On December 8, 1954, 51-year-old Mary Hogan disappeared from the tavern she managed in Pine Grove, Wisconsin. Authorities found a pool of blood on the floor, an overturned chair, and one spent cartridge from a .32-caliber pistol. Foul play was the obvious answer, and while deputies recall Ed Gein as a suspect in the case, no charges were filed at the time.
On November 16, 1957, 58-year-old Bernice Worden disappeared from her Plainfield hardware store under strikingly similar circumstances. There was blood on the floor, a thin trail of it leading out back, where the victim’s truck had last been seen. Worden’s son recalled that Gein had asked his mother for a date, and on the day before she disappeared, Ed mentioned that he needed anti-freeze. A sales receipt for anti-freeze was found inside the store, and deputies went looking for their suspect. What they found would haunt them all for the remainder of their lives.
There, the gruesome evidence proved that Gein’s bizarre obsessions had finally exploded into murder, and much, much worse. In the woodshed of the farm was the naked, headless body of Bernice Worden, hanging upside down from a meat hook and slit open down the front. Her head and intestines were discovered in a box, and her heart on a plate in the dining room. The skins from ten human heads were found preserved, and another skin taken from the upper torso of a woman was rolled up on the floor. There was a belt fashioned from carved-off nipples, a chair upholstered in human skin, the crown of a skull used as a soup-bowl, lampshades covered in flesh pilled taut, a table propped up by a human shinbones, and a refrigerator full of human organs. The four posts on Gein’s bed were topped with skulls and a human head hung on the wall alongside nine death-masks – the skinned faces of women – and decorative bracelets made out of human skin. The stunned searchers also uncovered a soup bowls fashioned from skulls, a shoebox full of female genitalia, faces stuffed with newspapers and mounted like hunting trophies on the walls, and a “mammary vest” flayed from the torso of a woman. Gein later confessed that he enjoyed dressing himself in this and other human-skin garments and pretending he was his own mother.
The scattered remains of an estimated fifteen bodies were found at the farmhouse when Gein was eventually arrested, but he could not remember how many murders he had actually committed. The discovery of these Gothic horrors sent shock waves throughout Eisenhower-era America. Within weeks of his arrest, macabre Jokes called “Geiners” became a statewide craze. The country as a whole learned about Gein in December 1957, when both Life and Time magazines ran features on his “house of horrors.”