Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Case It's Based On

Gein's Legacy

Ed Gein
Ed Gein

When the police arrived at a secluded farmhouse outside Plainfield, Wisconsin, where Ed Gein lived alone after the passing of his parents and brother, they meant to question him about a local incident. It was a cold November day in 1957 and he'd been seen in the store from which a woman had gone missing, inquiring about antifreeze. Known to be a bit strange, they were aware that the diminutive high school dropout-turned-handyman was capable of some odd behavior, but he'd always seemed fairly benign. His deceased father had been an alcoholic and his mother an antisocial religious fanatic. Brother Henry had mysteriously died in a fire.

It seems that Gein was not at home, so the officers decided to look around. Entering a deteriorating and darkened out-building, they spotted a dressed deer carcass hanging from the rafters. Going closer, they thought there was something odd about this deer. It didn't hang right.

Suddenly, under a flashlight's glare, they realized that the carcass was no deer: it was a human corpse. Hung feet first was the headless nude body of a woman, slit from her genitals to her neck, with her legs splayed apart. The officers wondered if this might be the missing storekeeper, Bernice Worden. Whoever it was, she'd clearly been the victim of a crime, and there was no one around but eccentric Ed Gein. Was he peculiar enough to commit outright murder, they wondered? It certainly seemed possible.

Next, the police entered Gein's house and right away their question was answered. Inside, scattered around, they found all manner of body parts, including skin, a box of preserved female genitalia, a heart in a frying pan, a box of cut-off noses, the sawed-off crania from several skulls, death masks peeled off dead females, a skin vest with female breasts and genitals, and a female scalp with black hair. They wondered just how many women Gein had killed. It appeared that there were parts from at least a dozen victims, possibly more. Then they found Bernice Worden's head in a bag, with nails driven through the ears.

In those days, little was known about the kind of person who might kill repeatedly — although a handful of serial killers were at large around the country — other than that he had to be some sort of monster. It was one thing to kill; it was quite another to remove and preserve body parts to decorate one's home. This wasn't Nazi Germany, after all. In fact, it appeared to the investigators, from items in a frying pan, that perhaps Gein was indulging in a bit of cannibalism as well. They could only wonder how long he'd been doing it and they intended to check their records for more missing women when they returned to town. But first they had to find Gein.



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