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Ed Gein, The Serial Killer Who Played With Corpses
Ed Gein, Serial Killer
To say that Ed Gein was sexually weird is a gross understatement. It just doesn't get near the truth. Ed Gein was a perverted killer who loved to play with women's corpses. He murdered wives and sisters of neighbours, or dug corpses up, skinned them and made masks, and flesh toned leggings. He wore the upper body skin of a woman as an apron. Sometimes, after dark he would dress up in his skins and dance around in the moonlight outside his remote farmhouse.
So he was a murderer, a grave robber, a necrophiliac, and a cannibal. No-one knows how many women he killed although he certainly ranks amongst the weirdest and most bizarre killers ever. As well as skinning corpses he also liked to make useful household items out of their body parts, such as a soup bowl out of the top of a skull, chair seat bottoms of human skin, the undersides still with residual lumps of fat, a belt of nipples, and a lamp pullcord decorated with human lips.
He was a monster, but he looked like the guy next door, just Mr Ordinary. His crimes inspired books and movies including 'Psycho', 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and 'Silence of the Lambs'. This is the story of Ed Gein.
Ed Gein was born on August 27, 1906, the younger of two brothers, in La Crosse County, Wisconsin. It would be fair to say that he did not have many advantages in his family life. His father was a weak man, an alcoholic who frequently beat his sons, and his mother, by far the most important element in his young life, was a domineering religious fanatic who continually preached to Ed and his brother, Henry, that all women (herself excluded) were inherently evil, mostly prostitutes, and instruments of the devil's work. She would get her sons to join her in screaming prayers and incantations to the Almighty to bring death to her weak, sinful husband.
Mrs Gein's open contempt of her husband ensured that she took it upon herself to be the family breadwinner. In 1906, the year Eddie was born, she opened a grocery business in La Crosse and it enabled her to support the family comfortably and move to a more rural location away from the temptations and immorality of the city. So, in 1914 she moved her family to an isolated farm of 195 acres outside Plainfield, Wisconsin. The nearest neighbors were almost a quarter of a mile away.
Eddie attended school in Plainfield and he excelled at reading. He was not a popular pupil as he was effeminate and shy and he made no friends. The few times he looked like making friends with a schoolmate, his mother would scold him. So, during his teens and early adulthood he remained detached from people outside of the farmstead and had only the company of his family. His close bond with his mother was intensified when his father died in 1940.
Ed Gein Soup Bowl
The Death of Henry
After the death of their father, Ed and his brother, Henry, started doing odd jobs around the town to earn some money. Both were good handymen and were considered honest and trustworthy by the community. Ed Gein also did some babysitting of neighbours' kids. He enjoyed it and seemed to get on better with the children than with their parents.
Henry was eight years older than Ed and was more inclined to disagree with their mother and try to rebel against her tyrannical control. He even spoke against her to his brother and this may have been a big mistake because in 1944, when Ed was 35, Henry's dead body was discovered by police following a brushfire near the farm. The county coroner ruled that asphyxiation was the cause of death, choosing to ignore the trauma marks on the back of Henry's head inflicted by a blunt instrument. The police could not understand why there was no signs of burning on the ground where Henry lay. They had strong suspicions that Henry had been murdered by his brother but no charges were ever filed.
Ed Left Alone
Gein was now the sole target of his mother's religious rantings and fierce temper. Her health gradually deteriorated and her behaviour became even more erratic, veering between bouts of vicious anger towards Ed and periods of tenderness when she allowed him to share her bed.
A serious stroke following an argument with one of her neighbours caused her death at the end of 1945. Ed was completely devastated and his behaviour from this time on became more and more bizarre. He began by boarding up her rooms in the farmhouse, leaving them as they were at her death, and turning them into shrines. When the police later went through the house, after discovering what he had done, her rooms were immaculate, save for several year's worth of dust layered upon the furniture. Ed lived in a small room next to the kitchen. The house became more and more untidy and strewn with rubbish. Ed now began to seriously consider his 'feminine' side. From a psychological point of view he took steps to try to 'become' his mother.
Playing With Corpses
From childhood, Gein had been ambiguous about his masculinity. He also developed a deeply unhealthy fascination with the intimate anatomy of the female body and he avidly read medical encyclopedias and books on anatomy as well as pulp horror novels and pornographic magazines. He was also particularly interested in the Nazi crimes of WWII and the medical experiments which they performed on Jews in the concentration camps.
Soon he began to experiment for himself by digging up female corpses by night in various Wisconsin cemeteries. The first corpse came from a grave less than a dozen feet away from the last resting place of his mother. For ten years Ed followed the same procedure. He would check the newspaper for fresh burials, then visit the graveyard at the time of a full moon, get either the whole corpse or occasionally, just the parts he wanted, fill in the grave and take home his loot.
Once safe in the farmhouse, he would dissect the bodies, and separate and keep certain body parts - the heads, livers, hearts, intestines and sex organs. Then he would skin the body and drape the whole skin over a tailor's dummy. Sometimes he would wear the top, complete with breasts, which he called his "woman's suit", and dance round the homestead under the night sky, which gave him intense gratification.
By "putting on" another sex and personality, Gein seemed to find a measure of contentment, but it was not enough to satisfy a deeper need. Gein's fascination with the female body and his desire to become a woman, eventually led him to seek out fresher samples. Instead of digging up dead women he would murder live ones.
His first victim was Mary Hogan in December, 1954. She was a
51-year-old divorcee who operated Hogan’s Tavern six miles from Gein's
home. She was alone when he arrived at her tavern. He shot her in the
head with his 32-caliber revolver, and took her body back to his farm
in the back of his pick-up truck.
Gein’s next known murder came in November, 1957, when he shot and killed Bernice Worden in her hardware store on Plainfield’s Main Street. After murdering her, using a rifle he took from a display case in the store, Gein calmly locked the store and stole the store's own truck to use to transport the body home. He lacked the necessary intellect and fear of pursuit to cover his tracks, so police soon followed the trail to his secluded farmhouse, where, amidst incredible filth and clutter a grisly nightmare was revealed.
When the local sheriff, Arthur Schley, and his deputy, searched the desolate farmhouse they found the floor and surfaces covered with rotting garbage to such an extent that it was barely possible to walk through the rooms. The smell of filth and decomposition was overwhelming.
While inspecting the kitchen with his flashlight, Schley felt something brush against his jacket. He looked up to face a large, dangling carcass hanging upside down from the beams. The carcass had been decapitated, slit open and gutted. An ugly but familiar sight in that deer-hunting part of the country.
It took a few moments to sink in, but soon Schley realized that it wasn't a deer at all, it was the headless butchered body of a woman. Bernice Worden had been found. Her head was later found in a sack in the corner, her heart in a bag in front of the stove, and a pile of her entrails wrapped up in an old suit on the floor. Schley's deputy ran ouside to retch, then he and the sheriff continued the search.
Amid the incredible litter of decaying food, trashy magazines, collections of used chewing gum, and a sink filled with sand, were soup bowls made from the sawn-off tops of skulls, a belt of nipples, a shoebox containing nine female genitalia; another box had four human noses. There was a rolled-up garment made from the upper torso of a middle-aged woman, with straps in the back so it could be worn like a vest. Lampshades, a tom-tom, bracelets, and a wastebasket were all covered in human skin, as were the seats of four straight-backed chairs. A pair of intact skulls were found on Gein's bedposts. There was a collection of human masks, made from the faces of nine women and a table propped up by a human shinbones.
By contrast, the rooms that had belonged to Ed's mother, who had been dead for twelve years by then, were just as she'd left them since Gein had long since boarded them shut.
Arrest and Punishment
Gein was arrested while eating supper at the home of a neighbour who owned a grocery store several miles away. The scattered remains of an estimated fifteen bodies were found at the farmhouse but Gein confessed to the Hogan and Worden murders only, along with over 40 unreported grave robberies. The law could not tie any other murders to him but one likely victim was Evelyn Hartley, abducted from LaCrosse on a night when Gein was visiting relatives, two blocks from her home. A pool of blood was found in the family garage after she vanished, with the trail disappearing at curbside.
Gein did not immediately stand trial. In January, 1958 he was found to be insane and he spent ten years in Central State Mental Hospital, at Waupun, Wisconsin. He was then ordered up for trial in mid-November 1968. He was found guilty, but criminally insane. He was first sent back to the Central State Hospital at Waupon, and then in 1978 he was moved to the Mendota Mental Health Institute where he died of respiratory and heart failure in 1984, aged seventy-seven. Apparently he was always a model prisoner - kind, gentle, and unfailingly polite.
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