Ed Gein: A Killer Who Inspired Horror Movies

WARNING: This true story is rather nasty, so if you're squeamish, don't proceed.

“Psycho,” “Silence of the Lambs,” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” were all movies inspired by a real-life killer: Ed Gein.

What did he do to inspire three of the most dark horror movies of all time? Well, Ed was a very very bad boy…

(Info obtained from Wikipedia)
Edward Theodore Gein “Ed” was born in 1906. In 1957, cops found body parts in his Wisconsin home and thus a dark and disgusting history was exposed. For years he had been robbing graves and using the bones and flesh to make trophies. He confessed to killing two women; Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden; two local shop owners. Their bodies were found in his shed, their heads in his home. He was ultimately found guilty and imprisoned in a mental hospital.

It’s always intriguing to learn the background that seemed to plant the seeds for such demented behavior. Ed’s father was an abusive alcoholic. Even though his mother despised his father, they remained married because of religious and moral beliefs in marriage. The fervent Lutheran family beat the ethics into him that drinking was bad and and all women were evil and dirty. The mother liked to read from the Bible and emphasize the bad and evil things. Their mother believed the two sons would end up like their father and so she was very abusive. The boys worked hard to make money for the family when the father died of a heart attack.

Later, there was a fire on the farm and Ed led the police right to his brother’s body which was strangely not burned but was bruised, leaving them suspicious. Even though the coroner found the death to be by asphyxiation, no charges were put against Ed. He remained on the farm with his mother, his only friend and love of his life until she died after a series of strokes.

When he was finally caught following speculation when the women in town disappeared, investigators discovered Worden's decapitated body in a shed, hung upside down by ropes at her wrists, with a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was "dressed out" like that of a deer. She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations performed after death.

They also found these things in the house:
• Four noses
• Whole human bones and fragments
• Nine masks of human skin
• Bowls made from human skulls
• Ten female heads with the tops sawed off
• Human skin covering several chair seats
• Mary Hogan's head in a paper bag
• Bernice Worden's head in a burlap sack
• Nine vulvas in a shoe box
• Skulls on his bedposts
• Organs in the refrigerator
• A pair of lips on a draw string for a windowshade

When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952,while he was in "daze-like" states, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies. On about 30 of those visits, he said he had come out of the daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order, and returned home empty handed. On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins to make his paraphernalia.

Shortly after his mother's death, Gein had decided he wanted a sex change and began to create a "woman suit" so he could pretend to be a female. Gein's practice of donning the tanned skins of women was described as an "insane transvestite ritual".

You wonder where he might be haunting the world nowadays? His first mental hospital was at Dodge Correctional Institution and then later to Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin. He died at 77 of congestive heart failure due to cancer at the Mendota State Hospital. His home was burned to the ground while he was imprisoned (no surprise there) and his car that he transported the bodies in was sold to a freak who wanted to use it for a carnival type sideshow item.

I’ve always said that real life is always creepier than anything we can think up because the writer’s mind is usually a healthy one, albeit creative. The killer’s mind, however, has no boundaries whatsoever. This is definitely a case where the scariest movies are based on real insanity.


  1. He is one of the more interesting fellows. Many years ago the research of serial killers was "my thing".

    When I dropped out of the loop so to speak, and into retirement, there were 54 active ones being tracked inside the US. I often wonder what that number is these some 20 years later as only a couple have been uncovered so far.

    By the way, sexual activity with the mother is a really common trait.

  2. Yeah, that's interesting. I have to admit that I do have the ability to get into their minds and it's not all the surprising how the blossom into what they become. They really have a mind that's never been intercepted and opened up to see how screwed up their cognitive patterns are. They're sort of left unchecked in a head stew that's pretty murky. I admit when I hear of a new one on the news, I usually hone in on them and see what's going on inside. I wish I could do art inspired by their view of the world, but I'm not that great an artist, so I'll save it for my horror writing. I wonder why they fascinate us so much? Probably because there's such an incredibly thin line between being human and animal and they dangle right over the edge and play both sides.

  3. I agree with your statement. People are much more terrifying than ghosts. I could face down any spirit before some of the wierdos around me. 3 of my college professors from undergrad were gunned down by a crazy woman last week. The world is too scary for the living.

  4. Jessica;
    I'm so sad about that. I swear, these people who show promise to be mass murderers get passed up so often! You know how high schools are all nervous about any student making threats? We really need to take people getting in trouble with the law or in mental facilities more seriously when they're showing that telltale signs. I am definitely only scared of the strange people I run into in abandoned places than the ghosts.

    1. I agree Humans are far more scary. When it comes to Serial Killers they are excellent at "Fitting in" . I've come into or had the misfortune to have connections to two, Dahmer came into a Bar I worked at when I was going to College in Milwaukee a very Boring Guy but could be funny sometimes when he got Drunk but his drinking was out of control and He was Banned from the place this would have been when he had just moved from Fl, but He came in during Happy Hour and I worked 7 to close so I didn't ever get into a conversation. Also I grew up in Plainfield and I still live about 10 miles away but still have Family and some were deeply affected by the Gein Murders If Tourists would stop coming it wouldn't be such a constant reminder. They come to Plainfield because that was his mailing address but in reality he lived a good 8 miles or more out of Town. The Scariest thing in Plainfield these days are the Check Out Clerks at the Grocery Store. Finally As you must know Wikipedia is NOT the most accurate Source I stopped counting at 4 or 5 errors as to the True events. Well keep up the Good Work CJ Carp

  5. Great post. Now you're entering my territory interest. I think "Psycho" hit it damn near dead on with their interpretation of Gein and the mother obsession. All the rest were just flights of fancy "inspired" by him.

    By the way, have you actually seen the crime scene photos from this case? Wicked shit. Absolutely sick (and this is coming from a self-admitted ghoul). I remember in one of my courses we were covering serial killers and my teacher, being the old homicide-dick war horse that he is, just pummeled the shit out of our us with crime scene photos. Everything from famous cases all the way through ones he worked. And of course with it being an investigation and detection course NOTHING was blotted out (obviously). Now I'm not squeamish when it comes to the dead so it didn't bother me that bad. Of course my teacher was cracking all these really corny gallows humor jokes and some people would have to get up and leave class for a time just to pull it together. My teacher was amused since I was one of the few that never got up (at least until the kid and highway-accident segment. TRUST me, I don't think ANYONE could've handled that section without being a combat vet). But as for this stuff, I can't help it. The serial killer stuff fascinates me to no end. Anyways, I remember the Gein photos only because of the outright weirdness and meticulous behavior he showed in the killing of his victims. Your likening it to the butchery of a deer was exactly the thing I thought the first time I seen the photos. And wasn't there also a foot or a head boiling in a pot on the stove?

    And your mentioning of your ability to see into the minds of these people reminds me of this one story a really cool teacher I had in high school told me. First off, she was a psychology teacher (off all things) but the reason she was so cool was b/c she was really into serial killers, psychics, reincarnation and just weird-ass pseudoscience you'd NEVER expect a high school teacher to be into (much less talk with her students about). But anyways, this story she told us was about this one time she had went to a party and she had a best friend there that was either psychic or a palm-reader or something like that. Her friend started offering to do palm readings for guests there and it was all lighthearted with her telling people about how they were feeling at the time and how people around them felt about them or whatever. Anyways, when she got to this one guy that wanted a reading she looked at his palm and mentioned some mark on his thumb being the mark of a killer and that he had a dark secret he didn't want anyone to know about. The guy just turned ash white and left the party fast after that. Anyways, a few days later he was implicated in the murder of someone he had known. TRUE FREAK'N STORY. And you wonder why I'm so eager to accept the possibility of some of the weirdest things! I swear if I had a dollar for every strange thing I've ever seen, felt, or heard of that was true, what a fortune I'd have amassed.

  6. Grim;
    Yeah, I was thinking "Psycho" was pretty good too, except perhaps not as hardcore graphic. He didn't seem to want trophies in the movie, but then I'm sure Hitchcock wasn't too excited to be snubbed by his peers for making something too grisly. I totally get what it's like to be in a room of people or a crowd or even in a shop or something and I know the person who is "bloody." I would never tell them, but I admit to giving them a good staring at. I think it's important to show them that you looked into their eyes and you see them. I think it unsettles them actually. They're used to working in a way that no one actually looks at them. The more guilty, the more they rush away. I expect all that experience you had filing through that info about killers to feed your horror writing--I'm expecting exceptional things from you and I can say I knew you when...

  7. Ahh, good ol' Ed! He's number two on my list of "favorite" serial killers, right behind The Zodiac (since he was never caught or even identified). If you haven't already read any, you need to look up some of Gein's quotes.
    On the subject of killers and movies, I'm also intrigued by the Starkweather-Fugate spree. ("Badlands" is another of my fave movies, I prefer it to "Natural Born Killers") and Starkweather/Fugate figured largely in "The Frighteners" too.
    My mom told me that during the S/F spree people living out in the country began locking their doors for the first time.

  8. Hey Burt;
    I was thinking of you this evening when I had friends over for dinner and a movie and we watched "The Burbs." I love the neighbor played by Bruce Dern. Reminded me of BG in Tremors. I agree about Zodiac. I've studied the pictograms and they remind me a helluva lot of runes. I think it's hard for people to fathom the reality of killers and the people whose lives they ruin, so sometimes we just fixate on why a fellow citizen would go nutso. It's a complex puzzle. I remember during the DC shootings, I told everyone, "it's two black guys, one older, one younger who saw him as a father figure" and everyone laughed. They didn't in any way fit the idea of serial killers. That's what's so amazing about it. No matter how much we study them, we still have no clue what goes on inside a person's brain, hence the famous line by interviewed neighbors "he was such a nice man, I just can't believe he'd do this."

  9. That's some pretty disturbing stuff. We live in an area that is known to be pretty safe. Well, several months ago, there was a man in Gaffney SC (15 min. away from where we live), going around randomly killing people. It wasn't a one day thing either. We'd watch the news to hear what investigators said. It scared me so bad b/c we live very close to the interstate and I live on a very rural road. My husband works third shift half the time, and the investigators were telling people who lived close by to be very cautious b/c they thought this guy might be traveling. People in Gaffney were staying home and businesses closed...it was like a ghost town for a few days. They found the guy...I think police shot him or he shot himself...I can't remember, but it was really scary living so close to where a serial killer was making his mark. There is truly dark, dark, sickness in the minds of ones who do this. Here's the story if you want to look at it: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/31759835/ns/us_news-crime_and_courts/

  10. Kim;
    That's probably the biggest horror people can go through--not the ones us horror writers dream up, but the ones that actually threaten your real world. I remember as a kid, the prisoners would break out of the local prison and the cops would come and scan our huge property and the woods around us and then warn us to stay inside. I remember making a couple of dummies using my Buffy hairstyling heads (remember those girl toys?) and I put them in our cars in the driveway so it looked like more people were there and the place was crowded. I made a few more dummies with hats pulled over their football heads and propped them up on chairs on the front veranda. Even back then I was thinking ahead to what I could do to scare off the bad guys. I'm so glad they found the guy in your area. That's really creepy!

  11. Oh, btw, you have an Honest Scrap Award on my blog. I want to see 10 bests moments. :)

  12. Have any of you heard of Delphine La Laurie. She was supposedly one of the most prolific serial killers of her time and did such lovely things as disembowling her slaves and nailing their intestines to the floor and performing make shift sex change opperations by cutting off men's genitals and sewing them to the female slaves. This post inspired me to blog about it tonigh. She predates Ed Gein and shows that he wasn't the first sicko to like to skin people alive.

  13. Was that Madam Laurie? They say her home is haunted. Didn't she escape when the place burned and was never found? Absolutely chilling. I can't wait to read your entry. I'm sure that we've had these sicko's throughout history--just look at the Nazi nutcases.

  14. Excellent post. I'm a big horror fan and have been for years, but I had no idea that those movies were based on the infamous Ed Gein.

    But talking about movies and serial killers, I found Citizen X, which focuses on the Russian serial killer Andrei Chikatilo. If you get the chance, you should definitely see it.

  15. Gargantua29;
    It's crazy that you mention that. I was studying up on my favorite new thing--Scandinavian horror, and I came across that. I made a mental note to check it out later and forgot the name--thanks so much for mentioning it!


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