Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield
In 1960, famous British film-director Alfred Hitchcock created one of the most amazing horror films in history about a woman and a man and an isolated, family-run motel in the middle of nowhere. The ‘Shower Scene’ from the film ‘Psycho’ and its infamous high-pitched, screeching violin music is known the world over and has been parodied in countless TV shows, cartoons and movies. Norman Bates, a deluded, psychotic young man slashes a young woman in the bathroom of her motel cabin and leaves her to bleed to death.
While “Psycho” has gone down in history as one of the most famous horror films of all time, few people today would guess that the character of Norman Bates was actually based on a real person. Robert Bloch, the author who wrote the original novel “Psycho” which Hitchcock adapted to film, based the character of Norman Bates on a man which the press called the Butcher of Plainfield.
Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield
Plainfield, Wisconsin is a small, quiet little village. So small that in 2000, just under 900 people lived there. It was the Plainfield of the early 1950s that caught the world’s attention with a series of crimes that shocked the world and which made the murderer, a man named Edward Gein, a household name throughout America and the world, inspiring countless horror films, TV series and books to be written about him, based on him or which alluded to him over the next sixty years.
So who was Ed Gein and why was he called the Butcher of Plainfield? What was it that he’d done? Those with weak stomachs should not continue. Those with hardier constitutions…read on…
The Gein Family
Edward Theodore Gein was born on the 27th of August, 1906. His parents were George Gein and Augusta Gein. Ed had one older brother, Henry Gein. As is typical of stories of this kind, Mr. Gein was a violent father. He frequently abused his two sons Henry and Edward and was constantly drunk and often unemployed. George’s wife and Henry and Ed’s mother, Augusta, was a strong Christian. The only reason their marriage survived as long as it did was because they didn’t believe in divorce.
Augusta supported her family through the grocery store that she ran. Before long, the family decided to move from LaCrosse County to Waushara County in Wisconsin and a small village called…Plainfield.
In Plainfield, the Gein family lived in a primative farmhouse where Augusta sought to control her two sons’ every movement. Apart from school, the Gein brothers were not allowed to leave the farm. They spent their time doing chores and working the land. Augusta kept her boys in line by reading them passages from the Old Testament of the Bible, usually passages dealing with murder, immorality, forgiveness, retribution and the fact that all women (sweet, loving Mother Gein, of course, tactfully excluded from this mire of immorality and filth) were sluts, prostitutes and whores.
The Gein family farmhouse, on the outskirts of Plainfield, Wisconsin
Augusta’s domination over her sons had highly damaging affects. Constantly abused by their parents, the two Gein brothers became silent, introverted and mentally unbalanced. Edward was often picked on in school because of his strange behaviour which included bouts of random and totally unexplained laughter.
In 1940, George Gein died from a heart-attack. Because of the necessity for money, Augusta gave her sons a limited degree of extra freedom, which they used to become handymen, helping out around the village. Ed occasionally did some babysitting for the local villagers while Henry helped in various labourer-type jobs around Plainfield. Edward, probably due to the constant abuse he received at home, wasn’t able to relate to adults and appeared to bond better with children. It was at this time that Henry started getting detatched from his mother, wanting to leave the farm and make his own way in life. He feared the connection that Edward and mother had with each other and considered it unnatural. He began to speak out about this relationship to Edward, who refused to hear a single bad word against their mother, despite the fact that she once poured boiling water over Edward’s genitalia after she caught him masturbating…
In mid-1944, Henry and Edward were busy putting out a grass-fire near their farm. The story goes that Edward and Henry got separated as night fell. Apparently worried for his brother’s safety, Edward contacted the police who sent out a search-party. Edward led the police-officers through the shrubs and trees right to Henry’s body, despite claiming not knowing where he was. Although it was strongly suspected that Edward had murdered his brother, due to the head-injuries found on Henry’s skull, probably inflicted by Edward after another argument about their mother, the police wrote the death off as an accident. Cause of decease: Asphyxiation.
By now, alone and fully under the influence of his dominating mother, Ed’s mind began to become increasingly warped. As the months passed, he became more and more unstable until on the 29th of December, 1945, Ed’s mother Augusta finally died from a stroke.
Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield
The death of his beloved, abusive and highly-controlling mother was the last straw for Ed. Traumatised, brainwashed and abused since birth, isolated from people his own age and living on a mental diet of lies and deciet, Ed Gein’s mind finally snapped. Once Augusta had died, Gein lost the last tiny and weak grip that he had on any sense of the term ‘normality’ and he descended into a twisted and obsessive world of his own making and entrapment.
Such was Gein’s attachment to his mother, as well as the state of his incredibly warped, damaged and degenerated mind, that shortly after 1945, Gein, by now 39 years old began to unravel, taking on the persona which we would now readily identify with Norman Bates.
Augusta’s death shattered Gein in ways that many people can only imagine. The perverted relationship that they shared together meant that, despite everything she had done, Gein missed his mother. He started expressing a desire for a sex-change operation…which never happened…and he also tried to remember his mother in other, more macabre ways. Still living in the house which he had barely left since he was a boy, Gein closed off the upstairs living quarters as well as the downstairs parlour…rooms which his mother frequently used…and retreated into the kitchen and a small room adjacent to it. The Gein farmhouse was so primative that even by now in the late 1940s, it was probably one of the very few dwellings in or near Plainview that did not have electricity in it. The only lighting was provided by candles, oil lamps or sunlight in the daytime.
As the years progressed, Gein developed an interest in darker subjects such as taxidermy and death-cults. He shot and killed two Plainfield women, Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan, because they resembled and reminded him of his mother, whom he missed so dearly, and whom he wanted back with him again. Wanting to make himself a “woman suit”, Gein went on nightly graverobbing excursions, exhuming the corpses of recently-dead women who resembled his mother’s physical appearance. These bodies were variously butchered, skinned and dismembered for various purposes over the next few years.
Arrest and Trial
In a small town like Plainfield Wisconsin, news spreads fast. The deaths of Mary Hogan, a local tavern-owner, and Bernice Worden, owner of the Plainfield hardware store prompted swift police-action. Investigators questioned, requestioned, examined and cross-examined every single person in town. They even questioned Gein himself, but they deemed Gein…who was seen by the villagers as being something of a weirdo and oddball…to be too mentally deranged and timid to actually do anything as horrible as kill two big, strapping women such as Hogan and Worden. If they’d known the kinds of things that a mentally dranged oddball like Gein could do, they probably would have arrested him on sight.
As it turned out, policemen raided the Gein farm in 1957, searching for clues. In a shed near the house, officers discovered the body of Mrs. Worden, tied by her ankles to the ceiling and gutted and dressed out like a butchered game-animal.
Forcing entry into the Gein house and using flashlights to light the way, police officers were in for the shock of their lives.
A photograph of the kitchen in the Gein house, showing the squalor and disarray in which Ed Gein lived his life
Apart from the upper floor and a couple of rooms downstairs which Ed had sealed off as a memorial to his mother, the rest of the house was filthy. Body-parts, bits of body-parts and bits of bits of body-parts lay all over the house. The fridge was full of human organs, skulls were cut open and used as bowls, Gein’s bed had a bedframe with skulls on it for decoration. Furniture was upholstered with human skin, face-masks were made from actual faces, the skins of which had been tanned to prevent rotting.
The police were appalled by what they saw, and arrested Gein soon after. Gein confessed that he had killed Worden and Hogan and that he regularly went to cemetaries nearby to exhume recently-deceased women so as to skin their bodies and live out his transvestite dreams.
Gein was tried and found guilty of First Degree Murder. He entered a plea of Insanity and was thereafter and for all the days of his life, until he died in 1984, confined to a series of mental hospitals. In 1958, the Gein farmhouse “mysteriously” burnt to the ground. Police were pretty sure it was arson and that furious Plainfield townsfolk had torched the Gein house out of disgust and anger at what Ed had done, not only to their residents, but also to their deceased…but they conveniently turned a blind eye and pretended that they didn’t know who had started the fire.
Edward Theodore Gein died on the 26th of July, 1984, from respiratory and heart-failure due to complications from cancer. He was 77 years old. He was buried in Plainfield Cemetary.
Impact on Popular Culture and Society
Gein’s impact on popular culture is undeniable. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, the various ‘Pyscho’ books and films and movies of perverted killers who skin their victims and wear their flesh all have their roots in the demented mind of Ed Gein.
Unlike Albert Fish or Jack the Ripper, Ed Gein did not kill a vast number of people. He murdered a grand total of two women. What makes him so infamous is what he did with human bodies, how he butchered them, how he used their body-parts and skins to craft all kinds of gruesome objects and decorations and how he tried constantly to find things or do things or wear things or create things…that would remind him of his mother, the one woman he ever knew and ever loved and who had so traumatised his life ever since he was a boy.
After all, as Norman Bates famously says…
“A boy’s best friend is his mother”.