While you may think most horror movies are inspired simply by imagination, it’s not true for all. Several of your favorite horror movie characters were probably inspired by real-life people. For example, Norman Bates from Psycho and Leatherface from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre were both based on a real man. This man was Edward Gein.
Edward Theodore Gein was born on August 27th, 1906 to his parents Augusta Wilhelmine Gein and George Philip Gein. He also lived with his older brother, Henry. George was an alcoholic who had trouble holding down a job, while Augusta was obsessively religious and overly controlling.
Edward’s teachers and classmates said that he was shy student who did well in school, but had some strange habits, such as randomly laughing out loud.
Early on in Edward’s life, the family moved from their home in La Crosse, Wisconsin to an isolated, 155-acre farm in Plainfield, Wisconsin. His mother took advantage of the family’s seclusion by “protecting” her children from outside influences. The boys were forbidden to have friends and were punished if they tried. Augusta read them passages from the bible every day and warned Henry and Edward about the evils of women. She firmly believed that women were instruments of the devil and taught these beliefs to Henry and Edward.
However, unlike Edward, Henry didn’t believe in Augusta’s teachings and often spoke badly about her. Edward, who was devoted to his mother and always trying to please her, was upset by the things Henry would say.
On May 16th, 1944, a fire on the Gein’s property spread out of control and by the time the firefighters arrived, Henry had already died. He did not have any burn marks or injuries on his body and the final cause of death was deemed asphyxiation. But a formal investigation was never performed. Some sources state that Henry had bruises on his head, suggesting that it was his own brother who had killed him.
On December 29th the following year, Augusta died. The death of his father a few years earlier didn’t seem to have affected Edward very much, if at all. But his mother’s death devastated him. As author Harold Schechter wrote, he “lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world.” Augusta’s death flicked a switch in him that turned him from a strange-but-harmless neighbor to a murderer and habitual grave robber.
From 1947 to 1952, Edward Gein reportedly made about 40 visits to nearby cemeteries with the intention of robbing graves. He claimed that he was in a foggy state of mind. He snapped out of this state about thirty times and left the cemetery without doing anything. But the other ten times he robbed graves and took the bodies back to his farm. He was also responsible for the murders of at least two women.
The community had no idea about his crimes until 1957 when he became a suspect for the murder of local hardware store owner, Bernice Warden. Warden’s son became suspicious because the store had been closed for the day. He remembered seeing Ed Gein at the store the night before and that he said he was going to return for a gallon of anti-freeze the next morning.
When the local sheriff went to investigate, he found splattered blood stains and an open cash register. The last receipt that had been made out was for a gallon of anti-freeze.
Police found the body of Bernice Warden in a shed on Edward Gein’s property. The body of the store owner was hanging upside down with ropes around the wrists and a crossbar at the ankles. The head had been cut off and the internal organs removed. Police confirmed that she had been shot with a .22 caliber rifle before the body was mutated.
While this alone was enough to shock police, they wouldn’t believe what they were about to find.
Upon searching his house, police found various artifacts made from female body parts. In total, they found a waste basket made of human skin, bone fragments as well as whole bones, a number of female skulls, human skulls on his bedposts, bowls made from human skulls, masks made from the skin of female heads, chairs covered in human skin, a corset made from the skin of a female’s torso, leggings made from human skin, a belt made from human female nipples, a girl’s dress, 9 vulvae in a shoe box (including two that belonged to girls thought to be around 15 years old), women’s fingernails, a lampshade made from human skin, 4 noses, and a pair of lips hanging from a shade drawstring.
Police found the missing head of Bernice Warden as well as her heart in a plastic bag in front of Ed Gein’s stove. In addition, they found a mask that had been made from the skin of Mary Hogan, a tavern owner that went missing in 1954. Edward Gein later admitted to killing Mary Hogan and Bernice Warden.
What could have been his motivation for these horrific crimes? It all led back to his mother’s death and his obsession. His life revolved around his mother. He wanted to create a real human suit, so that he could become his mother whenever he wanted.
He was scheduled to take the stand for the first time on November 21st, 1957, but was deemed unfit to stand trial.
Over 10 years later, on November 7th, 1968, he was declared of sane mind and took the stand. The defense requested a trial without a jury and, one week later, Judge Robert H. Gollmar found Edward Theodore Gein guilty on one count of first degree murder.
A second trial was required to determine Edward’s mental state. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia and could not be held accountable for his crimes. He was sent to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane (now Dodge Correctional Institute) and later to Mendota State Hospital, where he died of lung cancer.
Edward Gein was the inspiration for many horror movies and books that are popular today, most famously Psycho and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre story. He’s also been compared to Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs and Dr. Oliver Thredson from American Horror Story: Asylum.
While his story seems unbelievable, it’s a perfect example of how an obsession can turn out of control.