Ed Gein: Father of Monsters!
By: Josh Pritchett
On November 16, 1957, police officers from the small town of Plainville, Wisconsin, arrived at the farm of a man named Ed Gein to ask if he knew anything about the disappearance of al local hardware store owner, Bernice Worden.
Gein was found, arrested, and charged with Worden's murder. After obtaining a search warrant, police searched the Gein property and found many more horrors including: Furniture made from human flesh and bones, a lamp shade made of skin, bowls made from human skills and even trinkets made from women's nipples. But what shocked investigators the most was discovering, in a brown paper bag, the severed head of a woman named Mary Hogan, a local tavern owner who had gone missing three years earlier.
When confronted with all of this, Gein would confess to the two murders of Hogan and Worden. The rest of his ghoulish collection, he admitted, was taken from local centuries around the country!
Gein would also confess to the Wisconsin State Crime Lab that one of the things he had done with some of his stole trophies was to make himself a woman's body suit in order to become his own mother in a bizarre attempt to bring her back from the dead.
Perhaps Gein might have faded in time from America's psyche and become nothing more than a footnote in the annals of American crime lore were it not for the fact that Robert Bloch, a well known science fiction and horror writer, was living only thirty-five miles from Plainville at the time of Gein's arrest.
At the time, Bloch was looking for a new kind of horror to write about, when one morning, he turned on his radio and there on the news were the incoming reports about what had happened just down the road from where Bloch was living. Such fertile ground was just the stuff Bloch was looking for as he started to write the novel that would make him famous around the world: Psycho!
Bloch would later admit to writer Paula Guran, for her article "Behind the Gates Motel," that the actually knew little about Gein and many of the aspects he wrote into the character of Norman Bates seemed apt for the idea of the killer next door that Bloch wanted for his story. Like Gein, Bloch's fictional Gates would attempt to 'resurrect' his mother; the only difference was Gein did it by wearing women's skin, while the somewhat more timid Bates would settle for wearing his mother's clothes. Both men were socially awkward, both lived alone, and both men were the last people anyone would suspect of doing the things that they did. Bloch himself found it disturbing how close he had gotten Norman to Gein in the story without knowing very much about him.
As the twentieth century rolled on, Gein still might have been forgotten if not for the release of a movie, in 1973, that would change American horror forever. By the earlier seventies, supernatural monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula had become the stuff Saturday morning cartoons. For a generation that had grown up seeing the film footage of Nazi atrocities, the horrors in Vietnam, the details surrounding the Manson murders, as well as the crimes of Ted Bundy, Zodiac, and the Son of Sam, Americans had come to find the old monsters quaint and almost humorous. A generation before, movie theaters had needed to keep nurses in the building in case anyone had a heart attack during a screening of Frankenstein. But America was ready for a new kind of horror.
Enter Tobe Hooper and his film: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Though the opening scene claims the movie is based on real events, Hooper would admit that was just to sell tickets. But for people who knew about Ed Gein, the parallels were too similar for them to ignore.
The film opens with a grave robbing scene quickly followed by a statue made from a rotting corpse left in the morning sun as a ghastly sign of things to come in the movie. The young victims soon find what appears to be an abandoned farmhouse that is filled with furniture made of human bones and flesh, not unlike Gein's own home of horrors. But worse of all, the victims discover a human monster named "Leatherface" who wears a mask made from a human face and kills the victim with a chainsaw.
After the film's release, crime historians went on to say that, though the film was largely fictional, it had to have been based somewhat on the Gein murders. Hooper, still saying he had never heard of Gein, later thought that maybe he had heard of him and used elements from the real murders to make his own movie. For the next decade or so, it would be Leatherface that would be most identified with Ed Gein, not the shy, but friendly, Norman Bates, even though the tormented Bates and Gein were more similar than ether one was to the brutish Leatherface.
Over the next two decades, Gein would surface in several forms on the big screen. There were several low budget movies about, or loosely based, on him: Motel Hell, Ed Gein, The Butcher of Plainville, and Deranged. Aspects of Gein would crop up in Friday the 13th Part 2. The killer, Jason, keeps his mother's rotting head as an alter piece in tribute to her, and the character of Ginny must impersonate Jason's mother in order to save herself!
In American Psycho, Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale, often says things that he attributes to Gein and enjoys working out while watching Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Though the character of Bateman, with his natural charm, good looks, intellect, and narcissistic personality, should identify more with Ted Bundy, Bateman does share traits with Norman Bates; the idea of a killer who walks among his prey and no one suspects him.
The only real difference between Bateman, the fictional Bates, and the real Gein, is that Bateman lives in the highly populated New York City, while Bates and Gein lived in out-of-the-way rural America.
In 1991, the Ed Gein's dark inspiration would hit a high point with the release of the film version of Thomas Harris' The Silence of the Lambs, in which the killer, called 'Buffalo Bill,' played by Ted Levin, would abduct, torture and kill young women in order to make himself a woman's body suit, like Gein's. Harris would admit in interviews that he was given the idea of 'Buffalo Bill' while talking with real members of the FBI's behavioral sciences unit who were familiar with the real Gein murders and suggested that he might use Gein as the basis for his killer.
Again we see the pattern between Gein and 'Bill,' both men are lonely people who lived in out of the way rural areas, both wanted to achieve a female identity, but where they differed was that Gein wanted to be his mother, and 'Bill' felt an overwhelmed jealousy of women because he wanted to be one and turned to the only means he knew how to achieve that end.
Edward Gein died of cancer related problems in 1981 while serving out a life sentence at the Mendota Mental Health Institute. Ironically, the man who had been one of America's most infamous grave robbers would himself be the victim of grave robbing; serial killer aficionados would chip off pieces of grave stone over the years, and then finally stole what was left in 2000. The stone was eventually recovered, but put into storage by the town of Plainville. Gein's remains now rest in an unmarked grave in the Plainville cemetery.
Though he never had children of his own, one cannot but ask that, if he had, would any of Ed Gein's real children have turned out anything like the fictional monsters that Gein's crimes inspired. Could there have been a time when Gein would have sired and raised a real Norman Bates or Patrick Bateman or even a real Leatherface. Perhaps, we should be thankful that we will never know.
About the author:
Joshn Pritchett lives and works in Charlottesville, VA. He has published in the anthologies Bones III and Brave New Girls.
About the books:
Genre: Horror, Anthology
Publisher: James Ward Kirk Fiction
Publication date: 10.29.2014
There are bones of the dead everywhere, and they're sharp. Under your feet as you walk across the yard, in the cement of the buildings, under the foundation of your home, in the coffee you drink, in the food you eat. Science estimates 100 billion human beings have lived and died. There are bones everywhere. There are skeletons everywhere, from universities to unnamed places we really don't want to know about. We love skeletons as we are walking skeletons. There's an old phrase about skeletons in the closet. What if the skeletons in your closet is real? When we look at strangers, friends and family we fail to see the skull behind the face. And the eyes of skulls are dark and deep. These works of art, poetry and short stories cut deep. To the bone.
Brave New Girls
Genre: Science Fiction, Young Adult, Anthologies
Publication date: 6.2.2015
This collection of sci-fi stories features brainy young heroines who use their smarts to save the day. Girls who fix robots and construct superhero suits, hack interstellar corporations and build virtual reality platforms. Who experiment with alien chemicals and tinker with time machines. Who defy expectations and tap into their know-how - in the depths of space, or the bounds of dystopia, or the not-too-distant future - to solve despicable crimes, talk to extraterrestrials, and take down powerful villains.
All revenues from sales of this anthology will be donated to a scholarship fund through the Society of Women Engineering. Let's show the world that girls, too, can be tomorrow's inventors, programmers, scientists, and more.