The SERIAL KILLER Serial   by Jessie Horsting


Though Gein could only account for 12 bodies, including Bernice Worden, the coroner's office was able to identify a minimum of 15 different bodies, or parts of bodies, in the Gein home. Gein's ash heap was examined, as well as a trench where he disposed of garbage, and many other bones and pieces of clothing were discovered. The bits of bone and teeth that were sifted from his ash heap were impossible to identify positively as belonging to the known victims found on the premises.

Investigators also suspected there were several other victims buried somewhere on Gein's 195 acres, though only a few more bones were recovered from the grounds.

The news of the "Plainfield Butcher" broke on Sunday and, on the following Monday, Plainfield was overrun by reporters from all over the country. The most sensational headlines and radio reports only hinted at the facts. Rumors of cannibalism and a "murder factory" were reported as news, and the newsmen were so dogged in their attempts to speak to Gein that he was removed to Madison, the state capital, following his arraignment later in the week. He was questioned many times in both Plainfield and Madison, and eventually admitted to a variety of perversions, but only two murders.

His home and its contents, after all evidence was removed, was scheduled for auction on March 30, 1958. Ten days prior to the auction, the house was destroyed by a fire of unknown origin. The remaining property, including the Ford used to transport Bernice Worden, was sold for a total of $5,375.00. The car fetched $760.00 from a promoter who exhibited it around the country as "The Ghoul Car." Most of the proceeds went to settle a suit filed by the estates of Eleanor Adams and Bernice Worden for reparations. The balance went to the state and the county to cover the cost of the investigation.

At Ed's sanity hearing on January 6, 1958, he was found unfit to stand trial and was committed to the Central State Hospital until such time as he was judged able to assist in his own defense. Transcripts of Gein's questioning, psychiatric interviews and hearings, as well as his eventual trial are singular in that he rarely made a direct statement. Virtually every answer was prefaced by "I may have done..." or "I could have done...". Though he was indirect, he showed little remorse for the mutilations and murders he admitted to performing.

Gein confessed that many of the body parts he had preserved were meant to be worn. He would undress and strap on the preserved breasts and leggings, tie a vagina over his penis and don a face mask and "dance" in his yard on warm nights, or he would don a mask or vagina and wear it while indoors. He denied having intercourse with any of the corpses, saying, "they smelled too bad." He did admit, however, to selecting corpses that reminded him physically of his mother. One psychiatrist noted that Gein's denial conflicted with "hearsay" from earlier confessions in which he admitted to having sexual relations with some of the resurrected bodies. He denied eating any of the body parts, but admitted having made a study of cannibalism and seemed very knowledgeable on the subject. He said he would not eat any of the parts because, "they could make you sick."

He reported having suffered hallucinations, seeing faces in piles of leaves, and a flock of vultures in the trees near his home. He admitted having olfactory hallucinations often smelling what he described as "flesh" smells at his home and in the hospital where he was confined.

After ten years of confinement, Central State Hospital Director Dr. Shubert notified Wisconsin Supreme Court judge Robert Gollmar that Gein was fit to stand trial. Waushara County District attorney Howard Dutcher and Milwaukee attorney Robert E. Sutton would prosecute and Gein would be represented by the man who represented him at the time of his arrest, William Belter. The trial began November 7, 1968. Gein was charged only with the first-degree murder of Bernice Worden. The verdict was to be followed immediately by a determination of whether or not Gein was sane at the time of the murder.

Gein was found guilty, then not guilty by reason of insanity and returned immediately to Central State Hospital. In 1974 he applied to be released, but was denied. Had he been imprisoned for murder, he would have been eligible for parole by the late seventies, but he instead remained confined for the rest of his life. He was eventually moved to the low security Mendota Mental Health Hospital at the age of 72 (before such institutions were legislated out of existence during the Regan era.) He died July 26, 1984, of respiratory failure and was buried next to his mother in the Plainfield Cemetery.

Though the case of Ed Gein was a sensation at the time, the forces compelling him were never broadly examined either in print or in the films he inspired. They are almost clichés: a lonely little man, abnormally attached to his mother and influenced by her rigid world view, becomes incapable of forming relationships and perverts his need for companionship into murder, necrophelia and transvestitism. It seems evident that much of Eddie's behavior was enacting his wish to recreate his mother, to physically enter and become her.

Ed's story has obsessed filmmakers and writers since the time it made headlines, perhaps because the grisly nature of the crimes contrasted so sharply with the age. Or perhaps our interest can be attributed to the intimacy between this murderer and his victims, and his compulsion to collect everything. Almost every other killer in history disposed of their victims. Ed kept his. They were tended, preserved and worshiped.

You can never truly separate a boy from his mother.

© 2000 by Jessie Horsting and Midnight Graffiti. All rights reserved. All body parts preserved.

References include: transcripts and depositions on file in Washura County, Wisconsin, Deviant by Harold Schecter, Edward Gein, by Judge Robert Gollmar, True Detective, August 1958, Hunting Humans by Michael Newton and Life magazine, March 1958. Photos © Life Magazine.