Ed Gein is probably one of the most famous serial killers, though his known victims only numbered two. Yet it was his extra-curricular activities that launched several movies and many books.
Gein was born in Plainfield, Wisconsin, in 1906 to an alcoholic father and a domineering, god-fearing mother. A shy, lonely boy, Gein grew to be a shy, lonely, reclusive man. When Eddie was in his late twenties, his father died and Ed and his brother Henry took over the work on the family farm. Both boys remained bachelors their entire lives due to their mother's incessant rantings; women would never return their love and only their mother would ever truly care for them.
The farm was not at all profitable, it was a hard life for Ed Gein and things began to slip away when his brother Henry died fighting a brush fire. Mrs. Gein endured an incapacitating stroke in 1944, and Ed nursed her for a year before a second attack took her life in December 1945.
Ed Gein was alone for the first time, at the age of 39. In his solitude, Gein began to withdraw from society and reality. He started reading medical and anatomical texts and developed an interest in the female body for the first time in his life. His life became more and more bizarre as he left reality behind altogether. A Government subsidy he received was enough for him to stop working on the farm, but he performed some odd jobs for those around Plainfield, if needed. While many residents of Plainfield thought him to be a little odd, they figured he was just a lonely eccentric. Little did they know his solitude had changed this lonely loner into a full fledged maniac.
Soon, he had sealed off every room in the farmhouse with the exception of his bedroom and the kitchen.
Loneliness that had been compounded by his mother's domineering personality meant that he had not coped with her death well, and, as in true Psycho tradition, he had attempted to raise her from the dead. It is rumored that when this failed he skinned her body and tanned the hide, preserving her female physique. He confessed that he often dressed up in women's skin and that he wore his mother's clothes. This fetish of Gein's soon turned into an obsession. Gein became fascinated with the female form and poured over medical and anatomy texts. The first serious signal of Gein's impending madness came when he began robbing fresh graves at night. He took parts of the corpses home, where he preserved them. This activity went undetected for years.
Ed's lack of knowledge about sexual relations meant he was confused about his love for the female form, whether he wanted to be female or just liked the feel of female genitals. Gein had actually entertained the thought of castrating himself, but then decided that wearing female genitalia over his own would suffice.
His skills in leather-making improved with time and soon he had a belt made out of human nipples, a skin vest that he wore on special occasions, hanging mobiles made out of noses, skulls on his bedposts, bowls made of skulls and drums made out of skin.
Soon his sick fetish for human skin escalated and new graves were not always available. This is apparently when Gein killed for the first time. His first known murder victim was 54-year old Mary Hogan, who disappeared from the tavern she ran in December 1954. He then began watching Bernice Worden at the local hardware store. When Gein learned that her son, the local deputy sheriff would be away hunting on Saturday, November 16, he decided that would be the day he went to visit Bernice. When Deputy Frank Worden returned from his trip late in the evening, he was alarmed to find the store's doors locked but the lights still on inside. After looking around he became alerted by the absence of his mother, Bernice and a large bloodstain near where the cash register should have been, which it was later learned had been stolen by Gein. Deputy Worden discovered a receipt for anti-freeze, made out to Gein in Bernice's handwriting. Worden immediately informed the Sheriff.
Police were not sure what they would find at the Gein farm, but what they found was beyond anything that they had expected. The evidence retrieved from Gein's farmhouse would be enough to elicit nightmares in even the most hardened men, not to mention a slew of horror films for decades to come.
When police stopped by Gein's farm the smell of decay was overwhelming. Police spread out to see what they could find. In the woodshed of the farm was the naked, headless body of Bernice Worden, hanging upside down from a meat hook and slit open down the front, dressed like a hunter would a deer. Her head and intestines were discovered in a box, and her heart in a pot on the kitchen stove.
Further searches yielded the remains of at least 15 women at the house. The skins from ten human heads were found preserved, and another skin taken from the upper torso of a woman was rolled up on the floor.
Gein confessed to killing the two women, who, he said, resembled his mother. Despite the evidence, he insisted he had not committed necrophilia or cannibalism, but merely decorated himself and his house with female parts.
Although police could only link him to the murders of the two women he was suspected of having killed five other people, including his brother, two teenage girls, and two other men who had worked on the farm.
He was found insane, and committed to Central State Hospital at Waupon, and then in 1978 was moved to the Mendota Mental Health Institute. It is said he was always a model prisoner - gentle, polite and discreet. He died of respiratory and heart failure in 1984 at the age of 77.