American serial killer (1907-1984).

Gein grew up under the thumb of his tyrannical, hyper-religious mother who detested all other women as harlots and temptresses. He spent much of his life obsessed with his mother. His father died of alcoholism, and his older brother died in a fire in 1944. There is speculation that Gein killed his brother, but there's never been enough evidence to be anything but fairly idle gossip. 

When Gein's mother died in 1945, he was an unwed, middle-aged farmer with no one left in his life. His mother's teachings had left him largely isolated from everyone in nearby Plainfield, Wisconsin, so he rarely ventured there but to buy groceries or tools. He was able to keep the family farm and supported himself doing odd jobs. He boarded up the rooms his mother used and let the rest of the house fall into squalor. He started reading pulp magazines, especially those involving cannibalism, as well as stories about Nazis who turned their victims' skin into lampshades and other furnishings. 

In November of 1957, local police investigating the disappearance of Bernice Worden, the owner of the hardware store, went looking for Gein because a receipt for some antifreeze he'd purchased was found at the store. A deputy found Worden's body in a shed on Gein's property. She'd been shot with a .22 rifle, then decapitated, and her body was, according to police, "dressed out like a deer." Gein was arrested, and his property was searched. 

Some of what authorities found included: a wastebasket and chair seats made of human skin; a lampshade made from a human face; bowls made from human skulls; skulls on Gein's bedposts; a corset made from a skinned female torso; a pair of lips on the drawstring for a window shade; several face masks made from women's faces; the skull and face mask of Mary Hogan, another local missing person; Bernice Worden's head in a burlap sack; Worden's heart in a plastic bag in front of Gein's stove; a belt made from women's nipples; noses, fingernails, bones, skulls, and vulvae. 

Gein had killed Worley and Hogan; all the other body parts had come from bodies he'd dug up at local cemeteries. He had scavenged graves of middle-aged women who resembled his mother, with the intent to build a woman suit so he could wear it and become his mother. 

After his arrest, Gein's neighbors recalled, with some revulsion, that he sometimes brought them portions of venison to share. However, Gein told a psychiatrist that he had never shot a deer in his life.

Sheriff Art Schley beat Gein during questioning, an act that got his initial confession barred from court. He died of heart failure in 1968, before Gein went to trial, with many attributing the sheriff's death to stress and trauma from the investigation

Gein was found not guilty by reason of insanity in 1957, but was judged able to stand trial a little over a decade later. He was found guilty of killing Worley, but again judged insane in relation to his other crimes. He spent the rest of his life in the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Waupun, Wisconsin

Gein is perhaps the second most influential serial killer in history (after Jack the Ripper) -- numerous films, including "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," "Psycho," and "The Silence of the Lambs" are loosely based on his exploits.

Research from Wikipedia and "Did You Hear What Eddie Gein Done?" by Harold Schechter and Eric Powell.

American serial killer 1906 - 1984

Many compulsive murderers in modern history took a greater death-toll, but few of their atrocities were as horrific as Edward Theodore Gein's. In a time when serial killings were not an oft encountered phenomenon, the arrest and subsequent investigations of Eddie Gein, as he was known to his neighbors, shocked the entire world. Being the first serial killer to get masssive media coverage, Gein became a popular icon of sorts.

On August 27, 1906 Gein was born in the city of La Crosse, Wisconsin as the son of George and Augusta Gein, who owned a small grocery store in the city. Gein had an older brother named Henry. Shortly after his birth, the family relocated to a farmhouse in the small rural community of Plainfield, Wisconsin. In that house, Eddie was to live until November 17, 1957, when sheriff Arthur Schley accidentally bumped in to the dismembered torso of Bernice Worden in Gein's kitchen.

Raising a monster

The Gein family was no ordinary one by any measure. Father George was a spineless alcoholic who had no particular voice when it came to raising the two boys. Augusta Gein, on the other hand, was a strong woman with a fanatic reverence for the word of God. The boys were raised on her tedious ravings about the sinfulness of all women. Augusta implored the boys never to get married.

Augusta hated and oppressed her weak husband. On many an occasion, Augusta prayed for him to die. Her prayers were answered in 1940. Henry and Eddie took jobs to support their mother and tended the farm. Eddie was particularly fond of babysitting.

At a later age, Henry felt that he had been limited in his development by Augusta's rigid upbringing. On a few occasions, he voiced this criticism to his younger brother. Ed, on the other hand, could not fit his brother's opinions to the immaculate image he had of his mother. This is likely to have cost Henry his life in 1944. During a fire on the farm Henry got lost and was later found dead by the police with severe head trauma. No one suspected Ed at the time because both boys had a very decent reputation in the neighborhood.

In 1945 Augusta passed away. Gein, now a 39 year old with the mind of a child, was the only remaining member of the family. Thanks to federal subsidies, Ed didn't need to farm the land anymore to make a living. He sealed up the upper rooms of the house, where his mother had lived, and took residence in the lower areas. There he quietly spent the next decade on his macabre hobbies..

Slipping away

Having been an avid reader since early childhood, Ed delved into a wide area of subjects, his favorites being female anatomy, which he studied through medical literature, horror fiction and porn magazines. Part of Ed had always wanted to be a woman. He had a lifelong obsession with one woman in particular: Augusta. Upon her passing he had masturbated over her cadaver. He wanted to be with her and he wanted to be her.

He devoured books about the medical experiments by Joseph Mengele in the Nazi deathcamps. When he began to dig up freshly buried female corpses from the local cemetery, he persuaded his rather trusting friend Gus to help him carry the bodies home by convincing him he was doing research on them to advance science.

Gein, who had the reputation of being the town's benign weirdo, made a name amongst the local children when he showed several boys his collection of shrunken human heads. None of the adults actually believed their kids' stories.

Ed continued to dig up fresh bodies by regularly checking the obituaries. He crafted many bizarre objects from the remains, including soup bowls of skulls, an arm chair with real arms, a mobile made of noses and lips, jewelery made out of nipples, a dress and jackets made entirely out of women's skin, in which he would dress himself up as a woman. He also prepared female genitalia in such a way that they could cover up his own.

Handiwork wasn't the only reason for Ed's trips to the graveyard. On many occasions, he stripped the flesh of the women and kept it for consumption. He would sometimes bring venison around to his neighbour's house as a gift. After his arrest he said to have never hunted in his life. Although he admitted later to having sexual fantasies about the corpses as well, he never had intercourse with the bodies because of their odour.

After Gus was taken away to an asylum, Eddie was by himself again. With his buddy no longer watching over his shoulder, Gein no longer took supplies from the graveyard. Instead, he began gathering 'fresh' ingredients for his art- and kitchenwork...


Ever since the mysterious disappearance of eight year old Georgia Weckler in 1947, the local police had been confronted with a series of brutal, unsolved murders in the Plainfield area. Aside from Georgia, another little girl, two men and local innkeeper Mary Hogan were reported missing. Evidence of violence was found at each scene, but of the bodies was no trace. When Gein was told about Hogan's disappearing by a townsman, he had casually replied that she wasn't actually missing. He stated that she was at his farm. Obviously, the townsman didn't take it seriously. Hogan turned out later to be Ed's first confirmed kill. He confessed to shooting her at close range.

The end

On November 16, 1957 local hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared under mysterious circumstances. The next moring, her son, assistant deputy Frank Worden, remembered a conversation he had with Gein earlier about his need for duct tape. Sheriff Arthur Schley and some of his men set out to question Gein at his farm to see if he had visited the hardware store, hoping that he could help in the investigation. In the kitchen, the sheriff bumped into what appeared to be a large deer carcass that Gein was preparing, already gutted and dismembered. After a while, it struck him that it was in fact a human cadaver: Bernice Worden's.

After his arrest, some 15 corpses were excavated at the Gein residence. Ed maintained that many of them were stolen from the graveyard. The earliest murder he confessed to was Mary Hogan's. There was no conclusive evidence to prove his involvement in the other cases.

Gein was found unfit for trial because of his mental condition. Ed spent ten years in an institute for the criminally insane before being tried and found guilty on two counts of first degree murder. He was found legally insane and he was acquitted because of this. Gein spent the rest of his life quite happily in a mental institution. He died of cancer on July 26, 1984.

Gein long held a prominent position in the public spotlight. Many devoted Gein fans took a pilgrimage to his old farm house, to the dismay of the townspeople. Eventually, the house burned down and arson was suspected. Immediately after the media picked up on the Gein story, morbid Gein jokes, called Geiners started to wash all over the country.

This macabre case inspired many movies; about Gein's person as well as many fictive serial killers. The character of Norman Bates from Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho was one example. Bates has a twisted relationship with his dead mother, whom he keeps in his large house. Other notable ones include the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, where a whole family commits Gein-like crimes, and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs. Bill skins his victims and dresses up in clothes made of their skin.

To this day, Gein has an avid fanclub that meets regularly. Slayer 'honored' Gein in the song Dead Skin Mask. Gein is thought to have inspired other serial killers like Jeffrey Dahmer and Richard Ramirez to their deeds.

..and many, many, many others.

This is also the name of a movie. Ed Gein (2000, rated R) is an account of the serial killer's life, starring Steve Railsback in the titular role. Carrie Snodgress plays Augusta, Ed's domineering and fanatical mother. The movie tries to remain faithful to the known facts of the case, and also tries to portray Ed as a complete human being. The director (Chuck Parello) resists the urge to turn this into a typical splatter film, instead focusing on what's going on in Ed's mind. There are only a few gruesome visuals, but this doesn't lessen the impact of the movie. The actors turn in good performances, and the movie is very well done technically.

According to The Internet Movie Database, this movie has also been called Under The Moonlight and In the Light of the Moon.

The movie does diverge from the known facts in some cases, and it also (necessarily) engages in some speculation and assumption. Almost all of these divergences are insignificant. If you don't want to know any spoiler information about the movie, you'd better stop reading.

  • In actual fact, Ed was suspected of killing his brother Henry while fighting a brush fire. In the movie he is shown to definitely have killed Henry. He kills him when they are on a hunting trip, after Henry has some unkind things to say about their mother. There is a strange vision of a fire that you are shown, which may be intended to tie this in to the actual brush fire, but it isn't made clear. The fiery vision surrounds Henry, but does not actually touch him, which is consistent with the actual events. Evidently Henry's body was found without any burns on it, on an unburned piece of earth, and had bruises on his head. The movie does not depict how Ed got away with the crime, nor the discovery of the body. The next scene is at his brother's funeral. No indication is given in the movie that he was suspected of this crime.
  • In the movie, Ed boarded up his mother's room at his farmhouse. In reality, he boarded up many rooms that she had liked to use, and preserved them in the same condition they had been in when Augusta was alive. Specifically, the parlor and living room were supposed to have been preserved in this manner. You are shown rooms in the movie that appear to be a parlor and living room, and they are kept in squalor like the rest of the house (other than her bedroom).
  • In the movie, some children Ed was babysitting at his farmhouse stumbled across human remains in his bedroom. He explains them away as artifacts from the South Seas, such as shrunken heads. He quickly ushers them from the house. In reality, he was said to have shown these items to the children (rather than them stumbling across them). Evidently these children mentioned this to other adults, but the stories were not believed. In the movie, the kids aren't shown telling anyone.
  • In reality, two young men later happened to see the preserved heads of some women at Ed's farmhouse, but allegedly thought they were Halloween props of some kind. The movie does not document any such event.
  • In reality, there were several unexplained disappearances before Mary Hogan (a barkeep) disappeared (killed and taken to Ed's farmhouse). In the movie, other than grave robbings, the person you see Ed kill as an adult is Mary. This may reflect the fact that Mary was one of the only two people whose murder the police were able to charge Ed with, due to lack of hard evidence.
  • In the movie, Ed shoots Mary at her bar, but does not kill her, and then brings her home. She is chained to his bed for an unspecified amount of time (it appears to be a few days) before he finds her dead one morning. In actual fact, as far as I can tell, there is no indication that she even lived to make it back to his farmhouse.
  • In the movie, Frank Worden discovers the headless body of his mother in the basement of the farmhouse. In fact, she was found by him in the woodshed.


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