On 16 November 1957 police were notified that a local hardware store owner, Bernice Worden, of Plainfield, Wisconsin, had disappeared, and investigations revealed that the cash register in the store had been opened and bloodstains were discovered on the floor.
A local man, farmer Ed Gein, had been seen in the store the evening before, so he was one of the first suspects the police investigated. They paid a visit to his farm, finding a house of horrors, and the story that unravelled after their discoveries proved to be one of unimaginable deviance and perversion.
Bernice Worden’s headless and mutilated body was found hanging upside down in a shed, and following a search of the house police discovered a grotesque collection of human body parts that deeply shocked the investigators.
These included chair covers made from human skin, Bernice Worden’s head in a sack, a belt made of female nipples and leggings constructed from human skin.
Gein admitted that he had frequently visited local graveyards to exhume bodies, from which he fashioned the various trophies for his collection. He subsequently confessed to the murder of Bernice Worden, but also to that of another missing woman, Mary Hogan, who had disappeared 3 years before.
In delving into Gein’s background, investigators found a dysfunctional upbringing where as a boy his mother had kept him isolated from the outside world, and indoctrinated him into bizarre religious beliefs. These included her basic tenet that the world was evil, women were instruments of the devil and that outsiders were unwelcome at the house.
As a result of this isolation Gein’s social skills were very poor and he was regarded as strange at school.
In his first trial in 1957 he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and a second trial that took place 11 years later, returned a verdict of guilty but insane. Gein spent the rest of his life confined to a mental institution, finally dying in 1984, at 77 years of age.
Considerable debate surrounded the case – was Gein’s conduct the result of his bad parenting – or was he naturally bad and mad? This debate continues to be played out today and is one of the fundamental arguments in many criminal trials.
Image: Photograph of Ed Gein taken in 1958, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.