- Mentally and socially oppressed by his mother, he went on to rob graves to fill his need for mutilating bodies.
- He was suspected of his brother’s death who died of asphyxiation while fighting in fire.
All killers fit into certain categories of murder. Some are classed as mass killers (someone that kills four or more people at one location, over a sustained period of time) and some fit into the category of a spree killer (someone who kills two or more victims during a single event, at multiple locations).
But by far the most fascinating, the type of murderer who is covered extensively in the media, is the serial killer. This kind of killer is the one the public most fears, someone who kills three or more people, on separate occasions, with cooling off periods in between.
The most ‘famous’ of serial killers; Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, Gary Ridgway all had over 30 victims (way over in the case of Ridgway) and carried out their crimes in the most depraved and heinous way.
Murder cases in which the killer tortures their victim, or desecrates their corpse, tend to effect the public more, causing a heightened sense of fear and therefore media coverage. Ed Gein was one of these killers. But can we call him a serial killer?
Ed Gein was born in Wisconsin in 1906, and was the second of two boys. His mother, Augusta, hated his father, who bounced from job to job and was a raging alcoholic. She had a lot of influence over her sons, and when they moved away to practical isolation, she cut them off from the world completely.
As a devout Lutheran, Augusta taught her sons about the sins of the world, how drinking was evil and that all women were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. She stopped both Ed and his brother Henry from leaving the house, unless they were going to school.
In 1944, while Ed and his brother were burning marsh vegetation around their property, the fire got out of hand. Firefighters were called, and after the fire was extinguished, Ed reported Henry as missing. He was later found dead, unharmed from the fire. The coroner ruled that Henry died of asphyxiation.
Some say Henry was Ed’s first victim, a type of Cain and Abel murder, but he was never even a suspect in his brother’s death.
After Henry’s funeral, Augusta had a paralysing stroke, leaving Ed to care for her completely. She died in December of 1945, leaving Ed devastated and totally alone.
Two years after his mother’s death, Ed began visiting graveyards in the dead of night. He dug up the graves of nine women he hoped looked like his mother, took them home and treated their skin to create a leather effect. Once their skin was tanned, he started to create a woman suit using the remains of his victims, because he wanted to ‘become his mother, crawl into her skin’.
Later, when he was finally arrested, Gein stated that he shot and killed a woman called Mary Hogan in 1945. She was a tavern owner, whose head was found in a wooden box on Ed’s property. It is not exactly clear what he did to her body.
At this point, Gein has admitted to one murder. Disregarding the terrible mutilations he committed on Mary’s body, he still doesn’t fit into the serial killer category.
In 1957, hardware store owner Bernice Worden went missing. Ed was served by her at the store the morning she disappeared. Police searched his property and discovered Worden’s decapitated body hanging in Gein’s shed. According to reports, her body had been mutilated, and Gein had cut her from the top of her chest to her genitals, giving the impression she was ‘dressed out like a deer’. Her cause of death was a single gunshot wound.
Upon further inspection of the property, police found numerous items made of human flesh and bones, including a wastepaper basket made of human skin, bowls made from human skulls, a corset made of the skin of a female torso and Mary Hogan’s face in a brown paper bag.
Gein was arraigned for one count of first degree murder, and when found mentally unfit to stand trial, was sentenced to life imprisonment in the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He died in 1984, at the age of 77.
If we’re going by the FBI’s definition of a serial killer, which was mentioned at the beginning of this article, then Gein doesn’t fit the profile. He has only ever admitted to two murders, his brother’s death being ruled as natural causes. The reason that the public and the media hold him in such fear and curious scrutiny, is because of his defilement of corpses. Gein was clearly a very sick individual who had an unnatural relationship with his mother. When she died, he became fixated on the loss her death caused, and tried to fill it by becoming her. To Gein, his unfortunate were simply a way to make that dream a reality.
Laura Lewis is a true crime enthusiast and a blogger. Her fascination with true crime began during her teens when she read a journalistic account of the Fred and Rose West case.
Day-to-day, she handles marketing campaigns for a wide range of businesses, but true crime has always been her passion. Her blog, lauloulew covers a range of cases and she readily welcomes reader suggestions on cases they’d like to see covered.