Ed Gein: The Real Leatherface

Edward Theodore Gein was an American murderer and body snatcher in his hometown of Plainsfield, Wisconsin. He gathered widespread notoriety in 1957 after authorities discovered that he had exhumed corpses from local graveyards and fashioned trophies and keepsakes from their bones and skin. He also confessed to killing two women. Tavern owner Mary Hogan in 1954 and hardware store owner Bernice Worded in 1957.

Early life

Edward was born in 1906, the second of two boys. His mom was very religious and preached to the boys about the innate immorality of the world, the evil of drinking, and her belief that all women, except for herself, were promiscuous and instrument of the devil. She would read to them every afternoon from the bible, mostly from the Old Testament or Revelation concerning death and murder. She hated her alcoholic husband who couldn’t keep a job. He had several jobs before owning a local grocery shop, which he sold to leave the city and move to the county in isolation. A 155 acre farm in the town of Plainsfield, Wisconsin.

Deaths in the family

Edward’s father died in 1940 at age of 66 caused by alcoholism. On May 16, 1944, Ed was burning away marsh vegetation on the farm and the fire got out of control, drawing the attention of the local fire department. By the end of the day, fire was out and firefighters gone. Ed reported his brother, Henry missing. A search party with flashlights and lanterns search for Henry, whose body was found facing down. Apparently, he had been dead for some time, and it appeared that the cause of death was heart failure since he had not been burned or injured otherwise.

Ed and his mother, Augusta now live alone. She had a stroke shortly after Henry’s death leaving Edward to care for her. She had another one in December 1945 and died.


On the morning of November 16, 1957, Plainsfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared. Her son, Deputy Sherriff Frank Worden, entered the store around 5:00 p.m. to find the stores cash register open and blood stains on the floor. The last receipt to be written at the store was by Ed to buy antifreeze. Ed was arrested the evening that same day and the Sherriff’s Department search the Gein farm.

Worden’s decapitated body was found in the shed, hung upside down by her legs with a crossbar at her ankles and ropes at her wrists. The torso was cut open like a deer. She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle.

Items found

When authorities searched the Gein house the most horrifying things were found. Whole human bones and fragments, a wastebasket made of human skin, human skin covering several chair seats, skulls on his bedposts, female skulls, bowls made from human skulls, a corset made from a female torso skinned from shoulders to waist, leggings made from human leg skin, masks made from the skin of female heads, Mary Hogan’s face mask in a paper bag, Mary Hogan’s skull in a box, Bernice Worden’s entire head in a burlap sack, Bernice Worden’s heart in a plastic bag, nine vulvae in a shoe box, a belt made from female human nipples, four noses, a pair of lips on a window shade drawstring, and a lampshade made from the skin of a human face.

When questioned, Gein told investigators that he visited local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies. He wanted to make a woman’s suit to resemble his mother, so he could literally crawl into her skin.


On November 21, 1957, Gein was arraigned on one count of first degree murder, where he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Gein was diagnosed with schizophrenia and found mentally incompetent to stand trial. He was sent to the Central State Hospital for the criminally insane, a maximum security facility.

In 1968, doctors determined Gein was mentally able to confer with counsel and participate in his defense. The trial began on November 7, and lasted one week.

At the request of the defense, Gein’s trail was held without jury. He was found guilty, but later ruled not guilty by reason of insanity and ordered him back to Cantral State Hospital. Ed spends the rest of his life at the hospital and died on July 26, 1984, of lung cancer.

In Movies

Gein’s story had a lasting effect on America popular culture by its numerous appearances in film. He first gained widespread attention with Psycho. The filmed aired in 1960 and the main similarities include the feminine qualities of both Norman Bates and Ed Gein, as well as both individuals’ attachments to their domineering mothers.

The movie famed killer from The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Buffalo Bill, perhaps most closely resembles Ed Gein. Buffalo Bill as well desired to be a woman, and he displayed actions that could categorize him as a transvestite. They both skinned their victims and enjoyed parading around in garments of flesh. They both also preyed on women. However, Buffalo Bill chose somewhat younger women for his victims than Ed Gein did.

Leatherface: The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Despite being heavily touted as “inspired by a true story,” both Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 film and the 2003 Marcus Nispel remake are only lightly based on the real-life murderer Ed Gein, who is suspected to have taken several victims between 1954 and 1957. Perhaps the most recognizable similarity is the film’s house, whose gruesome content was similar to that found in Ed Gein’s home in 1957.

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