Ed Gein

Edward Theodore Gein (August 27, 1906—July 26, 1984) was an American killer and graverobber. His crimes earned widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned gruesome trophies and keepsakes from them.



Gein was born on August 27, 1906 in Vernon County, Wisconsin. His parents, George and Augusta Gein, both natives of Wisconsin, had two sons: Ed and his older brother Henry G. Gein. George Gein was a violent alcoholic who was frequently unemployed. Despite Augusta's deep contempt for her husband, the atrophic marriage persisted because of the family's beliefs about religion and divorce. Augusta Gein operated a small grocery store and eventually purchased a farm on the outskirts of the small town of Plainfield, which then became the Gein family's permanent home.

Augusta Gein moved to this desolate location to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons. Gein left the premises only to go to school, and his mother blocked any attempt he made to pursue friendships. Besides school, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta Gein, a fervent Lutheran, drummed into her boys the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drink and the belief that all women (herself excluded) were prostitutes, whores and instruments of the devil. According to Augusta Gein, sex was only for procreation. She reserved time every afternoon to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting graphic verses from the Old Testament dealing with death, murder and divine retribution.

With a slight growth over one eye and an effeminate demeanor, the young Gein became a target for bullies. Classmates and teachers recalled off-putting mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he were laughing at his own personal joke. To make matters worse, his mother scolded him whenever he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading and the study of world economics.

Gein tried to make his mother happy, but she was rarely pleased with her boys. She often verbally abused them, believing that they were destined to become failures like their father. During their teens and throughout their early adulthood the boys remained detached from people outside of their farmstead and had only each other for company.

Deaths of family members

Ed Gein's father, George, died of a heart attack in 1940. After the death of their father, the Gein brothers began working at odd jobs to help their mother and the farm. Both brothers were considered reliable and honest by people in town. While both worked as handymen, Ed Gein also frequently babysat for neighbors. He enjoyed babysitting and related more easily to children than adults.

Henry Gein began to reject his mother's view of the world and worried about brother Ed's attachment to her. He spoke ill of her around his mortified brother.

On May 16, 1944, a brush fire burned close to the farm and the Gein brothers went out to fight it. The brothers were reportedly separated and as night fell, Ed Gein supposedly lost sight of his brother. When the fire was extinguished, Ed Gein reported to the police that his brother was missing. A search party was organized, yet Gein led them directly to his missing brother, who lay dead on the ground. The police had questions about the circumstances under which the body was discovered. The ground on which Henry Gein lay was untouched by fire, and he had bruises on his head. Despite this, the police dismissed the possibility of foul play. Later, the county coroner listed asphyxiation as the cause of death.

After Henry Gein's death, Ed Gein lived alone with his mother. Augusta Gein died on December 29, 1945, from a series of strokes. Ed Gein was left alone on the farmstead. Gein "lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world."

Gein remained at the farm, supporting himself with earnings from odd jobs. He boarded off rooms mostly used by his mother, such as the upstairs floor, downstairs parlor and living room, leaving them untouched. He lived in a small room next to the kitchen and also used the kitchen. Gein became interested in reading death-cult magazines and adventure stories. He began to make nightly visits to the graveyard.


Police suspected Gein's involvement in the disappearance of a hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, in Plainfield on November 16, 1957. Upon entering a shed on his property, they made the first discovery of the night: Worden's corpse. She had been decapitated, her headless body hung upside down by means of ropes at her wrists and a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was empty, the ribcage split and the body "dressed out" like that of a deer. These mutilations had been performed postmortem; she had been shot at close-range with a .22-caliber rifle.

Searching the house, authorities found:

  • Human skulls mounted upon the corner posts of his bed
  • Skin fashioned into a lampshade and used to upholster chair seats
  • Human skullcaps, apparently in use as soup bowls
  • A human heart (it is disputed where the heart was found; deputy reports all claimed that the heart was in a saucepan on the stove, while some crime scene photographers claimed it was in a paper bag)
  • Skin from the face of Mary Hogan, a local tavern owner, found in a paper bag
  • A window shade pull consisting of human lips
  • A vest crafted from the skin of a woman's torso;
  • A belt made from several human nipples
  • Socks made from human flesh
  • A sheath made from human skin
  • A box of preserved vulvas that Gein admitted to wearing.
  • An array of "shrunken heads"

Various neighborhood children, whom Gein occasionally babysat, had seen or heard of the shrunken heads, which Gein offhandedly described as relics from the South Seas, purportedly sent by a cousin who had served in World War II. Upon investigation, these turned out to be human facial skins, carefully peeled from cadavers and used by Gein as masks.

Gein eventually admitted under questioning that he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skin to make his possessions. Gein's practice of putting on the tanned skins of women was described as an "insane transvestite ritual". Gein denied having sex with the bodies he exhumed, explaining, "They smelled too bad." During interrogation, Gein also admitted to the shooting death of Mary Hogan, who had been missing since 1954.

Shortly after his mother's death, Gein had decided he wanted a sex change. He created a "woman suit" so he could pretend to be a female.

Plainfield police officer Art Schley allegedly physically assaulted Gein during questioning by banging Gein's head and face into a brick wall, reportedly causing Gein's initial confession to be ruled inadmissible. Schley died of a heart attack in December 1968, at age 43, only a month after testifying at Gein’s trial. Many who knew him said he was so traumatized by the horror of Gein's crimes and the fear of having to testify (notably about assaulting Gein) that it led to his early death. One of his friends said, "He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him."


Gein was found mentally incompetent and thus unfit to stand trial at the time of his arrest, and was sent to the Central State Hospital (now the Dodge Correctional Institution) in Waupun, Wisconsin. Later, Central State Hospital was converted into a prison and Gein was transferred to Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1968, Gein's doctors determined he was sane enough to stand trial. The trial started on Wednesday, November 14, 1968, lasting just one week. He was found guilty of first degree murder by judge Robert H. Gollmar, but because he was found to be legally insane, he spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital.


While Gein was in detention, his house burned to the ground. Arson was suspected. When Gein learned of the incident, he simply shrugged and said, "Just as well." In 1958, Gein's car, which he used to haul the bodies of his victims, was sold at public auction for a then-considerable sum of USD$760 to an enterprising carnival sideshow operator named Bunny Gibbons. Gibbons called his attraction the "Ed Gein Ghoul Car" and charged carnival-goers 25 cents admission to see it.


On July 26, 1984, Ed Gein died of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer in Goodland Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute in Madison, Wisconsin. His gravesite in the Plainfield cemetery was frequently vandalized over the years; souvenir seekers chipped off pieces of his gravestone before the bulk of it was stolen in 2000. The gravestone was recovered in June 2001 near Seattle and is displayed at present in a museum in Wautoma, Wisconsin.

Popular culture

The story of Ed Gein has had a lasting impact on popular culture as evidenced by its many appearances in movies, music and literature. Gein's story was adapted into a number of movies including Stephen Johnston's In the Light of the Moon, later to be retitled Ed Gein for the U.S. market as well as Deranged, and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield. Gein also influenced the nature of characters, such as movie serial killers Norman Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and Buffalo Bill (The Silence of the Lambs). The book American Psycho also contains several references to Ed Gein, as does the movie based on that book.

Gein's influence is seen in musical groups drawing inspiration from his crimes. A number of band names have been derived from Gein, including one by the name of Ed Gein, a drum and bass group by the name of Gein, as well as a New York punk called Ed Gein's Car. Gidget Gein, a former bassist for the band Marilyn Manson derived his stage name from Ed Gein (and Franzie "Gidget" Hofer).


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