"I had a compulsion to do it."

-Ed Gein

Ed Gein has been immortalized by pop culture, and while his name may not be as recognizable as, for instance, Ted Bundy or Charles Manson, his horrific story has probably inspired more authors, screenwriters, and musicians than Bundy and Manson combined. The metal band Slayer referenced Gein directly in their song 'Dead Skin Mask', as did the band Mudvayne several years later with their 'Nothing to Gein'. More famously, Robert Bloch, (Psycho), Thomas Harris, (Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, Black Sunday, and Hannibal), and filmmaker Tobe Hooper, ('Texas Chainsaw Massacre') were all inspired by Ed Gein. These artists took a true story from tiny Plainfield, Wisconsin, and wrought decades worth of horror from it. What is so infinitely grotesque, so compellingly disturbing, about a middle-aged farmer who stood barely five and a half feet tall?

Ed Gein is representative of the American midwest's dark heart and the madness that can emerge from near total isolation and a 'backwoods' mentality, factors which may or may not have contributed to his psychoses. To many, Gein was - and is - the boogeyman beneath the bed, the monster in the closet. His incredible story is probably still told around campfires today, a ghost story almost unbelievable for all its depravity.

Gein was born in 1906 to a dominant, tyrannical mother who most certainly harbored psychoses of her own. She forced her two sons, Ed and his older brother Henry, to accompany her in prayer, ranting and raving to God to bring about the swift death of her husband. She also preached to her sons that all women were 'whores', the ultimate evil, awash with sin and possessed of nothing but the ability to hurt and destroy. In her son's eyes, she became the only woman worthy of love, while at the same time Gein grew to both hate and fear her.

Death was no stranger in the Gein household. Henry Gein died in a mysterious fire that some believe was set by Ed, although no charges were ever filed. While he was still a young man, Gein's ineffectual father passed away as well, and not long after his mother was felled by a stroke. Ed nursed her back to health, but after a second stroke his mother died, leaving him alone in a world he was woefully uprepared for. Gein shut off the bedroom she had lived and slept in for so long, leaving everything in it exactly as his mother had. The bedroom, when the police discovered what he had done, was immaculate, save for several year's worth of dust layered upon the furniture.

A millenium's worth of grime would not even come close to what as found in the rest of the tiny house.

Ed was devoted to his mother, and from psychological standpoint may have wanted to 'become' her. He set about gathering the necessary supplies for his task, including human skins large enough to fashion a 'woman suit' - the flesh of those he murdered and culled from his many grave-robbing excursions formed into a costume of horrific implications.

The first to fall victim to Gein was Bernice Worden, who ran a local hardware store. Gein probably chose Worden because she was a large, stocky woman, roughly the same size as his mother, and would provide enough material for his project. On a winter day he walked into Worden's business, bought one item, and then removed a rifle from the wall. He slipped a shell into the gun and fired one shot into Bernice Worden's head. He then dragged her from the store and loaded into his truck, leaving a trail of blood behind him.

Bar owner Mary Hogan also became part of Gein's twisted fantasy of resurrecting his mother. While no details of her death are available, it is believed that she was killed in much the same way as Worden, with a gunshot wound to the head. Pools of blood were found inside the bar she owned and thick trails of blood snaked out the door, where Gein probably loaded her into his vehicle as one would carry a hunting trophy home.

Bernice Worden's son, concerned by his mother's disappearance and the large amounts of blood left behind, suspected foul play and contacted authorities. He and police discovered the bill of sale from Gein's purchase still lying on the counter in the store, and together they set out to the Gein family farm to question the strange little man.

Gein's home lacked running water and electricity, but within its walls, like the worst haunted house ride at the most hellish carnival, these things were found:

-Female genitalia, salted, in a shoebox.

-Nine 'death masks'-women's scalps and faces, some stuffed with newspaper, some tacked to the wall.

-Bowls made of human skulls.

-Bernice Worden's body, hung by the Achille's tendons, dressed out exactly like a deer.

-An entire 'suit'-leggings, a 'mask', and a vest, complete with breasts, made of female flesh.

Among the squallor police also found Bernice Worden's heart in a frying pan, as well as her internal organs in a bag, shoved nonchalantly into a corner. Skulls set on each corner of Gein's four-poster bed grinned at the investigators. Human heads, like bizarre trophies, hung from the walls. A belt made of human nipples was found, along with a drum and a chair made of skin. The sights and smells were so overpowering, even in the dead of winter, that many officers assisting the investigation were forced to flee the house and vomit.

Totalitarian as she may have been, Ed Gein loved his mother, and by dressing in his 'suit' and posing in the mirror, rocking in her rocking chair, or dancing beneath the Wisconsin moonlight, acts he admitted to, he was simply trying to resurrect his mother. He was not of the frenzied, outwardly psychotic brand of killer, but rather calm, quiet, polite. Despite accusations of grave-robbing, cannibalism, and necrophilia, Gein kept his cool.

Judged insane, he avoided a trial for ten years, and in those years several more bodies, by then skeletal remains, were found on his property. There is little in-depth history of this case due to a media blackout, but many sources pin at least fifteen other murders on Ed Gein. (Some say the number is not quite that high, while others suggest that it is, appallingly, not generous enough.) After years of legal wrangling, Gein was sentenced to lifetime imprisonment in a maximum-security mental health facility. In 1984, he died of cancer, never having expressed a real understanding as to why the acts he'd committed were so very, very wrong.

His body is buried next to his mother in a small Wisconsin cemetary.

The Gein home, free of its horrors, burned to the ground shortly after Gein was imprisoned. Any answers - and any further grotesqueries it may have held - were reduced to ashes.

Crime Scene Photos

Bernice Worden (Gein home crime scene, black and white.)

Bernice Worden, different angle. (Gein home crime scene, black and white.)

Bernic Worden's preserved severed head. Worden's head was among several found in Gein's home and dubbed 'death masks' by police and the media. Note the string or rope threaded through the ears for hanging. (Gein home crime scene, black and white.)