Monday, October 15, 2012

Haunted Wisconsin: Ed Gein

Wisconsin is a beautiful place and as much as we love all the great things about this state, there is a darker side.  So in the spirit of Halloween let’s delve into the more macabre side of Wisconsin.  More Than Curds presents Wisconsin’s grisly horrors.

[WARNING: This post has extremely graphic descriptions of gore and violence.]

Ed Gein

Photo: Onion A.V. Club

Ed Gein is one of the most prolific and culturally influential killers on the planet.  His crimes have been the basis for countless films and horror stories and his name runs through Wisconsin’s cultural psyche like a bad dream.

Edward Theodore Gein was born on August 27th, 1906 in La Crosse.  His childhood was not an easy one; little Edward and his brother Henry suffered through the abuses of their alcoholic father and religiously-fanatical mother.  Despite the family’s hatred of the father, George, Edward's mother Augusta did not divorce due to religious conviction.  She instead opted to move the family to a secluded farm outside of Plainfield to shelter her two young sons from the world.  She had a way of reading the ‘best’ parts of the Old Testament to her sons every afternoon and preached that all women (herself excluded) were whores and workers of the devil.  Ed was bullied throughout his childhood due to a droopy left eye and an effeminate demeanor.  When Ed did in fact to find companionship his mother was quick to chastise the new friendship to the point of Ed isolating himself physically and emotionally from the outside world.

Ed and Henry’s father George died in 1940, leaving the two sons to support the now three-person family.  Henry would work as a handyman around town while Ed earned money as a babysitter.  While Ed found that he enjoyed the company of children more than adults Henry made connections with the community and grew to reject his mother’s strict worldview.  Eventually Henry and Augusta were arguing openly which only grew to hurt and confuse the younger Ed even more.  In 1944, this all changed.

The two boys were working to clear a marsh on their property through a controlled burn.  But, as accidents happen, the fire grew wild and Ed went to fetch the fire department.  After the commotion of the fire it was discovered that Henry did not return to the house that night.  A search party was assembled and Ed, who had previously claimed no knowledge of Henry’s whereabouts, found Henry rather quickly.  Face down.  With head injuries.  Although the official cause of death was listed as asphyxiation some believe that this was the first in Ed’s series of murders.

Now Ed and his mother were living together alone in the house.  But the solitude would be interrupted in less than two yeas when Augusta died from a series of strokes in 1945.  The obsessively devoted son boarded up rooms used by his mother and lived in a room off the kitchen.  Ed was now left alone to his own devices.

Ed seemed to be a quiet shut-in until November 16th, 1957.  That day, Bernice Worden, a local store clerk, was declared missing.  Ed had gone to visit her to ask her on a date to the roller rink.  Dismissing Ed's advances, she was shot in the head and dragged out the back door.  A recipt found at the store proved that Ed was the last one to visit her shop that night.  The police drove out to his farm to investigate.  What they found shocked the nation.

In Ed’s shed was the body of Bernice, decapitated and hanged upside-down.  Her body was split open from collar to groin and emptied like a field-dressed deer.  And that was just the most recent.  Ed had been prowling local cemeteries for years, exhuming corpses and collecting souvenirs.  Among some souvenirs that authorities collect from Ed’s house were four noses, nine skin masks, skull caps used as soup bowls, a human heart in a saucepan on the stove, ten scalped female heads, chairs upholstered with skin, nine vulvae, a belt stitched from nipples, socks made from skin, four skulls on each of Ed’s bedposts, and one lampshade made from a human face.  These were all photographed for evidence but were quickly destroyed to protect human decency.  [MTC note: A few photographs of the crime scene remain which were intentionally omitted from this post.]

When questioned about his hobbies Ed claimed that he only dug up recently deceased females that resembled his mother.  Apparently this had been going on since 1947 immediately following Augusta’s death.  He used these bodies to make ‘female suits’ to live out transvestite fantasies.  Ed was also found to be responsible for the murder of Mary Hogan, a bartender, by shooting her in 1954.  Her head was found in a burlap sack in Gein’s home.

During the first interrogation of Ed, Waushara County Sheriff Art Schley repeatedly slammed Ed’s head against the brick wall of his holding cell after hearing Ed calmly describe the horrors of his work.  The Sheriff’s interrogation of Ed was thus ruled inadmissible as evidence and the officer died less than a month after Ed’s trial.  Many close to him say that Ed’s crimes haunted the Sherriff the rest of his life and left him traumatized and despondent.

The trial of Ed Gein began in November of 1957, but Ed was found unfit to stand trial due to insanity.  After spending 10 years at Mendota Mental Health Institute, Ed was deemed sane enough to stand trial in 1968.  His trail was only one week and he was found guilty of one count of murder.  Because he was still declared legally insane he spent the rest of his life back at Mendota.  He died in 1984 at the age of 77 due to natural causes.

Ed’s property was to be auctioned away on March 30th, 1957, but the house burned down on March 27th.  Local authorities did little to investigate the cause of the blaze and the property lot stands vacant to this day.

Ed Gein is the basis for horrific characters such as Norman Bates from Psycho, Jame Gumb from Silence of the Lambs, and Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

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