WARNING GRAPHIC CONTENT AND IMAGES !
Three of the most recognized characters from classic horror films are Leatherface, Buffalo Bill and Norman Bates. All three are based on the true story of one killer, Ed Gein. Of course, several other films and series have taken inspiration from the Gein story, including Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, and “Bloody Face” from American Horror Story. He also had several films made in his own name.
But how much do you really know about Gein? Let me fill you in. Edward Theodore Gein, born August 27, 1906, was a sheltered boy overly attached to his abusive mother. His over-religious mother, Augusta, was determined to keep Gein and his brother isolated as much as possible, believing there was evil everywhere you turned in the world. She was so obsessed with sin that she once poured boiling water over Gein’s privates when she caught him touching himself. Gein’s father, a severe alcoholic, died while the boy was still young, leaving his sons at the mercy of their mother. Gein’s brother died as a young man, and was rumored to have been murdered by Ed, but no concrete evidence could be found. When Augusta passed Ed, never have been socialized, found a strange way to cope with the loss of his mother, he began grave robbing. At night Gein would sneak into graveyards and steal the bodies of the women who reminded him of dear old mom. What he did with bodies is extremely disturbing. He would skin the bodies and use their skin to make lamp shades and used the skin to cover chairs. He made bowls out of their skulls and even made masks. He became bored with the stiffs and moved on to killing.
His first victim was Mary Hogan, a tavern owner, who he killed on December 8, 1954. He then murdered Bernice Worden on November 16, 1957. In both cases he took their bodies with him, leaving only a pool of blood on their floor where they were murdered. Police got a break in the case when people began reporting that they had seen Gein in the vicinity of the crime scenes. Police went to his home an arrested him.
When they went inside they found a scene like out of a horror film. They found the skin covered furniture, a belt made of human nipples, 4 noses, lips hanging from the window shades, body-parts in boxes and a vest made of a patchwork of skin, complete with breasts and a mask, which he confessed he liked to wear around the house. Police also found gloves and leggings made of skin. They found Hogan and Worden’s heads, one in box and the other in a bag. And Worden’s body strung-up in the shed like a deer and gutted. Police found several body parts in his refrigerator and Worden’s heart on his stove, suggesting he was not only a grave-robber and killer, but also a cannibal.
In 1968 Gein was convicted on multiple counts, but was deemed insane and sent to a mental facility. Soon after his trial the residents of Plainfield, Wisconsin burned the entire farm. When told, he simple said “Just as well.” On July 26, 1984 Ed Gein died of natural causes, leaving behind a legacy of true horror.
You can see Gein’s heavy influence on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre, right down to Leatherface’s homemade mask and furniture made of human remains. Cannibalism, murder and the obsession with “the family” was also inspired by Gein. In Psycho, Norman’s strange relationship with Norma mimics that of Ed and Augusta’s. In Psycho, Norman also likes to dress up and pretend he is his mother, as did Gein. Buffalo Bill’s character in Silence of the Lambs is making himself a woman suit, just like Gein made. Over all, Ed Gein was a terrible human being, but he did inspire some of our favorite horror characters.
Here’s a great documentary by Top Docs if you want to know more about Gein and his crimes: