Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Serial Killer Movies

Gein's Legacy

When the police went to the farmhouse in Plainfield, Wisconsin, where Gein lived alone after the passing of his parents and brother, they meant to question him about a robbery, but he wasn't there.  Entering a deteriorating out-building, they spotted what seemed to be a dressed deer carcass hanging from the rafters.  On closer inspection, they realized that this corpse was human.  Hung feet first was the headless body of a woman, slit from her genitals to her neck, with her legs splayed apart.  They wondered if this might be a missing storekeeper, Bernice Worden. 

Next, the police entered Gein's house and their questions were answered. Inside they found all manner of body parts, including skin, a box of preserved female genitalia, a heart in a frying pan, a box of noses, the sawed-off crania from several skulls, death masks, a skin vest with breasts, and a female scalp with black hair. 

Gein admitted that he'd stolen most of them from the local cemetery, but he'd also killed Bernice Worden, as well as another missing woman, Mary Hogan.  He was suspected in the disappearance of four others, but those women he did kill or dig up had been about the size of his mother and he'd been using skin from the bodies to make himself a female "suit."  Alone and socially inept, Gein had devoured books on human anatomy and Nazi experiments, sending away for shrunken heads.  Although he denied consuming the flesh, some who studied the case believe he did. 

Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates outside the house in Psycho
Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates outside the house
in Psycho

As well, he kept a shrine of his dead mother in a room, which became the basis for the demented character, Norman Bates, in Psycho.  Whenever he feels lust, he cringes under the load of guilt from his Puritanical mother.  So he kills the object of it, restoring his "balance" and pleasing his dead mother, kept mummified in her room.  He also transforms into her, as a case of multiple personality disorder.


Gein was found to be insane (unable to grasp the nature of his acts) and incarcerated in an institution, where he eventually died in 1984, but his psychosis lives on in these films. The Hewitts are cannibals, devouring body parts like candy.  Leatherface, a grave-robber, wears a mask made of skin and a bloody butcher's apron.  Norman Bates has transgender issues with a violent twist.  His crimes were recreated in House of 1,000 Corpses (2003) as an amusement park ride.


Another low-budget Gein-esque move was Deranged, about a demented middle-aged man, dominated by his mother, who digs up bodies in the local cemetery, and there's a recent First Look Pictures bio-pic, simply titled Ed Gein.

Leatherface isn't the only serial killing monster having his origins unpacked; another character involved in a Gein-inspired film is set to return as all.


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