Ed Gein (Edward Theodore Gein), also known as The Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul, was an American killer and body thief. In 1957, when police learned that Gein had excavated bodies from nearby cemeteries and made trophies and mementos from their bones and skin, his crimes in and around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, gained widespread notoriety.
Warning: This post contains extremely disturbing visuals and descriptions. The content is not for the viewing of children. Reader Discretion is Advised.
The crimes of Ed Gein are not just passive in nature. Gein admitted to killing two women: hardware store owner Bernice Worden in 1957 and bar owner Mary Hogan in 1954.
At first, Gein was institutionalized for mental health reasons after being deemed incompetent to face trial. In 1968, he was deemed to be competent to stand trial; he was convicted of killing Worden but was declared legally insane and committed to a mental institution.
On July 26, 1984, at the age of 77, he died from respiratory failure in the Mendota Mental Health Institute. In a grave that is no longer marked, he is interred in the Plainfield Cemetery adjacent to his family.
Ed Gein During His Childhood
Gein was born on August 27, 1906, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as the second of his parents, George Philip Gein (1873–1940) and Augusta Wilhelmine. Gein had a younger sibling named Henry George Gein (1901–1944).
Intensely pious and ostensibly Lutheran, Augusta, their mother, lectured her sons on the world’s inherent immorality, the sinfulness of drinking, and her conviction that all women (outside of herself) were innately promiscuous and tools of the devil.
Every afternoon, she set aside time to read them from the Bible. Typically, she chose passages about death, murder, and divine vengeance from the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation. She detested her alcoholic, unemployed husband, who had previously held jobs as a carpenter, tanner, and insurance salesman.
While living in La Crosse, George ran a neighborhood grocery store. However, he soon sold the enterprise and moved his family out of the city to a 155-acre (63-hectare) farm near Plainfield, Wisconsin, which would become their permanent home.
Augusta took advantage of the farm’s seclusion by excluding visitors who might have impacted her sons. Gein only left the farm to go to school. Gein spent most of his time working on the farm after school.
Gein was quiet, and his coworkers and teachers recall him as having peculiar behaviors, such as seemingly random laughter that seemed to come from him laughing at his own jokes. Augusta chastised him whenever he attempted to make friends, which worsened matters.
Gein performed reasonably well in school, notably in reading, despite his lack of social development.
Ed Gein Starts to Become… Unhinged
George Gein, the father of Ed Gein, passed away at age 66 on April 1, 1940, from heart failure brought on by his alcoholism. To help with living expenses, Henry and Ed started working odd jobs around the neighborhood.
Residents of the neighborhood largely trusted and respected the brothers. Both men were handymen, and Ed routinely watched children for his neighbors. He seemed to connect with kids more readily than adults, which made him enjoy babysitting.
Ed was shocked and wounded when Henry started seeing a divorced mother of two and made plans to move in with her. Henry was concerned about his brother’s devotion to their mother and frequently spoke poorly of her in Ed’s presence.
Henry and Ed were clearing the property’s marsh vegetation on May 16, 1944, when the fire went out of control and attracted the attention of the nearby fire department. Ed reported his brother missing at the end of the day after the fire had been put out and the firefighters had left.
A search team used torches and flashlights to look for Henry after discovering his body lying face down. He had apparently been dead for some time, and since he had not been burned or otherwise hurt, it seemed that heart failure was the cause of death.
Harold Schechter, a biographer, later claimed that Henry had head bruising. The county coroner later officially declared asphyxiation as the cause of death after the police ruled out any chance of foul play. The authorities accepted the accident scenario, but no formal inquiry or autopsy was carried out.
State investigator Joe Wilimovsky questioned Ed Gein about the 1957 death of Bernice Worden and brought up doubts concerning Henry’s demise. In his case analysis, George W. Arndt stated that it was “possible and plausible” that Henry’s demise was “the ‘Cain and Abel’ part of this case” in retrospect.
Now just Gein and his mother remained. Soon after Henry’s passing, Augusta suffered a debilitating stroke, and Gein devoted himself to caring for her. Gein subsequently recalled that he and his mother went to a man named Smith, who lived nearby sometime in 1945 to buy straws.
Gein claims that Augusta saw Smith assaulting a dog. Smith killed the dog despite a woman from inside the Smith residence shouting at him to stop. The brutality shown to the dog did not appear to worry Augusta, but another woman’s presence on the premises greatly disturbed her.
Augusta informed Ed that the woman was not Smith’s wife and had no place to be there. Augusta furiously referred to the woman as “Smith’s harlot.” Soon after, she suffered another stroke, and her condition rapidly declined.
On December 29, 1945, she passed away at age 67. As noted by author Harold Schechter, Ed was heartbroken by her passing and “lost his one and only true love and friend. He was also totally by himself in the world.”
What Did Ed Gein Do for a Living?
Gein kept the farm and supplemented his income with odd employment. He boarded up the living room, upstairs parlor, and downstairs parlor, all of which were used by his mother.
These rooms remained spotless as the rest of the house grew more and more filthy. After that, Gein resided in a compact space close to the kitchen.
Around this time, he developed an interest in pulp magazines and adventure tales, especially those by Ilse Koch that included cannibals or atrocities committed by the Nazis.
Starting in 1951, Gein, a handyman, received an agricultural subsidy from the federal government. He occasionally labored for the neighborhood crop-threshing workers and the municipal road crew.
He also sold an 80-acre (32-ha) plot of land that belonged to his brother Henry sometime between 1946 and 1956.
What is Ed Gein Known For?
The owner of a hardware store in Plainfield, Bernice Worden, vanished early on November 16, 1957. Before 9:30 a.m., a Plainfield homeowner saw the hardware store’s truck being driven out the back of the structure.
Few people visited the hardware store during the day; some locals assumed that this was because it was deer hunting season. Around 5:00 p.m., Bernice Worden’s son, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, entered the business and discovered blood on the floor and an open cash register.
Frank Worden informed the authorities that Gein had visited the shop the evening before his mother vanished and was scheduled to return the next morning to pick up a gallon of antifreeze. The final transaction Worden had created before she vanished was a sales sheet for a gallon of antifreeze.
That evening, Gein was detained at a West Plainfield grocery shop, and the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department also searched the Gein farm.
In a shed on Gein’s property, a Waushara County Sheriff’s office found Worden’s beheaded body hanging by her legs from a crossbar at her ankles and ropes at her wrists.
The body was “deer-dressed out.” The mutilations were carried out after her death, and she had been shot with a. 22-caliber rifle.
Authorities searched the home and discovered the following:
- Whole and broken human bones.
- Trash cans fashioned from human skin
- Several chair seats are covered in human skin.
- Heads adorn his bedposts.
- Bowls that were constructed from human skulls, some having the crowns sawed off of female skulls.
- A corset created from the skinned torso of a woman, measured from shoulders to waist.
- Leggings that were manufactured from the skin of human legs.
- Female heads’ skin is used to make masks.
- A paper bag containing Mary Hogan’s face mask
- The preserved skull of Mary Hogan.
- A burlap sack covering Bernice Worden’s entire head.
- Heart of Bernice Worden “in a plastic bag before Gein’s potbelly stove.
- A shoe box contains nine vulvae.
- The clothing of a young girl and “the vulvas of two girls estimated to be around fifteen years old.”
- a belt constructed from the nipples of female humans.
- On a window shade drawstring, there are two lips.
- a lampshade fashioned from human facial skin and female fingernails.
These objects were photographed at the state crime lab before being “decently disposed of.”
When questioned, Gein admitted to investigators that he made as many as 40 nocturnal trips to three nearby cemeteries between 1947 and 1952 to exhume recently buried remains while he was in a “daze-like” state.
He claimed that on roughly 30 of those visits, he emerged from his stupor while in the cemetery, left the grave in fine condition, and went empty-handed.
On other times, he exhumed the recently deceased, middle-aged ladies whose graves he believed resembled his mother, carried their bodies home, and tanned their skins to create his paraphernalia.
Gein took investigators to nine graves in nearby cemeteries, where he acknowledged robbing the graves. Three test graves found by Gein were opened with help from Allan Wilimovsky of the state crime lab.
The wooden boxes that contained the caskets had top boards that ran diagonally (not lengthwise). The tops of the boxes were buried in sandy soil, roughly two feet (61 cm) below the surface. Gein had broken into the tombs shortly after the burials while they were still unfinished.
The test graves were exhumed since authorities were unsure if the small Gein could dig up a grave alone in a single evening. They were discovered exactly as Gein had described them: two of the excavated tombs were found empty (one had a crowbar in place of the body). Most of the body was missing from the third burial, although Gein had returned rings and somebody pieces.
One casket was empty, and one coffin Gein had failed to open when he misplaced his pry bar. Gein’s confession was so highly supported.
Did Ed Gein Dig Up His Own Mother?
Gein started working on a “woman suit” soon after his mother passed away so that “he could become his mother—to really crawl into her flesh.” Gein explained that he had never had sex with the dead he excavated because “they smelt too terrible.”
Gein also confessed to shooting Mary Hogan, a bar owner missing since 1954 whose head was discovered in his home. Still, he later denied remembering the specifics of her demise.
A 16-year-old boy who went to baseball games and movies with Gein and whose parents were acquaintances of his claimed that Gein had shrunken heads in his residence, which Gein had claimed were artifacts from the Philippines that had been provided by a cousin who had served on the islands during World War II.
The police identified these as human facial skins that had been meticulously removed from corpses and worn as masks by Gein.
In addition, Gein was a suspect in several other unsolved crimes in Wisconsin, such as the 1953 disappearance of La Crosse babysitter Evelyn Hartley.
Sheriff Art Schley of Waushara County was accused of hitting Gein in the head and face with a brick wall as he was being questioned. Gein’s initial confession was therefore deemed to be inadmissible. Before Gein’s trial in 1968, Schley passed away at the age of 43 from heart failure.
Numerous people who knew Schley claimed that he was devastated by the horror of Gein’s actions and that this, combined with his fear of testifying (particularly regarding his assault on Gein), led to his demise.
He was victimized by Ed Gein just as surely as if he had slaughtered him, according to one of his pals.
Was Ed Gein Convicted For His Crimes?
Gein was charged with one count of first-degree murder in Waushara County Court on November 21, 1957, and pleaded not guilty due to insanity. Schizophrenia was identified as Ed Gein’s affliction, and he was deemed mentally incompetent and unsuitable for trial.
He was first committed to the high-security Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Waupun, Wisconsin (now the Dodge Correctional Institution), and then moved to the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
Ed Gein was “mentally able to speak with counsel and engage in his defense,” according to medical assessments in 1968. The trial lasted one week and started on November 7, 1968.
A psychiatrist testified that Gein had said to him that he was unsure as to whether Bernice Worden’s death was intentional or unintentional. Gein had informed him that Worden was killed when a gun in Worden’s store went off as he was inspecting it.
Gein testified that the gun fired after he attempted to load a round into it. He claimed that he had not pointed the weapon toward Worden and that he could not recall anything else that morning.
Judge Robert H. Gollmar presided over Gein’s trial, which was conducted without a jury at the defense’s request. On November 14, Gollmar found Ed Gein guilty. In a subsequent trial, the issue of Gein’s sanity was raised.
Following testimony from both the prosecution’s and the defense’s medical experts, Gollmar declared Gein “not guilty because of insanity” and mandated that he be admitted to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Ed Gein resided in a mental hospital for the remainder of his life. Writes Judge Gollmar: “Gein was only tried for one murder—that of Mrs. Worden—due to exorbitant costs. In addition, he acknowledged killing Mary Hogan.”
What Happened to Ed Gein’s Property?
The value of Gein’s home and 195-acre (79-hectare) land was estimated at $4,700 (or $44,000 in 2021). In the midst of rumors that the home and the grounds it stood on would turn into a tourist destination, his belongings were set to be auctioned off on March 30, 1958.
However, the home was completely destroyed by fire on March 20 early in the morning. According to a deputy fire marshal, a cleaning crew that was assigned to dispose of waste started a garbage fire 75 feet (23 m) from the house.
Hot coals were found near the bonfire, but the fire did not move from that area along the ground to the house. Although arson was possible, the fire’s origin was never formally identified.
Fire chief Frank Worden, the son of Bernice Worden, Gein’s final victim, might not have seen the fire as an urgent concern. In imprisonment, Gein heard about the incident and shrugged, “Just as well.”
Gein’s 1949 Ford vehicle, which he used to transport the bodies of his victims, was sold to carnival sideshow owner Bunny Gibbons for $760 (about $7,100 in 2021). Visitors to the carnival had to pay 25 to enter.
How Did Ed Gein Die?
On July 26, 1984, at the age of 77, Gein passed away in the Mendota Mental Health Institute from respiratory failure brought on by lung cancer. Tour tourists looking for mementos damaged his gravestone at the Plainfield Cemetery throughout the years, and the stone itself was taken in 2000.
It was located in storage at the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department after being found in June 2001, close to Seattle, Washington. Although the grave is no longer marked, Gein is buried in the cemetery with his parents and sibling.
Ed Gein in Pop Culture
Gein’s tale has left a lasting impression on American popular culture, as seen by the numerous times it has been referenced in literature, music, and film. In Robert Bloch’s dramatized telling of the story in the 1959 thriller Psycho, the story was first widely publicized.
The story of Ed Gein was loosely adapted into several movies, including Deranged (1974), In the Light of the Moon (2000) (which was released in the United States and Australia as Ed Gein (2001)), Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield (2007), “Ed Gein, the Musical” (2010), and the Rob Zombie movies House of 1000 Corpses and its follow-up, The Devil’s Rejects.
This is in addition to Alfred Hitchcock’s Numerous fictitious serial killers, including Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs), Leatherface (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Norman Bates (Psycho), and Dr. Oliver Thredson (American Horror Story: Asylum), were all based on Gein.
Gein’s story is told in the song “Young God,” which is from the Swans EP of the same name.
Between 1975 and 1976, American Errol Morris and German Werner Herzog made fruitless attempts to work together on a Gein-related film project. Morris spent over a year in Plainfield conducting dozens of interviews before finally sitting down for multiple interviews with Gein.
To test a theory, the two conspired to exhume Gein’s mother from her grave covertly. However, they never actually executed their plan, and their cooperation eventually ended. Morris’ abandoned effort was discussed in a 1989 New Yorker profile.
In the 2000 film adaptation of the 1991 novel American Psycho, the character Patrick Bateman misquotes Edmund Kemper, claiming: “You are aware of Ed Gein’s remarks about women? … ‘When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things.
“One part of me wants to take her out, talk to her, be nice and sweet and treat her right … the other part wonders what her head would look like on a stick.’”
A stage play titled Kannibale und Liebe about the case of Gein was written and directed by German director Jörg Buttgereit in 2012 at Theater Dortmund in Germany. Uwe Rohbeck, an actor, portrayed the part of Gein.
The press accounts of Gein’s misdeeds at the time gave rise to the “Geiners” subgenre of “dark comedy.” Since the 1950s, transgressive art or “shock rock” has repeatedly profited off of Gein, often without any connection to his life or actions beyond the shock value of his name.
Songs like “Dead Skin Mask” from Slayer’s 1990 album Seasons in the Abyss, “Nothing to Gein” from Mudvayne’s 2001 album L.D. 50, “Ed Gein” from the Ziggens’ 1992 album Rusty Never Sleeps, and “Skinned” from Blind Melon’s 1995 album Soup are examples of this.
Although Gein never kept a live captive and his victims were middle-aged women, a young girl begs Gein to free her in the Slayer song. Gidget Gein was the stage name used by Bradley Mark “Brad” Stewart, the bassist for the alternative metal band Marilyn Manson, whom Gein partially inspired.
Ed Gein was the name of another band. Ed Gein was mentioned as a potential source of inspiration for Jeffrey Dahmer in an episode of Netflix’s Dahmer – Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story from 2022. A direct link between the two is, however, regarded as conjecture.
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