Edward Theodore Gein (August 27, 1906 – July 26, 1984) was an American murderer and grave robber. All of his crimes were
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.
Gein was found guilty of murdering only two people, so therefore he would not technically meet the definition of a serial
killer, 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 Chain Saw Massacre.
Ed Gein was born in La Crosse County, Wisconsin. His parents, George and Augusta Gein and brother, Edward Theodore
Gein. His father was a violent alcoholic who was frequently unemployed. The elder Gein would usually come home inebriated
and physically abuse his sons. Despite Augusta's deep contempt for her husband, the atrophic 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.
Augusta Gein moved to this location to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons. Edward Gein left the premises only to go
to school. Besides school, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta, a fervent Lutheran, drummed into her
boys the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drink, and the belief that all women (herself excluded) were prostitutes,
and the Old Testament dealing with death, murder, and divine retribution.
Deaths of family members
George Gein died of heart failure in 1940, after which the Gein brothers began working at odd jobs to help their mother and the farm. Both
brothers were considered reliable and honest by people in town. While both worked as handymen, Ed Gein also frequently babysat for
neighbors. He enjoyed to help their mother and the farm. Both brothers were considered reliable and honest by people in 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 around his mortified brother.
On May 16, 1944, a brush fire burned close to the farm, and the Gein brothers went out to extinguish it. The brothers were reportedly
separated, and as night fell, Ed Gein supposedly 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 questions 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. Later, the county coroner listed
asphyxiation as the cause of death. Many began to suspect that Ed killed his brother; however, no charges were filed.
On November 21, 1957, Gein was arraigned on one count of first degree murder in Waushara County Court, where he
pled not guilty by reason of insanity. Found mentally incompetent and thus unfit for 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 the Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. During 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.
On July 26, 1984, Gein died of respiratory failure at the age of 77 in Stovall Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. 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 during 2000. The gravestone was recovered during June 2001 near Seattle
and is now in a museum in Waushara County.
After his brother's death, Gein lived alone with his mother, Augusta Gein, died on December 29, 1945, from a series of strokes, at which time
Gein "lost his only friend and one true love, he was absolutely alone in the world."
Gein remained on the farm, supporting himself with earnings from odd jobs. He boarded up rooms mostly used by his mother, such as 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, and between 1947 and 1954 made as many as 40 night time visits to three local
graveyards in order to exhume a number of recently buried bodies.
With a slight growth over one eye and an effeminate demeanor, Edward 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.
Gein tried to make his mother happy, but she was rarely pleased with her boys. During their teens and throughout their early adulthood she would often abused them, believing that they were
destined to become failures like their father. The boys remained detached from people outside of their farmstead, and so had only each other for company.
On November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared, and police had reason to suspect Gein. Worden's son told investigators that Gein had been in the
store the evening before the disappearance, saying he would return the next 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 a deer". She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations were made after her death.
Searching the house, authorities found:
-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 vulvae in a shoe box
-A belt made from female human nipples
-Skulls on his bedposts.
-A pair of lips on a draw string for a window-shade.
-A lampshade made from the skin from a human face.
These artifacts were photographed at a crime laboratory and were then destroyed.
When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he 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 came 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.
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 during a single evening, they exhumed two of the graves and found them empty (one had a crowbar where the body should have been), thus apparently corroborating Gein's
confession. Allan Wilimovsky of the state crime laboratory participated with opening three test graves identified by Gein. The caskets were inside wooden boxes; the top boards ran
crossways (not lengthwise). The tops of the boxes were about two feet below the surface in sandy soil. Gein had robbed the graves soon after the funerals when the graves were not
completed. They were found as Gein described: one casket was empty, one Gein had failed to open when he lost his pry bar, and most of the body was gone from the third but Gein had
returned rings and some body parts.
Soon after his mother's death, Gein apparently decided he wanted a sex change and began to create a "woman suit" so he could pretend to be female. Gein's practice of donning the
tanned skins of women was described as an "insane transvestite ritual". Gein denied having sex with the bodies he exhumed, explaining: "They smelled too bad." During state crime
laboratory interrogation, Gein also admitted to the shooting death of Mary Hogan, a tavern owner missing since 1954 whose head was found in his house, but later denied memory of
details of her death.
A 16-year-old youth, whose parents were friends of Gein and who attended ball games and movies with him, reported that Gein kept shrunken heads in his house, which Gein had
described as relics from the Philippines, sent by a cousin who had served on the islands during World War II. Upon investigation by the police, these were determined to be human facial
skins, carefully peeled from corpses and used by Gein as masks.
Waushara County sheriff Art Schley reportedly assaulted Gein during questioning by banging Gein's head and face into a brick wall; as a result, Gein's initial confession was ruled
inadmissible. Schley died of heart failure during 1968, at age 43, before Gein's trial. Many who knew him said he was traumatized by the horror of Gein's crimes and that this, along with the
fear of having to testify (especially about assaulting Gein), caused his death. One of his friends said: "He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him."
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