Home | Ed Gein: Image of a Killer | Mass Murderer: George Armstrong Custer | BTK Strangler: Cloak of Darkness | Bonnie and Clyde | Ronald Gene Simmons | Aaron Michael Hodge | Charles Manson | Article Page

Ed Gein: Image of a Killer
Serial Killers and Mass Murderers: A Researched Approach


Sam Carter


Serial Killer Research Paper

Word count: 1661

Edward Gein

Image of a Killer

In the United States, there is a defiant image which comes to mind when the words serial killer or mass murder are spoken. Most often it is an image that has been portrayed in countless movies of a person who is a steely eyed lunatic who kills for enjoyment or sexual gratification. This popular portrayal of the killer closely fits and was first glamorized into mass media with the case of Edward Gein. Much of the Hollywood imagine of the sadistic murderer has been stylized from his crimes. Yet, the truth of his case has not been widely known. In order to understand the facts rather than fiction, it is necessary to explore Geins life, his crimes, his punishment, and, lastly, how his story has become part of the American psyche.

Edward Gein was born on August 8, 1906, in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and lived his entire life in the state. Edward had a brother, Henry, who was five years older than he. When Ed was a child, his family moved to Plainfield to work their own farm. His father, George, was a known alcoholic and would work intermediate jobs to made ends meet. His mother, Augusta, was the dominant parent in the household was strict about religion and morality. She would fanatically impress upon her children the importance of avoiding sin. She especially frowned on sex without marriage. As a result neither Edward nor Henry ever married. Ed quit school after eight grade yet continued to be an avid reader. Between 1940 and 1945, Edwards father died of heart disease, his brother was burned to death in a fire, and his mother died after a stroke. Edward was very close to his mother and after her death, he boarded up his mothers bedroom and sitting room to be preserved. Gein attracted no notice from the townspeople as he lived quietly alone that was until the afternoon of November 16, 1957(Douglas et al. 366,367; Ed Gein).

It was the first day of deer hunting season and most of the men of the small town of Plainfield, population 647, were out seeking their first kill. One such man was Frank Worden, owner of the local hardware store, returned to his shop that afternoon. His mother, Bernice Worden, who had been tending the store, was missing along with his truck. There was a pool of blood followed by a trail of blood that led to where his truck was parked, but now was missing. The sherifs department was called and an investigation began(Levin et al. 3,4). The investigation led Sherif Art Schley to the farm of Ed Gein. Gein was not home when the investigators came and knocked at the door. There was no electricity on the farm and the investigation was conducted by flashlights. On the side of the house was a wooden shed which doors were not locked. Within the shed, the investigators "came upon one of the grisliest and most notable scenes in the American law enforcement-one that was to rock this Middle American community of the 1950's to its core"(Douglas et al. 368). The naked corpse of a woman was hanging upside down from a crossbeam. The legs were spread wide apart and a long cut ran from the pubic area down to the throat. The head was completely severed and was missing. Also, the genitals and bowels were missing. This woman who had been slaughtered and dressed like a deer was Bernice Worden(Wilson 291,292). The investigation moved to the main house. The Sheriffs men forced their way inside and were again shocked by what they discovered. Captain Lloyd Schoephoerster of the Green Lake County Sheriff Department stated the discovery this way for the record.

I had a feeling I never had before in my life because I had never seen anything like this. It was so horrible. We found skulls and masks; that is, the skin portion of the head that had been stripped from the skull and preserved and put in plastic bags. There several of those skulls. We found a box that had a womans organs in it and I noticed one small one was glided a gold color with a ribbon tied on it; I believe a red ribbon. We found leg bones and discovered the chair seats were made out of human skin. They were crudely made. The outside portion would be smooth and if you looked underneath you could see strips of fat. It wasnt a good job. (qtd. In Douglas et al. 369)

The sheriffs also found many other gruesome discoveries. One such find was a mask made from the face of Mary Hogan, a woman who had been reported missing years before that night. Ed Gein seemed to use the human bodies that he had as if he were running a business. He found a use for every part and wasted nothing. In fact, the officers report later noted that Gein even had a coffee can that was full of chewed wads of gums(Niesel 66,67). Also, found was the head of Bernice Worden. Gien was taken into custody in a nearby county at the same time as the sheriffs department continued to search the house and surrounding land for more victims. He was held at the Wautoma County Jailhouse and was interrogated. Gein confessed to the murders of Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan, having shot both, but not to three other unsolved deaths the investigators thought that could have been linked to him. He also admitted to robbing numerous graves within the Sprirtland, Planfield, and Hancock cemeteries. He professed to taking all or parts of up to fifteen recently buried bodies, all women. Gein also told deputy Dan Chase that he would put on a female torso with breasts attached that he had constructed and dance around his yard at night. He began to kill when his grave robbing did not produce the materials that he wanted(Douglas et al. 370). During the interrogations, Ed Gein underwent psychological testing.

Ed Gein was sent to the Central State Mental Hospital in Madison. At his sanity hearing on January 6, 1958, Gein was found unfit to stand trial and was committed to the state hospital until such time as he was judged able to assist in his own defense(In the Flesh). He became some what of a curiosity for psychologists and psychiatrists sought to understand what made Gein tick. Dr. Warmington, the psychiatrist who evaluated Gein upon his commitment, wrote, "The motivation is elusive and uncertain but several factors come to mind-hostility, sex, and a desire for a substitute for his mother in the form of a replica or body that could be kept indefinitely."(Douglas et al. 371) After ten years of confinement, the director of the Central State Hospital, Dr Shubert notified the Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Robert Gollmar that Gein was fit to stand trial. Waushara County District Attorney Howard Dutcher and attorney Robert E. Suttton would prosecute and Gein would be represented by attorney William Belter. By mutual consent of the prosecution and defense, trial by jury was waved in favor of a decision by Gollmar. The trial began on November 7, 1968 and after hearing all of the evidence, Gollmar concluded that Gein was guilty of the murder of Bernice Wordan but was then termed not guilty by reason of insanity(In the Flesh). He was immediately returned to the Central State Hospital. He remained institutionalized until his death in1984 in the geriatric ward of the Mendota Mental Health Institute.

Outside of Wisconsin, few people had heard of Ed Gein and his bizarre crimes. His story was overshadowed by the likes of Charles Manson and the Boston strangler, yet, he was discovered by Hollywood. The most notable of the Hollywood adaptions of Geins story was the classic thriller Psycho, directed by Alfred Hitchock. The character, Norman Bates, stuffed and preserved his deceased mother, whereas, Gein tried using female body parts to resurrect his mother. Both would talk to their dead mother and both struggled with the strict constraints that had been enforced by their dominating mothers(Levin et al. 5,6) Tobe Hoopers film, Texas Chainsaw Massacre also derived much of it story and set ideas from Gein. Leatherface, a maniacal cannibal killer, would wear the face masks of his victims. Leatherfaces family house was adorned with lamps made of human skin and other items that were made of human remains, much like what investigators found within Geins house. Another popular adaption of Gein is the character, Buffalo Bill, from Thomas Harris Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs. These two books would later become very popular movies. Buffalo Bill would lure women into his control and then would skin them and create suits of their skins to wear(Douglas et al. 364-366). Further adaptions of Gein have made their way into pop culture through television, books, and cinema.

Although, the name, Edward Gein, may not spark much notice today, the legacy that remains from the bizarre and unusual crimes he committed continue to flourish not only in the memories of the residents of Wisconsin, but, also, within the creative forces behind American pop culture.




Works Cited

Douglas, John, and Mark Olshanker. Obsession. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.

Levin, Jack, and James Alan Fox. Mass Murder: Americas Growing Menace. New York: Berkley, 1985.

Wilson, Colin, and Damon Wilson. The Killers Among Us: Sex Madness and Mass Murder. New York: Warner, 1995.

Niesel, Jeffery. "The Horror of Everyday Life: Taxidermy, Aesthetics, and Consumption in Horror Films." Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture. 2 (1994): 61-69.

Bell, Rachael. " Ed Gein: The Serial Killer Buffalo Bill and Psycho were Modeled. " Court TVs Crime Library. 29 Jan. 2004 <http://www.crimelibrary.com/gein/geinmain.html>

Horsting, Jessica. "Ed Gein: In The Flesh." Midnight Graffiti. 27 Jan. 2004