Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Eddie Gein

Buffalo Bill and Psycho

On November 17, 1957, police in Plainfield, Wisconsin arrived at the dilapidated farmhouse of Eddie Gein, who was a suspect in the robbery of a local hardware store and disappearance of the owner, Bernice Worden. Gein had been the last customer at the hardware store and had been seen loitering around the premises.

Removal of evidence at Gein's house
Removal of evidence at Gein's house

Gein's desolate farmhouse was a study in chaos. Inside, junk and rotting garbage covered the floor and counters. It was almost impossible to walk through the rooms. The smell of filth and decomposition was overwhelming. While the local sheriff, Arthur Schley, inspected the shed with his flashlight, he felt something brush against his jacket.

When he looked up to see what it was he ran into, he faced a large, dangling carcass hanging upside down from the beams.  The carcass had been decapitated, slit open and gutted.  An ugly sight to be sure, but a familiar one in that deer-hunting part of the country, especially during deer season.

It took a few moments to sink in, but soon Schley realized that it wasn't a deer at all, it was the headless butchered body of a woman. Bernice Worden, the 50-year-old mother of his deputy Frank Worden, had been found.

Policeman in Ed Gein's kitchen
Policeman in Ed Gein's kitchen

While the shocked deputies searched through the rubble of Eddie Gein's existence, they realized that the horrible discoveries didn't end at Mrs. Worden's body. They had stumbled into a death farm. 

The funny-looking bowl was a top of a human skull. The lampshades and wastebasket were made from human skin.

A ghoulish inventory began to take shape: an armchair made of human skin, female genitalia kept preserved in a shoebox, a belt made of nipples, a human head, four noses and a heart.

The more they looked through the house, the more ghastly trophies they found. Finally a suit made entirely of human skin. Their heads spun as they tried to tally the number of women that may have died at Eddie's hands.

Tony Perkins as Norman Bates in the movie Psycho
Tony Perkins as Norman Bates in the
movie Psycho

All of this bizarre handicraft made Eddie into a celebrity. Author Robert Bloch was inspired to write a story about Norman Bates, a character based on Eddie, which became the central theme of the Alfred Hitchcock's classic thriller Psycho.

In 1974, the classic thriller by Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, has many Geinian touches, although there is no character that is an exact Eddie Gein model.   This movie helped put "Ghastly Gein" back in the spotlight in the mid-1970's.

Years later, Eddie provided inspiration for the character of another serial killer, Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. Like Eddie, Buffalo Bill treasured women's skin and wore it like clothing in some insane transvestite ritual.

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