5 Skin Crawling Specifics About Serial Killer Ed Gein

The real-life story of society's worst seamster.
5 Skin Crawling Specifics About Serial Killer Ed Gein

Psycho’s Norman Bates. The Silence Of The Lambs’ Buffalo Bill. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface. These are three of the most iconic killers in movie history, each a pillar of the genre in their own right, and in Buffalo Bill’s case, the creator of some iconic dance moves that will be forever linked to Q. Lazarus’ “Goodbye Horses.” All three of these media monsters share one real man when it comes to tracing their inspiration: the “Plainfield Ghoul,” Ed Gein.

It’s in this nickname that we start to get the first hints of the horrific acts that Ed Gein was known for, both then and now. Though the word ghoul has become broader throughout the years to describe just any creepy creature, the original creatures given the name were known for particular acts. Principally, that being of grave robbing and corpse desecration. When police finally made their way to Ed Gein’s farmhouse, they would discover a litany of horrors that would make this nom de plume so spine-chillingly apt.

Let’s learn a little bit about the world’s most terrifying tailor.

He Was The Ultimate Mama’s Boy


Ed Gein’s complete and utter obsession with his mother was the element pulled when creating Norman Bates, the titular Psycho of Hitchcock’s film. She was far from normal herself, convinced that interaction with the modern sinful world would corrupt her two sons, Ed and Henry. The remote farm that would later become a rookie cop’s worst nightmare was specifically chosen because Augusta Gein thought that growing up in the nearby modern day Sodom that was… Plainfield, Wisconsin would tempt her sons into a life of debauchery and sin. This would very much backfire.

Many children growing up in an oppressively controlling household choose to rebel. Ed Gein, however, instead of following the usual overprotective parent to punk show pipeline, became completely deferential and obsessed with his mother, a trait that would extend beyond her death in a visceral manner. In fact, even when the farmhouse was finally raided, her room was found to be kept in impeccable condition, while the rest of the house… we’ll get to that shortly. Her death, too, would cause Ed’s complete devolution into the ghoul he would later be known as.

His First Kill May Have Been His Own Brother


The story of Henry Gein, Ed’s brother, is remarkably short–likely due to Ed. He was not as entirely cowed by Augusta’s teachings and screeds as Ed was, which may have painted him in Ed’s mind as both an interloper and a heretic of sorts. Though the exact circumstances and events of a night in 1944 have never been confirmed, it’s heavily suspected that it was the night that Ed committed his first murder, leaving Henry dead face down in a marsh.

The two were clearing brush through what was intended to be controlled burning, but the fire grew more quickly than they had anticipated, necessitating a call to the local fire department. When they arrived, after putting an end to the fire, Ed informed them that Henry had disappeared during the commotion. He was found dead of asphyxiation, but at the time, it didn’t seem any more suspicious than an unfortunate farming accident. It was only when everyone got a taste of just what was going on in Ed’s head that they started to suspect foul play. As you’ll find, getting dumped facedown in dirty water was just about the best outcome a corpse could have in the company of Ed Gein.

He Made Some Unsavory Interior Design Choices


When police finally got a taste of Ed Gein’s taste in home decor, it was a far cry from some sensible Wayfair purchases or West Elm splurges. We’re talking a little less mid-century modern and a little more medieval torture chamber. You see, Ed’s idea of furniture shopping involved a generous dose of grave robbery and corpse desecration. Gein’s furniture choices may have lacked a carbon footprint, but unfortunately, they included plenty of human foot, and fingerprints.

Here’s a quick look at some of the homewares that I doubt ever made it to Ed’s estate sale: chairs upholstered in human skin, bowls made of human skulls, faces mounted on the wall, a belt made of nipples, and in what is an insane choice both in material AND purpose, a light-shade pull that was made of a pair of human lips. By the time he was arrested, Gein’s living room contained more skin than most swimwear shoots.

He May Not Have Killed That Many People

Kim Traynor

For a serial killer that’s quick to send a shiver down most anyone’s spine at a mere mention, Ed Gein actually had a fairly miniscule body count. Not including the suspicions surrounding his brother’s death, he only had two confirmed victims: Bernice Worden, a hardware store employee that would lead to his arrest, and years earlier a barkeep named Mary Hogan. Worden was the mother of a local deputy, making her a particularly poor choice of target. This, of course, wasn’t a concern of the then completely unhinged Ed, who chose her because of her size with regard to how  much skin she could provide for his grisly side business. This was echoed directly in Silence Of The Lambs’ line when Buffalo Bill describes a victim as a “great big fat person.” In fact, Gein had Worden’s epidermis earmarked (no pun intended) for a particular use.

The rest of the macabre materials found in his possession, he claimed he had harvested from local graveyards during an extensive grave-robbing campaign.

He Was Working On A Skin Suit


Where Gein’s numerous delusions came to a sordid sum was in perhaps his most famous piece of wardrobe: a full-body skin suit he was working on, which he was creating to wear in order to transform into his mother. As I said: the man had some mommy issues. Police found a vest made of human skin in Gein’s cabin, likely a bit of work in progress on this goal. They also found the object he was attempting to emulate in this undertaking: his mother’s corpse, hung from the ceiling in the middle of the house. This skin suit was the main fashion inspo for both Buffalo Bill and the famous mask of Leatherface.

A belt made entirely of human nipples: flirty friday night accessory or fashion faux pas? Let us know in the comments!

Top Image: Police Photo/Clinton Steeds

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