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.
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.
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.
Searching the house, authorities found:
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."
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.
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).