Medicine: Portrait of a Killer

  • Share
  • Read Later

On the 275-acre farm outside Plainfield, Wis. where George Gein was scratching out a living, the undisputed head of the family was his dominating wife Augusta. To her sons Henry and Edward, Augusta Gein railed ceaselessly about the vices of modern women—their short skirts, artificial hair waves, powder and lipstick. During heavy rains she would read to the family the story of Noah and the flood, prophesied another flood to wash out women's sins. She made no secret of her favoritism for her younger son. Eddie Gein (rhymes with wean) became a mama's boy, hating other women as mother had willed. As he grew to manhood he never went out on dates.

The comfortless frame farmhouse (no electricity, no plumbing) became a lonelier place after the deaths of his father 1940 and bachelor brother Henry 1944. After Augusta Gein had a stroke, Eddie nursed his mother for a year until she died of a second stroke in 1945. That left Eddie all alone with memories of mother. He closed off the sitting room, filled with family portraits and other reminders of the dead, and the room where is mother had passed her last year. He did not bother to work the farm, supported himself with odd jobs for neighbors.

Two Heads. Eddie Gein read a lot, mostly magazines and detective stories. When he dropped in on neighbors or at a Plainfield ice-cream parlor (he almost never drank), Eddie seemed well informed, especially about the latest crime sensation, often volunteered ideas about how the criminal might have got away. When a crime was committed nearby, rail-thin (5 ft. 8 in., 140 Ibs.), mild-looking, mild-spoken Eddie Gein sometimes said he had done it. His hearers laughed. To a neighbor-storekeeper's son, Bob Hill, Gein showed what he called "a couple of shrunken heads" that he said a friend had sent him from the Philippines.

Last week Eddie Gein, 51, was the center of one of the century's most gruesome criminal cases—and one of psychiatry's nost extraordinary case histories. He had gone into Plainfield (pop. 680) on a quiet Saturday morning (most of the men were out for the opening of the deer season) and shot Bernice Worden, 58, proprietor of a general store, with a .22 rifle from her own stock. He had loaded the body nto the store's pickup truck, driven it out to his farm. He was finishing a hearty dinner (pork chops, macaroni and cheese, Dickies, coffee and cookies) with his neighbors the Hills when the police arrived to pick him up.

Two Murders. At the Gein farmhouse, filthy and choked with the clutter of a dozen years, police found a chamber of horrors. Bernice Worden's body was strung up by the heels in a summer kitchen. It had been eviscerated and dressed out like a deer. Her severed head was in a cardboard box, her heart in a plastic bag on the stove. Around the house the police also found: ten skins of human heads, neatly separated from the skull; assorted pieces of human skin, some between the pages of magazines, some made into small belts, some used to upholster chair seats (the largest piece, rolled up on the floor, was the front upper section of a woman's torso); a box of noses.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2