Ed Gein was a murderer and corpse-snatcher whose crimes sent shivers through people all across the nation.
Gein would dismember his victim’s bodies and use the various body parts to “decorate” his home.
He even made belts out of different body parts.
Ed inspired several popular movies including The Silence of the Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacres and Psycho.
Ed Geins’ Early Years
Augusta and George Gein brought Edward Theodore into the world on August 27, 1906 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Ed was the second boy that the couple had, with the first one being Henry, who was seven years old at the time of Ed’s birth. Ed and Henry’s mother was extremely religious, and she was determined to raise her sons under the strictest religious practices.
Augusta taught her sons various lessons out of the Bible every day, and she consistently taught her sons that women were loose and immoral. She did this in hopes of discouraging their sexual desires for women, as she was afraid that they would end up in Hell if they fulfilled their sexual desires. She was an extremely dominant woman, who believed that her beliefs were true.
Ed and Henry’s father was a weak man, who was also a severe alcoholic. George did not argue with Augusta on how to raise their sons, and Augusta viewed George as a worthless man whom could not care for himself, let alone two sons. George did not work, and Augusta not only took care of the boys, but she supported them financially, as well. She had her own grocery store in La Crosse, and it provided her with enough money to support the family quite well.
Augusta worked hard, and she saved enough money to move her family to the country, away from the immoralities of the city. They moved to Plainfield, Wisconsin in 1914, where Augusta purchased a 200 acre farm. Their closest neighbors were almost a half of a mile down the road. Here, she thought that she was protecting her family from all of the evilness and corruption in the city.
Ed Geins’ School Years
While Augusta tried to shelter the boys from the world as much as possible, she had to send them to school. Although Ed performed quite well in Reading, his performance in other areas was average. He enjoyed reading adventure and fantasy books, as it allowed him to use his imagination and escape the real world. Ed’s schoolmates did not like Ed, because he was extremely shy and feminine-acting.
He and his brother did not have any friends, and when they tried to make friends, their mother would punish them. His mother’s view on making friends made Ed sad, but he believed in his mother, and he followed her rules no matter what. Even though Ed and Henry followed all of their mother’s rules, she would still punish them often, trying to keep them from becoming failures like their father. The two boy’s only friends were each other.
Ed’s Changing Relationship With Henry
Ed had a strong relationship with his brother, and he thought he was a hard-working man with a lot of character. When their father died in 1940, Ed and Henry took up various jobs to help support their mother and the farm. Ed tried to work as hard as Henry; and, for the better part, the people in the town thought that the boys were hard workers and responsible.
While most of the work that the boys took on was handyman work, Ed often babysat for some of his neighbors. Ed enjoyed babysitting, because he could get along with children much better than he could get along with people of his own age. In many ways, Ed was both emotionally and socially lacking, only able to relate to children, Henry and his mother.
Henry was often concerned with Ed’s view of and attachment to their mother; and, on many occasions, Henry would criticize Augusta, something Ed would never even think of doing. Ed thought that his mother was perfect, and he did not understand why Henry did not think the same way. Many people think that this was what may have led up to the death of Henry in 1944.
The Death of Henry and Augusta
On May 16, 1944, Ed and Henry were trying to extinguish a brush fire on the farm. They were each working on separate sections of the farm; and when night approached, Ed told the police that he could not find his brother. After he finished putting out the fire, Ed called the police and told them of Henry’s disappearance. The police began searching for Henry, but they were surprised when Ed showed them where Henry was.
Henry was lying on the ground in an area that the fire did not touch, and he had several bruises on his head. While Henry’s death seemed quite mysterious, the police did not suspect that Ed had anything to do with his death, as they could not believe that someone as quiet and shy as Ed could kill anyone. The county coroner later stated that Henry died from asphyxiation, and nobody argued with the statement.
For several years, after the death of Henry, Ed lived alone with his mother on the farm. His relationship with Augusta grew, and he was quite happy and content. However, after suffering several strokes, Augusta died on December 19, 1945. Ed was extremely shaken upon his mother’s death, and he felt as if he was truly alone in the world.
Ed Geins’ Turning Point
Ed became extremely lonely after his mother died, and he spent much of his time reading various books about such things as human anatomy, headhunters, Nazis and shipwrecks. He learned many things from his books, mostly strange things such as how to exhume bodies from graves and how to shrink human heads. He became obsessed with his books, and he often read parts of them to the children he babysat.
Gein read the local newspaper regularly, mainly to find out what local women had recently died. He would then go to their graves at night, dig up their bodies and cut up their bodies for various purposes. Ed often wondered what it would be like to be a woman, and he often fantasized and had dreams of being one. He was awed by the power that women seemingly had over men, and he wanted to feel that power.
Sometimes, he would peel the skin off of dead women so that he could wear it. He wanted to see how it would feel to have female genitals and breasts; so he would cut off various parts from corpses and wear them. Over some time, he collected a vast array of body parts, including many preserved human heads. At one point, one of the children that Ed babysat for saw some of the heads, but Ed explained that they were simply relics from ancient headhunters in the South Seas.
On another occasion, two other young boys visited Geins’ home, and they saw the same preserved heads. However, since it was almost Halloween, they thought that they were just some seasonal decorations. Even though the children believed Ed’s stories about the heads, people in the town began to talk about Ed and the weird objects that he collected. People would often joke with Ed about having shrunken heads, but they were unaware that he was the person who shrunk them.
The Disappearance of Georgia Weckler and Evelyn Hartley
During the late 1940s and early 1950s, the police in Wisconsin began to notice a significant increase in cases involving missing persons. One such case was that of Georgia Weckler, an eight year old girl, who vanished on her way home from school in Jefferson on May 1, 1947. Local police and townspeople spent days searching for Georgia, but they could never find her. The only evidence that police were able to find was some tire tracks of a Ford vehicle.
About six years later, a 15 year old girl, by the name of Evelyn Hartley, disappeared in La Crosse while babysitting. Her father had tried to call Evelyn several times, but she did not answer the phone. He became quite worried, and drove to where his daughter was babysitting. However, nobody answered the door when he knocked. He peeked through a window, and he could see Evelyn’s glasses on the floor, along with one of her shoes.
At this point, his anxiety grew, and he tried desperately to find an open door or window. Everything was securely locked except for one window leading to the basement. He entered the window and found signs of a violent struggle and some bloodstains on the floor. He called the police immediately, who found other bloodstains and Evelyn’s other shoe, but they could not find the girl. A few days later, they found Evelyn’s clothing covered in blood just outside of town.
The Disappearances Continue
In November, 1952, two men by the names of Ray Burgess and Victor Travis stopped at a bar in Plainfield. The two men spent about three hours at the bar before they left to go deer hunting. However, nobody ever saw Ray, Victor or their car again. While police searched for them for days, they could never find the men.
On another occasion, in late 1954, a woman by the name of Mary Hogan vanished after leaving her job at a Plainfield tavern. While police found a trail of blood leading from the inside of the tavern to the parking lot and an empty bullet cartridge, they could not find Mary. They were not sure if all of these disappearances were linked, since there were virtually no similarities among the cases, except for the fact that they all occurred near Plainfield.
In November, 1957, a woman by the name of Bernice Worden disappeared from her job at a local hardware store. Someone had robbed the store; and when police showed up to investigate, Bernice was missing. Several witnesses had said that Gein was the last customer they saw in the store, and some people said they saw him standing around the store at the time of the robbery.
This gave police enough cause to go to Geins’ home to investigate, and on November 17, 1957, they did just that. Ed’s house was full of rotting trash all over the counters and floors. The smell in the house was unbearable. One of the police, Arthur Schley, went into the kitchen and discovered a large carcass hanging upside down from the ceiling. He initially thought it was a deer; however, upon further investigation, he found it was not a deer at all.
What he thought to be a deer, was actually the headless body of a woman, who they later determined to be Bernice Worden. Ed had not only decapitated Bernice, but he had slit her open and gutted her, as well. The body of Bernice was not the only unsettling evidence they found.
Ed had made various household items out of many different human body parts. There were wastebaskets and lampshades made out of human skin and a bowl made out of a person’s skull. There was also an armchair that Gein had made out of human skin and a belt that he made out of several noses, a heart, a shrunken head and several other body parts. They continued their search and found a suit made of skin and a box full of preserved female genitalia.
Ed Geins’ Confessions
After police discovered the headless body of Bernice Worden and the other unsettling evidence in Geins’ home, they continued to search the farm, looking for possible leads to other missing persons. While they believed that Ed was probably involved in many more murders than Bernice, they needed more substantial evidence.
Investigators interviewed Gein at the Wautoma County Jailhouse; however, at first, Ed denied involvement in any murders. After just one day in jail though, Ed told the gruesome story of how he murdered Bernice and how he obtained the body parts to decorate his home. He stated that he had taken the cash register from Bernice’s store, dragged her to his car and drove to his home.
Although he said that he could not remember how he killed Bernice, medical examiners reported that she died from a shot to the head. When police asked Ed where he got the body parts from, he stated that he dug up dead people from a local graveyard. He insisted, however, that the only people he killed were Worden and Hogan. He had shot Hogan in the head, as well.
The Evaluation of Ed Gein
Ed’s attorney questioned his sanity; thus, he suggested that Gein plead not guilty, by reason of insanity. Ed then agreed to several psychological evaluations, which did find that he was severely impaired emotionally. The professionals, who interviewed Ed, labeled him as a sexual psychopath and a schizophrenic.
They attributed his condition to his relationship with his mother and the unusual way that she raised him. They further stated that Ed had conflicting views on women. Not only did he have a natural attraction to them, but he also had many negative feelings about them, as well. These extreme feelings pertaining to women eventually made him into the psychopath that he turned into.
In the meantime, police had found the body parts of ten more women inside Ed’s house. While Gein insisted that the remains came from local graveyards, police thought that they may have been the remains of people that Ed had murdered. However, the only way that they could find out, was to dig up the graves that Gein claimed to have robbed. After they dug up the graves and examined the corpses, they determined that Ed was telling the truth.
However, on November 29, while police were digging on Ed’s farm, they found the remains of another person, making them think that Gein may have been responsible for a third murder. Since the skeleton was the size of a man, they suspected that it may have been the remains of Victor Travis. Lab tests determined that the remains belonged to a middle-aged woman though, not of a man. Thus, as hard as the police tried to link Gein to the missing persons of years ago, they could only link him to those of Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden.
After the Discoveries
The news of Ed Gein and his crimes spread rapidly; and, soon, most everyone around the nation knew about him. While most people were horrified by his crimes, many were still drawn to the story and what happened on the farm. Reporters from all over the country flocked to Plainfield in hopes of getting a story about the infamous Ed Gein. Residents of Plainfield were subject to reporters trying to interview them on almost a daily basis.
Most residents gladly answered the reporter’s questions, and some of them even enjoyed living in the town that was now known for being the home of Ed Gein. Since Ed kept mostly to himself, most residents could only say that he was a bit strange with a weird sense of humor. They also said that they never suspected that he could have been capable of the crimes that he committed.
After police made their discoveries, Gein spent one month in a mental facility where professionals labeled him as mentally incompetent. This meant that the state could not try Ed for first-degree murder. Many people were angry that Gein would not be tried; however, there was nothing they could do. The courts committed Ed to the Central State Hospital in Waupun, where he then went on to spend the next 10 years.
Shortly after his sentencing, the state auctioned off the Gein farm and all of Ed’s possessions. Thousands of people went to the auction in hopes of obtaining such things as Ed’s car, musical instruments or furniture. The auction company even charged people 50 cents just to attend the auction. This made residents angry, and soon after that, the company stopped charging the fee.
On March 20, 1958, someone made an anonymous call to the fire department. Someone had set Ed Geins’ farm on fire. The house burned quickly, and onlookers had no remorse. They were happy to see that the Gein farm was gone. While investigators determined the fire was due to an arsonist, they never found any suspects.
Although the fire destroyed most of Ed’s belongings, some were left unharmed. The state continued to auction off any unharmed possessions including Geins’ car and various farming equipment. Ed’s car that he used to haul his bodies in sold for $760, and the man who bought it put it on display at local fairs, charging people 25 cents just to look at it.
Geins’ Trial and Acquittal
After Ed spent 10 years in the mental facility, the courts determined that he was competent enough to go on trial, and proceedings began on January 22, 1968. The trial began on November 7, 1968, with several witnesses testifying including lab technicians, psychiatrists, sheriffs and neighbors of Gein. However, there was enough evidence pointing to Ed, and it did not take long for the judge to determine that he was guilty of first-degree murder.
Soon after the trial, the courts found Ed not guilty due to insanity, and they acquitted him. They then sent him back to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. The families of Ed’s victims were not happy with the court’s final decision; but, again, there was nothing anybody could do. Ed Gein would spend the rest of his life in the mental hospital.
The End of Ed Gein
Ed was quite happy in the hospital, and many people even believed he was happier in the hospital than he had ever been in his entire life. Although he kept mostly to himself in the hospital, he got along quite well with the nurses, doctors and other patients. He continued to read, and he spent most of his time with his nose in a book. He also enjoyed talking with the staff and partaking in such things as rug making and stone polishing.
Overall, Ed was one of the most docile patients on his ward. He never needed medications to calm him, and he was always happy and upbeat. He did maintain some strange ways, however, such as staring at female staff members until he made them nervous. However, other than that, doctors considered him as a model patient.
Ed suffered from cancer for many years while he was institutionalized; and on July 26, 1984, he died. The state buried him beside his mother in the Plainfield cemetery, marking the end of the infamous Ed Gein.