Ed Gein was an American murderer and grave robber, also known as the Butcher of Plainfield or the Plainfield Ghoul. His name is near the top of every true-crime enthusiast’s list and even those who aren’t have been introduced to him in one way or another given the many fictional characters that his life has inspired.
The Gein Exposition
Ed Theodore Gein was born on 27 August 1906 in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, to parents George P. Gein and Augusta Wilhelmine. He had an older brother Henry and the family lived on an isolated 155-acre farm in Plainfield, a small Wisconsin town. Both Henry and Ed had a problematic childhood as their father George was an alcoholic who could not hold a steady job and Augusta, a devout Lutheran, hated him for it. However, being strictly religious, she never divorced him as she believed it was a sin and stayed in an unhappy marriage. Adding to it was the damage they suffered at the hands of their mother, who due to her own godly obsession abused her sons. She felt that they would grow up to be as depraved as their father and therefore took measures she saw fit to prevent it. They were not allowed to leave the house apart from when they went to school; they could not interact with outsiders or make friends and were punished if they tried. There was no electricity in the house and the only time spent outside was when they were helping at the farm. Once every day, she would read out the Bible to them for several hours. She would particularly select those verses of the Old Testament that spoke of the innate degeneracy of the world and claimed that all women, except her, were a contraption of the devil and naturally promiscuous and evil.
Young Ed was described as a quiet and shy child, who would burst out laughing in the middle of a class for no reason. He was teased by the other kids for his droopy eye who called him ‘milk sop’ and the bullying further isolated him. Despite his social misgivings, he did well in studies and especially enjoyed reading. On 1 April 1940, George died of heart failure at the age of 66. The boys had to take up small jobs in town as handymen to support the family. The people generally saw them as reliable and trustworthy. Ed particularly liked babysitting for his neighbors as he found it easier to connect with kids than with adults.
Henry’s Rising Action
Due to the biblical teachings of his mother, Ed came to idealise and worship her. However, as Henry grew up, he was able to break away from his domineering mother’s influence. He had begun dating a divorced woman and wanted to move in with her. Worrying about his brother’s detrimental attachment to their mother, he would often confront him about it and speak ill of her, which was upsetting for Ed. On 16 May, 1944, the brothers were burning marsh on the property when the fire got out of control and the fire department had to be called. The fire was successfully put out but then Ed reported Henry missing. A search began for him and eventually his body was found lying face down on a patch of scorched ground. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxiation and no autopsy was performed. However, even though Henry was lying on burnt ground, his clothes were not burned and it was reported later that there were bruises on his head. The same was stated in Harold Schechter’s biography of Gein, Deviant. At the time, the police had no reason to suspect Ed and ruled out all suspicions of foul play. It is rumoured now that Henry may have been his first murder victim.
With Henry gone, Ed had his mother all to himself. Soon after, Augusta suffered a stroke and he devoted all his time taking care of her. He did not have any luck dating and would occasionally sneak a Detective magazine past his mother to look at the pictures of women. It is speculated that Augusta had, in fact, become pregnant with Henry while out of wedlock. Since that would have led to a scandal, she got married shortly and lied about the date of Henry’s birth to cover it up. This could have been the reason for why she came to consider all sex, even within marriage, as vile. Sometime in 1945, when the mother and son were outside, they saw a man and a woman living together without marriage. Later, Ed cited this as the reason for the fatal stroke that killed his mother. Schechter wrote in his book about Ed that he had “lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world.”