Ed Gein: Birth, Family, Crimes, House, Movies and Death | Biography

Ed Gein - Biography

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Life without Augusta

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He was now isolated in a world that he thought was all-evil and malevolent. The first thing he did was board up the three rooms that his mother used. And while the rest of the house was littered and filthy, these rooms remained immaculate. He could now look at his magazines without fear and do all the things he was once not allowed to do. He took a special interest in reading about the female anatomy, Nazis, and cannibalism. It was then that his quest for resurrection and exhuming graves first began.

The neighbours often saw strange objects in his house but did not make much of it. One night he was invited over for dinner at a neighbour’s house and they had also asked a female relative to join them. Ed stared at her all evening and a few nights later, the young boy in the family was woken up by a man choking him and asking about the female relative’s location. Even though the boy claimed that the man may have been Ed, the family never reported the incident.

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A Petrifying Inventory of Possessions


In 1954 a tavern owner, Mary Hogan disappeared, there was blood on the tavern floor, and foul play was suspected but the case went cold. When the locals would discuss the case, Ed would be heard saying that she was not missing but was actually at his house. They once again dismissed him thinking he was just being his quirky and eccentric self. Three years later on 16 November, 1957 a local hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared. The store had been closed all day but the town’s people thought it was due to deer hunting season. Her son Frank Worden, who was also the deputy sheriff, went into the store looking for her and found blood on the floor. The cash register was open and the last item sold was a bottle of anti-freeze to Ed Gein who then became the first suspect. He was found and arrested at a grocery store while they went on to search his residence, rather unprepared for what they were about to find. There in a shed next to the house was Worden’s decapitated body hanging up-side-down. She had been shot with a .22 calibre rifle and her torso had been dressed out.

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Upon searching the house, the authorities found a list of items, each more gruesome than the first. Some of what they found was a wastebasket made of human skin, there was human skin covering several chair seats, skulls on his bedposts, female skulls with the tops sawn off, bowls made from human skulls, a corset made from a female torso, leggings made from human leg skin, masks made from the skin of female heads, 4 female noses, 9 vulvas in a shoe box, a belt made of female nipples, female fingernails, and a pair of lips on a drawstring. Mary Hogan’s skull was in a box while Bernice Worden’s entire head was in a burlap sack and her heart in a plastic bag. The refrigerator was shelved with body parts.


Confession and Insanity Plea

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The artefacts were photographed and immediately destroyed. Gein told the authorities that these were all items that he had collected between 1947 and 1952, during his nocturnal visits to local graveyards. He would exhume recently buried bodies based on the obituaries in the newspapers. He would particularly dig up women who looked like his mother and were around her age and occasionally bring parts of them home as keepsakes. He claimed that he never had sex with any of them as they smelled too bad and added that he would return the jewellery he found back to the graves. After his mother’s demise, he was trying to make a woman suit so that he could become his mother by getting under her skin and the realisation that he needed fresh flesh to do the job pushed him to murder.

Gein was considered as a suspect in several other cases of missing persons but he only ever confessed to the murder of Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden. While he claimed that he killed Hogan who was a foul-mouthed woman mother would have disapproved of; Worden’s death was an accident as he shot her while examining a rifle at her store. During interrogation, Waushara County sheriff Art Schley had assaulted Gein by banging his head into a brick wall. As a result, his initial confession was ruled inadmissible in court. Schley died of heart failure at age 43 in 1968 before Gein’s conviction. Many have since claimed that he was one of Ed’s victims as he was traumatised by the horrors of what he saw and heard and this caused his eventual death.

On November 21, 1957, Gein was charged with first-degree murder and he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Gein was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found mentally incompetent to stand trial. He was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (Dodge Correctional Institution). In 1968, doctors confirmed Gein was mentally able to participate in his defence and the trial began on 7 November, 1968. Even though the presiding judge found him guilty, he later ruled him to be not guilty by reason of insanity. Gein was tried only for Worden’s murder due to prohibitive costs and he was set to spend the rest of his life in Mendota Mental Health Institute where he died due to respiratory failure on 26 July, 1984, at the age of 77. In a seemingly symbolic act, souvenir seekers chipped away pieces from his gravestone at the Plainfield Cemetery, until the stone itself was stolen in 2000. The gravesite now remains unmarked,

Ed Gein’s property was set to be auctioned amid rumours that the house might be converted into a museum. A few days before the auction, the house burned down. Arson was suspected but no culprits were found. His car, the one he used to haul bodies of his victims was sold to a carnival sideshow operator who charged an admission fee from visitors.


In Popular Culture


The life and story of Ed Gein have been immortalised in popular culture by way of references to him in literature, films, and music. It was first brought to public attention in the fictionalized version presented by Robert Bloch in his suspense novel, Psycho which was then adapted into a film by Alfred HitchcockSerial killers based on him featured in several other films and shows including The Texas Chainsaw MassacreThe Silence of the lambsEd Gein: The Butcher of PlainfieldBates Motel, and the American Horror Story: Asylum.

Filmmakers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog attempted to collaborate on a film project about Gein which was soon abandoned. In 2012, German director Jörg Buttgereit wrote and directed a stage play about Gein which was called Kannibale und Liebe.

Gein further inspired a sub-genre of black humor in the 1950s leading many to exploit his name only for shock value without any association to his life. Examples include the song titled, Dead Skin Mask by Slayer, Nothing to Gein by Mudvayne, and, Ed Gein by The Ziggens. There was also a band by the name Ed Gein.



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