Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Ultimate Ghoul

Ed Gein stands in court.
Ed Gein stands in court.

Ed Gein, a shy and outwardly ordinary man, inspired the characters of both Norman Bates in Psycho and Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs. During the 1940s and 50s, he lived on a secluded farm in Plainfield, Wisconsin. Within the isolation of his family, no one noticed how odd he was, but left to his own devices, his weird and deadly proclivities began to emerge.

Ed was devoted to his mother, who was quite demented and thoroughly disgusted with sex. She thought it the world's greatest evil so she preached to her two sons that they were to keep themselves pure. Ever vigilante for signs of carnal desire, she kept after them. When her husband died, she had even more influence, and then Ed's brother died, leaving him alone with this delusional woman. Mildly retarded and mentally unstable, he was completely dependent on her. When she suffered a stroke that paralyzed her, he nursed her even as she verbally abused him. Sometimes he crawled into bed with her to cuddle.

Then when Ed was 39, his mother died. He could hardly bear it. He kept to the farm and spent his time doing odd jobs and reading magazines about headhunters, human anatomy, and the Nazis. He also contemplated sex-change surgery so he could become his mother—to literally crawl into her skin.

Then one day he spotted a newspaper report about a woman who had just been buried not far from his mother's grave. He decided to go out and dig her up so he could have a look at a real body—a female one. He got a friend named Gus, a gravedigger, to help him open up the grave. Over the next decade, he continued to visit the cemetery for more bodies, usually under a full moon. Sometimes he took the entire corpse and sometimes just certain parts. He later claimed that he had dug up nine separate graves in three different cemeteries. (Police did not believe him until they went out to exhume the bodies and discovered that some weren't there.)


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