Ed Gein | Murderer, Body Snatcher, Trophy Maker

Whilst not a serial killer, Ed Gein is regularly talked about as if he were one and this could be largely due to the way his real-life actions have influenced characters and storylines in movies such as Silence of the Lambs and Psycho.

Like in Psycho, Ed Gein had problems with his mother, Augusta. The pair lived alone after the death of Ed’s father, who died of a heart attack, and his brother who died of asphyxiation in a fire that got out of control near their home. Initially it was thought Ed could have had something to do with the death but no formal charges were ever issued.

For one whole year Ed lived with his overbearing Lutheran mother who called all unwed women harlots. She had suffered a paralyzing stroke after her other son, Henry’s, death and Ed had devoted himself to taking care of her. But his mother’s opinions about unmarried women stayed with Ed even after she died in 1945, only days before the new year. Now Ed was alone in the world.

Growing up in Plainfield Ed was generally considered to be reliable and honest, enjoying babysitting for neighbours. And after his mother’s death, he held onto the farm, boarding up rooms that his mother had used, and taking on odd jobs to help pay for the upkeep. He also sold an 80-acre parcel of land that had been owned by Henry.

Ed Gein blog post

Worden and Hogan

Bernice Warden disappeared in November of 1957, the hardware store where she worked remained closed all day and a resident reported the stores truck being driven out of the back at 9.30am. At 5pm her son, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden entered the store and found the cash register open and blood on the floor. The last receipt written by Bernice the morning she disappeared was for a gallon of Anti-freeze to one Ed Gein.

Ed was arrested later that same day and a search of his property followed. Officers discovered Worden’s decapitated body hung upside down in a shed on the farm, shot with a 22. calibre rifle. But that wasn’t all they found, inside the property were bones, furniture and accessories covered and made from human skin -not unlike those in the TV series Hannibal, bowls made from human skulls, articles of clothing made from human skin, a shoebox containing nine vulvae, a belt made from human nipples, noses, lips, fingernails, and the facemask and skull of Mary Hogan.

Mary Hogen was a tavern owner who had been missing since 1954. Initially, Gein admitted to shooting Hogan but later denied any memory of her death.

Body Snatcher

Like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, Ed Gein was constructing a woman suit. He began this endeavour not long after his mother’s death with the intention of being able to wear the suit and become his mother.

Ed Gein told officers that he had made 40 nocturnal visits to the local graveyard to exhume the recently deceased, saying he was in some kind of daze whilst the activities took place and during 30 of these returned to himself in time to cease what he was doing and return home empty-handed. On those occasions when he did not leave empty-handed, he brought home the bodies of women who resembled his mother and used their skins and bones to make the items the officers had found in his house.

Ed Gein: Guilty or Not Guilty

Ed Gein pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charges of first-degree murder brought against him on November 21st, 1957. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. But in 1968 doctors found Gein capable of conferring with counsel and able to participate in his defence. Gein claimed to remember very little of what happened to Bernice Worden other than attempting to load a round into a rifle and it accidentally going off and killing her. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and once again committed to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where he remained until his death.

Born in 1906, in Plainfield, Wisconsin, Ed Gein lived until the age of 77. He died of liver cancer and respiratory failure in Mendota Mental Health Institute.