Psychopath Edward Theodore Gein
Psychopath Edward Theodore Gein (27 August 1906 – 26 July 1984), also known as the Butcher of Plainfield or Plainfield Ghoul, was an American assassin and body collector. Gein’s crimes committed around his hometown of Plainfield, Wisconsin, became widely known in 1957 after authorities discovered that he had exhumed bodies from local graves and made trophies and mementos from their bones and skins. Gein also confessed to killing two women: tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954 and hardware store owner Bernice Worden in 1957.
Gein was initially found unfit to stand trial due to his sanity and was confined to a mental health facility. In 1968, he was judged competent to stand trial; he was found guilty of the murder of Worden but he was declared legally insane and sent to a psychiatric institution. He died at the Mendota Mental Health Institute of asphyxiation on July 26, 1984 at the age of 77. He was buried next to his family in Plainfield Cemetery, in a now unmarked grave.
Gein was born in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, on August 27, 1906, the second of two children to George Philip Gein (1873–1940) and Augusta Wilhelmine (née Lehrke) Gein (1878–1945). Gein had an older brother, Henry George Gein (1901–1944).
Augusta resented her husband, an alcoholic who was unable to hold down a job, he had worked various jobs as a carpenter, tanner and insurance salesman. George owned a local grocer for several years but sold his business and the family left town to live isolated on a 155-acre (63 hectare) farm in the town of Plainfield, Wisconsin which became the Gein family’s permanent residence. Augusta took advantage of the isolation of the farm by rejecting outsiders who could influence her children. Gein’s children were allowed to leave the farm only to go to school.
Outside of school, Gein spends most of his time doing farm work. Augusta was very religious. She preaches to her sons about the world’s innate immorality, the evil of drinking, and her belief that all women (besides herself) are naturally promiscuous and instruments of the devil. He set aside time every evening to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting verses from the Old Testament and the Book of Revelation about death, murder and divine vengeance.
Gein was shy and classmates and teachers remembered him as having odd mannerisms, such as his seemingly odd laugh, as if he was laughing at his own private joke. Even worse, Augusta punished him every time he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, Gein did quite well at school, especially at reading.
Death in immediate family
On April 1, 1940, Ed Gein’s father, George, died of heart failure caused by alcoholism, at the age of 66. Henry and Ed started doing odd jobs around town to help cover living expenses. The brothers are generally seen as reliable and honest by members of the community. Apart from working as a handyman, Ed also often takes care of neighbors. She enjoys parenting, apparently getting along with children more easily than adults. Henry begins dating a divorced mother of two and plans to move in with him, Ed is worried about his brother’s attachment to the widow and Henry also often has bad things to say about Ed.
On May 16, 1944, Henry and Ed set fire to swamp vegetation in a field when the fire got out of control, attracting the attention of the local fire department. At the end of the day—the fire was out and the firefighters were gone—Ed reported his brother missing. With lanterns and flashlights, the search team searched for Henry, whose body was found lying face down. Apparently, he had been dead for some time and it appears that the cause of death was heart failure as he had no burns or injuries.
It was later reported, by biographer Harold Schechter, that Henry received a bruise on his head and that was the cause of death. Authorities accepted the accident theory but no formal investigation was carried out and an autopsy was not performed. While questioning Ed Gein about the death of Bernice Worden in 1957, state investigator Joe Wilimovsky had also raised questions about Henry’s death. George W. Arndt, who studied the case, wrote that, in retrospect, it was “possible” that Henry’s death was like the ‘Cain and Abel’ (Gospel story) version of the case”.
Ed Gein and his mother are now alone. Augusta had a stroke that disabled her shortly after Henry’s death and Ed Gein devoted himself to caring for her. Sometime in 1945, Gein later recounted, he and his mother visited a man named Smith, who lived near their home to buy hay. According to Gein, Augusta witnessed Smith beating up a dog. A woman inside Smith’s home came out and screamed for him to stop but Smith beat the dog to death. Augusta was very upset by the sight; However, what bothered him didn’t seem to be the brutality towards the dog, but the presence of the woman. Augusta told Ed that the woman was not married to Smith, so she had no business there. “Smith’s bitch,” Augusta angrily called her. He had a second stroke soon after, and his health rapidly deteriorated. He died on December 29, 1945, aged 67. Ed was devastated by his death; in the words of author Harold Schechter, he had “lost his only friend and one true love. And he was utterly alone in the world.
Gein survives on the farm and earns money from odd jobs. He only occupied a small room near the kitchen in his house, the other room was never touched, left alone so it looked dull and lots of cobwebs. Around this time, he became interested in reading magazines and adventure stories, especially stories about cannibals or Nazi atrocities.
Gein was a laborer and received agricultural subsidies from the federal government starting in 1951. He worked occasionally for the local town road crew and threshing crews in the area. Between 1946 and 1956, he also sold his brother Henry’s 80 acres (32 ha) plot of land.
On the morning of November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared. A Plainfield resident reported that a hardware store truck had been pushed out the back of the building at around 9:30 a.m. The hardware store saw many customers throughout the day, the residents thought it was normal because it was deer hunting season. Bernice Worden’s son, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, entered the store at around 5 p.m. and found the store’s checkout drawer open and bloodstained on the floor.
Frank Worden told investigators that on the night before his mother disappeared, Ed Gein had been in the store and he had to come back the next morning for a gallon of antifreeze. The sales slip for a gallon of antifreeze was the last receipt Worden had written the morning of his disappearance. On the evening of the same day, Ed Gein was arrested at a West Plainfield grocery store and the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department searched Gein’s farm.
Waushara County Sheriff’s Deputy found Worden’s decapitated body in a shed on Gein’s estate, hanging upside down, his ankles bound and hanging from a wooden crossbar, his hands also bound. The body was “dressed like a deer.” He had been shot with a .22 caliber rifle and his body mutilated after death.
While searching Ed Gain’s home, authorities found:
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Wastebasket made of human skin
- Human skin covered some of the chair seats
- Skeleton on his bedpost
- A woman’s skull, with some of the tops sawn off
- Bowl made of human skull
- A corset made of a woman’s body being skinned from the shoulders to the waist
- Leggings are made from the skin of human legs
- Mask made of woman’s scalp
- Mary Hogan’s facial skin in a paper bag
- Mary Hogan’s skull in the box
- Bernice Worden’s entire head in a burlap sack
- Bernice Worden’s heart “in a plastic bag in front of Gein’s stove”
- Nine vaginal skins in a shoebox
- A young girl’s dress and “vaginal skin of two women who are estimated to be around fifteen years old”
- A belt made from a woman’s nipples
- Four noses
- A pair of lips on the window straps
- A lampshade made of human facial skin
The find was photographed in a state crime lab and then “properly buried”. When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nighttime visits to three local cemeteries to exhume recently buried bodies while Gein was still in a “like daze” when questioned. At the first dig, he dug up the grave of a recently buried middle-aged woman he thought looked like his mother and took the body home, where he tanned her skin to make household items.
Gein confessed to stealing nine of the graves from the local cemetery and directed investigators to the burial sites. Allan Wilimovsky of the state crime laboratory participated in opening three of the graves identified by Gein. The casket is in a wooden box; top board transverse (not lengthwise). The top of the box is about two feet (61 centimeters) below the surface of the sandy soil. Gein had robbed the graves immediately after the burial while the graves were not finished. A test grave was dug because the authorities were unsure whether little Gein would be able to dig a grave alone in one night; they were found as Gein had described: two dug graves were found empty (one had a crowbar in the body holder). One empty coffin; another casket failed to open when he lost his lever; and most of the body was missing from the third grave, but Gein has returned the ring and some body parts. Thus, Gein’s confession largely corroborated the investigator’s theory.
Immediately after his mother’s death, Gein began making “women’s suits” so that “she could be his mother—to really crawl under her skin”. Gein denied having sex with the bodies he dug up, because “they smelled too bad”. During state crime lab interrogation, Gein also confessed to the shooting death of Mary Hogan, a tavern owner who had gone missing since 1954 whose head was found in his home but he later denied memory of the details of her death.
A 16-year-old boy, whose parents were friends of Gein and who attended ball games and movies with him, reported that Gein kept shrunken heads at home, which Gein described as relics from the Philippines, sent by his cousin who had served on various islands during the War. World II. Upon investigation by the police, this was confirmed to be the skin of a human face, carefully peeled off the corpse and used by Gein as a mask. Gein is also considered a suspect in several other unsolved cases in Wisconsin, including the 1953 disappearance of Evelyn Hartley, a La Crosse babysitter.
During questioning, Waushara County Sheriff Art Schley reportedly assaulted Gein by hitting his head and face against a brick wall. As a result, Gein’s initial confession was declared inadmissible. Schley died of heart failure at age 43 in 1968 before the Gein trial. Many people who knew Schley said he was traumatized by the horrors of Gein’s crimes and along with the fear of having to testify (especially about assaulting Gein), led to his death. One of his friends said: “He was a victim of Ed Gein, as if he had butchered him.”
On 21 November 1957, Gein was indicted on one count of murder in the first degree at the Waushara District Court, where he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Gein was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found to be mentally incompetent, thus unfit for trial. He was sent to the Central State Hospital for Insanity (now the Dodge Correctional Institution), a maximum security facility in Waupun, Wisconsin, and then transferred to Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
In 1968, doctors determined that Gein was “mentally capable of conferring with legal counsel and participating in his defence”. The trial began on November 7, 1968, and lasted one week. A psychiatrist testified that Gein had told him he did not know whether the murder of Bernice Worden was intentional or accidental. Gein had told him that while he was checking the gun in Worden’s shop, the gun went off, killing Worden. Gein testified that after trying to load bullets into the rifle, they ran out. He said he did not point the gun at Worden, and had no recollection of anything else that had happened that morning.
At the request of the defense, Gein’s trial was held without a jury with presiding judge Robert H. Gollmar. Gein was found guilty by Gollmar on 14 November. After testimony by doctors for the prosecution and defense, Gollmar found Gein “not guilty by reason of insanity” and ordered him to be admitted to the Central State Hospital for Insane Crimes. Gein spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. Judge Gollmar wrote, “Due to the high cost, Gein was tried for only one murder—that of Mrs. Worden even though she also confessed to killing Mary Hogan.”
His estate was scheduled for auction on March 30, 1958, amidst rumors that the house and land on which it stood might become a tourist attraction. On the morning of March 20, the house was completely engulfed in flames. A deputy firefighter reported that a garbage fire had been started 75 feet (23 m) from the home by cleaners who had been assigned the task of removing trash, that hot coals were recovered from the bonfire site, but that the fire did not spread on the ground from that location to the home. Arson was suspected, but the cause of the fire was never officially determined. It is possible that the fire was not considered a matter of urgency by fire chief Frank Worden, son of Bernice Worden, Gein’s last victim. When Gein learned of the incident while in custody, he shrugged and said, “Same.” Gein’s house and 195 acres (79 ha) were valued at $4,700 (equivalent to $42,000 in the current year).
Gein’s 1949 Ford sedan, which he used to transport the bodies of his victims, sold at a public auction for $760 (equivalent to $6,800 in current years) to carnival show operator Bunny Gibbons. Gibbons charges carnival goers a $25 admission ticket to see the car.
Gein died at the Mendota Mental Health Institute of asphyxiation from lung cancer on July 26, 1984, at the age of 77. Over the years, souvenir seekers retrieved bits and pieces from his tombstone at Plainfield Cemetery, until the stone itself was stolen in 2000. The stone was recovered in June 2001, near Seattle, Washington, and is being held in the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department. Gein was interred between the graves of his parents and brother.