CRIME TIME: THE REAL NORMAN BATES



If you're just a normal human with normal interests you might not recognise the name Ed Gein but you'll definitely be familiar with the many book, film and TV characters inspired by him. Clearly the gruesome and shocking crimes committed by 'The Butcher of Plainfield' are scarier than fiction. 

Edward Gein was born on 27th August 1906 in La Crosse County, Wisconsin to (surprise, surprise) a rather dysfunctional family. His father, George, was a violent alcoholic who was resented by his wife, Augusta, and usually unemployed. The family lived on an isolated farm which allowed the extremely religious Augusta to keep her sons away from the rest of society; forbidding them to make friends or to even leave the house except to go to school. She would read them violent passages from the Bible while insisting that the whole world was evil and all women were prostitutes. So just your average American family, then.

Despite all of this Ed idolised his mother, unlike his brother Henry. After the death of their father, in 1940, Henry became increasingly critical of Augusta and her beliefs. Then, in 1944, there was a fire on the Gein's property. Ed managed to escape and claimed to have lost sight of his brother but was later able to lead police to his dead body suspiciously easily. Henry had clearly suffered bruises and trauma to the head but his death was still ruled as accidental by asphyxiation from the fire. Sounds about right. Less than two years later Augusta passed away too and Ed was left all on his lonesome, devastated by the loss of 'his only friend and one true love'. Like any sane and rational human would do, Gein then boarded up most of the upstairs rooms to keep them immaculate and untouched as a kind of shrine to his mother while the rest of the house descended into squalor.

In November 1957, Bernice Worden failed to turn up to work at the hardware store she owned in Plainfield and when Worden's son arrived at the shop at around 5pm he found the cash register open and bloodstains on the floor. Worden's son knew that Ed Gein had been in the store the previous evening buying antifreeze and seeing as that receipt was the last in the cash register, he realised Gein could well have been the last person to see Bernice Worden alive. This, along with the fact that Gein had a bit of a reputation for being creepy as hell, prompted police to search his farm and I don't think any of them were prepared for what they were about to discover.

Bernice Worden's body was found hanging by her ankles in Gein's shed. She had been shot and decapitated and then (shudder) 'dressed out like a deer' post mortem. Unfortunately the grossness didn't end there. As the police searched the rest of the house they came across human skulls on Gein's bedposts, lampshades made from human skin, bowls made of human skulls, a belt of human nipples and even the head of a woman named Mary Hogan, a local tavern owner who had disappeared in 1954. Feel free do some some Googling if you want to know the full extent of Gein's arts and crafts projects but they're pretty gruesome so I didn't want to completely bum you out by listing them all. 

During questioning Gein admitted to visiting local cemeteries, often returning home empty handed but sometimes he would dig up the graves of middle-aged women who resembled his mother and take their bodies home. There he would tan the skins and use them to make clothes and furniture...basically he was the grossest person ever. Reportedly he was trying to make a 'woman suit' so he could pretend to be his mother - lovely. He also admitted to the murders of Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan although he claimed he couldn't remember whether he killed Worden intentionally or by accident when examining a rifle in her store. 

After pleading not guilty by reason of insanity, Gein was diagnosed was schizophrenia and therefore was unfit for trial. He was sent to Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane where he stayed until 1968 when his doctors decided he was 'mentally able to confer with counsel and participate in his defence'. After a week long trial he was yet again found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent back to the hospital where he stayed until he died of (hopefully very painful) lung cancer in 1984. 

Decades after his horrific crimes, Ed Gein has inspired dozens of movie, TV and literature villains. Most famously, Norman Bates from the classic Alfred Hitchcock horror film Psycho who (spoiler alert) lives with his mother, isolated from the rest of the world, but eventually kills her, keeps her body in the house, wears her clothes, and talks to himself while pretending to be her. Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs is a serial killer obsessed with his dead mother who skins women to make a suit - very Gein-esque. You've also got Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise and Bloody Face from American Horror Story: Asylum, who both wore masks of human skin and made furniture from their victims. Bloody Face even had gross mummy-issues as a fun bonus!  

Well, that ended up being more graphic than I planned (soz about that) but it's crazy that some of the most gruesome and disturbing characters are actually based on a real person.

Thanks for reading, Lucy x

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