Edward Gein was one of the worst and most under-the-radar serial killers of all time. Part of this may be due to him being guilty of body snatching and only confessed to two murders, though he was suspected of being responsible for more. Also, the murders happened in a very small town in central Wisconsin, a town most people have never heard of. Make no mistake though, Ed Gein was one of the worst of the worst. Here are 15 shocking facts about Ed Gein sure to shake you at the core.
When you think of famous killers you think of Richard Ramirez, Ted Bundy and Charles Manson, all of which worked in large populous areas as their playground for evil. Even fellow Wisconsinite serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, operated in the Milwaukee vicinity. Gein was in a town that, if you don’t count the bowling alley, has only one restaurant. Full disclosure: I lived 30 miles from this town and still have family just minutes from Plainfield, WI. Gein has left a trail of horror and intrigue in these parts. Children learn it as part of local history, adults try to forget and the old folks recall “where they were” when they heard the news and how they always suspected something was up at that old farmhouse.
There is a lot to digest in this list. We’ve got his childhood, the crimes, the aftermath and even where the actions of Gein have influenced pop culture. Did you know Norman Bates' “Psycho” is loosely based off Ed Gein? The more you know… Now would be a good time to make sure all the lights are on. Here are 15 shocking facts about serial killer Ed Gein.
15 Ed Gein Grew Up Isolated, On A Farm
The Gein family moved to a farm in Plainfield when Gein was young. His father, a big drinker, died when Ed was still young, leaving him with his mother, Augusta, and brother. His mother didn’t allow for any interaction with the world other than school. She constantly preached about how bad drinking is and also that all women were whores and just a tool used by the devil. Augusta was more than a mother to Ed, she became his best friend, his only friend in the world.
With little social interaction it’s not hard to see where things may have taken a turn. Augusta never allowed any women around the house and when she saw them in the street with other men (that were not their husbands) she would cuss them out, right in front of the boys. It’s not like there was ever a lot to do in Plainfield anyway, but still probably would have been nice to hit a playground (or bowling alley) now and then.
14 Every Afternoon Was Bible Study Time
Ed Gein’s mother, Augusta, was old-school Lutheran, really religious and used any chance she could get to preach to her boys the perils of sin. Nothing beats Kool Aid and maybe a little bit of television in the afternoon after a long day of playing or school. For the Gein family this is not what occurred; instead, it was Bible time and there were no doughnuts or Kool Aid. Augusta would break out the Old Testament and use very graphic verses to teach about death and retribution. Pretty heavy stuff for a boy…
Bible time probably contributed to his shyness and what was described as “strange behavior” such as laughing at his own jokes or at very random, inappropriate times. When he did try to make friends his mother punished him. Having his social life suppressed with no friends and daily Bible time certainly did not help stopping who Ed would become.
13 Ed Gein Was A Babysitter
Ed’s father died at the age of 66 from drinking. To help with expenses, Ed and his brother Henry did whatever work they could find around town. They had a good reputation in the community as hard working handymen. In addition to the handyman gig, Ed also babysat for children. He liked this job, believing he related better to children than adults. Can you imagine if you were one of the kids that Gein babysat? “Go finish your homework and then clean out the garage please.” Response would be something to the effect of “No, you do it. You had Ed Gein be my babysitter.” I don’t think you’d have to say much more than that.
It was around this time when Ed’s brother Henry started dating a single mother of two. Henry was concerned with Ed’s infatuation with their mother and even said so. This did not sit well with Ed…
12 Ed Gein May Have Killed His Brother
Dr. George W. Arndt studied the Gein case files and said that not only was it possible that Ed killed his brother; it was likely and was a case of “Cain and Abel.” It was 1944 and the two boys were burning excess weeds on their property. The fire got out of control requiring the fire department to come and extinguish the fire. Later Ed reported his brother missing. It was nighttime so a search party with lanterns set out, eventually finding Henry’s body face down. The initial cause of death was ruled heart failure. However, later the coroner would list his cause of death as asphyxiation.
No autopsy was ever performed, but there were also bruises on his head which may have been the result of foul play. His brother was likely his first murder victim. Henry was the only person standing between Ed and his mother. Now, he had her all to herself.
11 He Never Dated
When young, his mother forbid him to have friends or date girls, but as he got older he never dated either. Socially, Gein was a mess, only allowing himself to love his mother. Part of this is because he was socially stunted as a child, the other the beginning of pure evil brewing inside Ed Gein, the monster.
In hindsight maybe this was for the best. Had Gein been socially active it could have gone one of two ways. First, he meets someone that helps set him straight. What if he is already pure evil? This could have kick started a serial killing murder rampage across the small town much sooner (with a much higher body count). Also, for those that didn’t get murdered they would realize (after his arrest) how they almost got butchered by one of the most brutal killers of all time. How’s that for “knowing how to pick them”?
10 Gein Preserved His Mother's Rooms
Once his mother died, a lot changed. Sure, he had already allegedly murdered his brother, but this was not proven. He was socially inept and people were starting to talk. After his mother, the one person he cared about, died, it left an awful void in Gein’s life. Still managing the farm, Gein boarded up his mother’s room as well as all the rooms she used including the living room and full upstairs. Gein lived in a small room next to the kitchen.
It was in his new living quarters where he started to find new interests. He started reading death-cult magazines that dealt with Nazis and also cannibals. He studied how cannibals stripped bodies and what areas were good for eating as well as using for other items. In some cases the readings were labeled as “adventure stories,” but this material was straight up evil literature. This is where it starts to get ugly, real ugly…
9 Gein Was A Grave Robber
Between 1947 and 1952 Ed Gein went to three local graveyards approximately 40 times. He claims he was in a “daze-like” state and would actually wake up and come out of the daze often. When he did this (approximately 30 times) he left the cemetery. It’s unclear as to the real motivation for “leaving.” It’s possible Gein was spooked those 30 times, afraid he was going to be caught. However, the other 10 times he would dig up graves of middle-aged women he believed would look like his mother. He then took those bodies home.
At home, Gein tanned their skins and made things out of them ranging from household items to more personal items. With his mother’s rooms boarded, Gein used the remaining limited space to cut, tear and sew the skin of the women’s bodies he stole from the cemeteries. According to Gein's testimony, he was neither a cannibal or into necrophilia, but he was clearly into some weird stuff...
8 He Created A “Woman Suit”
We all mourn the death of loved ones in different ways. Some of us are depressed, sad or even angry. Ed Gein mourned his mother’s death by creating a suit of another woman’s skin so that he could crawl into the skin and “be her.” Apparently he crawled in and out of many skins of women he tanned. This practice was described as an “insane transvestite ritual,” a phrase that to me doesn’t seem harsh enough. How do you go from afternoon Bible study to skinning women and then wearing that skin?
Despite this incredibly intimate practice of wearing a “woman suit,” Gein denies ever having sex with the bodies, insisting that the bodies smelled too bad. Everyone has their line, for Gein it was the smell. When found, Gein was arrested for the murders of two people, a woman working at the hardware store and a tavern owner. Both had body pieces and skulls present in Gein’s house at time of arrest.
7 Body Parts And Skin Everywhere
When investigators searched Gein’s property, what they found was a house of horrors. What was found: A decapitated body dressed like a deer, human bones, skulls on his bedpost, bowls made from skulls, a waste basket full of human skin, chairs upholstered with human skin, a corset made from the torso of a woman, leggings made from human skin, face masks (actual skin), more skulls and body parts in various bags, nine vulvae in a shoe box, four noses, a lampshade made of human skin and a belt made of female nipples.
When the cops busted in there was a heart sitting in a bag near the stove. Again, Gein denies he was planning to eat this. He does not deny the murders or grave robberies, but did say he doesn’t recall a lot of the crimes due to the “daze like” states he claimed to experience, eventually leading to a mental insanity plea.
6 Ed Gein’s Initial Confession Was Ruled Inadmissible
Here they had one of the worst crime scenes ever, got a confession and lost it due to how a sheriff handled the case. Then Waushara County sheriff, Art Schley, took Gein’s head and bashed it into a brick wall during questioning. The judge decided there was no way that confession can hold up given the excessive force used. Schley died of heart failure before Gein’s trial even started.
Most believe Schley was so traumatized by Gein and the case that his heart couldn’t take it. The weight of the crimes committed along with the weight of having to testify was too much. His friends blame Gein, calling Schley another victim of Ed Gein. Obviously it would be tough to keep your composure if put in that position, but we are all lucky there was enough additional evidence to eventually convict him. Gein would plea insanity and was sent to a mental hospital, but years later he was found sane and given a proper prison sentence where he would eventually die.
5 Gein’s Crimes Inspired Leatherface
The character Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was influenced by Gein and his disgusting crimes. The first movie was more suspenseful, but the second one dealt very directly with a den of flesh and skin that included body parts and skin masks, similar to the kind Gein made.
Released in 1974 being told as a true story, the plot is fictional with Leatherface taking inspiration from Ed Gein. The film was very low budget and banned in most countries. It also made a huge amount of money and has been lauded as one of the best horror movies of all time. The initial movie launched countless sequels, books, magazines and even video games. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre showed how to tell a good horror story on a budget and scare the crap out of people. This movie was also responsible for the use of power tools in horror movies.
4 Blind Melon Made A Song About Ed Gein
Ever since Gein was busted and his house of horror hit the media there has been a lot of pop culture “black humor” surrounding Gein’s crimes. One of the oddest examples of this was in 1995 when Blind Melon released the song “Skinned” off their album titled Soup. Blind Melon never really fit into one particular genre, residing somewhere in the alternative and classic sounding rock space. The song has an upbeat sound that playfully describes some of his crimes, even detailing the skinned lamps. I guess this is funny to some…
Other music influenced by Gein includes the Slayer song “Dead Skin Mask”, “Nothing to Gein” from Mudvayne and “Ed Gein” a song from the Ziggens’ album titled Rusty Never Sleeps. There is always a place for “shock” in pop culture and Gein provided a lot of material for others to exploit via music, film, print and now, blogs.
3 Ed Gein Portrayed On The Big Screen
In addition to his impact on horror movies, Ed Gein has had a rather lasting impact on America. In addition to Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Gein’s story has played a major role in Deranged, Ed Gein (originally released as In the Light of the Moon), Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield and Hitchcock. Rob Zombie has also been influenced by the crimes in the making of his films House of 1000 Corpses and the sequel titled The Devil’s Rejects.
Other characters inspired by Gein include Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Dr. Oliver Thredson from America Horror Story: Asylum. There was even a “top secret” movie planned between filmmakers Errol Morris and Werner Herzog. They interviewed Gein several times and spent a significant amount of time in Plainfield interviewing people. The two were going to actually take Gein’s mother from her grave to prove a point, but thankfully never got around to doing so. What they were looking to prove is unclear and disturbing to say the least.
2 Ed Gein’s Grave Was Stolen
After his death, Gein was buried in one of the same cemeteries he once prowled and took bodies from (also where his parents were buried). His headstone turned into a weird tourist stop for both locals and outsiders, wanting to connect to this twisted piece of pop culture history. Initially people would chip away from the headstone, keeping a piece of the headstone as a keepsake or sick souvenir. Eventually, someone stole the headstone. It was later recovered, but did not get replaced. Gein now has an unmarked grave. As for the house that Gein grew up in, that was burned to the ground by the locals.
I never really understood everyone’s fascination with graves, especially with someone as horrific as Ed Gein was. Are you looking for closure? Are you expecting a connection with the deceased? Hopefully you are not looking for a connection, which would be perverse. Ed Gein’s grave should not be celebrated and certainly not any stop on any central Wisconsin tourism circuit.
1 Gein’s Car (The One Used To Carry Bodies) Was Sold At An Auction
You really think this piece of evidence would have been destroyed, but in an effort to raise funds Gein’s car, the one used to carry bodies from the cemetery at night, was sold via public auction. Carnival sideshow operator, Bunny Gibbons, purchased the Ed Gein car for $760. He used it has his sideshows, charging carnival guest 25 cents to see this car that got famous for all the wrong reasons.
Now I will admit that I have gone to sideshows. I’ve handled the snakes, watched the sword swallowers and even got my picture with the bearded woman. One time I even paid 5 dollars to see the world’s smallest horse. Note: I have no idea if it was in fact the world’s smallest horse, but yeah, it was pretty small. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I will pay to see just about anything, but I would not pay 1 cent to see that nightmare on wheels.