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Murderer Monday: “The Mad Butcher of Plainfield”

Anyone who knows me knows that I love the film “Silence of the Lambs”, and I studied the book in one of my Uni modules last year (which is a great read), so when I found out that this guy was the inspiration for Buffalo Bill, I had to tell you about him. There have been hundreds of serial killers from America over the years, but few have left such an impression on popular culture as Ed Gein has. Never mind the saying “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”, find out what drove him to seek comfort literally in the skin of others… *warning: graphic images* 

Early Life: 

Ed Gein was born in Wisconsin in 1906, on an isolated farm. His mother was said to be devoutly religious and strict, refusing him to see any friends or anyone she thought could influence her son, and some blame him for his eventual criminal behaviour as she read graphic extracts from the Bible to her sons every day. She preached about the immorality of the world, how wrong drinking was, and believed that all women (herself excluded) were works of the devil. His parents despised each other as his alcoholic father struggled to keep any job. When he was young, him and his older brother were trying to put a fire out, Ed reported that they got separated. Yet, he seemed to be able to lead them to his corpse, suggesting perhaps he was Ed’s first unofficial victim as he often spoke ill of their mother to which Ed responded angrily. He was a shy child, teachers reported strange behaviour such as random bursts of laughter. Despite this, he excelled in school particularly in reading. His father died when he was in his 30’s, and his mother became paralysed and died 4 years later which eventually triggered his psychosis. This death devastated him as he was all alone, he stayed in the family home but boarded up any rooms used by his mother and never went in again., living in squalor in a small room next to his kitchen. Once his parents had died he became a local handyman and babysitter, he seemed to get on better with children than adults. Many women in his town claimed that he seemed terrified of them, and made them feel uncomfortable. It is thought that he suffered with schizophrenia, yet this went undiagnosed.


In 1957, a lady named Bernice went missing from her hardware store, and when her son went to look for her at work he found bloodstains in the shop. The last receipt she ever processed was to Ed, for antifreeze. When his house was searched later that same day, they found her mutilated body hung upside down in his shed. She had been shot, and he mutilated her after death. They also found the skull and face of another lady, Mary Hogan, who disappeared in 1954. Ed appeared to have been cutting off women’s skin in order to make himself a suit, and acting as if he was his mother. The word transvestite comes to mind, however the extremities he went to makes me not want to associate him with anyone. Whilst he only had a couple of official victims he regularly collected bodies from graveyards in order to fulfil his plans. Police seized bones, noses, skin masks, nine vulvae, lips, fingernails, organs, a belt made of nipples, a skin corset and pair of leggings, bowls made out of skulls, and furniture made out of human skin, (inspiration for Texas Chainsaw Massacre) from his house.

Arrest and Trial:

Ed was arrested in 1957 and his reply to the charges was simply “somebody framed me”. His trial was scheduled for 4 days later, however it was stopped because he was deemed not fit for trial due to his mental state and was transferred to a mental institute. In 1968 he was deemed fit to stand trial and after a week long trial was found guilty of first-degree murder, but also declared criminally insane. Oddly enough, at the defence’s request his trial had no jury. The police officer that interviewed him was so traumatised what he was saying that he repeatedly banged Ed’s head against the wall in anger, so his first confession was ruled inadmissible. He told investigators he made over 40 visits to graveyards at night in a “daze-like” state, digging up recently deceased women he thought resembled his mother, and that he wanted a sex change. However psychiatrists said that this wasn’t true, he only wanted to pretend to be his mother. One psychiatrist that often spoke to Gein said how he wasn’t sure if Bernice’s death was an accident or not, he claimed to have been playing with a gun that accidentally went off in the store and that he does not remember anything else. I find this unlikely considering a woman had gone missing years earlier that was eventually found in his house. The house was destroyed in a suspected arson attack in 1958, after claims it was to become a tourist attraction.


He died in 1984 of respiratory and heart failure due to lung cancer, in a mental health institute at the age of 77. His grave is now unmarked, as his original gravestone was chipped away by people for souvenirs. He died never showing any remorse, or even any recognition that he had committed any wrong acts. The car he used to carry body parts was sold for $760 to a carnival in 1958, the attraction became the “Ed Gein Ghoul Car”.





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