Did You Know...
On July 26, 1984, Ed Gein, a serial killer infamous for skinning human corpses, dies of complications from cancer in a Wisconsin prison at age 77. Gein served as the inspiration for writer Robert Bloch's character Norman Bates in the 1959 novel "Psycho," which in 1960 was turned into a film starring Anthony Perkins and directed by Alfred Hitchcock.
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, according to the creators Robert Bloch, Tobe Hooper and Thomas Harris, his real-life case influenced the creation of fictional serial killers Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Jame Gumb from The Silence of the Lambs.
Gein was born in La Crosse, 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 against 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.
Deaths and Arrest
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According to statements by Ed Gein, on May 16, 1944 his brother Henry decided to burn off a marsh on the property. 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. Gein was devastated by her death; in the words of biographer Harold Schechter, he had "lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world."
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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.
Between 1947 and 1952, Ed Gein 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.
Searching the house, authorities found:
- Four noses
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Nine masks of human skin
- Bowls made from human skulls
- Ten female heads with the tops sawn 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
- A belt made from human female nipples
- Skulls on his bedposts
- Organs in the refrigerator
- A pair of lips on a draw string for a windowshade
- A lampshade made from the skin from a human face
On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer in Stovall Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute.
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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 ($5,773 when accounting for inflation) to carnival sideshow operator Bunny Gibbons. Gibbons later charged carnival goers 25¢ admission to see it.
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.