Serial killer Ed Gein (1906–1984) of Plainfield, Wisconsin, was the inspiration for the villains of several gruesome horror films, including Leatherface in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs, and Norman Bates in Psycho.
Gein’s mother, Augusta—a psychotic, manipulative, domineering religious fanatic—became a single mother after the 1940 heart attack and death of her alcoholic, improvident husband, George. After Gein’s brother, Henry, died in 1944—some say at Ed Gein’s own hands—he had his mother all to himself. Her world revolved around him, just as she was the center of his existence. After she died in late 1945, Gein, 39, lived alone for the first time in his life.
Later diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia, he missed his mother despite her emotional abuse of him. Perhaps hoping that he might become his mother by dressing as a woman, Gein robbed graves, digging up the bodies of women who reminded him of his mother. Later, he resorted to murder.
After dismembering the women, skinning them, and preserving their body parts, Gein fashioned the body parts into furniture, other household items, and articles of feminine attire. Here are 10 of the gruesome items that Ed Gein made from the cadavers of the women he murdered or dug up in local cemeteries.
10 Curtain Pull
Gein confessed to having murdered only two women, bar owner Mary Hogan and hardware store owner Bernice Worden. But some believe that he may have killed as many as seven.
The exact number is difficult to determine because Gein supplemented the bodies of his murder victims with corpses he stole from nearby cemeteries, the latter of whom included 51-year-old Eleanor Adams. He was also suspected in the disappearances of two children, eight-year-old Georgia Weckler and 15-year-old Evelyn Hartley.
After Bernice Worden went missing from her hardware store in Plainfield, her son Frank, the town’s deputy sheriff, suspected that Ed was responsible. Frank was right. Captain Lloyd Schoephoester and Sheriff Art Schley found Bernice at Gein’s house.
Her decapitated corpse, which had been gutted like a deer, hung upside down in an outbuilding. A box held her head and her intestines, and nails had been pounded through her ears. Bernice’s heart was inside Gein’s house. The authorities immediately searched the premises and found, among other horrors, a curtain pull consisting of a woman’s lips sewn onto a string.
To occupy himself, Gein became an avid reader. His collection of reading materials, however, was decidedly bizarre. His library included articles about cannibalism, headhunting, shrunken heads, and Nazi lampshades made of human skin.
Gein also studied Gray’s Anatomy. It seems that his reading provided him with some grisly home decorating ideas. Among his household’s furnishings was a lamp, the shade of which was made of human skin.
Gein parted with few of his victim’s body parts. He kept organs in his refrigerator and appears to have consumed parts of them after cooking them on his stovetop or in his oven. Some say that he occasionally shared his macabre dinners with acquaintances. Among the terror trove of items that authorities discovered in Gein’s house was a set of chairs he had upholstered with the skins of his victims.
7 Bowls, Tableware, And Ashtrays
Some serial killers are obsessed with the skulls of their victims. For example, Richard Ramirez (aka the “Night Stalker”) liked to draw them. After splitting open his victims’ skulls, Russian serial killer Alexander Pichushkin was fond of pouring vodka into them.
Gein used the skulls from his visits to nearby cemeteries as makeshift soup bowls or ashtrays. He also embedded the heads of forks and spoons in bones to create his cutlery.
Gein, who wore women’s body parts as clothing, made sure that his ghastly costume included a number of masks, all made from dead women’s faces.
The masks looked as real as they were, consisting of their victims’ entire faces, including hair, foreheads, eyebrows, eyes (with eyelashes), ears, noses, lips, chins, and jaws. The only things missing were the eyeballs, which Ed supplied himself when he wore the masks.
5 Corset and Belt
Even as a boy, Gein exhibited effeminate behavior, which subjected him to his classmates’ bullying at times. After Augusta’s death, it seemed that he was increasingly desperately to become a woman himself, possibly as a means of “resurrecting” his mother.
Although he claimed to have refrained from necrophilia because the women’s corpses “smelled too bad,” he did don his victims’ skins after transforming them into articles of clothing. One such item was a corset, which was designed to trim his waist and impart to him a more feminine figure. But his wardrobe also included several other ghastly items of feminine attire, including a belt made of nipples.
4 Wall Hanging And Other Artifacts
Mounds of bizarre artifacts were strewn, stacked, and jumbled on the floors of Gein’s house. These included a wastebasket made of human skin, skulls atop bedposts, a collection of noses, a box full of vulvae, and the head of victim Mary Hogan in a bag. Gein also had a wall hanging made of body parts.
There were other items just as hideous. Several of them, like the corset of human flesh, were intended to aid him in his fetish for dressing as a member of the opposite sex. Determined to appear as much like a woman as possible, Gein skinned one of the dead women’s legs, using the flesh as leggings.
During Gein’s lifetime, psychological counseling, hormone therapy, breast augmentation, and sex reassignment surgery were unavailable, and gender dysphoria was unrecognized as such. Consequently, to masquerade as a woman, Gein had to improvise.
In addition to his masks, his corset, and his leggings, Gein resorted to the use of a torso vest. Fashioned from a woman’s upper body, the vest was complete with female breasts, which is why it may be referred to as a “mammary vest.” Together with Gein’s other feminine accouterments, the mammary vest gave him a quite feminine appearance—or so he seemed to believe.
Gein sewed the skin of his victims into the grotesque gowns that he donned when he masqueraded as a woman. His wearing of these despicable dresses inspired the donning of similar attire in several of the horror films that include incidents similar to Gein’s own.
Gein’s wardrobe also included a number of accessories, such as an apron of his victim’s skin. Bizarre even for Gein, the protective garment was a patchwork of incongruous pieces of skin sewn together with large, thick stitches similar to those a coroner might use after performing an autopsy.
There’s a nipple over the left breast portion of the apron (but no breast). A partial face—eyes, nose, and upper lip—is sewn into the garment’s left hip. A pair of ears, sewn where pockets might have been, face one another across the upper thigh region of the apron. On the bottom right side near the jagged hem is a right breast, complete with nipple.
Among other items, Gein also owned a pair of wrist-length gloves made of human skin (the stitches of which follow the contours of the thumbs and fingers), a pair of skin pants, and a necklace consisting of five tongues strung on a cord.
Gary Pullman lives south of Area 51, which, according to his family and friends, explains “a lot.” His 2016 urban fantasy novel, A Whole World Full of Hurt, was published by The Wild Rose Press. An instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, he writes several blogs, one of which is Chillers and Thrillers: A Blog on the Theory and Practice of Writing Horror Fiction at http://writinghorrorfiction.blogspot.com/.