Welcome to Freaky Friday. As I promised during Wednesday’s review of the Psycho remake, I’ll talk about Ed Gein today. We’re going to discuss both Ed’s crimes and his contributions to pop culture.
Warning: today’s content is a little more graphic than usual. Ed’s crimes were gross.
Let’s start at the end. I like to do that.
November 16, 1957–The End
Plainfield, Wisconsin, Population 680
Bernice Worden’s son entered his family’s hardware store and found his mother, Bernice Worden, missing. The son remembered Ed Gein coming in the day before to look at antifreeze. Gein said he’d be back the next morning to purchase the antifreeze.
Sure enough, a sales receipt—the last one Bernice wrote before her disappearance—sat on the counter. On the sales receipt was Ed Gein’s name.
The Gein Farm
Law enforcement went out to the Gein farm, a 200 acre spread a few miles outside Plainfield. They found the front door locked but entered an outbuilding.
The Gein farm had no electricity, so the policemen were doing their best to see by the light of flashlights. They literally bumped into Bernice Worden’s body, which was hanging from the ceiling by her feet. She had been gutted in the same fashion a deer hunter would gut a deer.
The police officers searched the interior of the house and found Mrs. Worden’s head in a burlap sack. It had been affixed with nails as though Gein intended to hang it as an ornament. Mrs. Worden’s intestines had been rolled into a man’s suit.
[Note: The Bernice Worden crime scene photos can be viewed here. Click at your own discretion. This is gross.]
Police would later learn that Ed shot Mrs. Worden in her place of business. Gein loaded a display rifle with a cartridge he brought from home and used it to commit the murder. Once Mrs. Worden was dead, Ed loaded her into his vehicle and took her home with him.
At the Gein Farm, police found a paper sack which contained what appeared to be human hair. Upon further examination, they discovered the hair was attached to a head that belonged to Mary Hogan. Mary had been missing for close to three years. It was commonly believed the tavern owner had met foul play, but Ed was not a suspect.
Ed Gein’s Interior Design Skills
Police also found artifacts created out of human remains. There were skull bowls, nipples threaded together, a box of vulvas that had been decorated, lampshades made of human skin, nine face masks made of human skin, and a female body suit made of human skin.
In addition to all the stray body parts in the Gein home, the house resembled something from the Hoarders TV show. There were piles of garbage, magazines, newspapers amidst what can only be described as total filth.
Ed sat in a jail cell for more than thirty hours, refusing to speak to any law enforcement. Finally, police confronted Ed with Bernice Worden’s corpse. At this point, Ed agreed to talk if the police would get him a slice of apple pie with cheddar cheese on top of it.
He admitted everything. He killed Bernice Worden. He killed Mary Hogan. He had been visiting the Plainfield Cemetery and taking home souvenirs for about twelve years. The court ordered a month-long psychiatric evaluation.
During this evaluation, it was discovered that Ed’s mother was at the root of Ed’s problem.
To summarize, Augusta Gein was a devoutly religious and domineering woman who isolated her her sons, controlled their lives, and filled their heads with her own version of the gospel. For the long version, keep reading.
When Ed was born, his family owned a grocery store in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Around the time Ed was 8-years-old, Augusta insisted they sell the grocery store and move somewhere more secluded. Augusta didn’t want her sons to be corrupted by the outside world. The Gein family bought a 200 acre farm outside Plainfield, Wisconsin.
Augusta Gein created a world of isolation for her sons in which she determined all rights and wrongs. A very religious woman, Augusta developed her own interpretations of the Holy Bible. She taught her sons that all women—aside from herself, one would assume—were dirty tramps.
Ed went to school through the seventh or eighth grade. He was considered odd, but he was not suspected of any wrongdoing. After Ed left school, his only interaction was with his parents and his brother, Henry.
In 1940 Ed’s father (George Gein) died of a heart attack. Ed and his brother (Henry) began taking odd jobs to make ends meet. Ed often babysat, finding he related better to children than to adults. Henry began to become aware of his mother’s negative influence in he and Ed’s lives. When he told Ed his thoughts, Ed was hurt and confused.
In May of 1944, Henry and Ed attempted to burn off a marsh on their property. Ed claimed he lost sight of Henry. However, when Ed summoned police to the farm, he led them right to Henry’s body. It has been noted that there were bruises on Henry’s body that were inconsistent with being caught in a fire. These bruises were never explained.
After that, it was just Ed and his mother.
Augusta Gein died in December of 1945 after suffering several strokes. Police would discover that Ed had closed off her room, leaving it exactly as it was when she lived in the house.
Ed’s Mental Deterioration
Without this small amount of interaction, Ed deteriorated mentally. He admitted to police that in the years following his mother’s death, he made many trips to the graveyard to exhume corpses.
He even had a system for collecting corpses. Ed watched obituaries for women who reminded him of his mother. On the day the body was interred, Ed would slip into the cemetery and dig up the corpse. The ground was still loose, and it was an easier job than if he waited.
Ed, it turns out, wanted a sex change so he could be female. That was why he made the female body suit out of human skin. He would wear this suit around the farm house and pretend to be a woman, perhaps his mother. Psychological evaluations said that Ed was trying to bring back or replace his mother.
After his month of psychiatric evaluation ended, Ed was determined unfit to stand trial. He was committed to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. In 1968, it was decided that Ed was fit to stand trial. He was tried for the murder of Bernice Worden and found guilty by reason of insanity and sent back to Central State Hospital.
Employees remembered Ed as being compliant and gentle. He worked as a carpenter, a mason, and a hospital attendant. The only time he wasn’t a model patient was during the full moon. He tended to talk a lot during the full moon, especially about what he’d like to do to women.
Ed sought a sanity hearing in 1974 and was denied. He died in Central State Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane in 1984 of respiratory failure, which was related to cancer.
I promised to talk about Ed Gein’s influence on pop culture, and that’s what we are going to do now.
Because Ed was the last of his family, his belongings were sold at public auction. His car was bought by a man who later took it to fairs and charged people admission to see it.
Of note: The Gein farmhouse burned down right before the auction was set to happen. Arson was suspected.
It is well known that people in certain professions develop a kind of sick humor to help them cope. People were so shocked after learning about Ed’s secret life that a sort of humor concerning Ed himself developed. An Ed Gein joke might took like this:
What did Ed Gein say to the sheriff who arrested him?
Have a heart.
Ed in the movies:
- Both Ed Gein and Norman Bates were momma’s boys.
- Norman Bates had an extremely domineering mother. So did Ed.
- Norman exhumes his mother after her murder her and brings her back home. Ed exhumed bodies of women who reminded him of his mother and brought them home.
- Norman dresses as his mother and kills people. Ed dressed as a woman when he was home alone and is reported to have wanted a sex change.
- Norman kills women to whom he is attracted. Ed killed women who reminded him of his mother so he could keep them forever.
- Norman had kept his mother’s room as it was when his mother was alive. Ed did the same thing, boarding up Augusta’s room and leaving it way it was the last day she used it.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre —
- Leatherface’s family is the epitome of dysfunction. They kill people and eat them. Ed’s family life was dysfunctional. His father was an alcoholic, and his mother was a domineering zealot.
- Leatherface wears a human skin mask. Ed made human skin masks. It would make sense that he wore them.
- The interior of Leatherface’s house was extremely filthy and cluttered. This is how Ed Gein lived after his mother died.
- The Texas Chainsaw Massacre family cannibalized their victims. Though there’s not proof Ed did this, he made bowls out of human skulls. Whether or not he ate out of them…who really wants to think about that?
The Silence of the Lambs —
- Buffalo Bill wanted to be a woman, so he made a woman suit. Ed Gein made a woman suit, too.
Ed Gein did not qualify as a serial killer because he only had two known victims. Yet he broke so many human taboos that his crimes have been immortalized in pop culture. As I researched this post, I found websites where people claimed that the hospital where Ed lived out his final years is haunted…by Ed’s ghost, of course.
Thank you for your interest in this article. I often receive requests for further information on these articles. Please understand my knowledge of this topic is limited to what you’ve read in this article. I have no plans to update or expand these articles. I am currently focusing on my fiction writing career and am no longer writing or researching for non-fiction articles. If you’re interested in seeing what else I write, please check out the My Fiction page on this website or visit my Amazon Author Page on amazon.com.
A & E’s Biography presentation on Ed Gein. It is available on You Tube here.