Most fans in the horror community are familiar with the name Ed Gein – the man whose crimes went on to serve as the basis for Norman Bates in ‘Psycho,’ Buffalo Bill in ‘Silence of the Lambs,’ and, most famously, as the inspiration behind Tobe Hooper’s chainsaw-wielding character Leatherface in ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.’
But do you know why this one man was able to serve as the model for these three legends of film?
The answer lies in the unspeakable acts Gein would commit between 1947 and 1957.
Prepare yourself as you read about the only man in history to be given the classification of a serial killer despite only killing two people during his ten-year spree.
Warning: The following information is graphic in content and is not intended for all readers. The information below may disturb some individuals.
When Frank Worden entered his mother’s hardware store on November 16, 1957, he never could have predicted the horrors he would uncover that very same night.
After spending the morning hunting, Frank decided to stop by his mother’s store to check up on her. When he arrived, he found the store uncharacteristically closed. After opening the store, he found that Bernice Worden was nowhere to be found. In her place was a pool of blood that looked as if something had been dragged through it. He followed the trail out of the store and discovered that it abruptly stopped a few feet from the building.
Frank would find out during his investigation that the hardware store’s delivery truck had been spotted leaving the store early in the morning but had not returned that day.
Along with the blood, Frank found the store’s receipt book, with the last sales transaction, still laying on the counter, the sale had been for a gallon of antifreeze. With this discovery, Frank immediately knew that Gein was responsible for his mother’s disappearance, as he remembered that Gein had spoken to him the day before, about coming by the store to pick up some antifreeze. This was coupled with the fact that Gein had also asked him the day before if he planned on going hunting today. This was Gein’s way of determining if Bernice would be alone in the store.
Frank wouldn’t have to search very long to find his man as Gein had given a neighborhood boy a ride into town. The boy had heard there was some kind of commotion in town and wanted to see what was going on. What Gein didn’t know was that the commotion involved the disappearance of Bernice Worden and that he was now the prime suspect in the case.
Gein was quickly apprehended and a search of his farm was organized in an attempt to find Bernice Worden.
Upon arriving at Gein’s home, two officers decided to search the large woodshed on the property. Inside, they found a makeshift wooden cross that had been secured to a ceiling beam. Hanging from the cross upside down was the decapitated body of Bernice Worden.
On the end of the bar were crude sharpened spikes that had been shoved through her ankles, and her hands had been tied to her sides with rope. She had been sliced open from groin to sternum and all her internal organs had been removed. Her body had been mutilated in the same manner one does when ‘dressing a deer.’
Upon discovering Bernice’s body, one of the detectives immediately ran outside and proceeded to vomit.
The head of Bernice Worden would later be found in a sack on the floor of the shed. A nail had been driven into each ear. A line of twine had been wrapped around each nail and then extended over her head so that it could be hung up like an ornament.
The discovery of Bernice’s body would only be the first of many horrific things they would find that night.
Upon entering the home, the officers discovered that Gein had fashioned himself a true house of horrors.
Sitting atop Gein’s kitchen table, one officer discovered an odd-looking bowl. Upon inspection, he discovered that the item he had mistaken for a bowl was in fact the sawed-off top of a human skull.
This was only the first of many, as it was later discovered that Gein had several skull caps throughout his home, as well as an assorted collection of complete human skulls, including a pair of human skulls that he had stuck on either bedpost.
The skulls would not be the only horrific thing they found in the kitchen. One of the officers took notice of one of the chairs that sat around the table; it had been reupholstered with human skin. In total, four chairs would be discovered with seat cushions made of strips of human flesh.
Also discovered in Gein’s kitchen were human organs stored in jars in his refrigerator, human shinbones propping up the kitchen table, a cereal box containing chunks of human scalps, the heads of forks and spoons attached to human bones, and also Bernice Worden’s recently removed heart on top of the stove.
As the officers moved out of the kitchen, they found that the only other rooms Gein appeared to inhabit in the house were a dining area just outside the kitchen and a small bedroom that led off the dining room. Every other room in the house had been boarded up, including the room that had belonged to his mother
The search, which was now progressing into the night, continued to uncover more of Gein’s gruesome handiwork. Human skin was being used for a lampshade, a wastebasket, the sheath of a hunting knife, and a small tom-tom which had a surface that was literally a drum skin. They also discovered a pair of woman’s lips that Gein had been using as a shade pull for one of the home’s many windows.
Everything up to this point, with the exception of the decapitated body of Bernice Worden, would be nothing compared to the horrors the officers would discover in Gein’s bedroom.
Within his room, officers found the skinned torso of a woman’s body with the breasts attached. The skin had been tanned and cords had been woven into the back so that Gein could tighten the torso and wear it around like a corset.
Facial masks made from nine different women were also found in Gein’s room. Some reportedly still had hair attached. Gein had stuffed four of the faces with paper and mounted them onto his bedroom wall. The other five he had tanned in an attempt to keep them preserved. One mask in particular was found in a crumpled-up paper bag. Officers discovered that the mask belonged to Pine Grove resident and tavern owner, Mary Hogan, who disappeared from her tavern on December 09, 1954.
Similar to Bernice Worden, Mary appeared to be have been abducted from her business. The only evidence found at the crime scene was a spent .32 caliber cartridge and a trail of blood that led out the tavern’s front door and abruptly stopped a few feet from the building. There were small pools of blood at the front entrance and in the parking lot where the trail ended. Most likely, someone had dragged her to the door then went outside to drive a vehicle up to the tavern before dragging her out the door and laying her in the snow outside before loading her into the vehicle.
Mary’s disappearance went unsolved and remained a mystery for almost three years until her face was found in Gein’s home. Upon further investigation of Gein’s property, investigators would also eventually find the decapitated head of Mary Hogan stored in a truck in Gein’s shed.
Besides the vest and face masks found, several other disturbing items were found that would go on to serve as defining characteristics for Thomas Harris’s character of Buffalo Bill and Tobe Hooper and Kim Henkel’s character of Leatherface. In Gein’s room, officers found a shoebox filled with nine female vulvas. For some unknown reason, Gein had painted them all silver. One in particular appeared to be a recent addition to the box and was sprinkled with salt and even had a red ribbon tied around it.
Next, officers discovered a pair of leggings that were actually made of human leg skin. Gein had stripped the flesh from a woman’s legs and had sewn them together into leggings that he could wear. Which is exactly what Gein would later confess to doing.
He admitted that, on multiple occasions, he would put on one of the facial masks, the torso vest, the leggings, and also one of the severed vulvas and pretend to be a woman.
Also found in the search was a shoebox containing four human noses, a pair of gloves made from human hand skin, and, as if all this wasn’t enough, officers also found a belt made entirely of severed human nipples.
Fearing the worst, officers finally turned their attention to the rooms Gein had boarded up. If the macabre items they had found were the things he left lying in the open, one could only imagine the unspeakable horrors he felt he needed to lock up.
To everyone’s shock, the boarded-up rooms contained no trace of Gein’s depravity. The rooms appeared to be untouched and looked as if no one had stepped foot inside them for years. Gein would later state that he boarded up these rooms following the death of his mother, as he wanted to leave everything the way she had left it.
Gein had grown up under the fanatical rule of his mother. She would continually preach to Ed and his brother about the sin of sex. Her overbearing, often authoritarian, control stunted his growth and resulted in Gein developing an unhealthy relationship with his mother. Ed worshipped his mother and never questioned her tyrannical rule over his life.
After Ed’s brother, Henry, mysteriously died while working in the field (It’s been long speculated that Ed was responsible for his brother’s murder, but nothing has ever been proven), Augusta’s grip on Ed tightened. They only had each other from that point on.
After Augusta died on December 29, 1945 at the age of 67, Ed’s world completely fell apart and it was around this time that he started down his dark path.
Following the discovery of the body of Bernice Worden and the head of Mary Hogan, police went to work on getting a confession out of Gein. He refused to comment and instead chose to remain silent the entire time he was in police custody.
By the time surrounding Waushara County Sheriff Arthur Schley arrived at roughly 2:30 a.m., Gein had still refused to provide authorities with any details into the murder of either woman or to tell who the other body parts found in his home belonged to.
Angered by Gein’s unwillingness to confess to his crimes, coupled with the appalling items found in his home, Sheriff Schley became physical with Gein, reportedly going so far as to bang his head and face repeatedly against the brick cell wall.
Following Sheriff Schley’s aggressive tactics, Gein finally confessed to the murders of Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan. However, this confession would later be deemed as inadmissible as it was likely Gein only gave the confession to save himself additional beatings at the hands of Sheriff Schley.
When Sheriff Schley later died of heart failure in 1968 at the age of forty-three, one of his friends gave the statement that, “He was a victim of Ed Gein as surely as if he had butchered him.”
On November 21, 1957, Gein would stand trial for the murder of Bernice Worden. During the trial, Gein gave a plea of “not guilty” by reason of insanity. The courts found Gein “unfit to stand trial” and ordered that he be sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
It was during his time in the hospital that Gein started to share the grisly details of his crimes. Gein had been obsessed with stories of World War Two soldier Christine Jorgensen, who became the first American to attain fame for undergoing sex reassignment surgery, something that Gein admitted he had contemplated performing on himself at one point.
Coming to the realization that performing the surgery on himself was not a viable option, Gein stated that it was around this time that he came up with the idea that if he couldn’t have surgery to become a woman, he could at least dress up as a woman. Unfortunately for Gein, he wasn’t satisfied with just wearing women’s clothing. Instead, he wanted to physically resemble a woman in every possible way. Gein figured the best way to do this was by removing and wearing the skin of dead women.
Although he would never admit it, it was theorized that Gein was not attempting to become just any woman; he was actually trying to become his mother. It’s for this reason that Gein would seek out middle-aged women instead of targeting the corpses of younger women.
Gein disclosed that the additional body parts found in his home actually came from nine recently deceased corpses he had exhumed from their graves. He revealed that, between 1947 and 1952, he made up to forty visits to three local cemeteries.
He stated that when he would visit the cemeteries he would be in a “daze-like” state. He reported that most often he would regain his senses and cease what he was doing. He said that he would return the cemetery to the way he had found it and leave empty handed. This would be the case on all but nine of those forty trips, as Gein admitted to exhuming and taking home the bodies of nine women.
Gein eventually sought the flesh of living victims, finding the flesh of the dead unable to satisfy his needs. He admitted that he chose Mary Hogan for her resemblance to his own mother. The same went for Bernice Worden, who Gein also felt shared similarities with his mother.
Gein would eventually confess to the murders of both women, but offered vague details into each murder, claiming that, similar to when robbing graves, he was in a daze. He mentioned that he remembered only shooting each victim and then loading their bodies into his vehicle.
Also, while in the hospital, Gein’s two storey home and 195 acre property were scheduled to be auctioned off but, on March 20, 1958, Gein’s house was burned to the ground days before the auction.
Arson was the suspected cause of the fire, as it seemed likely that some locals might have feared that Gein’s residence would become some kind of a macabre tourist attraction. When Gein was informed of the fire, he responded by stating, “just as well.”
Gein’s 1949 Ford sedan, however, ended up being sold to carnival sideshow operator Bunny Gibbons for $760. Gibbons charged spectators 25¢ to see the vehicle that Gein had used to transport the bodies of Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden as well as the nine corpses he had exhumed.
In 1968, after spending eleven years at the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, it was determined that Gein was now fit to stand trial.
On November 7, Gein was once again tried for the murder of Bernice Worden. Due to budgetary restrictions at the time, authorities didn’t pursue the murder of Mary Hogan. The trial, which only lasted a week and was conducted without a jury, ended with Gein being found guilty of the murder of Bernice Worden. However, it was also determined that Gein was criminally insane and, following his conviction, he was sent back to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
Gein would remain there until 1978, after which time he was moved to the Medota Mental Health Institute where he would remain until his death on July 26, 1984 at the age of seventy-seven. His official cause of death would be respiratory failure.
Over the years, the headstone that marked Gein’s grave would become the subject of obsession for many, with visitors chipping pieces off the stone to act as macabre souvenirs.
Now you know the horrific crimes and atrocities perpetrated by Ed Gein and how this one man with an unhealthy relationship with his mother, a desire to make a suit made out of women’s skin and the propensity to make furniture out of human remains was able to serve as the basis for three iconic horror characters.
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