Edward Theodore Gein was born on August 27th, 1906 to George Philip Gein and Augusta Wilhelmine Gein. He had an older brother named Henry George Gein. His mother Augusta hated her husband as he was an alcoholic who couldn’t hold down a job and had worked various types of jobs including a carpenter, tanner, and insurance salesman. George owned a grocery store for a few years, but eventually sold the business and the whole family moved from the city to a 155-acre farm in the Town of Plainfield in the Waushara County of Wisconsin. That was the Gein family’s permanent place of residence.
Augusta was an extremely religious Lutheran, and she took advantage of the isolating farm to make sure her sons weren’t influenced by outsiders. Ed only left the farm to go to school and when he wasn’t in school he was doing chores on the farm. She preached to her sons about the immorality of the world, the evils of drinking, and her belief that all women were naturally prostitutes and were instruments of the devil. She set aside time every afternoon to read the Bible to them, but it was usually graphic verses from the Old Testament concerning death, murder, and divine retribution. Ed was an extremely shy person. In school, his classmates and teachers recalled him having extremely strange mannerisms such as laughing at random times as if he was laughing at his own jokes. His mother would punish him if he tried to make friends. Despite his lack of social skills and development, he did fairly well in school, particularly in reading.
On April 1st, 1940 his father died of heart failure due to his alcoholism. He was 66-years-old. Henrey and Ed started doing odd jobs to pay for living expenses. The brothers were considered reliable and honest by residents in the community. While both of them worked as handymen, Ed would often babysit for neighbors. He enjoyed babysitting which may have shown that he related better to children than adults.
Henry began dating a divorced single mother of two and was planning on moving in with her. He grew concerned with Ed’s attachment to their mother and often spoke ill of her around Ed, in which he would often respond in shock and hurt. On May 16th, 1944, Henry and Ed were burning away marsh vegetation on their property when the fire got out of control and the fire department showed up. At the end of the day when everyone left, Ed reported his brother missing. A search party was formed and they searched where the fire was and found Henry’s body. It seemed he was dead for a while before being discovered. The cause of death of ruled as asphyxiation by the county coroner, but some people believed Ed had killed his brother, possibly relating to him speaking ill of their mother. After the death of Henry, it only left Ed and his mother on the farm.
Shortly after Henry’s death, Augusta suffered a stroke that paralyzed her and Ed devoted all his time to taking care of her. Sometime in 1945 Ed and his mother visited a man named Smith to buy some straw and while there Augusta witnessed him beat a dog to death. A woman came out of Smith’s house and yelled at him to stop, and Augusta was very upset at this scene. She wasn’t upset at the death of the dog, but more upset with the woman who apparently wasn’t married to Smith being there. She said that she had no business being there and angrily called her “Smith’s harlot”. After this event, Augusta suffered another stroke and ultimately died on December 29th, 1945 at the age of 67. Gein was devastated and left all alone. He held onto the farm and earned money from odd jobs. He also boarded up the rooms his mother used and left them untouched while the rest of the house became squalid. He resided in a small room next to the kitchen, and also around this time he became interested in death-cult magazines and adventures stories, particularly ones that involved cannibals or Nazi atrocities.
On the morning of November 16th, 1957 a hardware store owner by the name of Bernice Worden mysteriously vanished. A Plainfield resident reported that the store’s truck has been driven out the back of the building at around 9:30 AM. The store was closed the whole day and people thought it was because of deer hunting season. Worden’s son, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, went into the store around 5 PM and found the cash register open and blood stains on the floor. It was discovered that Gein was in the store the night before his mother’s disappearance and said he would come back in the morning for a gallon of antifreeze. A sales receipt of said gallon of antifreeze was the last receipt written by Worden on the morning she disappeared. On that same night, Gein was arrested at a West Plainfield grocery store and the Waushara County Sheriff’s Department searched his farm. A deputy found Worden’s decapitated body in a shed on the property. She was hung upside down by ropes at her wrists and a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was “dressed out like a deer” and she had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle and the mutilations happened after her death. While searching his house the authorities found many more atrocities: whole human bones and fragments, a wastebasket made of human skin, chair sets covered in human skin, skulls on his bedposts, female skulls some with the tops sawn off, bowls made from human skulls, a corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to the waist, leggings made from human leg skin, masks made from the skin of female heads, Mary Hogan’s face mask in a paper bag and her skull in a box, Bernice Worden’s entire head in a burlap sack, Worden’s heart in a plastic bag in front of Gein’s potbellied stove, nine vulvae in a shoe box, a young girls’ dress and the vulvas of two females judged to have been about 15-years-old, a belt made from human nipples, four noses, a pair of lips on a window shade drawstring, a lampshade made from the skin of a human face, and fingernails from female fingers. All these artifacts were photographed but then destroyed.
When Gein was questioned, he stated that between 1947 and 1952 he made as many as 40 visits to three local graveyards at night to exhume recently buried bodies while he was in a daze-like state. On about 30 of those visits, he said he came out of the daze and left the grave without taking anything. On other occasions, he dug up graves of recently married middle-aged women who he thought resembled his mother. He would take the bodies home and tanned the skin to make his paraphernalia. Gein did choose his victims that resembled his mother, but the only difference was that how they presented themselves was totally against what his mother thought. An example would be Mary Hogan was a tavern owner with a sailor’s mouth. Gein knew his mother would disapprove of her entirely, and it seemed that Gein killed these types of women to satisfy his mother in some delusional way.
Gein admitted to stealing from 9 graves and led investigators to the locations. Authorities were uncertain if Gein was capable of robbing so many graves single-handedly in one night and so they exhumed two of the graves and found them empty except for one that had a crowbar instead of a body in it. Soon after his mother’s death, Gein started making a “woman suit” so that he could become his mother and actually crawl into her skin in a way. He denied having sex with the bodies and said they smelled too bad. He also admitted to shooting Mary Hogan who was missing since 1954.
A 16-year-old whose parents were friends of Gein reported that Gein kept shrunken heads in his house which were supposedly sent by a cousin who had served in the Philippines during WWII. Upon investigation, it was determined that these were human facial skins that were carefully peeled from the corpses and used by Gein as masks.
On November 21st, 1957 Gein was arraigned on one count of first-degree murder in Waushara County Court where he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found mentally incompetent and therefore he was unfit for trial. He was sent to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (it is now known as the Dodge Correctional Institution) located in Waupun, Wisconsin. He was later transferred to Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. In 1968 doctors determined Gein was able to stand trial. Gein’s trial was held without a jury by request of the defense. He was found guilty on November 14th. A second trial dealt with Gein’s sanity. He was found “not guilty by reason of insanity” once again and committed to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane for the rest of his life.
Gein’s house and property were scheduled to be auctioned March 30th, 1958 but on March 27th the house was destroyed by a fire. Arson was suspected but the cause was never determined. Ed Gein died at the Mendota Mental Health Institute due to respiratory failure secondary to lung cancer on July 26th, 1984 at the age of 77. Over the years souvenir seekers have chipped pieces from his gravestone until the stone itself was stolen in 2000. It was recovered the year after near Seattle and was placed in storage at teh Waushara County Sheriff’s Department. The gravesite itself is now unmarked, but not unknown to people. Gein is buried with his parents and his brother.