Most people have heard of Ed Gein but are unaware of how influential his mother was on his childhood which affected his adulthood. According to history.com the 1950’s at one point was thought to be a productive era where the United States was the world’s strongest military power, the economy was booming, and there was prosperity and abundance of consumer goods available to more people than ever (“The 1950s”). However, the 1950’s was also the time in which the United States found out about the horrors of a shy quiet man named Edward Gein from the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin.
His actions of murdering middle aged women, digging up graves of deceased women, and keeping trophies and keepsakes of body parts portrayed him as a monster. Most people don’t know that Ed’s behavior can be attributed to his disturbed mother who is described as being a fanatically religious women that had an extremely skewed view of men as drunken failures and women as prostitutes and instruments of the devil (Woods 18). Although most people choose not to accept her extreme bias views, Ed didn’t know anything other than what his mother told him due to the environment in which he grew up, one with the extreme isolation he experienced. Ed Gein biographer Shahan Cheong explains that his mother, Augusta, was his best friend. After Ed’s mother, father and brother had died, and Ed was left on this earth, essentially alone from everything he knew, he committed horrendous crimes. After Ed was taken into custody and interrogated he was asked about his mother. Ed would begin to tear up and talk about how wonderful she was, demonstrating how much he loved and cared for her. Ironically though all of Ed’s confirmed and known victims resembled his mother, revealing his secret hate and loath towards his mother. Multiple biographers explain that Ed consciously loved his mother and hated other women but unconsciously hated his mother and wanted to love others (Brogaard, Davies, and “Ed Gein-Serial Killers of Wisconsin.)
This is an image of Ed Gein before he was arrested in 1957. http://www.nndb.com/people/216/000084961/
After the death of his beloved mother, Ed became disturbingly obsessed with elderly women, female anatomy, and the autonomy of women. Upon researching Gein I began to uncover the intense love-hate relationship with his mother, Augusta, and Ed Gein. His psychosis can be explained by his feelings towards women that became exaggerated and confused due to the love-hate relationship with mother. Gein’s portrayal of his mother was that she was a “saint” and his “best friend.” (Woods 36) He thought that she was the greatest thing. He believed every word she told him and she was the greatest influence on him for 39 years while they were both alive. His entire world revolved around her. The family was very interconnected and co-dependent because Augusta moved the family to a small farm in Plainfield so that her sons wouldn’t be around the “sinners.” Apart from school the boys attended for a few years the family didn’t interact with hardly anyone. The families companionship consisted of each other, with Augusta displaying her dominating and rigid personality. While the family spent nearly all of their time with each other, there were clearly favorites and sides being chosen. Augusta favored Ed over her first son Henry, this was because at the beginning of her marriage to her husband George she had become horribly dissatisfied with her life and blamed her unhappiness on her husband. Augusta thought that she would be happier if she had a child and shortly after she gave birth to a baby boy, Henry. As Henry grew from a baby to a young child she realized that she was still unhappy and concluded that it was because she was surrounded with men and blamed her unhappiness on the entire male population. Augusta thought that if she had a baby girl, her life would be different and more satisfying. Augusta desperately dreamed of having a girl. However when her second son, Ed, was born she was determined for him not to grow up like other men, he was treated like a girl and overall pronounced a “mama’s boy” (Brogaard). As Augusta had wished Ed didn’t turn out like other men. Often times Augusta would baby Ed and because of this Ed became overly sensitive and very emotional. But Augusta wasn’t the only one with favorites, Ed favored his mother over not only anyone in his family but over anyone else in the world. Ed viewed his mother as a pure goddess and worshiped everything she said. Augusta despised her husband and saw him as a weak, alcoholic and worthless man. In doing so, his mother encouraged Ed to feel the same towards his father. As Henry entered adulthood, Henry began to stray away from his mother’s views on the world, Ed was mortified that his brother didn’t see things the way his mother did. It is thought that Ed’s first murder was his brother because Henry would openly critize her in front of Ed. As a result the bond between Ed and his mother tightened. Soon after both George and Henry died and Ed was all Augusta had left. Ed was determined to take care of her after she began to have health issues and in most circumstances Ed didn’t go anywhere without his mother.
Gein demonstrated his intense love for his mother during interviews after his arrest when psychologist asked him about childhood memories. Horsting’s article states that the memories he described focused on his mother. The first memory Ed described was when he was standing at the top of the basement stairs in his house and a feeling something that resembled a push causing him to almost fall down the stairs. He remembers that his mother was in the kitchen at the time and she was the one who prevented him from falling. In his eyes she had “saved” him from falling down the stairs, he called her a saint for doing such a deed. It is thought though, that she was the one who had tried to push him in the first place. The second memory is more gruesome and occurred when Ed was eight years old. He hadn’t listened to his parents forbidden rules about entering the slaughter shed behind the house. He had snuck in one afternoon to find his mother and father covered from head to toe in blood, with a pig carcass hung upside down. He then watched his mother slice the pig open, right down the center, and witnessed the guts come crashing down. Ed stared in astonishment. It was at this time that he experienced his first sexual release. He saw his mother take a huge dominating role and saw the kind of power that women had. What Ed saw his mother do to the pig was exactly what he did to the victims that he murdered. He had experienced pleasure in what he saw her doing so he committed the act himself.
Although Augusta and Ed were each other’s favorites their relationship wasn’t all love. Augusta was a fervent Lutheran that preached to her sons every afternoon about the immortality of the world, the evils of drinking, and especially the belief that all women (excluding herself) were prostitutes and instruments of the devil. She would read right from the Bible and reference it as proof to show that what she was saying were God’s words, and therefore, the right way of living. Augusta dictated the lives of her sons by isolating them. She strategically moved the family to the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin in order to keep them away from outside influences (Wilkonsin).
This is an image of the Gein farm house in Plainfield, Wisconsin. http://alancok.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/home-decorating-ed-gein-style
In Augusta’s eyes she viewed the world as a place filled with sinners and wanted her boys to be protected from temptation. By doing this she had control of the interaction between her sons and the rest of the world. This isolation technique was effective until the boys became of age to attend school. Augusta only allowed them to go to school because it was the law. Ed would try and make friends at school but as soon as he would tell Augusta she would fill his head with rumors and lies about the family being a bad family (Cheong). While at school Ed was frequently bullied, but the few times he tried to make friends his mother scolded him. Since his mother didn’t approve of Ed making childhood friends he didn’t bother trying to befriend his peers. It made him sad, but he didn’t want to do anything to upset his mother.
Many psychologist agree that Augusta would verbally abuse her sons by telling them they were going to turn out like their alcoholic father, who was a loser and couldn’t keep a job. This verbal abuse was especially evident after Augusta suffered her first stroke and needed to be nursed back to health. Ed spent every minute by her side, nursing her back to health. On days when Augusta would feel her strength and independence returning she’d become mean and lash out at Ed, continuing to try to control her son, but not praising him for his loyalty.
Augusta influenced Ed by confusing him sexually, Augusta’s mentality was that she wanted to isolate and shelter her sons from the evils of the world, which in her mind stemmed from women. According to murderpedia, this over bearing personality stunted Ed’s psychological growth and turned a shy boy into a sexually confused womenlike young man who was determined to remain a virgin due to his devotion to his mother. Due to Augusta’s actions and lectures Ed began to feel internal conflict because on one hand he had love and devotion to his mother but on the other he had a natural attraction to women that he couldn’t refuse. While Augusta was alive she forbid either of her boys to interact in sinful ways. She showed authority and punished them severly by pouring boiling water over them if she caught them in the act. Ed’s natural attraction towards girls clashed with his mothers warning about eternal damnation.
- This is an artifact that was found in the farmhouse after Ed was arrested. He used the skulls from some of his victims as bowls. http://www.horsetrackhooligans.com/wpcontent/uploads/2011/12/normal_IMG_0262.jpg
Ed’s childhood consisted mainly of isolation which included very minimal physical contact. Although he was deprived of socialization and being around people, he had never enjoyed the company of the opposite sex anyway. Instead of interacting with others he chose to fill his thoughts with women instead. He was fascinated with women and the sexual power they had over men. This female autonomy interested and frightened him because he was naturally attracted to them but couldn’t act on his emotions from fear of being eternally damned. Ed was also interested in the information from anatomy books. After the death of his mother, he became obsessed with the female body. He would quench his lust by visiting graves at night. Many times he would just visit gravesites and leave everything undisturbed. But some nights, nights with full moons, he would dig up graves and take parts of bodies he wanted or the entire body if necessary. Ed was a necrophiliac because he loved bodies. Body parts excited him and he enjoyed having them in his home, no matter what their state of decomposition. When Ed was arrested, the police found all kinds of body parts in all different stages of decomposition. He had filled his house with body parts and incorporated the parts into furniture, using skins to upholster furniture. He had bowls set around made from skulls. He found pleasure in peeling skin off bodies and then wearing it. While Ed’s mother was alive she kept the place very neat and tidy due to her extreme religious views since “cleanliness is next to godliness” (Woods 40). But after she passed away, Ed boarded up two of the rooms that she was most active in, and preserved them as shrines, while the rest of the house turned into a disaster.
This image shows the before and after effects of Augusta’s death. Before she died the house was very organized but after she died, and Ed was all alone, the house became cluttered. http://vampirosyasesinos famosos.blogspot.com/
Preserving certain rooms of the house wasn’t the only way he wanted to preserve his beloved mother. After the death of his mother Ed “lost his only friend his one true love and was absolutely alone in the world” (Horsting). In spite of the love Ed had for his mother, women that resembled her were the targets of his horrendous crimes. It is thought that Ed targeted women that resembled his mother because he wanted to be just like her, since she was viewed so highly in his eyes. Ed found pleasure in wearing the skin he peeled off the bodies because he believed that they would make him more like his mother. Ed was curious about what it was like to have female sex organs and dreamed of being a women. Not only did he dream of being a women but he dreamed of being his mother. Because of this he would search for obituaries with women that resembled his mother to allow him a greater chance of becoming her. There were many times when Ed wanted a sex change, but he didn’t have the money to make it a reality. Since he couldn’t afford that he settled for the next best thing and made a full female body suit from the pieces he had collected from the bodies he pillaged. During full moons he would dress up in the bodysuit and dance around his lawn. One of the reasons he is thought to have targeted elderly women, according to Dr. Edward Kellener from serialkillersofwisconsin.com, is because of his mother. It’s thought that he unconsciously hated his mother and loved others. Because of this he would cut women up to assemble the female body suit to bring his mother back, then destroy her again because of his frustration towards her. His actions were a way to get back at his mother because he was such a mama’s boy. Another reason he targeted these women was because he viewed people as objects, and he needed parts of their body to become a female, more specifically his mother.
This is the glove part of Ed’s body suit. He would peel the skin off his victims and sew them together to create his suit. http://alancook.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/home-decorating-ed-gein-style/
Ed began his life under the close watch of his mother, she molded him to become a child loyal to her and her beliefs through the constant contact, limited socialization and secluded isolation. His mother was the constant current in his life that always provided guidance and punishment. While this relationship was called “love for his mother” it turned to obsession with women after her death. Ed’s conflicted feelings and death of his mother left him alone and consumed. This confusion prompted him to try to bring her back and get rid of her over and over. A cycle that Ed was never able to reconcile.
Brogaard, Berit. “The Making Of A Serial Killer.” Psychologytoday.com. N.p., 7 Dec. 2012. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
Cheong, Shahan. “A Boy’s Best Friend Is His Mother…Ed Gein, the Butcher of Plainfield.” Not Yet Published. N.p., 2 Aug. 2010. Web. 9 Nov. 2013.
Davies, Dr. Nicola. “Making of A Monster: Ed Gein.” Healthpsychologyconsultancy: The musings of a health psychology writer and researcher. N.p., 10 May 2012. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.
“Ed Gein – Serial Killers of Wisconsin.” Serial Killers of Wisconsin. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
“EDWARD GEIN.” Edward Gein. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Dec. 2013.
Horsting, Jessie. “Ed Gein: In the Flesh.” Ed Gein: In the Flesh. N.p., 2000. Web. 29 Nov. 2013.
“Schizophrenia: Signs, Types & Causes.” Schizophrenia: Signs, Symptoms, Types, Causes, and Effects. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2013.
“The 1950s.” History.com. A & E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 28 Nov. 2013.
Woods, Paul Anthony. Ed Gein Psycho. New York: H. B.St. Martin’s, 1995. Print.
Wilkonsin, Adam. Crime Case Study: Ed Gein, Making A Killer. 12 January 2006. Web. 5 November 2013.
(Plainfield Map) http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Map_of_Wisconsin_highlighting_Waushara_County.svg
(Ed Gein picture) http://www.nndb.com/people/216/000084961/
(Gein house) http://alancook.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/home-decorating-ed-gein-style/
(Skull bowl) http://www.horsetrackhooligans.com/wpcontent/uploads/2011/12/normal_IMG_0262.jpg
(Before and After of the Gein house) http://vampirosyasesinosfamosos.blogspot.com/