and exhumed multiple corpses
On November 16, 1957, Gein went to a Plainfield hardware store, where he shot Bernice Worden, the store’s owner, through the head. He claimed that he fired on her accidentally while looking at a rifle, but either way, he admitted that he pulled the trigger. That evening, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, who just happened to be Bernice's son, found his mother's store in disarray and a sales receipt for a gallon of antifreeze that led him straight to the Gein house. There, a Waushara County sheriff's deputy found Worden's body hung upside and "dressed out like a deer," and Gein was arrested at a grocery store later that evening.
While in police custody, Gein confessed that between 1947 and 1952, he made at least 40 visits to local cemeteries, where he exhumed freshly buried bodies, brought them home, and tanned their skins to make various household objects. He also admitted to shooting and killing tavern owner Mary Hogan, a woman who'd been missing since 1954, although he claimed to not remember how she died. The gunshot seems like a safe bet, but you know how these things go.
Authorities found Gein's collection of human body parts while digging through his house
When police investigated Gein's home, they must have felt like they were walking through an especially depraved and realistic-looking haunted house. Every room that wasn't boarded up was filled with pulp comics about cannibals and Nazis, a countless number of bones, and skulls impaled on every piece of furniture that had a post. The rundown of what Gein had in his home is as mind-boggling as it is gruesome: masks made of human skin, various heads in various containers, face and hand parts scattered about, and somehow, a shoebox full of vulvas. Gein crafted nearly all of the items in his home from human skin, including a belt made from human nipples, a window shade drawstring made from a pair of lips, and a "woman suit."
Gein was still obsessed with his mother long after she passed
Certain people loom large in our lives, and for Ed Gein, it was his mother. The aforementioned "woman suit" was really more of a corset and a pair of leggings fashioned out of human skin, but semantics aside, Gein would often get into the "suit" so he could metaphorically crawl into his mother's skin and become her. When asked if his fascination with his mother or the women's corpses was sexual, however, Gein recoiled. He told the authorities that he never had sex with the bodies because they "smelled too bad." A man's gotta have standards.
Gein didn't go to trial until 1968
It's important to keep in mind that serial killers weren't a thing in 1957. The authorities at the time didn't even have the terminology to describe these kinds of crimes, and the Waushara County Sheriff's Department was thoroughly out of their depth with this investigation. Waushara County Sheriff Art Schley allegedly got so frustrated that he assaulted Gein by smashing his face into a brick wall during questioning, which made his first confession inadmissible.
Nevertheless, Gein was arraigned on November 21, 1957, on one count of first-degree murder. He pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity and subsequently took a vacation at the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was diagnosed as schizophrenic and declared mentally incompetent to stand trial. He was later transferred to the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Nine years later, Gein was judged to have regained whatever mental competence he'd once possessed, and while on the stand, he admitted to killing Worden and Hogan. A judge found him guilty but legally insane, so Gein spent the rest of his life institutionalized. He passed away from liver cancer and respiratory failure on July 26, 1984, at the age of 77.
Ed Gein, cultural influencer
Paradoxically, Gein's crimes were so horrific that it's hard not to find his story alluring. It's easy to see why it inspired such films as Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, and Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. While most of the villains of these movies bear only the vaguest resemblance to Gein, Buffalo Bill of The Silence of the Lambs is jarringly similar. He even had a woman suit.
Werner Herzog and Errol Morris had a plan to dig up Gein's mother's grave
Errol Morris, the documentary filmmaker behind The Thin Blue Line, was obsessed with Ed Gein, specifically the pathology and methodology of his crimes. He spent a couple of years living in Plainfield, Wisconsin, going so far as to rent a room near where Gein lived in the 1950s. In the process of conducting interviews about Gein, Morris found out that the graves Gein dug up formed a perfect circle around his mother's. It was believed that while pillaging graves, Gein dug a tunnel beneath the cemetery leading to his mother so he could take her body back to his farmhouse without anyone being the wiser.
Coincidentally, director Werner Herzog soon came to town to film his movie Stroszek. Morris told him about the rumor, and the two hatched a plan to dig up Gein's mother's grave to see what, if anything, was in there. It's not clear when Herzog and Morris were planning on doing this, but the story goes that Herzog showed up with a shovel in hand but Morris chickened out, so they never carried out their ghoulish plan. They did, however, find out which of them was the bigger weirdo, and that's probably just as useful.