By Troy Taylor
On July 26, 1984, Edward Theodore “Ed” Gein died of respiratory failure at the age of 77 in Stovall Hall at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. Gein was a murderer and body snatcher who committed his crimes around the farm community of Plainfield, Wisconsin. He gathered widespread notoriety after authorities discovered Gein had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. Gein confessed to killing two women – tavern owner Mary Hogan on December 8, 1954, and a Plainfield hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, on November 16, 1957.
When the police searched his house, they found a bizarre collection of Gein’s trophies, including noses, human bones, nine masks made of human skin, bowls made from human skulls, ten female heads with the tops cut off, chairs covered with human skin, nine vulvae in a shoe box, a belt made from female nipples, skulls on bedposts, lips on window shade drawstrings, a lampshade made from skin from a human face… and more.
When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies. He dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins. Soon after his mother’s death, Gein apparently decided he wanted a sex change and began to create a “woman suit” so he could pretend to be female.
Initially found unfit for trial, after confinement in a mental health facility he was tried in 1968 for the murder of Worden and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he spent in a mental hospital. He died in 1984 and left a lasting legacy in fiction. Several literary and film characters were based on Gein and his macabre crimes, including Norman Bates, “Leatherface” from Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Jame Gumb in The Silence of the Lambs.
Troy Taylor and Rene Kruse chronicled Gein’s heinous crimes in their book, FEAR THE REAPER, available at https://amzn.to/2OjfXzG