"I had a compulsion to do it."
Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein, a.k.a. "The Plainfield Ghoul", was a murderer, necrophiliac, and body snatcher active during the 1950s.
HistoryGein was born on August 27, 1906 into an unhappy family: his father George was a drunk and usually unemployed and frequently physically abused him and his older brother, Henry. Their mother, Augusta Gein (née Lehrke), was a religious fanatic who also abused Gein and Henry and taught them that all women, herself excluded, were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. Though she despised George, their religious belief prevented them from considering the possibility of divorce. She prompted the family move to the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, in order to keep her sons away from any outside influences. Throughout his upbringing, Gein was kept at the farm, only being allowed to leave to go to school, where he was frequently bullied by his classmates. Augusta also scolded Gein whenever he tried to make friends. Despite this social isolation, he did fairly well at school, especially at reading. Even when the Gein brothers were in their teens, they were kept at the farm, having only each other for company. When George died of a heart attack in 1940, they took a number of odd jobs in the town to support their living. As Henry matured, he came to reject his mother's view on the world and became worried about Gein's close attachment to her, often speaking ill about her in front of him. In 1944, a bush fire came close to the farm and Gein and Henry went over to put it out. After the fire was put out, Henry was found dead with blunt-force trauma, with no signs of him having been burned by the fire. Though some investigators suspected that Gein had killed him, the coroner listed the cause of death as asphyxiation and no charges were pressed.
After that, Gein lived alone with Augusta, who died on December 29, 1945, after a series of strokes. Remaining on the farm and making a living through various odd jobs, Gein boarded up the rooms that had been used by her, including the upstairs, the downstairs parlor and living room. He lived in a small room next to the kitchen and began reading death-cult magazines and adventure stories. Over the following years, Gein would visit cemeteries, dig up freshly-buried middle-aged women, and take them to his farm. Eventually, he began targeting living women in hopes of preserving the skins longer. In the middle of November 1957, local investigators linked him to his second known murder victim, store owner Bernice Worden, through a sales slip. When they searched his property, they found Worden in a shed, shot dead, decapitated, and gutted the same way a hunter would cut open a deer post-mortem. In the house, they also found:
- A shoebox containing female genitalia
- A belt made of nipples
- A vest made out of women's breasts
- A human heart in a paper bag
- Tops of human skulls used as bowls
- A human head
- A suit made of human skin
- Human skin covering several armchairs
- Human organs in the refrigerator
- Whole human bones and fragments
As Gein claimed to have been in a daze-like state whenever he went grave robbing or killed his victims, the details of his murders are a bit vague, but it has been established that he killed both his victims by shooting them with a .22 rifle, after which their remains were made part of his macabre collection. The women he dug up or killed were middle-aged women who resembled his mother. During his grave-robbing days, he would find potential targets through the obituaries of the newspaper.
After his arrest, Gein was diagnosed as having been a schizophrenic as well as a sexual psychopath. His mental illness stemmed from his love-hate relationship towards women, which later turned into a full-scale psychosis. After his mother's death, Gein had decided that he wanted to become a woman. The bodies he collected were meant to be used as components for a "woman suit". Gein was a necrophiliac as body parts excited him sexually, though he denied ever actually having sex with the bodies on the grounds that they "smelled too bad".
- May 16, 1944: Henry Gein (his brother; possibly; was found dead from blunt-force trauma; death was classified as unrelated asphyxiation caused by a brush fire)
- December 8, 1954: Mary Hogan (shot in the forehead and decapitated post-mortem; her remains were found in his house)
- November 17, 1957: Bernice Worden (shot in the back of the head; decapitated, gutted, and removed her face post-mortem)
- Notes: Gein was also suspected of a number of other deaths and disappearances in the area, but was never linked to any of them. Six disappearances that could be neither proven nor dis-proven to have any connection with Gein were:
- May 1, 1947: Georgia Jean Weckler, 8
- November 1, 1952: Victor Travis and Ray Burgess:
- Victor Travis, 42
- Ray Burgess
- October 24, 1953: Eveleyn Grace Hartley, 15
- June 1954: James Walsh, 32
- August 1956: Irene Keating, 30
- Though Gein is frequently referred to as a serial killer, he has only been positively linked to two murders and therefore does not qualify for that term.
On Criminal MindsGein was mentioned in the Season Four episode Cold Comfort, in which the BAU dealt with necrophiliac serial killer Roderick Gless. This allusion was accompanied by a flashback (in which Gein was portrayed by David O'Hara). Gein was also the main source of inspiration for Gless since both were born in families with domineering mothers and turned to grave robbing and later murder as a way to cope with the death of their mother figures, whom they also felt romantically attracted to, and only killed women that resembled them. Both mother figures also died of heart failure. Gein was later mentioned in the Season Eleven episode Tribute as a possible killer whose M.O. could be copied by Michael Peterson.
Gein may also directly or indirectly have been part of the inspiration for Rhett Walden since both had domineering and emotionally abusive mothers and suffered from severe schizophrenia. Walden's habit of keeping his mother’s body in the house may have have been mainly inspired by Norman Bates from Psycho, who did the same and was, in turn, inspired by Gein.
In addition, Gein may have provided the inspiration for Wallace Hines. Both were mentally ill, disorganized killers who targeted women who resembled the women they were obsessed with, had mothers who were highly involved in their lives, killed their victims by shooting them, decapitated at least one of their victims post-mortem, had sexual components in their crimes (Wallace raped his victims; Gein performed sexual acts with his victim's corpses). Wallace killing his brother Jesse Gentry is also an allusion to the possibility that Gein killed his own brother.
Gein's habit of removing his victims' faces and making masks out of them may have also provided some inspiration for Jacob DuFour's own habit of removing and wearing his victims' faces.
In addition to these mentions and references, Gein is said to have been a source of inspiration for a majority of the unsubs in the show, according to the CBS website.
- Wikipedia's article about Gein
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Gein
- Evil Beyond Belief's article about Gein
- Radford University's summary of Gein's life
- Robert Keller's blog article about Gein
- Chicago Tribune's article about Gein