Gein was born August 8, 1906, in LaCrose, Wisconsin, but his family soon moved to a farm outside Plainfield. His father held jobs as a tanner and carpenter when he wasn’t working the farm, and Gein’s mother emerged as the dominant parent, settling most family decisions on her own. Though George could be brutal when drunk,
he was no match for his domineering wife, Augusta. Devoutly religious, she warned her two sons against premarital sex, but Gein recalled that she was “not as strong” in her opposition to masturbation. Ed’s father died in 1940, and his brother Henry was lost four years later, while fighting a marsh fire. His mother suffered a stroke that same year, and a second one killed her in 1945, following an argument with one of her neighbors. Alone at last, Gein nailed her bedroom shut and set about “redecorating” in his own inimitable style.
From childhood, Gein had been ambiguous about his masculinity, considering amputation of his penis on several occasions. With Christine Jorgenson much in the headlines, Gein considered transsexual surgery, but the process was costly and frightening. There must be other ways, he thought, of “turning female” on a part-time basis.
Weird old Eddie”, as the local community know him, had begun to develop a deeply unhealthy interest in the intimate anatomy of the female body – and interest that was fed by medical encyclopedias, books on anatomy, pulp horror novels and pornographic magazines. He became particularly interested in the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Second World War and the medical experiments performed on Jews in the concentration camps. Soon he graduated on to the real thing by digging up decaying female corpses by night in far-flung Wisconsin cemeteries. These he would dissect and keep some parts heads, sex organs, livers, hearts and intestines. Then he would flay the skin from the body, draping it over a tailor’s dummy or even wearing it himself to dance and cavort around the homestead – a practice that apparently gave him intense gratification. On other occasions, Gein took only the body parts that particularly interested him. He was especially fascinated by the excised female genitalia, which he would fondle and play with, sometimes stuffing them into a pair of women’s panties, which he would then wear around the house. Not surprisingly, he quickly became a recluse in the community, discouraging any visitors from coming near his by now neglected and decaying farm.
The choicer bits were specially preserved for Gein to wear at home. For ceremonial occasions, such as dancing underneath the moon, he wore a human’s scalp and face, a skinned-out “vest” complete with breasts, and female genitalia strapped above his own. By “putting on” another sex and personality, Gein seemed to find a measure of contentment, but his resurrection raids eventually failed to satisfy a deeper need.. Ed’s fascination with the female body eventually led him to seek out fresher samples for his collection and so he turned to murder…