Ed Gein: The Wisconsin cannibal. The hungriest mama’s boy of the 20th century. He’s long-held a strange place in Americana, but no one living in Plainfield, Wisconsin in the 1940s and ’50s gave him a second look. He was a shy and quiet man who was devoted to his mother, a browbeating woman who was, let’s face it, a bit of a prude. She was such a larger-than-life figure in Gein’s brain that when she passed away, it finally broke the 41-year-old man. He boarded up her bedroom and the living room, choosing to live in squalor in the rest of the house. More troubling was his new routine of making the local graveyard his playground, and not in a fun, goth way, but it would still be nine more years before he committed his first murder. Gein’s gruesome crimes have inspired writers and filmmakers from the moment stories about his home hit the papers, and they’re still as horrifying today as they were in 1957.
On November 16, 1957, Gein went to a Plainfield hardware store, where he shot Bernice Worden, the store’s owner, through the head. He claimed that he fired on her accidentally while looking at a rifle, but either way, he admitted that he pulled the trigger. That evening, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, who just happened to be Bernice’s son, found his mother’s store in disarray and a sales receipt for a gallon of antifreeze that led him straight to the Gein house. There, a Waushara County sheriff’s deputy found Worden’s body hung upside and “dressed out like a deer,” and Gein was arrested at a grocery store later that evening.
While in police custody, Gein confessed that between 1947 and 1952, he made at least 40 visits to local cemeteries, where he exhumed freshly buried bodies, brought them home, and tanned their skins to make various household objects. He also admitted to shooting and killing tavern owner Mary Hogan, a woman who’d been missing since 1954, although he claimed to not remember how she died. The gunshot seems like a safe bet, but you know how these things go.