Ed Gein: The Real-Life Norman Bates
Of late, I’ve spent a lot of research hours on grave robbing and serial killers, especially as mayhem was practiced during the early 1800s. The need for medical schools to rob graves of “fresh” corpses to use as cadavers is common knowledge, but I had not thought to stumble across a modern-day grave robber, a man with a fetish for bowls made of human skulls; a wastebasket made of human skin; a full breastplate made of a skinned woman’s torso; ten female heads with the tops sawed off; skulls on his bedposts; human skin covering several chairs; a pair of lips on a drawstring for a window shades; and a belt made of different women’s nipples.
Ed Gein was the model for the Norman Bates character in Robert Bloch’s novel, Psycho. Bloch’s tale of murder and mayhem became the basis of the famous Alfred Hitchcock film. Some experts claim Gein’s story also inspired the Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Buffalo Bill character in Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs.
The son of Augusta and George Gein, Ed Gein early on moved to a remote farm outside of Plainfield, Wisconsin. His father was a drunkard, but his mother was highly religious. Augusta reportedly instilled strict rules of sexuality in the household. Both Ed and his brother Henry were told repeatedly about the “sinfulness of women” and of the utter evil of premarital sex.
Ed’s sexual confusion escalated after George Gein died in 1940. His father’s death forced Ed and Henry to seek odd jobs in the nearby town. Ed, generally, worked as a handyman. In 1944, Henry died under suspicious circumstances. He and Ed were fighting a nearby fire in the marshes; later, Henry’s body was found. He had several bruises about his head, and he was lying in an unburned area. However, authorities ruled the death as accidental: smoke asphyxiation.
Barely a year later, Augusta died of a stroke, leaving Ed all alone. Ed nailed her bedroom door closed, preserving the room in immaculate condition. After his mother’s death, Ed became fascinated by human anatomy: absolutely devouring any information about Christine Jorgensen and the first sex-change operation. Ed considered such an operation for himself. Later, he took up with a drifter, and the two of them began robbing graves for “souvenirs.” Reportedly, Ed Gein would scour the obituaries for information on female grave sites.
The grave robbing, eventually, no longer satisfied Gein’s fascination with the macabre. In December 1954, a woman named Mary Hogan disappeared from the bar she managed in Pine Grove, Wisconsin. Gein was a suspect, but no hard evidence could be linked to him at the time.
Three years later, another 50-something year old woman disappeared. Like Mary Hogan, Bernice Worden resembled Augusta Gein. The woman was abducted from the hardware store she owned. This time there was a more concrete connection to Gein. Worden’s son told authorities Gein had approached Bernice about a date. A Plainfield resident told the police of how Gein bought antifreeze from Worden’s store on the day of the incident.
Arriving at Gein’s home, the police found a decapitated body hanging from the rafters. Bernice’s torso was slit and gutted. Her genitalia removed. Her head had been turned into an ornament, and her heart sat in a saucepan on the stove. A search of the house produced a gun that matched the cartridge found at the scene of Mary Hogan’s murder. Gein confessed to the murder of both women and was committed to a secure mental institution, where he died of respiratory failure on July 26, 1984.