Monday, August 27, 2007

August 27

Ed Gein, America’s greatest necrophiliac, was born 101 years ago today in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Gein’s mother, Augusta, was crazed with religion and eventually insisted her family retreat from the temptations of the city, where she believed her sons would turn into sex-crazed zombies. Moving to rural Plainfield, the Gein family lived in relative isolation from the rest of the world, with Ed and his older brother Henry remaining on the farm well into their adult years.

Sadly for “Weird Old Eddie,” Gein’s father, his brother Henry, and his mother all died within a five-year period during the early 1940s. Gein’s devotion to his mother was especially severe, and her passing crushed him. This left Ed utterly alone with his increasingly bizarre obsessions, which included human taxonomy and graverobbing -- interests he cultivated by reading pulp fiction, pornography and medical almanacs. Freed from the supervisory eyes of his family, Gein’s various sojourns to the graveyards of central Wisonsin provided him with a great many trophies. Among his more impressive feats, Ed Gein exhumed the bodies of the recently deceased and shrank their heads, some of which he displayed to the occasional visitor, claiming to have received them from the South Pacific. He also draped flayed skin over a tailor’s dummy, intending to compose a suit of female skin.

In November 1957, a Plainfield hardware store owner named Bernice Worden vanished; Gein was the last person seen at her store, and his reputation cast reasonable suspicion on his role in the disappearance. When Gein’s farmhouse was searched, horrified police -- including Worden’s son, who happened to be the sheriff -- discovered the missing woman’s decapitated corpse, hanging upside-down in the woodshed like a dressed deer. In addition to Worden’s body, Gein’s house was found to contain a necklace of human lips, clothing and lampshades composed of tanned human skins, and skulls that had been converted into bedposts and soup bowls. The refrigerator was packed with human organs.

Declared unfit to stand trial, Ed Gein was hospitalized for a decade before receiving his day in court. In 1968, his medical confinement was made permanent as a judge declared him not guilty by reason of insanity. After nearly thirty years of confinement at Central State Hospital, Gein died of respiratory failure in July 1984, a month before his 78th birthday.