Ed Gein’s name has grown in legend. It was the story that “shocked the nation.” Gein
was, and remains, the inspiration for countless books and films, including Robert Bloch’s
PSYCHO and Tobe Hooper’s TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but these stories are
nothing in comparison to the truth about “The Plainfield Butcher.”
Ed Gein was the second son of Augusta and George Gein. He was born on August 27,
1906, near La Crosse, Wisconsin where he attended school with his brother, Henry. Ed
insisted, “My mother is a saint,” though every psychologist that interviewed Ed would
state that Augusta was actually dominating, inflexible, and abusive.
When Ed was eight years old, his family moved to a 195-acre farm just outside of
Plainfield, Wisconsin. Ed quit school after the eighth grade to help his family run the
farm. In his spare time, he’d perform odd jobs for other townspeople, who described Ed
as being “likable, though a little quirky.”
On April Fool’s Day, 1940, Ed’s father died. Ed was 34, still a virgin, and strangely
attached to his mother. That attachment, of course, grew steadfast after George’s death
and caused quite a bit of tension between the brothers. Henry thought the relationship
between Ed and his mother was “unwholesome.” Three years later, Henry met a
On May 16, 1944, the brothers started a fire to clear some marsh land on their
property, but the fire blazed out of control. They separated in order to contain the
combustion but, afterwards, Henry failed to return to the house. Ed asked some men to
help search for his brother but they were unsuccessful. However, later that day, Ed was
able to lead a second search party (headed by Sheriff Engle) directly to where Henry’s
body lay. Ed’s only explanation was, “Funny how that works.” Henry’s body was
blackened with soot, but unburned. Although the sheriff noticed bruising around Henry’s
head, the coroner declared asphyxiation as the cause of death and no further investigation
Ed and Augusta managed the farm until December 29, 1945, when Augusta died from
complications of a series of strokes. Ed blamed her death on the degeneracy of the
citizens of Plainfield, whom Augusta constantly complained about. Ed Gein, at the age of
40, was alone for the first time in his life. After sealing off his mother’s room from the
rest of the house, Ed began his plunge into madness.
The people of Plainfield described Ed as “helpful” and “reliable”, but “not overly
sociable.” He would, on occasion, ask Mary Hogan or Bernice Worden to go to a movie
(both reminded Ed of his mother).
Between 1946 and 1958, the areas surrounding Plainfield experienced a series of
unexplained disappearances. Eight year old Georgia Weckler disappeared after a
babysitter dropped her off in the driveway of her home. Victor Travis, his dog, and a
friend never returned from a deerhunting excursion. Fifteen year old Evelyn Hartly was
abducted from a house where she was babysitting. None of these bodies, nor others
whom had disappeared, were ever found.
The beginning of the end for Ed was the disappearance of Mary Hogan. On December
8, 1954, a local farmer discovered her missing when he walked into the tavern she
operated and the place was empty, except for a pool of blood and a spent .32 shell on the
floor. A neighbor of Ed’s had mentioned to him that, “if you’d spent more time courting
Mary Hogan, she’d be cooking for you instead of being missing.” Ed smiled and said,
“She’s not missing. She’s down at the house now.”
Between 1954 and 1957, the rumors regarding Ed Gein grew more and more peculiar
and mysterious, but most of the community dismissed them as being part of “Eddie’s odd
sense of humor.”
On November 16, 1957, Bernice Worden opened her hardware store early. Bernice’s
first customer was Ed Gein. She sold him some anti-freeze, wrote up his receipt, and
watched him leave, forgetting his receipt on the counter. Bernice contemplated going out
after him to present him with the receipt, but after a moment Ed returned. He asked
Bernice if he could look at the Marlin .22 rifle. He had some shells in his pocket and
wanted to see if the rifle could accommodate both the short and long .22 shell.
Later that afternoon, Bernice’s son arrived at the store to find the lights on, but the
doors locked. When entering, he noticed that the cash register was missing and there was
a pool of blood on the floor. On the counter still laid the receipt for the sale of anti-freeze
to Ed Gein.
That evening, Ed Gein was taken into custody. When he was questioned about his
activities for the day, Gein abruptly stated, “Somebody framed me for Mrs. Worden,”
even though there had been no mention of the crime.
Several officials went to Gein’s farmhouse to look for evidence. What they found was
a house of horrors. Suspended upside down from the ceiling was the body of Bernice
Worden. She hung naked, slit from her pubic mound to her collarbone, disemboweled
and decapitated. The body cavity had been cleaned and washed in the manner of a
dressed deer. On the kitchen table was the top half of a skull Ed had been using as a soup
bowl. The kitchen chairs had been reupholstered with strips of human flesh. Bits of
dried fat hung from the underside of the strips where Ed had not cleaned the pieces
carefully. In the room used as a bedroom they found two skulls impaled on his bedposts.
A lampshade and wastebasket made of human skin were next to the nightstand, as well as
a belt that was made of several females’ nipples, dried and sewn together. They found a
knife with a handle made of human bone and several more skull caps. There was a
shoebox filled with vulvas with strings attached to each side, a collection of human noses
in another container, and sets of lips in another. The flesh from four faces were stuffed
with paper and hung on the wall. Five other faces were found, carefully peeled from the
skulls and preserved, with strings attached to the sides so they could be worn as masks.
Some had lipstick applied to the lips.
The evidence seemed to be endless. They discovered several pairs of leggings made
from human skin and a complete female upper torso (also made to be worn) that was later
identified as that of Mary Hogan. There were more human bones, assorted breasts, lips,
and noses from an inestimable number of bodies. Bernice Worden’s head was found in a
burlap sack with two long nails protruding from her ears. Twine had been tied to the
nails so the head could be hung on the wall. There was so much, in fact, that it took two
officials thirty trips with a truck to transport all the evidence to a crime lab.
In questioning, Gein admitted to taking Bernice Worden’s body and butchering it but
claimed he didn’t remember anything about her death. Later, Gein admitted loading the
rifle but that it discharged accidentally. He was repeatedly questioned and, eventually,
admitted to an assortment of perversions, but only two murders.
Ed’s sanity hearing was held in January, 1958. He was found unfit to stand trial and
was committed to the Central State Hospital. Gein showed little conscious and no
remorse for the mutilations and murders he had committed. Ed admitted that many of the
body parts he had preserved were meant to be worn. He would undress and strap on the
breasts and leggings, tie a vagina over his penis, and put on a face mask to dance by the
moonlight in his yard. He denied having intercourse with any of the corpses stating,
“they smelled too bad.” He, also, denied eating any of the body parts, but admitted that
he had studied cannibalism and seemed very knowledgeable on the subject.
After ten years of confinement Gein seemed fit to stand trial. The trial began on
November 7, 1968. Gein was only charged for the murder of Bernice Worden but was
found not guilty by reason of insanity. He was immediately returned to Central State
Hospital with a chance for release in 1974.
In 1974, Ed Gein’s request for release was denied and in July, 1984, at the age of 72,
he died of respiratory failure and was buried next to his mother in Plainfield Cemetery.
It seemed that most of Ed’s antics were caused by his desire to recreate his mother; to
physically enter and become her. Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO clearly pushes this theme
in it’s loosely based version of Gein. Many other films have featured Gein-like characters
and settings, especially TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, but probably the most
accurate film account is the 70’s era classic DERANGED, starring Robert Blossoms.
Gein is, truly, a fascinating character in our country’s crime history. We may never
understand what was going on in his twisted mind. Many interesting accounts and
examinations have been written about Ed Gein, but I recommend reading DEVIANT, by
Harold Schechter (from Pocket Books), and EDWARD GEIN, by Judge Robert H.
Gollmar (from Pinnacle Books). Both books provide a wealth of detailed information on
“America’s Most Bizarre Murderer.”