If Hollywood ever had to make a statue in tribute of one person, it’s Ed Gein.
As a society, we are fascinated by the larger-than-life personalities of serial killers intensified by the combination of law enforcement, news, the entertainment industry, and the taboo that is murder. The popularity of serial killers is bastardized in virtually every medium of life. Whether TV, film, books, radio, podcasting or talk shows, serial killers are a topic of discussion that some people get giddy about.
Why are we obsessed with murderers?
In 1827, William Corder murdered his lover, Maria Marten. The trial was showcased and exploited to celebrity levels thanks to the British press. This case was so popular, that people bought and sold pieces of Corder’s body after he was executed. If that isn’t a case for people being groupies of murders, I don’t know what is.
One explanation of why we’re so fascinated by murderers is it’s a way of getting close to our mortal fear without having to experience it ourselves. In a sense, we can experience these feelings vicariously through the security of our homes watching media on killers because we secretly crave the depravity of human nature. Exploring dark emotions like fear and disgust at a comfortable distance can help us cleanse them away. Which is basically catharsis by proxy through the act of watching serial killers.
This is showcased in the movie industry through films with characters like Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs.
These characters were inspired by one man: Ed Gein.
None of those characters are directly based on Ed Gein, but they all take part of his nature, personality, and the gruesome ways he committed his murders.
Edward Theodore Gein was born and raised in La Crosse, Wisconsin on August 27, 1906. His upbringing was an abusive one with an oppressive family, an overly zealous religious mother who made her family listen to stories from the Bible, most notably on sin, lust and the Hell they would embark on if they took this path. His social life as a youth consisted of isolation due to his mother condemning him to never have any friends and the fact that his family lived on a farm. At school, he rarely socialized, his teachers would state he demonstrated queer mannerisms like sudden burst of laughter. His mom may have been strict, but Gein was obsessed and adored his mother. She told him having any relationship with women is a sin, that every woman that isn’t Ed’s mother are whores and dating them just puts you right up there with Satan.
Gein’s mother became ill, which meant he had to take care of her due to the fact his father died. He took odd jobs around town and was considered a reliable worker whenever you needed something. His devotion to his mother was unbridled, but he was also fascinated with stories about Nazis and cannibals. His mother passed away in 1945 leaving Ed alone on the farm. It’s said he left the rooms of his household in the same condition that his mother would have.
As time went on, Gein developed a few new hobbies, one of them trying to be his mother. This trait is what inspired the character of Norman Bates in Psycho. For as notorious as Ed Gein was his murder count is pretty low. It’s the unspeakable horrific ways he committed his murders what made him so infamous.
In 1957, a woman by the name of Bernice Worden, who worked at a hardware store, went missing. Her son reported to the police that the last person seen with his mother was none other than Mr. Gein. He was arrested and a warrant was issued to check his farm. Typically, whenever we think of crime cases there’s the usual twists and turns, but the police found what they were looking for: Bernice Worden’s dead body, hung upside down in Ed’s farm like an animal. Her torso had been cut open and the organs had been taken out, her body mutilated from head to toe. The tendons in her ankle had been cut and a rod placed between them. The body was hung up in the air, she was dressed up and her head was missing which was later found in a burlap sack.
Gein had a thing for severed heads and ended up collecting them all to the disgust and horror of the police that discovered them. That was just the start down the rabbit hole of depravity and sadism. Police also found human masks that Gein cut off so he could wear them. Gein was also an interior decorator of human skin, making lampshades, chair covers and wastebaskets made out of flesh. He had kitchen utensils made out of bones and skulls sitting on his bedposts. What’s more insane he made a skin corset that he could wear to become a woman like his mother along with other clothing accessories made out of his victims’ skins. He had a collection of other women’s body parts from noses, vulvas, nipples, etc.
All this was done to become his mother. When he had his whole get-up prepared, he would dance in his garden and watch TV all while wearing his skin suit as his mother. Most of his material were from corpses he robbed from local graves. Writing this has made my skin crawl and turn my stomach. I can’t imagine how the police felt when they found it.
In the aftermath of all this horror, Gein was sentenced to a mental hospital because he was undeniably insane. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and an Oedipus complex, and died on July 26, 1984 from lung cancer in Mendota Mental Health Institute. He was buried in Plainfield, Wisconsin, and parts of his grave are missing because people wanted to take home a souvenir.
Because of Ed Gein’s story, movies and literature have prostituted off of this horror, Psycho being the most notable one depicting Norman Bates as a strange, timid nice man who owns the Bates Motel and taking care of his mentally ill mother. As it turns out Norman had killed his mother years ago, filled with guilt he dug up her body and placed it in a chair, caring for and talking to her like she was still alive. His obsession leads him to become his mother at night dressing up as her and murdering people.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre depicted an inbred family of cannibals, the most notable being Leatherface who would kill and skin his victims behind closed doors like Ed Gein. Silence of The Lambs takes the character of Buffalo Bill as a transgender man named James Gumb, who is too psychologically disturbed to take part in a sex reassignment operation, so he goes out and murders women for their skin to create his own suit.
There are plenty more movies inspired by Ed Gein and most likely more to come in the future. His disturbing story has left a lasting impression for generations, making him a cult killer.