Ed Gein

Ed Gein

Ed Gein

Ed Gein circa 1957
Background information
Birth name: Edward Theodore Gein
Born: August 27, 1906(1906-08-27)
La Crosse County, Wisconsin
Died: July 26, 1984 (aged 77)
Cause of death: Respiratory and heart failure
Conviction: Guilty but insane
Number of victims: two known
Country: United States
State(s): Wisconsin
Date apprehended: November 16, 1957

Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein (pronounced /??i?n/; August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984) was an American murderer and grave robber. 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 Gein’s house in 1957, he confessed to killing two women, Mary Hogan, a tavern owner, in 1954, and Bernice Worden, a Plainfield hardware store owner, 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.

If Gein was guilty of murdering only the person he was convicted of killing, he would not technically meet the definition of a serial killer,[1] though his case influenced the creation of several fictional serial killers, including Norman Bates from Psycho, Jame Gumb from The Silence of the Lambs, and Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.


<![CDATA[ // ]]>


Ed Gein was born on August 27, 1906 in La Crosse County, Wisconsin.[2] His parents, George and Augusta Gein (née Lehrke),[citation needed] both natives of Wisconsin, had two sons: Henry George Gein, and his younger brother, Edward Theodore Gein. George Gein was a frequently unemployed alcoholic who physically abused his sons. 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.[3]

Augusta Gein moved to this location to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons.[3] 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, drummed into 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.[citation needed]

With a slight growth over one eye and 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.[citation needed]

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.[3]

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 aroun
d his brother.[4][5]

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.[4][6] The ground on which Henry Gein lay was untouched by fire, and he had bruises on his head.[4][6] 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.[4][6]

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.”[7]

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.[4]


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.[8] 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.[9] She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations performed after death.

Searching the house, authorities found a number of items:[10]

  • Four noses
  • Bone fragments
  • Nine death masks
  • A bowl made from a skull
  • Ten female heads with the tops sawed off
  • Human skin covering several chair seats
  • Pieces of salted genitalia in a box
  • Skulls on his bedposts
  • Organs in the refrigerator
  • A pair of lips on a string

When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952,[11] while he was in “daze-like” states, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies. 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.[12] On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother[13] 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.[14][15]

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.[10] Gein’s practice of donning the tanned skins of women was described as an “insane transvestite ritual”.[16] Gein denied having sex with the bodies he exhumed, explaining, “They smelled too bad.”[16] 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 Phillippines sent by a cousin who had served in World War II.[17] 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[who?][clarification needed] 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.[7] Schley died of a heart attack in December 1968, at age 43, only a month after testifying at Gein’s trial. Many[who?] 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[who?] said “He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him.”[7]


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.[18] 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 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.[19][20]


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.”[21]

In 1958, Gein’s car, which he had used to haul the bodies of his victims, was sold at a public auction for the then-considerable sum of $760 to carnival sideshow operator Bunny Gibbons.[22] Gibbons later charged carnival goers 25¢ admission to see it.[23]


Ed Gein’s gravemarker as it appeared in 1999

On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer in Goodland Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wisconsin.[7] His gravesite 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, Wisconsin.[24]

Impact on popular culture

The story of Ed Gein has had a lasting impact on popular culture as evidenced by its many appearances in movies, music and literature. Gein’s story was adapted into a number of movies including In the Light of the Moon (later retitled Ed Gein for the U.S. market),[25]Deranged, and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield.[26] Gein influenced the nature of book and film characters, such as fictional serial killers Norman Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs).[27] The book American Psycho contains several references to Ed Gein, as does the film based on that book.

Gein’s influence is seen in musical groups drawing inspiration from his crimes. A number of band names have been derived from Gein, including one named Ed Gein. Gidget Gein, a former bassist for the band Marilyn Manson, derived his stage name from Ed Gein (and Franzie “Gidget” Hofer).


  1. ^ Reavill, Gil (2007). Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home. Gotham. p. 228. ISBN 9781592402960. “With only two confirmed kills, Ed did not technically qualify as a serial killer (the traditional minimum requirement was three)” 
  2. ^ Birth Record Details“. Wisconsin Historical Society. http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/vitalrecords/index.asp?id=2625292&record_type=b. Retrieved 2009-07-23. 
  3. ^ a b c Bell, Rachael; Marilyn Bardsley. “The Beginning“. Crime Library. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/gein/begin_2.html. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  4. ^ a b c d e Bell, Rachael; Marilyn Bardsley. “Henry“. Crime Library. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/gein/2b.html. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  5. ^ Schechter, Harold (2003). The Serial Killer Files. Random House. pp. 191. ISBN 0345465660. 
  6. ^ a b c Schechter, Harold (1998). Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original Psycho. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 30-31. ISBN 0671025465. 
  7. ^ a b c d Schechter, Harold (1998). Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original Psycho. New York: Simon and Schuster. p. 30-31. ISBN 0671025465. 
  8. ^ “Signs of 10 Victims at Farm”. Stevens Point Daily Journal. November 18, 1957. p. 1, cols. 7-8. 
  9. ^ Douglas, John E.; Olshaker, Mark (1998). Obsession: The FBI’s Legendary Profiler Probes the Psyches of Killers, Rapists, and Stalkers and Their Victims and Tells How to Fight Back. Simon and Schuster. pp. 367–368. ISBN 0-671-01704-7. 
  10. ^ a b Ramsland, Katherine. “A True Necrophile.” Crime Library.
  11. ^ Schechter 1989, p. 97.
  12. ^ “Gein Also Admits He Killed Mary Hogan; Results of Lie Tests Announced”. Stevens Point Daily Journal. November 20, 1957. p. 13, col. 6. 
  13. ^ http://www.fortunecity.com/roswell/streiber/273/gein_cf.htm
  14. ^ “Empty Coffins Discovered in Graves At Plainfield; Appears To Back Up Gein’s Story”. Stevens Point Daily Journal. November 25, 1957. p. 1, cols. 7-8. 
  15. ^ “DA Convinced Gein Actually Raided Graves”. Stevens Point Daily Journal. November 26, 1957. p. 1, col. 3. 
  16. ^ a b Bell, Rachael and Marilyn Bardsley. “Buffalo Bill and Psycho.” CrimeLibrary.com.
  17. ^ “Youth Tells of Seeing Gein’s Heads”. Stevens Point Daily Journal. November 20, 1957. p. 1, col. 6. 
  18. ^ “Gein Pleads Innocent By Reason of Insanity”. Stevens Point Daily Journal. November 21, 1957. p. 1, cols. 7-8. 
  19. ^ “Ed Gein Found Guilty of 1957 Murder in Plainfield”. Capital Times, Madison, Wisconsin. November 14, 1958. “Ed Gein, the handyman whose home became known as a “house of horrors” 11 years ago, was found guilty today of first degree murder.” 
  20. ^ “Wisconsin Killer Gein Ruled Guilty, Insane”. Chicago Tribune. November 15, 1968. “Ed Gein, 62, the recluse who horrified the nation in 1957 when the remains of 11 bodies were found on his farm, was ruled today to have been insane when he killed a Plainfield, Wis., woman.” 
  21. ^ Bell, Rachael; Marilyn Bardsley. “Ed Gein: The Inspiration for Buffalo Bill and Psycho“. Crime Library. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/gein/bill_1.html. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  22. ^ Hintz, Martin (2007). Got Murder?: Shocking True Stories of Wisconsins Notorious Killers. Big Earth Publishing. p. 62. ISBN 1-931-59996-3. 
  23. ^ Reavill, Gil Reavill (2007). Aftermath, Inc.: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home. Gotham. p. 228. ISBN 1-592-40296-8. 
  24. ^ Bie, Michael (2007). It Happened in Wisconsin. Guilford, Connecticut: TwoDot. p. 97. ISBN 0-7627-4153-8. OCLC 76820808. 
  25. ^ In the Light of the Moon at the Internet Movie Database
  26. ^ The Butcher of Plainfield at the Internet Movie Database
  27. ^ Bell, Rachael; Marilyn Bardsley. “Ed Gein: The Inspiration for Buffalo Bill and Psycho“. Crime Library. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/serial_killers/notorious/gein/bill_1.html. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 

External links

NAME Gein, Ed
ALTERNATIVE NAMES Gein, Edward Theodore
DATE OF BIRTH August 27, 1906
PLACE OF BIRTH La Crosse, Wisconsin
DATE OF DEATH July 26, 1984
PLACE OF DEATH Madison, Wisconsin

© This material from Wikipedia is licensed under the GFDL.

Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Gein