Imagine if you will, three famous Hollywood horror movies tied together with one origin. One about a power-tool wielding madman, one about a cannibal and one about a man with mommy issues. They are, perhaps, three of the greatest horror movies ever created by the horror masterminds of Hollywood and they were each inspired by the real life horror of one man.
That man was Edward Theodore Geins. Ed was born somewhere in Lacrosse County Wisconsin on 27 August 1906. He was the second son of George and Augusta Geins. Unfortunately, George wasn’t a solid man, prone to drinking and unable to maintain a steady job. His strong-willed wife Augusta despised him and was ultimately the sole breadwinner of the small family. She owned a grocery store which she sold in 1914 to move the family to a more isolated, 160-acre farm near Plainfield, Wisconsin. She used the isolation to her advantage, keeping outside influences away from her impressionable sons. She was a devout Lutheran and railed constantly against the sins of the world as she perceived them. She never allowed the boys friends or other frivolities. Ed (and presumably his brother Henry) simply attended school then went directly home to tend to chores. Despite Ed’s lack of social development, he seems to have done really well in school. Gein continually tried to make his mother happy, but she remained convinced that both her sons were destined to be failures like their father.
By 1940, their father passed away and the boys took on jobs to help with family expenses. Henry worked hard and worked well as a handyman in the local community. Ed did a bit of handy work, too, but seemed more at ease babysitting instead. He seemed to relate better to children than adults. As they grew older, Henry began to reject their mother’s view of the world, while Ed remained vigilant in his attempts to please her.
In May of 1944, there was a brush fire on property owned by Henry in a neighboring county which the brothers were tending, but quickly got out of hand attracting the attention of the local fire department. During their work, the brothers got separated and when the fire was fully extinguished, Ed informed authorities that he hadn’t seen his brother in some time. However, when a search party was organized, Ed led them directly to the body of his mysteriously dead brother. Despite there being evidence of blunt force trauma to Henry’s head, his death was ruled to be by asphyxiation not murder. Ed was alone with his mother. Happily so, it seems.
Unfortunately, only a year later, he would be utterly alone when his mother died after a series of strokes on December 29, 1945. Ed was quoted as saying he’d lost his only companion and love. He boarded up the upstairs and downstairs parlors along with Augusta’s bedroom and let the rest of the house descend into squalor. He then lived out of a small room off the kitchen. He maintained possession of the house and worked odd jobs around the area. By 1951, he was receiving a farm subsidy from the federal government and occasionally worked on the road crew of the local municipality. At some point he sold the land his brother had owned.
It was at this time that Ed’s interest in death-cult magazines and adventure stories was sparked. He especially liked stories of cannibalism and Nazi atrocities. According to the Life Magazine’s Halloween special issue The World’s Most Haunted Places, Ed did have a girlfriend at some point (surprisingly) and she later revealed that the pair discussed every murder they ever heard about. Ed would explain to her the mistakes the murderer made.
On November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden (58) disappeared. Police suspected Gein’s involvement after Worden’s son told them he’d been in the store the night before her disappearance and that Gein had said he’d return in the morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. The last receipt written was for anti-freeze.
Worden’s body was discovered in a shed at Gein’s farm, beheaded and hanging upside down by ropes at her wrists with a crossbar at her ankles. The rest of her body was “dressed out like a deer” and she’d been shot with a .22-caliber rifle. As the police continued to search the farm, they found a long inventory of body parts (list can be found on each of the first two source links) Upon further questioning, Gein admitted that over a five year period, he made approximately 40 nocturnal visits to local cemeteries to disinter recently deceased middle aged women who closely resembled his dead mother. This often happened while he was allegedly “zoned out” and on at least 30 occasions he “came to” while at the cemetery, he would return home empty handed.
As if his gruesome collection weren’t enough, Ed had decided he wanted a sex change and often dressed in women’s clothing, sometimes items made from the women he’d dug up. Apparently his crazed mother had fervently prayed for a daughter.
You would think after all this that Ed Gein paid for his heinous crimes, but he was arraigned in 1957 on one count of first degree murder of Bernice Worden. Naturally, Ed pled not guilty by reason of insanity. He was then deemed mentally incompetent and unfit to stand trial and so was admitted to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He died in 1984 of respiratory and heart failure due to cancer, in Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin.
And if you haven’t figured out the three popular horror films which drew inspiration from this gruesome true tale, they are The Texas Chainsaw Masacre, The Silence of the Lambs and Psycho.
Life Magazine: The World’s Most Haunted Places (2015) entry on Ed Geins