Edward Theodore Gein (August 27, 1906 - July 26, 1984) was one of the most notorious serial killers of the United States. Although he may have committed "only" three murders, what he did to his victims additionally shocked the world. His crimes included murder, mutilation and grave robbing.
Ed Gein was born to George and Augusta Gein on August 27, 1906 in La Crosse, Wisconsin. The Gein's were a notably dysfunctional family. George was a timid, weak character who drifted from job to job in a vain attempt to provide for his family. Mostly, he spent his days loafing on the front porch and consuming liquor. George was frowned upon by the entire family, and even considered a non-entity by Augusta, who completely dominated him and their two sons. Despite her deep contempt for George, the atrophic marriage persisted, for, under Augusta's strict moral code, divorce was not an option. She operated the small family grocery store and eventually purchased a farm on the outskirts of another small town by the name of Plainfield, which thereafter became Ed's permanent home.
The reason Augusta decided to move to this desolate location was to prevent outsiders from influencing Ed and his older brother, Henry. Ed only left the premises to go to school and Augusta blocked any attempt Ed made to pursue friendships. Aside from school, Ed spent most of his free time doing chores on the farm. Augusta, who was fanatically religious, drummed into her boys the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drink, and - above all -- that all women (herself, of course, excepted) were whores. According to Augusta, the only acceptable form of sex was for procreation. She reserved time every afternoon to read scriptures from the Bible to them.
Considering Ed's effeminate demeanor, it's no surprise that he was a target for bullies. Ed was also notorious for a permanent lopsided grin that was even displayed during serious conversations. Classmates and teachers recall other off-putting mannerisms, such as seemingly random laughter, as if he was laughing at his own personal joke. Despite Ed's poor social development, he managed to do fairly well in school, particularly in reading. It is argued by some researchers that Ed's detrimental childhood experiences were a contributing factor in his later behavior.
By the time George died in 1940, Henry had begun to reject Augusta's warped view of the world. He had even taken to bad-mouthing her within earshot of a mortified Ed. In March of 1944, the brothers found themselves in the middle of a brush fire on the farm. When Ed ran to get the police, he told them he had lost sight of Henry, but then led them directly to his brother's corpse. Although there was evidence Henry had suffered blunt trauma to the head, police decided he died of asphyxiation while fighting the fire.
What little hold Ed had on rational behavior left was lost on December 29, 1945 when Augusta died of cancer. At the funeral, the 39-year old sobbed uncontrollably, utterly devastated. Ed grew up terrified of human contact, especially women; he never dated, and was almost certainly a virgin. While she sometimes berated him for being a failure like his father George, more often than not, Augusta nurtured the bizarre, Oedipal devotion she had planted into his psyche decades ago. She would talk softly to Ed, tell him that he was a "good boy", and let him sleep with her. Police would later find every room in the Gein house a filthy mess, save for the sitting room and Augusta's bedroom, which Ed had kept spotless in homage to her.
Police investigating the disappearance of a store clerk named Bernice Worden in Plainfield, Wisconsin on November 16, 1957 suspected Gein to be involved. When they entered his house, they found the body of the store clerk butchered in the summer kitchen like a recently killed deer. Searching the house, they found severed heads in the bedroom, skin used to make lampshades and chair seats, skulls made into soup bowls, a human heart in a brown paper bag near the stove (often mistakenly believed to have been found in the frying pan), a necklace of human lips, a waistcoat made up of a vagina and breasts which he used in rituals, and many more items fashioned from the parts of human bodies including a belt fashioned from nipples. Above all, Ed Gein's most infamous creation was an entire wardrobe fabricated of human skin consisting of: leggings, a gutted torso (including breasts) and an array of tanned, dead skin masks that looked leathery and almost mummified. All of these items were confirmed to be used as props for his late night rituals.
Under questioning, Gein freely admitted that he would dig up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women and take the bodies home where he tanned their skin to make his macabre possessions. During interrogation, Gein also admitted to the murder of Mary Hogan, a local tavern employee who had been missing since 1954. He was pronounced insane and spent the rest of his days in a mental institution where he died of natural causes. He was buried in the graveyard he had spent much of his life desecrating. Vandalism to Ed's grave site was also reported.
Cinematic and musical influences
The crimes of Ed Gein became widely known because they inspired--at least partly--the novel Psycho by Robert Bloch, which became an Alfred Hitchcock movie. Also, the crimes largely inspired the films The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Alan Ormsby's "Deranged" as well as parts of Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs (in the form of the character Buffalo Bill), and Red Dragon (in the form of the character Francis Dolarhyde). Ed Gein's story was adapted into its own movie In the Light of the Moon, later re-named simply Ed Gein and starring Steve Railsback as Gein. The phrase "Dancing with the devil in the pale moonlight" is supposedly about Ed Gein due to the fact that he wore a vest made out of female breasts and wore a nipple belt with a vagina attached to cover up his crotch. He would wear all of this stuff and go dance out in the moonlight.
A non-fiction account of the story of Ed Gein is Harold Schechter's Deviant.
Bands Slayer, Mudvayne, and The Fibonaccis composed songs about Ed Gein called "Dead Skin Mask" (http://www.darklyrics.com/lyrics/slayer/seasonsintheabyss.html#5), "Nothing to Gein" (http://www.darklyrics.com/lyrics/mudvayne/ld50.html#8), and "Old Mean Ed Gein," respectively. There is also a grind/metalcore band by the name of Ed Gein and The Misfits song "Mommy, Can I Go Out and Kill Tonight?" (http://www.lyricseek.net/Misfits%20Mommy%20Can%20I%20Go%20Out%20And%20Kill%20Tonight%20lyrics.asp) is most likely influenced by Gein's history and ghastly acts. The Blind Melon song "Skinned" is most likely about Gein as well.