The Story Of Ed Gein — The Killer Who Used Human Body Parts In Strange Ways

Published November 9, 2017
Updated May 17, 2020

Ed Gein's grisly crimes were the inspiration behind many horror characters including Buffalo Bill, Norman Bates, and Leatherface.

Ed Gein

Getty ImagesEd Gein

It can be argued that every murderer is relatively sadistic, but there is one, in particular, that was so bad he served as the inspiration for some of Hollywood’s most sadistic murderers.

Ed Gein, otherwise known as the Butcher of Plainfield, was always a little bit off.

Ed Gein’s Early Life And His First Murder

His teachers and classmates at his elementary school recall him being shy but having strange mannerisms, such as bursting out in fits of laughter, apparently at his own internal monologue. His school blamed his mother, who punished him when he tried to make friends. Because of that, for the most part, his childhood was relatively solitary.

Aside from penalizing his social life, his mother would confine Ed, and his brother Henry, to their farm. She would often read to them from the Bible, and preach that the world was inherently evil, that all women were prostitutes, and that drinking and immorality were instruments of the devil.

Home of Edward Gein

Frank Scherschel/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty ImagesCuriosity-seekers peer through a window into the house of serial killer Edward Gein, Plainfield, Wisconsin, November 1957. The bright lighting in the side ground floor window is part of the illumination for the on-site crime lab.

When Gein was 38 years old, he and Henry were working in the fields on their farm.

They were burning away marsh vegetation, a common practice, but when the fire got out of hand and spread, the fire department needed to be called. After the firefighters had come and gone, and the fire was dealt with, Ed reported his brother missing.

That night, his body was found face down in the marsh, dead from asphyxiation. At first, the fire was blamed, though authorities soon realized that Henry had been dead before the fire got out of hand and that he had bruises on his head.

Authorities suspected that Ed had killed his brother, though there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prove it, so they were forced to accept that his death had been an accident. Later, investigators would claim that there was no doubt that Ed had been the murderer.

Inside Ed Gein's house

Getty ImagesThe interior of Edward Gein’s home, in a state of disrepair.

After his brother’s death and his mother’s a few years later, Gein renovated his farmhouse. However, rather than turning it into a more useful home for one, he boarded up every room that had been used by his mother and instead moved into a single bedroom off of the kitchen.

While the boarded up parts of the house remained pristine, the rest of the rooms became deteriorated, as Gein was lax about upkeep.

While living in seclusion on his farm, Gein became interested in death-cult magazines, and Nazi-cannibal-adventure stories. However, as decrepit as he had become, he mostly kept to himself.

Then in November of 1957, a local hardware store owner disappeared.

Bernice Worden had last been seen the previous night and had been reported missing after her hardware store remained closed all day. Her son Frank, who happened to be the deputy sheriff, entered the store and discovered the cash register open and bloodstains on the floor.

While interviewing Frank, investigators found out that Gein had been in the store the previous night and had told Worden he would be back in the morning for a gallon of antifreeze.

Edward Gein's house and violin

Getty ImagesTrooper Dave Sharkey looks over some of the musical instruments found in the home of Edward Gein, 51, suspected grave robber and murderer. Also found in the house were human skulls, heads, death masks and the newly-butchered corpse of a neighboring woman. January 19, 1957.

Sure enough, the last sale made at the store by Bernice Worden was for a gallon of antifreeze. Investigators headed to Ed Gein’s home, arresting him and searching the property.

Grisly Discoveries At Edward Gein’s House

They had been prepared to find Bernice Worden’s body on the farm. However, nothing could prepare the police for what was inside.

While searching the house, authorities found what would later inspire horror movies such as Silence of the Lambs, Psycho, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Ed Gein’s home was filled with human body parts.

There were countless bones, both whole and fragmented, skulls impaled on his bedposts, and bowls and kitchen utensils made from skulls. Worse than the bones, however, were the household items made from human skin.

Human Skin Chair

Getty ImagesEdward Gein’s chair, upholstered in human skin.

Authorities found chairs upholstered in human skin, a wastebasket made of skin, leggings made from human leg skin, masks made from faces, a belt made of nipples, a pair of lips being used as a window shade drawstring, a corset made of a female torso, and a lampshade made from a human face.

Along with the skin items, police found various dismembered body parts, including fingernails, four noses, and the genitals of nine different women.

Bernice Worden’s body was found as well, decapitated. Her head had been hung in a burlap sack, and her heart was hanging in a plastic bag near the stove. Her body had been strung up, upside down, and gutted like a deer.

Police also found the remains of another woman, Mary Hogan, equally as dismembered.

When questioned, Ed Gein folded immediately. He told police that he had made at least 40 different visits to the three local graveyards to exhume bodies. He claimed that he had done so in a daze-like state.

Edward Gein's Bedroom

Ed Gein’s bedroom, filled with boxes of body parts.

In addition to his methods, Gein also revealed his motives. He told authorities that soon after his mother’s death, he had begun to create a “woman suit” so that he could literally become his mother, and crawl into her skin.

Though there were parts of countless bodies found in his home, Gein was arraigned on only one count of murder: Bernice Worden’s.

Ed Gein plead not guilty by reason of insanity and was declared unfit to stand trial. He was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, where he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

He was retried once, after doctors believed he could participate in a trial, but was again declared mentally insane. He was confined to spend the rest of his life in a mental hospital, and died as one of history’s most disturbing serial killers at the Mendota Mental Health Institute at the age of 77 on July 26, 1984.

After learning about the disturbing crimes of Ed Gein, read about still-unsolved case of the Cleveland Torso Murders. Then, check out these five criminals who claim fiction inspired their real-life crimes.

All That's Interesting
All That's Interesting is a Brooklyn-based digital publisher that seeks out the stories to illuminate the past, present, and future.