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Ed Gein Human Art: The Murderer Who Inspired “Psycho” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

Ed Gein Human Art: The Murderer Who Inspired “Psycho” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre”

Ed Gein human art… Horror…

The Wisconsin police could not believe the elements that decorated the chaotic scene: a belt made with women’s nipples, several chairs and a lamp upholstered with human skin, a corset made with a torso, noses, nails, masks created with faces, bones, skulls, and the body of his last victim hanging by the feet, without head or guts. But the mess on the ground floor contrasted with the neatness of the upper part of the house, where the murderer who set fire to pop culture had cared for his mother until her death. The story of Ed Gein , known as “The Plainfield Butcher,” inspired the characters of Norman Bates, from Psycho , Leatherface, from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre , and Buffalo Bill, fromThe Silence of the Innocents . But how did this anonymous farmer with schizophrenia turn into a cultural icon?

Far from sin

Edward Theodore Gein was born on August 27, 1906, in La Crosse County, Wisconsin, United States. His father, George P. Gein, was a drunk who owned a grocery store, and his mother, Augusta T. Lehrk, a God-fearing Lutheran housewife. The family was completed by Henry, his brother four years older.

Possibly because Augusta considered La Crosse to be a city prone to sin, the Gein’s moved 8 years later to an 80-hectare farm in the small town of Plainfield, where little by little Ed grew the love-hate relationship that marked the bond. with his mother and forged his history.

Augusta was a fervent religious who believed in the Apocalypse and considered women to be prostitutes created by the devil to tempt men. He forced his children to read the Bible daily, especially the Old Testament, which he interpreted almost literally. She had only had sex with her husband to procreate. He did not believe in friendship and would punish his children if he saw them playing with their peers.

Although some versions claim that Ed was a good student, his neighbors deny it. He barely made it to seventh grade and dropped out of school to work on the farm. He did so until his father died in 1940, forcing the Gein brothers to go out and look for work. Ed did little chores and looked after his neighbors’ children. It was always said that he was better understood with children than with adults. Although he was different, everyone trusted him . They defined him as a “harmless freak.”


Probably the first victim of a teenage Eddie was his brother. They both worked hard, but Henry had his own reading of the world and had begun to criticize Augusta’s idiosyncrasies. Ed was uncomfortable hearing him speak ill of his mother, but what bothered him most was that he questioned the obvious Oedipus complex he had developed.

It was in this context that on May 16, 1944, a confusing fire broke out within the family’s fields. The fire got out of control and approached the Gein house. When the firefighters finished fighting the flames they realized that Henry had disappeared and they began to search for him. His body was found at dusk. He was face down and had signs of having been hit. The examinations showed shortly after that he had suffocated, but the case was practically not investigated.

Henry’s death gave way to Ed and Augusta’s almost incestuous relationship. But just a few months later, the woman suffered a stroke that left her paralyzed . And sometime in 1945 he suffered another attack. Her son cared for her with devotion until her last day.

Augusta passed away on December 29 of that year. Ed had lost his only link to sanity . He had no one to talk to. Then he concentrated on his fantasies.

Crime without punishment

Mary Hogan died on December 8, 1954 . Years later, when police arrived at Ed’s home, they found his head in a bag. In the 21st century the murderer would have been found within hours, because there were very specific clues, but in the 1950s his crime could have remained unpunished.

The victim had survived two divorces and had come to the small town of Plainfield from Dallas. He ran a bar and had a personality capable of dealing with the town drunks. She was big and foul-mouthed. He insulted every other word. In the biography Deviant (1998), Harold Schechter claims that for Ed, Mary Hogan was a sort of grotesque version of his mother.

Everything indicates that at 4:00 p.m. on December 8, the bartender closed the premises, but let Ed, who had begun to frequent the bar, come in for a coffee. The young man shot him with a .32 caliber revolver .

That afternoon, farmer Seymour Lester went into the tavern to buy his daughter ice cream and found a huge bloodstain and a cartridge on the ground. It was noticeable that a body had been dragged from behind the bar to the parking lot, where the tire marks of a car were clearly visible in the snow. Inside the bar was a mug with a blood stain and part of a fingerprint .

The village

The last crime in Plainfield had been in 1853. A century later, about 700 people lived there. And what happens in all the towns where “everyone knows each other” happened: nobody imagines that their neighbor could be a serial killer. Violence, in the collective imagination, is far away, in the big cities. Gein’s quirks went unnoticed, not because they weren’t visible, but because the others turned a blind eye.

The disappearance of Mary Hogan began to be investigated by an inexperienced bailiff who had only seen corpses during World War II, but who knew little and nothing about criminology and perhaps never thought of encountering such a case. He practically did not advance.

The rumors in the town were of the most varied and included the version that Mary Hogan had been kidnapped by the mafia. “It hasn’t disappeared, it’s on my farm,” Ed used to joke.

Hunting season

The crime for which Ed Gein was finally discovered was simply clumsy. It was brutal, of course, but no murderer who wants to remain unpunished would leave so many traces . The latest victim was the owner of a hardware store, Bernice Worden. At dusk on November 15, 1957, Ed walked into the store, of which he was a regular, and asked for a gallon of antifreeze fluid. He agreed to return in the morning to collect it.

The next day deer hunting season began in Plainfield. Custom indicated that all the men paraded into the forest and returned at dusk with their “trophies”, which were hung at the entrance of their stables and displayed after skinning and disemboweling them.

That day in town it began to be rumored that it was strange that Bernice did not open the hardware store. When his son returned from hunting he immediately notified the police: like Mary Hogan, his mother was missing. And it didn’t take long for Ed, whose name was on the last bill of sale. All roads led to the Gein farm.

This was Bernice Worden’s hardware store (Documentary “The Real Leatherface”)

The house of horror

Ed hadn’t even hidden Bernice’s body. He had hung him by the legs in a shed that adjoined his home and had hooked his ears, so the police believe he was going to use it to decorate the roof of his house. Like deer, Ed had gutted her. It was his trophy . In front of a stove was his heart and in a bag, his head.

In the middle of the darkness, since the farm had no light, the police discovered with the help of flashlights the terrifying scene that is described at the beginning of this chronicle. Along with more than a decade of accumulated garbage were human fragments of the most varied and objects that Ed had made with human parts, such as bowls made with skulls, and numerous works made with leather, such as tights, a wastebasket and several upholstered chairs. There was also a lamp created with human faces, in addition to a window cord made from lips. There was even a corset consisting of a skinned torso and a belt with nipples. In a bag was Mary Hogan’s face and in a box was her head. The disorder of the house would become over the years the prototype of housing that Hollywood adopted for the serial killers of its films.

When the police reached the upstairs room, the door was closed. The uniformed men expected the worst. However, its interior was intact. It was the place where Ed had cared for Augusta. Beyond the humidity, everything was immaculate. The bed was made and a Bible sat on the night table. It was his sanctuary.

Augusta’s room (Documentary “The Real Leatherface”)

The confession

He was silent for 30 hours. Only when they told him they were going to put him in front of Bernice’s body did Ed open his mouth. He ordered an apple pie with cheddar cheese and confessed. It was the end of the anonymous psychotic and the beginning of a cultural icon known as “The Butcher of Plainfield” , whose story would reach the cinema and would inspire iconic characters.

In addition to the crimes of Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden, Ed confessed that since his mother’s death he has made some forty visits to the Plainfield Cemetery . He used to read the obituaries to find out when and where women were to be buried and that very night he desecrated the graves. In some cases he stole entire bodies; in others, only some parts. He always denied having had sex with corpses or eaten human flesh. “They smelled bad,” he explained.

It is not clear what his goal was. Some scholars of her case assure that she wanted to transform into a woman and they say that she used the masks made with skin and that she even posed female genitalia on his. Others think that he was looking to win back his mother and fill the void he had left in his life. Possibly there is a truth quota in both versions.


Ed was evaluated for a month. On January 6, 1958, a hearing was held in which the experts reported their diagnosis: schizophrenic, prone to hallucinations . He had told psychologists that he considered himself an instrument of God in raising the dead. The judge declared him incapable and sent him to the state psychiatric hospital.

Meanwhile, Plainfield was revolutionized. The neighbors wanted the nightmare to end and the whirlwind of journalists and onlookers that had invaded them disappear. March 30 was the end. That Sunday, the Gein farm and furniture that had not been kidnapped and cremated by the police were to be auctioned. But the town woke up with a dense column of black smoke. Someone had set the house on fire. Very few things survived, including Ed’s car, which was bought by a businessman for shows.

Ed, after being arrested (Documentary “The Real Leatherface”)

When he heard about the incident, Ed was unfazed. “Better this way,” he told the nurse who relayed the news to him.

Hospital employees remember that Ed was good. He used to read the newspaper and hardly spoke. And so it remained until in 1968 a medical board notified the courts that he was ready to be put to trial. It took 9 days of hearings until he was found guilty of murdering Bernice Worden. He was housed, again, in a psychiatric hospital.

The king of pop

At that point, only Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho had been released, which was inspired by Ed’s relationship with his mother, sensationally developed in the Bates Motel series.

The unforgettable scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho.

After the trial there was a succession of films also inspired by him. The first is perhaps the least known, Three on a meathook , which was released in 1972. Two years later the first film in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre was released . The killer, Leatherface wears a mask made from human skin and is what a child might imagine from Ed Gein .

“The Plainfield Butcher” inspired Buffalo Bill years later, the murderer that FBI agent Clarice Starling seeks with the help of the famous Dr. Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Innocents (1991), although in this case the character also took pieces of other famous serial criminals.

There are, in addition, three biographical films: Deranged (1974), which became a cult gore film, Ed Gein – In the light of the moon (2000), the most faithful to the true story, and Ed Gein: the butcher of Plainfield (2007), far removed from the facts.

In turn, Bates Motel is not the only series inspired by Ed. The character Bloodyface, from the second season of American Horror Story, is also based on his life, which is clear in his devotion to human skin and the particular relationship with his absent mother.

Back together

Ed spent his last days lying on his bed. He died of a cardiorespiratory arrest at the age of 77. They buried him next to Augusta in a Plainfield cemetery. Shortly afterward someone stole his tombstone, but the police recovered it. Although they decided to keep her in the sheriff’s office, her grave is still easy to identify from the letters and flowers left by her fans.

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