Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

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

Isolated and Deranged

Once arrested and taken to Madison, Gein freely admitted that he was aware of the body parts and corpses, but he said that he'd stolen most of them from the local cemetery — to the tune of some forty grave robberies. He'd hear about a woman who had recently died, he explained, wait until she was buried, and then go dig her up to take whatever he wanted. Sometimes he took the whole corpses, sometimes just a specific part.

However, Bernice Worden had been alive the last time anyone had seen her. She'd gone missing from the store where she'd been working that day. Gein readily confessed to having killed her, as well as another missing woman, Mary Hogan, who had disappeared three years earlier. They both had been about the size of his dead mother and he'd been unable to wait until they died; he'd needed them to complete his project. So he'd shot them and brought them home. The police listened in horror as he described his grisly pastime.

Gein remained a suspect in the disappearance of four others, but those women he did kill or dig up he'd used to make himself a female "suit." He'd skin them for the various pieces, but he found that dead skin was not very pliable, and he'd heard or read that living women worked better for this purpose. Apparently he missed his dead mother so much that he was trying to become her by dressing in his special female "suit." Sometimes he wore it, he admitted, while he pranced around in the yard during a full moon.

"When I made these masks, you see," he said in his confession, "I stuffed them all out with paper so they would dry." He also had used salt as a preservative. In any event, he was detained and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Eventually, Gein was deemed competent to stand trial for one murder, but then found not guilty by reason of insanity. In 1974, he petitioned for release from the psychiatric institute in which he'd been a patient, but his petition was denied. He died a decade later.

Eddie Gein's Farmhouse
Eddie Gein's Farmhouse

It's true that there's little in TCM that compares to what Gein did, aside from the skin mask that Leatherface wears, but the house where this character resides with his family is similar to Gein's: isolated, cluttered, full of body parts, and generally disgusting. Alone and socially inept, apparently unaware that what he was doing was wrong, Gein had devoured books on human anatomy and Nazi experiments, even sending away for shrunken heads. Although he denied consuming the flesh, some who studied the case believe he did. In any event, regardless of the facts, he certainly has the reputation of being a cannibal, and he was mentally so stunted and dysfunctional that he served as a viable model for the Leatherface character.

Ed Gein's Kitchen
Ed Gein's Kitchen

A grave-robber, too, Leatherface wears a mask made of skin and a bloody butcher's apron. Yet he relies on a chainsaw to kill and dismember his victims, and there's no indication that Gein ever used such an implement on people. He did gut and behead his two live victims, which is gruesome enough, but he didn't run around like Leatherface does. So just how did Gein come to inspire Tobe Hooper to create TCM?


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