Edward Theodore GEIN
A.K.A.: "The Plainfield Ghoul"
Number of victims: 2 +
Date of murders: December 8, 1954 / November 16, 1957
Date of arrest: November 17, 1957
Date of birth: August 27, 1906
Victims profile: Mary Hogan, 54 (tavern owner) / Bernice C. Worden, 58 (hardware store owner)
Method of murder: Shooting (.22-caliber rifle)
Location: Plainfield, Wisconsin, USA
Status: Sentenced to life imprisonment, 1968. Found not guilty by reason of insanity and acquitted. Transferred to mental hospital. Died on July 26, 1984
Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein (August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984) was an American murderer and body snatcher. His crimes, which he committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, garnered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin.
After police found body parts in his house in 1957, Gein confessed to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, in 1957. Initially found unfit to stand trial, following confinement in a mental health facility, he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital.
The body of Bernice Worden was found in Gein's shed; her head and the head of Mary Hogan were found inside his house. Robert H. Gollmar, the judge in the Gein case, wrote: "Due to prohibitive costs, Gein was tried for only one murder—that of Mrs. Worden."
With fewer than three murders attributed, Gein does not meet the traditional definition of a serial killer. Regardless, his real-life case influenced the creation of several fictional serial killers, including Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Norman Bates from Psycho and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs.
Gein was born in La Crosse County, Wisconsin. His parents, George and Augusta Gein both natives of Wisconsin, had two sons: Henry George Gein, and his younger brother, Edward Theodore Gein. Despite Augusta's deep contempt for her husband, the marriage persisted because of the family's religious belief about divorce. Augusta Gein operated a small grocery store and eventually purchased a farm on the outskirts of the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, which then became the Gein family's permanent home.
Augusta Gein moved to this location to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons. Edward Gein left the premises only to go to school. Besides school, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta Gein, a fervent Lutheran, preached to her boys the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and the belief that all women (herself excluded) were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. She reserved time every afternoon to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting graphic verses from the Old Testament dealing with death, murder, and divine retribution.
With an effeminate demeanor, the younger Gein became a target for bullies. Classmates and teachers recalled off-putting mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he were laughing at his own personal jokes. To make matters worse, his mother scolded him whenever he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading.
Gein tried to make his mother happy, but she was rarely pleased with her boys. She often abused them, believing that they were destined to become failures like their father. During their teens and throughout their early adulthood, the boys remained detached from people outside of their farmstead, and so had only each other for company.
Deaths of family members
After George Gein died of a heart attack in 1940, the Gein brothers began working at odd jobs to help with expenses. Both brothers were considered reliable and honest by residents of the community. While both worked as handymen, Ed Gein also frequently babysat for neighbors. He enjoyed babysitting, seeming to relate more easily to children than adults. Henry Gein began to reject his mother's view of the world and worried about his brother Ed's attachment to her. He spoke ill of her around his brother.
On May 16, 1944, a brush fire burned close to the farm, and the Gein brothers went out to extinguish it. Reportedly, the brothers were separated, and as night fell, Ed Gein lost sight of his brother. When the fire was extinguished, he reported to the police that his brother was missing. When a search party was organized, Gein led them directly to his missing brother, who lay dead on the ground. The police had concerns about the circumstances under which the body was discovered. The ground on which Henry Gein lay was untouched by fire, and he had bruises on his head. Despite this, the police dismissed the possibility of foul play and the county coroner listed asphyxiation as the cause of death. Although some investigators suspected that Ed Gein killed his brother, no charges were filed against him.
After his brother's death, Gein lived alone with his mother, who died on December 29, 1945, following a series of strokes, at which time Gein "lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world."
Gein remained on the farm, supporting himself with earnings from odd jobs. He boarded up rooms used by his mother, including the upstairs, downstairs parlor, and living room, leaving them untouched. He lived in a small room next to the kitchen. Gein became interested in reading death-cult magazines and adventure stories.
On November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared, and police had reason to suspect Gein. Worden's son had told investigators that Gein had been in the store the evening before the disappearance, saying he would return the following morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. A sales slip for a gallon of anti-freeze was the last receipt written by Worden on the morning she disappeared.
Upon searching Gein's property, investigators discovered Worden's decapitated body in a shed, hung upside down by ropes at her wrists, with a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was "dressed out" like that of a deer. She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations performed after death.
Searching the house, authorities found:
Whole human bones and fragments
Nine masks of human skin
Bowls made from human skulls
Ten female heads with the tops sawed off
Human skin covering several chair seats
Mary Hogan's head in a paper bag
Bernice Worden's head in a burlap sack
Nine vulvas in a shoe box
Skulls on his bedposts
Organs in the refrigerator
A pair of lips on a draw string for a windowshade
A belt made from human female nipples
A lampshade made from the skin from a human face
These artifacts were photographed at the crime lab and then were properly destroyed.
When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies while he was in a "daze-like" state. On about 30 of those visits, he said he had come out of the daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order, and returned home empty handed.
On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins to make his paraphernalia. Gein admitted robbing nine graves, leading investigators to their locations. Because authorities were uncertain as to whether the slight Gein was capable of single-handedly digging up a grave in a single evening, they exhumed two of the graves and found them empty, thus corroborating Gein's confession.
Shortly after his mother's death, Gein had decided he wanted a sex change and began to create a "woman suit" so he could pretend to be a female. Gein's practice of donning the tanned skins of women was described as an "insane transvestite ritual". Gein denied having sex with the bodies he exhumed, explaining, "They smelled too bad." During interrogation, Gein also admitted to the shooting death of Mary Hogan, a tavern operator missing since 1954.
A 16-year-old youth whose parents were friends of Gein, and who attended ball games and movies with Gein, reported that he was aware of the shrunken heads, which Gein had described as relics from the Philippines sent by a cousin who had served in World War II. Upon investigation by the police, these were determined to be human facial skins, carefully peeled from cadavers and used as masks by Gein.
Waushara County sheriff Art Schley allegedly physically assaulted Gein during questioning by banging Gein's head and face into a brick wall, causing Gein's initial confession to be ruled inadmissible. Schley died of a heart attack in December 1968, at age 43, only a month after testifying at Gein's trial. Many who knew him said he was traumatized by the horror of Gein's crime and that this, along with the fear of having to testify (especially about assaulting Gein), led to his early death. One of his friends said "He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him."
On November 21, 1957, Gein was arraigned on one count of first degree murder in Waushara County Court, where he entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Found mentally incompetent and thus unfit to stand trial, Gein was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (now the Dodge Correctional Institution), a maximum-security facility in Waupun, Wisconsin, and later transferred to the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1968, Gein's doctors determined he was sane enough to stand trial. The trial began on November 14, 1968, lasting one week. He was found guilty of first-degree murder by Judge Robert H. Gollmar, but because he was found to be legally insane, he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital.
On March 20, 1958, while Gein was in detention, his house burned to the ground. Arson was suspected. When Gein learned of the incident, he shrugged and said "Just as well."
In 1958, Gein's car, which he had used to haul the bodies of his victims, was sold at a public auction for $760 ($5,718 when accounting for inflation) to carnival sideshow operator Bunny Gibbons. Gibbons later charged carnival goers 25¢ admission to see it.
On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer in Goodland Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. His grave site in the Plainfield cemetery was frequently vandalized over the years; souvenir seekers chipped off pieces of his gravestone before the bulk of it was stolen in 2000. The gravestone was recovered in June 2001 near Seattle and is now in a museum in Waushara County.
Impact in popular culture
The story of Ed Gein has had a lasting impact on popular culture as evidenced by its numerous appearances in movies, music and literature. Gein's story was adapted into a number of movies, including Deranged (1974), In the Light of the Moon (2000, later retitled Ed Gein for the U.S. market), and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007). Gein influenced the nature of book and film characters, most notably such fictional serial killers as Norman Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs).
At the time, the news reports of Gein's crimes spawned a subgenre of black humor. Since the 1950s, Gein has frequently been exploited in transgressive art or shock rock, often with no connection to his life or crimes beyond the shock value of his name.
A biographical musical titled "Ed Gein: the Musical" premiered on January 2, 2010 in Menasha, Wisconsin.
BBC – Crime Case Closed
When Arthur Schley arrived at a Wisconsin farmhouse on the evening of 17 November 1957 he was in for a very nasty surprise...
Mr Schley, a sheriff from the nearby town of Plainfield, was investigating the disappearance of 58-year-old shopkeeper Bernice Worden. Evidence from her store, a receipt found on the floor near a trail of blood and a missing cash till, had led him to the farmhouse.
The owner, 51-year-old Ed Gein, was not in but Sheriff Schley had a warrant to search the premises. As he walked through the trash in the darkened kitchen he brushed into something hanging from the ceiling.
He turned and shone his torch on the object.
It was a naked human carcass, beheaded, disembowelled and hung upside down from a ceiling beam. Mr Schley gagged at the sight of it but managed to avoid throwing up. The carcass turned out to be the freshly gutted remains of Mrs Worden and police found her head in a burlap sack in another part of the house.
Nails had been hammered through each ear and tied together with twine, as if in readiness for the head to be hung up as a trophy. Detectives spent the entire night, and the next day, trawling through the house. What they found marked a horrific new low in the annals of American crime.
Somebody had been using female body parts to fashion a series of ghoulish artefacts. A belt had been studded with nipples, a soup bowl had been created out of the top of a skull and lampshades and chairs had been fashioned out of human skin. Police found a box full of noses, a curtain pull with a pair of women's lips sewed into it.
A shoebox under the bed contained dried female genitalia and hanging up in the closet was a "shirt" made of human skin, complete with a pair of breasts. On the wall were the faces of nine women, carefully preserved and mounted like the bizarre collection of a human hunter.
Ed Gein had some serious explaining to do.
He was arrested and taken to Wautoma County jailhouse, where police interrogated him. Gein initially denied everything. But gradually he cracked.
He admitted killing Mrs Worden, who was shot in the head with a .22 calibre rifle and then dragged outside to his car and transported back to the farmhouse. Later he confessed to the murder, three years earlier, of Plainfield innkeeper Mary Hogan, who had vanished in mysterious circumstances.
But he said most of the body parts had actually been taken from the corpses of women he had dug up in the local cemetery. Detectives were unsure if Gein was telling the truth on this and thought he may be responsible for four other murders in central Wisconsin dating back to 1947.
Eight-year-old Georgia Weckler had gone missing on her way home school and Evelyn Hartley, 15, had been abducted while babysitting. Also listed as missing were two deer hunters, Victor Travis and Ray Burgess, who vanished in December 1952. But all the body parts in the house came from female adults, including Mrs Hogan, and no trace was ever found of the four missing people. Police exhumed the bodies of eight women at Plainfield cemetery and discovered they had all been mutilated. Body parts, including faces, breasts, genitalia and strips of skin, had been removed by someone who had carefully placed the bodies back in their coffins and replaced the earth to avoid suspicion.
It transpired that Gein and a trusted friend identified only as Gus, had made these nocturnal raids only hours after these women's funerals after reading their obituaries in the local newspaper. It appears he only began killing when Gus was moved to an old people's home and Gein was unable to carry out his nocturnal exertions alone.
Gein told detectives, in a conversational almost chatty way, how he would wear the human skin shirt around the house at night and often placed the female genitalia over his naked groin as if he were a woman.
Although he was almost certainly a virgin, Gein was obsessed by women and the sexual power they had over men. Psychiatrists later concluded he was clinically insane. But what had driven him mad? The answer, as is often the case, lay in his childhood.
Edward Theodore Gein was born on 27 August 1906 in the town of La Crosse, Wisconsin to George and Augusta Gein. He had an elder brother, Henry, who was seven years older. George Gein was a timid, weak character. He was a farmer and a feckless waster with a serious drink problem. But the more dominant influence in Ed's upbringing was his mother.
A powerful character with a puritanical view of life based on her fanatical Christianity, Augusta dominated the family and drummed into her sons the innate immorality of the world and the twin dangers of alcohol and loose women. She preached endlessly to her boys about the sins of lust and carnal desire and depicted all women, apart from herself, as whores.
Augusta's strict view of life sowed the seeds of sexual confusion in adolescent Ed. His natural attraction towards girls clashed with his mother's warnings of eternal damnation. A naturally shy and slightly effeminate boy, Ed never dated girls or had any healthy interaction with anyone of the opposite sex. Instead her nurtured a bizarre, almost Oedipal, devotion to his harridan of a mother.
Augusta Gein was not only a mother, wife and domestic rule-maker, but also the family breadwinner. She ran a grocery store in La Crosse, a growing metropolis on the banks of the upper Mississippi halfway between Milwaukee and Minneapolis. But in 1914 disgusted by the "depravity" of the town she decided to move the family to a 195-acre farm deep in rural Wisconsin, where the family lived quietly for a quarter of a century.
In 1940 George Gein died of a heart attack but his widow continued to live in the farmhouse with her grown-up sons, who worked as handymen in nearby Plainfield to pay the household bills. Henry hankered after a "normal" life, maybe a wife and children of his own, he would frequently bad-mouth his mother within earshot of Ed, who remained a stalwart devotee of the matriarch. In May 1944 a fire broke out in the brush near the Geins' farm.
When the fire department turned up Ed said his brother was missing but he led them directly to the spot where Henry lay, covered in soot. The police chose to ignore two marks on the back of his head and put Henry's death down to him being asphyxiated by fumes as he fought the fire. Whether Ed had anything to do with his brother's death remains a mystery to this day.
For a year Ed and his mother lived alone together in the big old farmhouse. Her health deteriorated and her moods would blow hot and cold. Sometimes she would berate him and accuse him of being a useless failure like his father. But at other times she would talk softly to him, tell him he was a "good boy" and even let him sleep in the same bed as her.
So when Augusta developed cancer and died on 29 December 1945 after a series of strokes Ed was devastated. He became increasingly deranged after her death. Gein left the rooms in the house, those he most closely associated with his mother, such as the sitting room and her bedroom, completely untouched, as shrines.
He confined himself mostly to the kitchen and a small utility room that he converted into a bedroom. These two rooms he filled with his reading material - anatomy books and pulp fiction, (mostly stories about wartime atrocities and South Sea cannibals). Ed went further and began to prowl the local cemetery, robbing the bodies of women after reading about their funerals in the local paper.
Mostly he chose older women, some of whom he knew vaguely, and went for plumper mature ladies who reminded him of his dear departed old mom.
Instead he cut faces, strips of skin, whole breasts and genitalia from the dead and fashioned them into hideous trophies, which were later found in his home. Visitors to the farmhouse, and there were few, occasionally caught glimpses of these morbid ornaments. But Ed, who continued to potter around town doing handyman chores, managed to laugh it off or claimed they were wartime souvenirs his cousin had found while fighting the Japanese in the Pacific.
His grave-robbing antics went unnoticed for years but in 1954 he was forced to give it up when his accomplice moved into a home. It was only then that he took to murder. After Ed Gein's arrest he was assessed as mentally unfit for trial and was committed to the Central State Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin.
With Gein away from the farm, the people of Plainfield were able to wreak their vengeance on his home, which had come to embody evil in their community. On the morning of 20 March 1958 firefighters dashed to the Gein farmhouse but were unable to save it from being razed to the ground by a blaze, which had almost certainly been started deliberately.
When told about the fire, Gein simply said: "Just as well".
Some of his possessions, including his 1949 Ford sedan, survived the fire and were sold off at auction. The car was bought by an entrepreneur who exhibited it at state fairs under the banner: "Come and see the Ghoul Car, in which Ed Gein transported his victims". It was not the only Gein commodity that made money.
His own story was the basis of the film Psycho, in which loner Norman Bates (played by Anthony Perkins) murders women out a deranged sense of loyalty to his dead mother. The film was an instant hit, became a classic, led to sequels and made the studio, which made it millions.
Parts of Gein's character were also an influence on Tobe Harris's classic 1973 horror movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, in which the killer Leatherface wears a mask made out of human skin, just like Gein did.
Then there was Silence of the Lambs, which featured a transvestite serial killer called Buffalo Bill who murders women for their skin and then dresses himself up in it. Finally, in 2000, came Ed Gein The Movie, which became a minor box office hit.
As for Gein himself, he was finally declared mentally competent to stand trial in November 1968. He was found guilty of the first degree murder of Bernice Worden but was found to have been insane at the time of the killing and was sent back to hospital in Waupun, much to the chagrin of the Worden family.
Gein was a docile and amenable patient who spent his time doing occupational therapy, rug making and stone polishing and developed an interest in being a radio ham. The head nurse said: "If all our patients were like him, we'd have no trouble at all." But some female members of staff recall feeling discomforted when they found Gein staring at them.
On 26 July 1984 Ed Gein died of cancer and was buried in Plainfield cemetery, right next to his mother and only yards from the graves he had robbed 30 years earlier. Ironically vandals later desecrated his grave.
Ed Gein remained for many years a bogeyman figure in much of America and his crimes still resonate today as an example of the nightmarish consequences which can follow on from a warped childhood.
This profile of Ed Gein was written by BBC News Online's Chris Summers.
by Rachael Bell
Buffalo Bill and "Psycho"
On November 17, 1957 police in Plainfield, Wisconsin arrived at the dilapidated farmhouse of Eddie Gein who was a suspect in the robbery of a local hardware store and disappearance of the owner, Bernice Worden. Gein had been the last customer at the hardware store and had been seen loitering around the premises.
Gein's desolate farmhouse was a study in chaos. Inside, junk and rotting garbage covered the floor and counters. It was almost impossible to walk through the rooms. The smell of filth and decomposition was overwhelming. While the local sheriff, Arthur Schley, inspected the kitchen with his flashlight, he felt something brush against his jacket.
When he looked up to see what it was he ran into, he faced a large, dangling carcass hanging upside down from the beams. The carcass had been decapitated, slit open and gutted. An ugly sight to be sure, but a familiar one in that deer-hunting part of the country, especially during deer season.
It took a few moments to sink in, but soon Schley realized that it wasn't a deer at all, it was the headless butchered body of a woman. Bernice Worden, the fifty-year-old mother of his deputy Frank Worden, had been found.
While the shocked deputies searched through the rubble of Eddie Gein's existence, they realized that the horrible discoveries didn't end at Mrs. Worden's body. They had stumbled into a death farm.
The funny-looking bowl was a top of a human skull. The lampshades and wastebasket were made from human skin.
A ghoulish inventory began to take shape: an armchair made of human skin, female genitalia kept preserved in a shoebox, a belt made of nipples, a human head, four noses and a heart.
The more the looked through the house, the more ghastly trophies they found. Finally a suit made entirely of human skin. Their heads spun as they tried to tally the number of woman that may have died at Eddie's hands.
All of this bizarre handicraft made Eddie into a celebrity. Author Robert Bloch was inspired to write a story about Norman Bates, a character based on Eddie, which became the central theme of the Albert Hitchcock's classic thriller Psycho.
In 1974, the classic thriller by Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has many Geinian touches, although there is no character that is an exact Eddie Gein model. This movie helped put "Ghastly Gein" back in the spotlight in the mid-1970's.
Years later, Eddie provided inspiration for the character of another serial killer, Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Like Eddie, Buffalo Bill treasured women's skin and wore it like clothing in some insane transvestite ritual.
Psycho changed the thriller genre forever.
In the Beginning
How does a child evolve into an Eddy Gein? A close look at his childhood and home life provides a number of clues.
Edward Theodore was born on August 27, 1906, to Augusta and George Gein in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Eddie was the second of two boys born to the couple. The first born was Henry who was seven years older than Eddie.
Augusta, a fanatically religious woman, was determined to raise the boys according to her strict moral code. Sinners inhabited Augusta's world and she instilled in her boys the teachings of the bible on daily basis. She repeatedly warned her sons of the immorality and looseness of women, hoping to discourage any sexual desires the boys might have had, for fear of them being cast down into hell.
Augusta was a domineering and hard woman who believed her views of the world were absolute and true. She had no difficulty forcefully imposing her beliefs on her sons and husband.
George, a weak man and an alcoholic, had no say in the raising of the boys. In fact, Augusta despised him and saw him as a worthless creature not fit to hold down a job, let alone care for their children. She took it upon herself to not only raise the children according to her beliefs but also to provide for the family financially.
She began a grocery business in La Crosse the year Eddie was born, which brought in a fair amount of money to support the family in a comfortable fashion. She worked hard and saved money so that the family could move to a more rural area away from the immorality of the city and the sinners that inhabited it. In 1914 they moved to Plainfield, Wisconsin to a one-hundred-ninety-five-acre farm, isolated from any evil influences that could disrupt her family. The closest neighbors were almost a quarter of a mile away.
Although Augusta tried diligently to keep her sons away from the outside world, she was not entirely successful because it was necessary for the boys attend school. Eddie's performance in school was average, although he excelled in reading. It was the reading of adventure books and magazines that stimulated Eddie's imagination and allowed him to momentarily escape into his own world.
His schoolmates shunned Eddie because he was effeminate and shy. He had no friends and when he attempted to make them his mother scolded him. Although his mother's opposition to making friends saddened Eddie, he saw her as the epitome of goodness and followed her rigid orders the best he could.
However, Augusta was rarely pleased with her boys and she often verbally abused them, believing that they were destined to become failures like their father. During their teens and throughout their early adulthood the boys remained detached from people outside of their farmstead and had only the company of each other.
Eddie looked up to his brother Henry and saw him as a hard worker and a man of strong character. After the death of their father in 1940, they took on a series of odd jobs to help financially support the farm and their mother. Eddie tried to emulate his brother's work habits and they both were considered by townspeople to be reliable and trustworthy. They worked as handymen mostly, yet Eddie frequently babysat for neighbors. It was babysitting that Eddie really enjoyed because children were easier for him to relate to than his peers. He was in many ways socially and emotionally retarded.
Henry was worried about Eddie's unhealthy attachment to their mother. On several occasions Henry openly criticized their mother, something that shocked Eddie. Eddie saw his mother as pure goodness and was mortified that his brother did not see her in the same way. It was possibly these incidents that lead to the untimely and mysterious death of Henry in 1944.
On May 16th Eddie and Henry were fighting a brush fire that was burning dangerously close to their farm. According to police, the two separated in different directions attempting to put out the blaze. During their struggle, night quickly approached and soon Eddie lost sight of Henry. After the blaze was extinguished, Eddie supposedly became worried about his missing brother and contacted the police.
The police then organized a search party and were surprised upon reaching the farm to have Eddie lead them directly to the "missing" Henry, who was lying dead on the ground. The police were concerned about some of the things surrounding Henry's death. For example, Henry was lying on a piece of earth that was untouched by fire and he had bruises on his head.
Although Henry was found under strange circumstances, police were quick to dismiss foul play. No one could believe shy Eddie was capable of killing anyone, especially his brother. Later the county coroner would list asphyxiation as the cause of death.
The only living person Eddie had left was his mother and that was the only person he needed. However, he would have his mother all to himself for a very brief period.
On December 29th, 1945, Augusta died after a series of strokes. Eddie's foundations were shaken upon her death. Harold Schechter in his book Deviant, explained that Eddie had "lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world."
He remained at the farm after his mother's death and lived off the meager earnings from odd jobs that he performed. Eddie boarded off the rooms his mother used the most, mainly the upstairs floor, the downstairs parlor and living room. He preserved them as a shrine to her and left them untouched for the years to follow. He resided in the lower level of the house making use of the kitchen area and a small room located just off of the kitchen, which he used as a bedroom.
It was in these areas that Eddie would spend his spare time reading death-cult magazines and adventure stories. At other times, Eddie would immerse himself in his bizarre hobbies that included nightly visits to the graveyard.
After the death of his mother, Eddie became increasingly lonely. He spent much of his spare time reading pulp magazines and anatomy books. The rooms he inhabited were full of periodicals about Nazi's, South Sea headhunters and shipwrecks. From his readings Eddie learned about the process of shrinking heads, exhuming corpses from graves and the anatomy of the human body. He became obsessed with these weird stories and he would often recount some of them to the children he babysat. Eddie also enjoyed reading the local newspapers. His favorite section was the obituaries.
It was from the obituaries that Eddie would learn of the recent deaths of local women. Having never enjoyed the company of the opposite sex, he would quench his lust by visiting graves at night. Although he later swore to police that he never had sexual intercourse with any of the dead women he had exhumed ("they smelled too bad"), he did take a particular pleasure in peeling their skin from their bodies and wearing it. He was curious to know what it was like to have breasts and a vagina and he often dreamed of being a woman. He was fascinated with women because of the power and hold they had over men.
He acquired quite a collection of body parts, some of which included preserved heads. On one occasion a young boy that he sometimes looked after visited Eddie's farm. He later said that Eddie had showed him human heads that he kept in his bedroom. Eddie claimed the shriveled heads were from the South Seas, relics from headhunters.
When the young boy told people of his experience, his story was quickly dismissed as a figment of the young boy's imagination. Then somewhat later, the boy was vindicated when two other young men paid a visit to Eddie Gein's farm. They too had seen the preserved heads of women but thought them to be just strange Halloween costumes. Rumors began to circulate and soon most of the townspeople were gossiping about the strange objects Eddie supposedly possessed.
However, no one took the stories seriously until Bernice Worden disappeared years later. In fact, people would often joke with Eddie about having shrunken heads and Eddie would just smile or make reference to having them in his room. No one thought he was telling the truth or maybe they just didn't want to believe it was true.
During the late 1940's and 1950's, Wisconsin police began to notice an increase in missing persons cases. There were four cases that particularly baffled police. The first was that of an eight-year-old girl named Georgia Weckler, who had disappeared coming home from school on May 1, 1947. Hundreds of residents and police searched an area of ten square miles of Jefferson, Wisconsin, hoping to find the young girl. Unfortunately, Georgia would never be seen or heard of again. There were no good suspects and the only evidence police had to go on were tire marks found near the place where Georgia was last seen. The tire marks were that of a Ford. The case remained unsolved and wouldn't be opened again until years later when Eddie Gein was convicted of murder.
Another girl disappeared six years later in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Fifteen-year-old Evelyn Hartley had been babysitting at the time she had vanished. Evelyn's father repeatedly tried to phone the girl at the house where she was babysitting and there was no answer.
Worried, the girl's father immediately drove to where she was babysitting. Nobody answered the door. When he peered through a window, he could see one of his daughter's shoes and a pair of her eyeglasses on the floor. He tried to enter the house, but all the doors and windows were locked. Except for one -- the back basement window. It was at that window where he discovered bloodstains. Petrified, he entered the house and discovered signs of a struggle.
Immediately he contacted police. When police arrived at the house they found more evidence of a struggle including blood stains on the grass leading away from the house, a bloody hand print on a neighboring house, footprints and the girl's other shoe on the basement floor.
A regional search was conducted but Evelyn was nowhere to be found. A few days later police discovered some bloodied articles of clothing that belonged to Evelyn, near a highway outside of La Crosse. The worst was suspected.
In November of 1952, two men stopped for a drink at a bar in Plainfield, Wisconsin before heading out to hunt deer. Victor Travis and Ray Burgess spent several hours at the bar before leaving. The two men and their car were never to be seen again. A massive search was conducted but there was no trace of them. They had simply vanished.
In the winter of 1954, a Plainfield tavern keeper by the name of Mary Hogan mysteriously disappeared from her place of business. Police suspected foul play when they discovered blood on the tavern floor that trailed into the parking lot.
Police also discovered an empty bullet cartridge on the floor. Police could only speculate about what might have happened to Mary because like the other four missing people, they had no bodies and little useful evidence. The only other common tie among these cases was that all of the disappearances happened around or in Plainfield, Wisconsin.
Skeletons in the Closet
On November 17, 1957, after the discovery of Bernice Worden's headless corpse and other gruesome artifacts in Eddie's house, police began an exhaustive search of the remaining parts of the farm and surrounding land. They believed Eddie may have been involved in more murders and that the bodies might be buried on his land, possibly those of Georgia Weckler, Victor Travis and Ray Burgess, Evelyn Hartley and Mary Hogan.
While excavations began at the farmstead, Eddie was being interviewed at Wautoma County Jailhouse by investigators. Gein at first did not admit to any of the killings. However, after more then a day of silence he began to tell the horrible story of how he killed Mrs. Worden and where he acquired the body parts that were found in his house. Gein had difficulty remembering every detail, because he claimed he had been in a dazed state at the time leading up to and during the murder. Yet, he recalled dragging Worden's body to his Ford truck, taking the cash register from the store and taking them back to his house. He did not remember shooting her in the head with a .22 caliber gun, which autopsy reports later listed as the cause of death.
When asked where the other body parts came from that were discovered in his house, he said that he had stolen them from local graves. Eddie insisted that he had not killed any of the people whose remains were found in his house, with the exception of Mrs. Worden.
However, after days of intense interrogation he finally admitted to the killing of Mary Hogan. Again, he claimed he was in a dazed state at the time of the murder and he could not remember exact details of what actually happened. The only memory he had was that he had accidentally shot her.
Eddie showed no signs of remorse or emotion during the many hours of interrogation. When he talked about the murders and of his grave robbing escapades he spoke very matter-of-factly, even cheerfully at times. He had no concept of the enormity of his crimes.
Gein's sanity was in question and it was suggested that during trial he plea not guilty, by reason of insanity. Gein underwent a battery of psychological tests, which later concluded that he was indeed emotionally impaired. Psychologists and psychiatrists who interviewed him asserted that he was schizophrenic and a "sexual psychopath."
His condition was attributed to the unhealthy relationship he had with his mother and his upbringing. Gein apparently suffered from conflicting feelings about women, his natural sexual attraction to them and the unnatural attitudes that his mother had instilled in him. This love-hate feeling towards women became exaggerated and eventually developed in to a full-blown psychosis.
While Eddie was undergoing further interrogation and psychological tests, investigators continued to search the land around his farm. Police discovered within Eddie's farmhouse the remains of ten women. Although Eddie swore that the remaining body parts of eight women were those taken from local graveyards, police were skeptical.
They believed that it was highly possible for the remains to have come from women Eddie may have murdered. The only way police could ascertain whether the remains came from women's corpses was to examine the graves that Eddie claimed he had robbed.
After much controversy about the morality of exhuming the bodies, police were finally permitted to dig up the graves of the women Eddie claimed to have desecrated. All of the coffins showed clear signs of tampering. In most cases, the bodies or parts of the bodies were missing.
There would be another discovery on Eddie's land that would again raise the issue of whether Eddie did in fact murder a third person. On November 29th, police unearthed human skeletal remains on the Gein farm. It was suspected that the body was that of Victor Travis, who had disappeared years earlier. The remains were immediately taken to a crime lab and examined. Tests showed that the body was not that of a male but of a large, middle-aged woman, another graveyard souvenir.
Try as the police did, they could not implicate Eddie in the disappearance of Victor Travis or the three other people who had vanished years earlier in the Plainfield area. The only murders Eddie could be held responsible for were Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan.
When investigators revealed the facts about what was found on Eddie Gein's farm, the news quickly spread. Reporters from all over the world flocked to the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. The town became known worldwide and Eddy Gein reached celebrity-like status. People were repulsed, yet at the same time drawn to the atrocities that took place on Eddie Gein's farm.
Psychologists from all over the world attempted to find out what made Eddie tick. During the 1950's, he gained notoriety as being one of the most famous of documented cases involving a combination of necrophilia, transvestism and fetishism. Even children who knew of the exploits of Eddie began to sing songs about him and make jokes in an effort to, as Harold Schechter suggests in his book Deviant, "exorcise the nightmare with laughter." These distasteful jokes became known as "Geiner's" and were quick to become popular around the world.
Back in Plainfield, residents endured the onslaught of reporters who disrupted their daily life by bombarding them with questions about Eddie. However, many of them eventually became involved in the mania surrounding Eddie and contributed what information they had. Plainfield was now known to the world as the home of infamous Eddie Gein.
Most residents who knew Eddie had only good things to say about him, other than that he was a little peculiar, had a quirky grin and a strange sense of humor. They never suspected him of being capable of committing such ghastly crimes. But the truth was hard to escape. The little shy, quiet man the town thought they knew was, in fact, a murderer who also violated the graves of friends and relatives.
After Gein spent a period of thirty days in a mental institution and was evaluated as mentally incompetent, he could no longer be tried for first degree murder. The people of Plainfield immediately voiced their anger that Eddie would not be tried for the death of Bernice Worden. Yet, there was little the community could do to influence the court's decision. Eddie was committed to the Central State Hospital in Waupun, Wisconsin. Soon after Eddie was sentenced to the mental institution, his farm went up for auction along with some of his other belongings.
Thousands of curiosity seekers diverged on the small town to see what possessions of Eddie's would be auctioned. Some of the things to be auctioned off were his car, furniture and musical instruments. The company that handled the business of selling Eddie's goods planned to charge a fee of fifty cents to look at Eddie's property. The citizens of Plainfield were outraged. They believed Eddie's home was quickly becoming a "museum for the morbid" and the town demanded something be done to put it to an end. Although the company was later forbidden to charge an entrance fee to the auction, residents were still not satisfied.
In the early morning of March 20, 1958 the Plainfield volunteer fire department was called to Eddie's farm. Gein's house was on fire. The house quickly burned to the ground, as onlookers watched in silent relief. Police believed that an arsonist was responsible for the blaze because there was no electrical wiring problems with the house. Although police carried out a thorough investigation, no suspect was ever found.
When Eddie learned of the destruction to his house he simply said, "Just as well."
Although the fire destroyed most of Eddie's belongings, there were still many things that were salvaged. What was left of Eddie's possessions would still be auctioned off, including farm equipment and his car. Eddie's 1949 Ford sedan, which was used to haul dead bodies, caused a bidding war and was eventually sold for seven hundred and sixty dollars. The man who purchased the car later put it on display at a county fair, where thousands paid a quarter to get a peek at the Gein "ghoul car." It seemed to the people of Plainfield that the public's fascination with Eddie would never end.
The Perfect Prisoner
After spending ten years in the mental institution where he was recovering, the courts finally decided he was competent to stand trial. The proceedings began on January 22, 1968, to determine whether Eddie was guilty or not by reason of insanity, for the murder of Bernice Worden. The actual trial began on November 7, 1968.
Eddie looked on as seven witnesses took to the stand. Several of those who testified were lab technicians who performed the autopsy on Mrs. Worden, a former deputy sheriff and sheriff. Evidence was heavily stacked against Eddie and after only one week the judge reached his verdict. Eddie was found guilty of first-degree murder. However, because Eddie was found to have been insane at the time of the killing, he was later found not guilty by reason of insanity and acquitted. Soon after the trial he was escorted back to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
The families of Bernice Worden, Mary Hogan and the families of those whose graves were robbed would never feel justice was served. They believed Eddie escaped the punishment that was due to him, but there was nothing more they could do to reverse the court's decision.
Eddie would remain at the mental institution for the rest of his life where he spent his days happily and comfortably. Schechter describes him as the model patient:
Eddie was happy at the hospital -- happier, perhaps, than he'd ever been in his life. He got along well enough with the other patients, though for the most part he kept to himself. He was eating three square meals a day (the newsmen were struck by how much heavier Eddie looked since his arrest five years before). He continued to be an avid reader. He like his regular chats with the staff psychologists and enjoyed the handicraft work he was assigned -- stone polishing, rug making, and other forms of occupational therapy. He had even developed an interest in ham radios and had been permitted to use the money he had earned to order an inexpensive receiver.
All in all, he was a perfectly amiable, even docile patient, one of the few in the hospital who never required tranquilizing medications to keep his craziness under control. Indeed, apart from certain peculiarities -- the disconcerting way he would stare fixedly at nurses or any other female staff members who wandered into his line of vision -- it was hard to tell that he was particularly crazy at all...
Superintendent Schubert told reporters that Gein was a model patient. 'If all our patients were like him, we'd have no trouble at all.'
On July 26, 1984, he died after a long bout with cancer. He was buried in Plainfield cemetery next to his mother, not far from the graves that he had robbed years earlier.
Very little survives in print about Eddie Gein. Of the few books that are available, the Crime Library recommends Harold Schechter's Deviant.
Martingale, Moira, Cannibal Killers St. Martin's Paperbacks, 1995.
Schechter, Harold, Deviant: The Shocking True Story of the Original "Psycho" Pocket Books, 1989.
Woods, Paul Anthony, Ed Gein--Psycho!St. Martin's Press, 1995.