compiled by Patrick H. Moore

In the annals of serial killers, there is probably no one creepier than Eddie Gein, the Plainfield, Wisconsin, mama’s boy par excellence. Largely forgotten due to the obscurity of his rural existence and the fact that many more urbane serial killers have followed in his footsteps, Eddie was the real life inspiration for Norman Bates in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho”, for Buffalo Bill in “The Silence of the Lambs”, and for the original film version of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”  I was seven years old when Eddie’s crimes were discovered and was living in rural Wisconsin, yet I have no memory of these events.  Perhaps the good country folk tried hard to keep it on the down-low.  It was fully 30 years later when I first read about Eddie’s grisly machinations.  His is a fascinating and strangely sad tale which, not unlike in “Psycho”, illuminates the price a boy/man and his  victims sometimes pay due to being saddled with an overly domineering mother.

bat3Ed’s mother Augusta Wilhelmine Gein despised Ed’s father and considered him a failure for being an alcoholic who was unable to keep a job (he had worked at various times as a carpenter, tanner, and insurance salesman). Augusta operated a small grocery store and used the proceeds from the sale of the grocery store in 1914 to purchase a farm on the outskirts of the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, which became the Gein family’s permanent home.

Augusta relocated to the farm to prevent outsiders from influencing her sons. Edward was allowed to leave the premises only to attend school. Other than that, he spent most of his time doing chores on the farm. Augusta, a fervent Lutheran, preached to her boys about the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and the belief that all women (except herself) were naturally prostitutes and instruments of the devil. She reserved time every afternoon to read to them from the Bible, usually selecting graphic verses from the Old Testament concerning death, murder, and divine retribution.

Edward was shy, and classmates and teachers remembered him as having strange mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he were laughing at his own personal jokes. He was sometimes bullied. To make matters worse, his mother punished him whenever he tried to make friends. Despite his poor social development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading.

While Gein was devoted to making his domineering mother happy, Augusta was rarely pleased with her boys, believing that they were destined to become failures and alcoholics like their father. In their teenage years and early adulthood, Ed and his brother Henry remained detached from people outside of their farmstead, and had only each other for company.

edd2George Gein died of heart failure caused by his alcoholism on April 1, 1940, aged 66. Subsequently, Henry and Ed began doing odd jobs around town to help cover living expenses. By all accounts,both brothers were considered reliable and honest by residents of the community. While both worked as handymen, Ed also frequently babysat for neighbors. He enjoyed babysitting, seeming to relate more easily to children than adults. In 1941, Henry began dating a divorced, single mother of two, and planned on moving in with her; Henry worried about his brother’s affection for their mother, and often spoke ill of her around Ed, who responded with shock and hurt.

Henry Gein died in a marsh fire in 1944, under perhaps suspicious circumstances, leaving Ed and his mother alone on the farm. Augusta suffered a paralyzing stroke shortly after Henry’s death, and Gein devoted himself to taking care of her. She suffered a second stroke soon after, and her health deteriorated rapidly. Augusta died on December 29, 1945, at the age of 67. Ed was devastated by her death; in the words of author Harold Schechter, he had “lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world.”

After that Ed went downhill quickly. We’ll let Rachael Bell and Marilyn Bardsley of Crime Library entice you just a bit more with the following brief excerpt from their in depth Crime Library study of this remarkably strange individual.

Eddie Gein

BY Rachael Bell and Marilyn Bardsley

edd3On November 17, 1957, police in Plainfield, Wisconsin arrived at the dilapidated farmhouse of Eddie Gein, who was a suspect in the robbery of a local hardware store and disappearance of the owner, Bernice Worden. Gein had been the last customer at the hardware store and had been seen loitering around the premises.

Gein’s desolate farmhouse was a study in chaos. Inside, junk and rotting garbage covered the floor and counters. It was almost impossible to walk through the rooms. The smell of filth and decomposition was overwhelming. While the local sheriff, Arthur Schley, inspected the shed with his flashlight, he felt something brush against his jacket. When he looked up to see what it was he ran into, he faced a large, dangling carcass hanging upside down from the beams.  The carcass had been decapitated, slit open and gutted.  An ugly sight to be sure, but a familiar one in that deer-hunting part of the country, especially during deer season. 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, the 50-year-old mother of his deputy Frank Worden, had been found.

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