Most of us are familiar with the movie, “Silence of The Lambs,” and the character, killer Buffalo Bill. Michael Myers, Jason Voorhees and similar horror movie characters, have scared us into a box office frenzy. During the prologue and epilogue of the horror classic, “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” we see the phrase, “based on actual events.” The mere idea that any of these occurrences may have actually taken place is enough to shake the average person to their core. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how you look at it; there was not a family of cannibals in Texas that used human meat in their chili recipes. However, all of these stories do have something in common. These as well as most modern slasher flicks were created based loosely on the life and acts of one man, Ed Gein.
Born August 27, 1906, researching Ed Gein was a true excursion into the macabre. Raised on a farm in Plainfield, Wisconsin, Ed experienced a peculiar relationship with his mother Augusta. Augusta Gein taught her two boys, Edward and Henry that all women (except herself) were naturally prostitutes and instruments of the devil; similar to the mother/son relationship depicted in the motion picture franchise, “Psycho.” During their youth, the Gein boys were allowed to leave the farm for the sole purpose of attending school as she demanded their presence, (especially that of Ed) constantly. Augusta, a strict and overbearing woman, openly and regularly belittled her husband George in the presence of Ed and Henry. George Gein was an alcoholic and seldom remained employed for any considerable amount of time. Augusta hated her husband and felt that her children were destined to follow in his footsteps.
In May of 1944, Henry and Ed were burning trash. As the two men worked the fire got out of control and drew the immediate attention of the local fire department. Working feverishly, the firemen soon extinguish the blaze. After all the smoke is cleared, Ed finds that his brother Henry is now missing. With the assistance of several sheriffs’ deputies, a search is begun for the missing Henry Gein. Late that evening his body is found face down in the brush. Initially, due to the lack of any visible injuries, it was thought that Henry died due to heart failure and paperwork was officially documented death from natural causes. However, though it was never publicized, bruises were later found on Henry’s head leading some investigators to believe that Ed had actually killed Henry. This would not be the last time Ed Gein was suspected of murder.
After the passing of Henry, the relationship between Ed and Augusta become more and more strange. Ed also develops an interest in the occult. He began purchasing books, items and relics relating to death cults, cannibalism and Nazis. In 1945 Augusta has a stroke, soon followed by a second; on December 29, 1945, Augusta Gein died. It was at this time that Ed Gein would depart on a one way journey into depravity.
Between 1947 and 1957 several disappearances occurred in and around Plainfield. Witnesses also claim that Ed Gein was seen countless times visiting various cemeteries in the area. The mystery surrounding the activities of Ed Gein would come to light with the 1957 disappearance of Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden. Worden’s son told investigators that Gein was the last person in the store the evening before the disappearance, saying he would return the next morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. A register receipt confirmed that Gein indeed return for the anti-freeze in the morning and Worden had not been seen since.
After obtaining a warrant to search Gein’s property, investigators found Worden’s decapitated body in a shed, hung upside down by ropes at her wrists, with a crossbar at her ankles. She had been gutted like an animal that had been hunted. Officers then searched the home of Ed Gein; below is a list of what was found:
- Four noses
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Nine masks of human skin
- Bowls made from human skulls
- Ten female heads with the tops sawn off
- Human skin covering several chair seats
- Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag
- Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack
- Nine vulvae in a shoe box
- A belt made from female human nipples
- Skulls on his bedposts
- A pair of lips on a drawstring for a window shade
- A lampshade made from the skin of a human face
- Shrunken heads human facial skins, carefully peeled from corpses and used by Gein as masks
During questioning Gein told investigators that since his mother’s death, he had decided that he wanted to be a woman. He then struck upon the idea of creating a woman suit out of the skin of female carcasses. He confessed to digging up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother. Gein would rob the graves, take the bodies home, skin and tan the hides to create his suit. Of the disappearances, Gein would admit to the murders of Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan only. Investigators site the reason for his admission to these murders as due to their heads being found in his possession.
On November 21, 1957 the trial of Ed Gein began. He was found at the time to be legally insane and unfit to stand trial. Gein was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane until 1968 when was determined he was sane enough to stand trial. He was found guilty of one count of first degree murder but also diagnosed as legally insane due to schizophrenia and spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory failure at the Mendota Mental Health Institute.