Ed Gein was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin on August 21, 1906 (Woods 8). His father later moved the family to Plainfield, Wisconsin (Woods 9). Gein had one brother named Henry (Woods 6). Their father was an alcoholic and their mother was a strict believer in God and doing the right thing. Their mother impressed on them the importance of marriage before sex. In 1940, Ed’s father died.
Even though he was thirty-four, Gein was still living on the farm with his mother and brother (Woods 22). In 1944, Henry Gein asked Ed to help him do some controlled burning on a marsh on the family’s property. Ed had taken care of his part of the burning and went looking for his brother, but could not find him. Ed organized a search party, but they found nothing. On his way back to the house, Ed found Henry laying on a brush pile, dead.
Ed attributed the death to heart attack or smoke inhalation, and the idea of an accident was accepted by all. No autopsy was performed. Some people believe that this may have been the beginning of Ed’s killing spree(Woods 23). The next year, 1945, Ed’s mother suffered a stroke. Ed says it was because of the way his neighbors constantly argued and how much it upset his mother. Ed was in charge of taking care of his mother.
He took care of her for a period at the farm but could not handle it and was forced to put her into a hospital. Soon after, she had a second stoke and died (Woods 34). This left Ed alone. He began reading books about the female anatomy and became very interested in adventure stories involving head hunter and cannibals. At one point, a well-meaning person brought him back two shrunken heads from the Philippines. Ed found them very interesting and showed them off to many people in the community.
As time went on he also became interested in the preservation of the human body after death and read books on the subject (Gollmar 74). In 1947, Ed began robbing graves in three local cemeteries. Sometimes he would take the whole body and sometimes just parts. His favorite part was usually the head of the dead person (Gollmar 58). He would cut it from the body in the cemetery and take it back to his house.
When there, he would make a death mask. He would remove the skin from the bone and stuff the skin with tissue paper and saw dust. When the police searched his house, they found approximately ten of these masks scattered around the home of Ed Gein (Portrait of a Killer 40). In 1954, Ed committed the first murder he admits to. Mary Hogan, the owner and operator of a local tavern was killed.
She was shot and her head was possibly cut off at the scene. At the scene, the police found a large pool of blood but no drag marks. Therefore Mary Hogan had been carried from the bar. After Gein had been caught, the police realized he was too small too carry the large stature of Mary Hogan from the scene and believed he may have had an accomplice for this murder and the grave robbings, but Gein constantly denied this (Gollmar 89).
Ed Gein had few close friends. However, after he was caught a man who was believed to be Gein’s best friend became violently mentally ill and was committed to a mental hospital. He died in the hospital a short time later. The police think he may have been Gein’s accomplice in the murder of Mary Hogan (Gollmar 45). Ed Gein’s final victim was a local shop owner named Bernice Worden.
The killing took place on November 16, 1957. It was opening day of deer season so very few men or women were around town. Gein came into the store to buy anti-freeze for his car. He also wanted to buy a new . 22 caliber gun.
Gein had a . 22 shell in his coat pocket. He loaded it into the gun and shot Worden once. He then either cut off her head or slit her throat, making a large pool of blood in the store. Gein then dragged her out the back of the store and put her in the hardware store truck.
Gein drove out to a secluded area and parked the truck. He then walked back to the store and got his own truck and transferred the body from one to the other. Now it was time for Ed to do his work (House of Horrors 30). Once the body had arrived at the Gein farm Ed put it into a farm, shed and butchered it.
He cut a hole above the Achilles tendon on each leg and then inserted a stick trough the hole then tied the legs near the ankles to the end of the stick. Then he tied her hands together at the wrists and tied these to the stick also. Gein then disemboweled Worden. This is described by Dr. Eigenberger in the autopsy report. “The body was opened by median incision from the manubrium sterni and extending in the midline to the area just above the mons veneris.
Here the cut circled around the external genitalia for the complete removal of the vulva, lower vagina, and the anus with the lowest portion of the rectum. To accomplish this, the symhysis pubis had been split and the pubic bone widely separated” (Gollmar). Gein was found at his house having just finished supper. He was taken into custody. Now the search of Ed’s collection would soon begin.
The Gein house was without electricity, so before the search could begin, the authorities were forced to bring in many generators and flashlights. As they searched the house occasionally officers left and became violently ill because of what they saw inside. In combination with the newly killed body of Bernice Worden, the police found Ed’s collection of masks. Also, it appeared Ed had removed the genitals of some of his other victims, either ones he killed or ones he exhumed from the cemetery. Also they found Ed’s bed. It was a standard bed except on all four posts sat the skull of a human.
The police found two chairs that had been upholstered with the skin of human beings along with a lamp shade made of human skin. In the kitchen the men found containers made of the skull caps of the humans which Gein used as bowls or glasses for eating. Most disturbing of all the things found was the suit Gein had made. It was the full torso of a woman. The skin had been tanned. ! Gein admitted to putting it on at night and dancing around in his backyard.
Also at night, he would put on the death masks he had made of people. They also found a belt made of the nipples of the women he had killed. Even with all the female body parts and other things Gein sternly denied necrophilia. He said he would never do that because of the repulsive smell the dead people had (Gollmar 30-42). As the trial came around, the judge thought it fit to first have a sanity hearing. In this case four psychiatrists were consulted to decide if Ed knew the difference between right and wrong.
Three out of four found him insane. Gein reported times of memory lapses and other things that led to the decision. One of the doctors E. F. Schubert was quoted in court as saying, “It is considered opinion of the staff of Central State Hospital the Mr.
Gein is legally insane. He felt he had no real choice in the matter Mrs. Worden’s death (Gollmar 81). This was something that was to happen and he was the agent that carried it out. . .
We reached the conclusion that this is an illness that has been going on for a number of years, probably for at least twelve years, and his is a chronic mental disorder”(Gollmar 84). The one person who found him mentally sane was Dr. Edward M. Burns. He said, “Mr.
Gein is not feebleminded or mentally deficient, but he is chronically mentally ill. . . h! e however can cooperate with his counsel and therefore is legally sane” (Gollmar 89).
Judge Herbert A. Bunde declared Gein legally insane and sent to Central State Hospital at Waupaun for an indeterminate stay. On January 16, 1968, Edward Gein was tried again for murder and found guilty. He was sent back to Central State(Gollmar 181).
Gein remained in Central State until his death in 1985. During his stay he had the occasion to be interviewed again. His ideas on the murder had not changed since the trial in 1957 and the trial in 1968. One of the questions that still remains is how many people Gein really killed. When the police were searching the house, they found the remains of two females that were approximately the age of 15.
There were no women in this age range buried in the cemetery so many people believe he may have killed these two girls. Some also believe his motive for murdering people was money. He is also believed to have killed two hunters from Chicago that were brandishing large amounts of money. One evening in a bar, patrons say Gein offered to be their hunting guide and they were never seen again. Some also believe he killed his brother so that he would get the entire inheritance when his mother died (Gollmar 86-92).
The story of Ed Gein is riddled with mystery and suspicion. How could he have dug up the graves himself? Did he have an accomplice? Was Gein a cannibal? This is obviously a very odd case. Three movies, Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Silence of the Lambs, were based on Gein’s case. This case is the most bizarre case of serial murder in the history of America, if not the World (Gollmar 108,126,156).