The snow was falling in the main street of Plainfield, Wisconsin, when Frank Worden, deputy sheriff of the county, entered into Worden’s hardware store at around 5:00 PM of November 16, 1957, and noticed two things: one, that the cash register had been opened; two, that there were stains of blood on the floor.

Even though he was an agent of the law and had seen part of the underworld’s ugly face, his blood curdled uncontrollably.

The owner of the store (and his mother), Bernice Worden, was nowhere to be found since the morning of that same day.

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A few hours later, Deputy Sheriff Worden arrested local farmer Ed Gein, who was the last person to buy something at Worden’s shop according to a half-made receipt to his name “for a gallon of antifreeze,” and written the night before.

Gein calmly protested his innocence, claiming: I didn’t have anything to do with it.” Worden took him into custody anyway, while Sheriff Art Schley and other of his deputies went to Gein’s farm to investigate.

There, they found Miss Worden: she had been hung upside down from the shed behind the farmhouse, decapitated, and her entrails pulled out like a deer’s.

Her heart was in a saucepan, on the stove, and with hers, law enforcement officers found the remains of at least nine other women used as decoration around the house. That number, in time, would rise to fifteen.

The owner of the farm and murderer of Berenice Worden (among others), had been living in Plainfield during almost his whole life, since his family (his mother, father, and elder brother Henry, who he would kill in 1944) had moved to the town from La Crosse County, also in Wisconsin, during his childhood.

Like so many serial killers, he was mainly brought up by his domineering, repressive, and fervently religious mother.

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She used to preach to the boys the inherently devilish nature of all women besides herself, the evil and dirty character of the world, and the necessity of staying away from all temptations.

His father was an alcoholic, and not much more was there to say about him: the remains of his meager personality had already been long ago done with when he died of an alcohol-caused heart failure in 1940.

Only Henry and Ed remaining to support her mother, they both started doing all sorts of jobs in the nearby towns, which pulled them away from the state of social isolation that her mother had carefully put them in during their whole lives, only allowing them to leave the farm to go to school and then come back immediately.

This break of their mother’s absolute dominance upon them served to make Henry understand the miserable tactics she had employed for their upbringing, and he started insulting and dismissing her around his brother Ed.

But if this contact with the world made Henry freer, it only made Ed more devoted to their mother: he was deeply hurt and offended each time his brother spoke ill of her.

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Only four years after their father’s death, Henry was dead too: he had nominally been trapped in a fire that got out of control while both brothers were burning away marsh vegetation on their farm.

Everyone seemed to accept that his death had been due to an accident by then, but after the revealing of Ed’s murders, few doubts remained that the fire had just been a convenient way to explain the death of his brother without raising suspicions.

In this way, Ed was left all alone with his mother, and she became, even more, an object of devotion for him.

In time, his personality (or the few traces of it that he ever possessed) had been almost entirely consumed by her mother, who had become some super-ego for Ed.

When she had a paralyzing stroke later in 1944, he dedicated all of his efforts to take care of her, until a second stroke wiped her out in late 1945. Ed Gein was heartbroken, and, much worse for the world; he was loose.

Deprived of his consciousness (which wasn’t much consciousness, to begin with anyway, since his mother was also criminally abusive towards both of her sons), Ed Gein’s murderous instincts were acted upon with the same naturality as a children’s game. 

The results of these instincts shocked Sheriff Art Schley when he searched the insides of Ed Gein’s world of horror, his innocent-looking white farmhouse.

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In addition to Bernice Worden’s body (or what remained of it), her heart, and her entire head in a burlap sack, Schley found gruesome items made of parts of former victims and of bodies that Gein dug up from nearby cemeteries for his homemade crafts.

Among these, there was a wastebasket made of human skin, chairs also covered with skin, skulls used to decorate his bedposts and as drinking cups and bowls, nine vulvae in a shoebox and some other lying around the house, a disturbing young girl’s dress (owner unknown), belts made of nipples, an entire suit made from the skin of a female torso, legs and face, and even a lampshade that was made with the skin of a human face.

The remains of some missing persons, like those of tavern owner Mary Hogan, who had gone missing in 1954, were found, as well as those of no less than thirteen other women.

It never was clear how many of these Gein killed and how many he dug up from their graves.

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Psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have tried to explain Ed Gein’s actions as motivated by two things: a desire to act upon the hatred of woman instilled in him by his mother and a desire to “reconstruct” her using the body parts of his victims, who were mostly similar in age and physical complexion to the deceased woman, Augusta Wilhelmine Gein.

Inside the twisted mind of Ed Gein, these were reasons enough to murder and plunder graves.

His fascination with his victims as objects belongs to a typical mental disposition of pathological criminals: the other is not a subject as accurate as oneself, but an item to be handled and disposed of at one’s convenience. 

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Gein died of lung cancer in a mental institution at the age of 77, after being found unable to stand trial at a second judgment (in the first one, he had been found guilty by his admission).

He didn’t seem to understand the horrendous and profoundly evil nature of his actions to the end of his life. His house that he had turned into a slaughterhouse, burnt down on March 20, 1958.

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