November 17, 1957. Plainfield, Wisconsin. It’s 5pm and Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden goes to the grocery store run by his mother Bernice.
As soon as he enters the shop, he finds before him a disturbing scenario: the floor is stained with blood, the cash register is open. Plus, no one saw the woman during the day.
Frank immediately alerts the polic suggesting a possible lead. The night before he has seen Ed Gein, a worker who owns a farm in the area, going to the shop and return the next morning to buy a gallon of antifreeze.
It turns out that the man is in fact the last person to have met Bernice.
The investigators head to his home. The search begins and some agents walk towards the shed, where they make a gruesome discovery.
Hanging in the attic by the ankles is the woman’s body, beheaded, quartered and with the entrails removed.
A spine-chilling picture.
But that’s not all. Inside the house they find the guts removed from the victim, wrapped in a dress, and her head with two nails stuck on the sides, suggesting that Gein would hang it like a trophy.
The nightmare is not over yet. The whole house is full of macabre details. Eventually the search will lead to the discovery of:
- Fragments of bones
- A corset, a legging, a drum and masks, all made with human skin
- Four noses
- A heart
- Several human skulls
- Skull caps used as bowls
- A series of excised vulvas
- Femurs used as table legs
- A belt made of nipples
A real museum of atrocities.
Ed Gein is immediately arrested. He is also credited with the murder of Mary Hogan, the owner of an inn that disappeared a few months earlier. Her remains are found in the man’s house.
While in detention, Gein confesses to both murders and also adnuts to have desecrated graves to obtain the anatomical and skeletal parts he kept in the house.
The investigators, taken to local cemeteries by the killer, were able to ascertain that what he said corresponded to reality.
He was born on August 27, 1906 in La Crosse. He grows up with an alcoholic and violent father and from early childhood develops a very close relationship with his mother, who immediately educates him to religious fanaticism. Strong beliefs about women considered as an instrument of the devil, and a total aversion to any form of transgression become ingrained in him.
The family lives on a Planfield farm. Over time, Ed begins to exhibit signs of a distorted sexuality. At the age of ten, he will have an orgasm watching his parents slaughtering a pig.
Once, while he is masturbating in the bathroom, his mother sees him and in an outburst of anger grabs his genitals and immerses him in boiling water. Edward is not allowed to think about sex, on the contrary, he must remain a virgin for life, like he promised to his parent.
The school years are all but easy. Gein is a rather diligent student, however he is often mocked and bullied by his peers for his shy temperament.
In 1940 his father dies after suffering a heart attack, so the family unit is reduced to him, his mother and his older brother Henry.
In 1944 a fire hit the family farm. Edward finds himself trapped in the flames with his brother, who unfortunately loses his life. He manages to escape, reporting to the police that he has lost sight of Henry in the middle of the fire. However, uncannily he is able to report the exact location of his body to the authorities.
Another peculiarity, the corpse has a trauma to the head.
Despite the doubts, the cause of death will be eventually declared as due to asphyxiation.
Gein remains to live alone with his mother until December 29, 1945 when she too will die, due to a stroke.
This event leaves an indelible mark on his existence and represents the ultimate trigger for his madness.
Increasingly immersed in solitude and alienated from the world, he begins to unearth corpses, to take them home and create his anomalous preparations with their remains. He gets closer to the limit until he starts killing. There are two official victims, but it is suspected that the victims may be more and that he is the author of other unsolved disappearances.
Gein is initially declared mentally unstable and he is locked up in a mental health hospital. In 1968 the case is reopened and this time he is judged capable of sustaining a trial. Eventually, on November 14, 1968, the verdict certifies his insanity, condemning him to a criminal asylum for the rest of his life.
He dies on July 26, 1984 due to respiratory arrest.
Thus ends the existence of this serial killer, whose crimes still leave us astonished by their brutality and cruelty, manifestation of a gradual journey towards madness commenced from afar.
There are numerous literary and cinematic references. His figure inspired the making of the well-known protagonist of Psycho, Norman Bates, the murderer Jame Gumb known as Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs and also the famous Leatherface of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre saga.