Childhood & Early Life
Edward Theodore ‘Ed’ Gein was born on 27 August 1906, in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, USA, to George Philip and Augusta Wilhelmine Gein. He had an older brother named Henry George Gein.
During his childhood, his family moved to Plainfield, Wisconsin. He was known to have an isolated childhood, leaving home only to attend school.
As a child, he was shy, had poor social skills, and was often targeted by the bullies. His teachers remembered him exhibiting queer mannerisms, such as laughing randomly.
His mother was an ardent follower of Lutheranism. She shared knowledge on topics like the innate immortality of the world, the sins of carnal desire and drinking, etc, with her sons. She discouraged any contact from outsiders to avoid her children from being influenced by others.
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In 1940, Ed Gein’s father died of heart failure caused by alcoholism. After his father’s death, he and his brother started taking up odd jobs in the neighborhood. He had worked as a handyman and babysitter, and was considered reliable in the locality.
He was overly attached to his mother, and this was a cause of concern for his older brother. Around the same time, Henry Gein started opposing his mother’s views on the world.
On 16 May 1944, Ed Gein went to extinguish a brush fire close to their farm along with his brother. However, based on records, the brothers were separated by nightfall and Henry Gein was reported missing. He was later found dead with bruises on his head. However, the county coroner termed the cause of death as asphyxiation.
Following his brother’s death, he lived with his mother who had suffered a series of strokes by then. He was devoted to her and did not meet or date any woman during this time. His mother passed away on 29 December 1945.
Post his mother’s death, he secured the rooms previously occupied by his mother and shifted to a room next to the kitchen, which she had used. During this time, he started reading death-cult magazines and adventure stories involving cannibals and Nazi atrocities.
He continued doing odd jobs to cover his expenses. From 1951, he began receiving a farm subsidy from the federal government. Occasionally, he worked as part of the crop threshing crew or municipality crew in the locality. During these years, he also sold 80 acres of land which was owned by his brother.
A few years later, on 16 November 1957, police suspected Ed Gein for the disappearance of a store clerk named Bernice Worden in Plainfield. He was suspected as he was the last customer to be billed at the store prior to Bernice Worden’s disappearance.
Subsequently, the police inspected his shed and property, only to make several horrific findings. The first discovery was Bernice Worden’s decapitated corpse which was hung upside down with ropes on her wrists and a crossbar at her ankles. The body was field dressed, and it was later discovered that the mutilation was performed after she had been killed by shooting with a rifle.
Upon searching the house, police found several other disturbing articles, including human skulls on bed corner posts, skulls used as bowls, human skin used as lampshades and chair covers, belt made of human nipples, socks from human flesh, and a collection of female genitalia and noses.
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Among these items were articles that neighbors and acquaintances recognized as relics from the Philippines, sent by Ed Gein’s cousin who had served in ‘World War II.’ However, they turned out to be human facial skin peeled from the skull and used as masks occasionally.
Upon questioning, he admitted to making almost 40 nocturnal visits to the local graveyards in order to exhume bodies. During some of his visits, he had dug up graves of recently buried middle-aged women to make articles out of their skin and flesh.
Ed Gein denied having sexual intercourse with the bodies and stated that “they smelled too bad.” After the death of his mother, he tried creating a women’s suit with human skin.
During the interrogation, he admitted to killing Mary Hogan, a tavern owner, who had gone missing since 1954. However, he later said that he could not recall the incident. Her head was found in his house during the investigation.
While questioning, Waushara County sheriff Art Schley purportedly assaulted him by banging his head on the wall, thereby making his initial confession inadmissible. The county sheriff died in 1968 prior to the trial and was believed to have died due to the trauma of the horrific crimes committed by Ed Gein.
Ed Gein was found medically unfit to undergo trial and was subsequently sent to ‘Central State Hospital’ in Waupun, Wisconsin. He was later transferred to ‘Mendota State Hospital’ in Madison, Wisconsin.
In 1968, he was declared fit by the doctors. During the trial, he was found not guilty by Judge Robert H. Gollmar on basis of mental insanity. He spent the rest of his life in prison.
Ed Gein’s story had a major impact on filmmakers, writers, and musicians. Several movies based on his life were made. Some of these movies include ‘Deranged’ (1974), ‘In the Light of the Moon’ (2000), and ‘Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield’ (2007).
His crimes paved way for a new genre in arts called ‘black humor.’ Examples of this include the song ‘Dead Skin Mask’ from the ‘Slayer’ album ‘Seasons in the Abyss’ (1990), ‘Nothing to Gein’ from Mudvayne's album ‘L.D. 50’ (2001), and ‘Ed Gein’ from The Ziggens' album ‘Rusty Never Sleeps’ (1992).
The car that he used to carry the corpses from the graveyard was sold at a public auction for a sum of USD 760 to an enterprising carnival show operator.