|“||I had a compulsion to do it.||”|
Gein was born on August 27, 1906, into an unhappy family: his father George was a drunk and usually unemployed and frequently physically abused himd 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 to 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 of the world and became worried about Gein's close attachment to her, often speaking ill about her in front of him. In 1944, a bushfire 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
Gein was arrested and, during questioning, he confessed to killing Mary Hogan, a tavern operator who had gone missing in December 1954, and adding her body parts to his collection. He had been a suspect when she disappeared, but there was no hard evidence incriminating him and the local police never visited his home. He was charged with the murder of Bernice Worden, the other murder having been left out due to prohibitive costs, and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. He was found mentally unfit to stand trial until 1968 when he was tried for the murder and found guilty. He was then sent to another mental institution, where he remained until he died of respiratory and heart failure caused by long-term cancer on July 26, 1984. While he was there, Gein was a model patient and often read, engaged in occupational therapy, took an interest in ham radio, and was never violent or troublesome. On March 20, 1958, Gein's old house was burned to the ground. When he heard about it, he just shrugged and said: "Just as well". Gein has since served as inspiration for several fictional serial killers, including Norman Bates, the killer from Psycho; Leatherface, a skin-wearing killer from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre; and Jame Gumb, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, a serial killer in The Silence of the Lambs.
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".
- 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)
- 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)
- 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 Minds
- Season Four
- "Cold Comfort" - Gein was first mentioned when the BAU dealt with the episode's unsub, Roderick Gless. This allusion was accompanied by a flashback (in which Gein was portrayed by David O'Hara). Gein also appears to have been an inspiration for him - Both were necrophilic serial killers (possibly in Gein's case) who were born in families with domineering mother figures (Gein's mother, and Gless' nanny), who they felt romantically attracted to and who later died of cardiac-related causes. Both turned to grave-robbing and later murder as a way to cope with their deaths, and targeted women who resembled them.
- "To Hell and Back, part 1" and "To Hell and Back, part 2" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in the two-part season finale, Gein appears to have been an inspiration for one of its unsubs, Lucas Turner - Both were mentally-challenged killers who lived on a farm with a brother and abusive parental figure (who they were dependent on), primarily targeted women (though Turner also targeted men) and dismembered them, and their older and mentally sound brothers both suffered an accident when they tried to leave the farm years before their killings began (interestingly enough likely at their hands: Lucas paralyzed Mason by pushing him off the loft of their father's farm, while Gein's brother Henry died from head-trauma after a fire at their farm).
- Season Six
- "Reflection of Desire" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Gein appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Rhett Walden, Jr. - Both were mentally-ill necrophilic killers with domineering mothers who died and kept their corpses in their houses. And both targeted women and mutilated them in some way. It's also interesting to note that Walden was inspired by Norman Bates, the main antagonist of Psycho, which in turn was inspired by Gein.
- Season Nine
- "The Inspiration" and "The Inspired" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in the two-part season premiere, Gein appears to have been an inspiration for its unsub, 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, and had sexual components in their crimes (Hines raped his victims, while Gein performed sexual acts with his victim's corpses). Also, Hines killing his brother Jesse Gentry may be an allusion to the death of Gein's brother Henry (which some believe to have been caused by Ed Gein).
- Season Eleven
- "Tribute" - Gein was mentioned as a possible killer whose M.O. could be copied by Michael Lee Peterson.
- "Internal Affairs" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Gein appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Jacob DuFour - Both were mentally-ill killers who removed their victim's faces and made masks out of them.
- Season Fifteen
- Note: Besides 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