Monday, November 16, 2015
A boy's best friend is his mother
Ed Gein killed his final victim on this day in 1957.
Ed Gein is the most famous son of Plainfield, Wisconsin. He lived on a 160-acre farm with his brother, Henry, and a domineering mother. Henry died in 1944 under mysterious circumstances, and his mother passed away the next year. Ed was 39, unmarried, and in need of a hobby. He began to dig up female corpses by night in remote cemeteries. He dissected these, keeping some heads, sex organs, livers, hearts and intestines. He would flay the skin from the body and wear it himself, dancing and cavorting around the house. (He kept his mom's bedroom locked and undisturbed, and also sealed off the drawing room and five more upstairs rooms.)
Deciding he needed some newer clothes, he began making his own corpses. 54-year old Mary Hogan disappeared from the tavern she ran in December 1954. Bernice Worden, who ran the local hardware store, disappeared on this day in 1957. Mrs. Worden's son, Frank, a sheriff's deputy, learned that Eddie Gein had been seen in town on the day of his mother's disappearance, so he and the sheriff went out to the old Gein place, already known by local kids as a haunted house.
Sound familiar? Gein was the inspiration for Norman Bates, the deranged mama's boy in Hitchcock's Psycho and Robert Bloch's novel of the same name, and the serial killer in Silence of the Lambs was based on him.
In a woodshed on the farm, the men found the naked, headless body of Worden's mother hanging upside down from a meat hook and slit open down the front. Her head and intestines were discovered in a box, and her heart on a plate in the dining room. The skins from ten human heads were found preserved, and another skin taken from the upper torso of a woman was rolled up on the floor. There was a belt fashioned from carved-off nipples, a chair upholstered in human skin, lampshades covered in flesh pilled taut, a table propped up by a human shinbones, and a refrigerator full of human organs.
The four posts on Gein's bed were topped with skulls and a human head hung on the wall alongside nine death masks - the skinned faces of women - and decorative bracelets made out of human skin. There were soup bowls fashioned from skulls, a shoebox full of female genitalia, faces stuffed with newspapers and mounted like hunting trophies on the walls, and a vest flayed from the torso of a woman. Gein later confessed that he enjoyed dressing himself in skin-garments and pretending he was his mother. The remains of 15 bodies were found; Gein couldn't recall how many murders he'd committed.
After ten years in a mental hospital, Gein was judged competent to stand trial. He was found guilty but criminally insane. He spent the rest of his life in insane asylums, and died in a geriatric ward in 1984, aged 77, always, it was said, a model prisoner - gentle, polite and discreet.
His gravesite in the Plainfield cemetery was frequently vandalized over the years; souvenir seekers would chip off pieces of his gravestone before it was stolen in 2000. It was recovered in 2001 and is presently displayed in a Wautoma, Wisconsin museum.
In the last interview Gein gave, he said: "I like this place, everybody treats me nice. Some of them are a little crazy, though."