There Once Was a Farmer Named Ed...
The Short, Comic History of America's Most Iconic Maniac.
There once was a farmer named Ed,
Who liked to cavort with the dead,
He'd dig up the grave, all the better to save,
A carcass he'd hang in the shed!
Back a long time ago, there was a little, wee, Elmer Fudd of a man from Plainfield, Wisconsin: Mr. Edward Gein. Ed lived on the farm with his Pee and Em, and his brother Henry. (His Pee and Em, being, of course, Clockwork Orange-speak for "Dad and Mom".)
Dad was an alcoholic, bit of a ne'er-do-well, and up and died. No skin off of Ed's ass. He was much, much more interested in MAMA.
Little old Ed had a farm,
Never did no one no harm,
Except one odd night, he decided to bite,
What was left of a rotten old arm!
Ed and brother Henry had been reared at Mama's maniacally religious knees. Mama preached and swore against the evil of harlots, whores, Babylon, and the Whore of Babylon, and the whorishness of Babylonian women, and women in general. Henry may have yawned and longed for the day when he could escape the frigid, undoubtedly wildly disturbed clutches of Augusta "All Women Are Goddamn Whores" Gein. Ed, on the other hand, was enraptured. Possibly turned-on. Definitely not playing with a full deck of fifty-two Aviator cards.
Now Ed had a heart made of gold,
(And one made of flesh smelling old),
He'd sew up your feet, make them into a seat,
And your tale then would never be told!
I once had a childhood friend who was invited on a hunting trip by his next door neighbor, who was a registered sex offender. His next door neighbor and he went out to "gather wood" for a roaring fire. The SO then proceeded to bash in the face of my friend with a hatchet. He didn't survive that, of course.
The SO then went back to the luxurious trailer park digs of his recent victim. Convincing the dead man's wife that he was having one of his little "mental attacks" (both of them were disability cases for mental health issues), she accompanied him, the SO cum murderer, into the woods; where she was convinced she was needed to coax hubby out of a tree he had climbed in a puzzling, schizophrenic rage.
He then proceeded to strangle her. Then drown her in a nearby creek. Then rape the body. She didn't survive, either. '
He was captured, confessed, and committed suicide almost NINE YEARS TO THE DAY later. All of this is to say that it is a really, really good idea to know who the hell you're going on these "hunting trips" with.
Ed and brother Henry went on a hunting trip round about the Good Year 1944. There was a fire that got started in the woods, and Ed made it out by the skin of his breeches. Henry... not so much. Ed reported his brother missing. A search party searched, and at the end of their search, found that for which they had been searching: Brother Henry lay, dead as corned beef, with a few weird bruises on the scalp; but undoubtedly the victim of asphyxiation; because, really, who could EVER suspect a meek, mild, vaguely retarded little crawdad of a man like Ed of, well, KILLING his own brother?
Now Ed kept a box full of cunts,
(... actually I don't think anything else can be added to that. Do You?)
Now, at long, merciful, God-Willed-It-As-So-So-It-Must-Be-So last, Ed had MAMA all to his wee little self; To rant and rave, see visions of the "Scarlet Whore," condemn those loose-living Plainfield, Wisconsin, Eisenhower-Era hussies of their wanton, sinful, hell-bound ways, and to get... progressively more decrepit and ill. Ed continued doing odd jobs around town, and even... babysitting. Yes, you read that last right: babysitting (which, as an aside, I consider strange; because, even without knowing that he was a cannibal, necrophiliac grave robber with a hard-on for his mother, one who liked to turn body parts into soup bowls and had lips on a drawstring—I think any SANE parent would have a tough time leaving their wee little tot with someone whose very aura just fucking SCREAMS "mentally unbalanced, " as Ed Gein's did. But, I digress.)
Ed Gein, Ed Gein,
A real-life, true-crime horror scene!
Now, when Ed was a kid, he walked in on Ma and Pa butchering a hog in the little butcher shop they owned before George Gein went downhill to Hell on roller skates via his drinking habit and general dissipated ways. Ed might have got a tad bit over-excited seeing the squealing, bleeding, suffering thing hanging from a twisted chain, while Ma and Pa, decked out in gory leather aprons, cut the entrails from the beast.
Such a sight might have made him... peculiar. A similar, apocryphal story (one that gives you a glimpse into Augusta Gein's rather unique psychology), has Ed and Ma visiting a man who up and beats a dog to death. Ma ain't, as it were, so much upset because he killed an animal in an act of homicidal cruelty (one that, today, would have netted him prison time if he had been caught), but that the woman shacking up with the doggie-killer was, indeed, NOT HIS WIFE. And because she was NOT HIS WIFE, she was a WHORE, and both of them, for that reason, were, undeniably, HELL BOUND. (Augusta Gein apparently had no more use for four-legged bitches than she had for the two-legged variety.)
Ed Gein, Ed Gein,
He wasn't mean,
But he'd dig up a body that was putrid and green!
Augusta Gein died in 1946, after suffering a series of strokes. Ed's world fell to ruin. No; actually, that's putting it mildly. The Universe, for Ed, ceased to exist. His soul became awash in darkness. A primitive, atavistic resurgence began to possess him, like an invading spirit. He became something else, something alien, something OTHER. He began to obsess over flesh, death, racy detective magazines (the old-fashioned kind with cheesecake covers of gun moll strumpets, clad in black silk stockings, often tied-up and gagged), and depictions of Nazi atrocities.
(Think humans into soap; human skin lampshades; concentration camp commandants like Ilsa Koch, the "Bitch of Buchenwald," with ashtrays fashioned from pelvic bones. That sort of thing.)
Ed began to visit the Plainfield cemetery; presumably others, too. What was he looking for there?
Now little old Ed hunted deer,
But the fellows all thought he was queer,
So he shot up his niece, hid her from the police,
And slaughtered her just like a steer!
Ed began to dig up bodies. Shit, why complicate the story by giving you any more build-up? Ed went to Plainfield cemetery, robbed a total of NINE graves, and began to fashion the now infamous home decor that has been a huge cornerstone to the myths and legends about the man. Eating beans from human skull soup bowls; keeping lips on a drawstring (reminds me of that line from "California Uber Alles" by the Dead Kennedys: "You'll look nice as a drawstring lamp!"); making femurs serve him in place of arms on a wooden rocker. Heart in a sauce pan on the stove (or, was that Jack the Ripper? I can't now remember.)
Box full of vulvas. Heads on his bedposts. Human skin gloves. Human skin leggings. Human skin (female tits) vest. And the infamous FACE MASKS.
Ed wanted to become a woman. I'm unclear if he ever fucked these bodies. I'm not real clear about the true facts of whether or not he ever ATE parts of them. I think he confessed, later, that he tried to devour some reeking, putrescent flesh, but found the taste, "too terrible" (or was that Henry lee Lucas? I can't now remember).
While doing all of this, Ed continued to putter around, doing odd jobs, babysitting(!), passing off his severed head collection as "shrunken head" souvenirs brought home "from the Pacific" by a friend that had served in the war.
Poor Ed wasn't much of a housekeeper, though. His lonely, dilapidated, screaming-with-demons dwelling became increasingly ramshackle, and the interior progressively more squalid. Finally, by the time he was captured, Ed was living in literal filth. Unbelievable wretchedness. You'd almost think you'd entered a crack house in South Marion.
The smell must have been a combination of mildew, must, funk, unwashed multiple murderer, human body parts, and old cans of Van Camps Baked Beans left to dry and crust over until they were crawling with bugs.
Ed's first known victim was a foul-mouthed barkeep named Mary Hogan. At least, in the movie Ed Gein (2001), starring actor Steve Railsback (who most famously portrayed Charles Manson in 1976's TV miniseries sensation Helter Skelter), she is portrayed as a foul-mouthed hussy barmaid with huge tits, who boasts she can "suck the chrome off of a trailer hitch." All this must have bothered Ed. (If, indeed, there is any truth to this portrayal.)
He came back later, blew her away with an old hunting rifle, and absconded with the cash register. But, not out of a desire to be a thief, you understand; he was just curious as to how it worked.
(Ed reportedly blanched at the idea of being accused of robbery. And that, my friends, is an example of comic irony nearly unsurpassed).
A babysitter, Evelyn Hartley, disappeared in 1956. Ed has long been suspected as the culprit, and researchers have tried pinning other nearby crimes on him. However, Ed only admitted to the murder of Mary Hogan... and, later, Bernice Worden, who kind of "looked like Mama."
The story of Bernice Worden's murder is a little more, forgive the expression, "fleshed out." That day, November 16, 1957, the Worden Hardware Store was mysteriously closed. Bernice's son, Deputy Sheriff Frank Worden, entered the store to find the cash register empty and bloodstains on the floor. But no Bernice anywhere to be seen. He remembered that weird little wet fart Eddie Gein had been in the morning before, stating quite plainly he would be back for a "gallon of antifreeze." And gosh darn it, that happened to be the last receipt Bernice had signed right before she seemingly up and left with only a trail of blood to mark her wake.
Ed was arrested the next day at a grocery store.
A deputy found Bernice hanging upside down, dead. In Ed's shed. She was, at this point, missing her head.
(Just, shut the fuck up, okay? It was sixty odd years ago. All of these people are dead. What, if I were joking about Jack the Ripper, you wouldn't have a fucking problem with it, would you?).
A search of Ed's toxic waste dump of a house resulted in the now infamous list of putrid keepsakes, all stolen from cadavers, robbed from the cemetery and transported back home, via "Ed Gein's Car." (An automobile, incidentally, of legendary status at one point—like the Bat Mobile, perhaps. It actually was put on display at cheap, sleazy fairs for cash. It likewise inspired the name of an obscure gutter-level punk rock band from a few decades back.)
The items listed included:
1. Nine vulvas in a box,
2. Human skulls
3. Human bones
4. Human skin covering seats.
5. The aforementioned lips on a drawstring.
6. Human hearts and organs.
7. Belt made of nipples.
8. Corset made of human flesh.
9. Human flesh leggings.
10, Mary Hogan's head in a bag.
11. Human skulls utilized as bowls.
12. Human fingernails.
13. Human flesh "masks" taken from cadavers.
14. The dresses and vulvas of two underage girls.
(For some strange reason, the snippet of song, "... and a Partridge in a pear tree," comes, blackly humorous, into my mind here.)
Aftermath: Leggings and Legacy
Sheriff Shley bashed little Eddie in the head or something (we do have a hard time believing it was against a brick wall) while he was interrogating him. Whatever the wildly flawed reasoning behind THIS action, it rendered Ed's first confession "not admissible as evidence." So proclaimed the court. Of course, that wasn't the end of it. Not by a long shot.
Ed found himself, suddenly, rocketed from complete obscurity, and into the media limelight, a real-life horror movie monster that seemed to have crept straight from the pages of the most sordid pulp fiction. He was the underbelly of American prosperity and cultural hegemony; of wealth, power, and dominance. He was everything bleak and black that was suspected to be crawling, just beneath the surface, of the American Ideal.
A young writer, Robert Bloch, who had once been pen pals with none other than H.P. Lovecraft (Lovecraft dedicated the story, "The Haunter of the Dark" to him), followed the story very closely. It inspired his breakthrough novel Psycho (1959), which, in turn, inspired corpulent Hollywood auteur Alfred Hitchcock to make his classic film adaptation, starring the unrealistically handsome and urbane Anthony Perkins as the mother-loving stand-in for Ed: "Norman Bates."
Director, the late Alan Ormsby, gave a more faithful adaptation with 1974's Deranged, starring the redoubtable Roberts Blossom as the stand-in for Ed. (Blossom was a poet whose other most famous turn was appearing as a man who "saw Bigfoot once," in Steven Spielberg's UFO mega blockbuster Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977).)
And then there's director the late Tobe Hooper's drive-in classic, 1974's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, positing an entire FAMILY of Ed Gein's. How horrifying is THAT prospect?It has spawned the predictable volley of lackluster sequels over the decades. (By the way, Ed inspired the character of "Leatherface," in case you hadn't guessed.)
Thomas Harris's novel The Silence of the Lambs (1988), which, in turn, inspired the 1991 blockbuster starring Jodie "Hinckley's Hottie" Foster and Anthony Hopkins, presents us with "Buffalo Bill," Jame Gumb, a character who kidnaps and kills women so he can take their skin, make an Ed Gein suit, and indulge his "sick" fantasy of "becoming a woman." (Surely the LBGTQ community would be picketing and protesting such a film if it were released in these politically sensitive times).
Aside from the aforementioned 2001 film Ed Gein, there have been many a depressing sewage slut of poorly-made, often straight-to-video barnyard celluloid ripoffs using the Gein legend as the springboard for cheap thrills and filthy lucre. Most usually manifest as even more wretched than the one preceding it.
According to that unimpeachable source Wikipedia, documentary director Errol Morris was planning a Gein biopic based on a number of interviews with him. He and a fellow documentary filmmaker were, reputedly, wanting to mercilessly EXHUME the cadaver of Augusta Gein (it is odd Ed never did this himself), for... some reason. Morris has done a documentary on true crime author Sondra London, whose book True Vampires (2003) covers Gein like a fine layer of grave dirt. (She likewise interviewed Ottis "BBQ Sauce" Toole, the lover and accomplice of serial killer Henry Lee Lucas; Toole had a vaguely Gein-like mien. Likewise, she communicated with "Japanese Cannibal" Issei Sagawa, who, in 1981, murdered Dutch exchange student Rene Hartevelt while attending the prestigious Sorbonne Academy in Paris. He then devoured her, commenting that the flesh of her thigh, "tasted like tuna." But, again, when considering this crime, it seems vaguely similar—but is still undeniably different.)
(The only other documentary of Morris's that I've seen is on Holocaust, uh, "revisionist" Fred Leuchter, author of the infamous The Leuchter Report (1988), who comes across as an affable, if somewhat boring Middle American chain smoker, who just so happened to love to perform maintenance on electric chairs and gas chambers. His current whereabouts, living or deceased, I believe, are unknown. But, back to our story.)
Ed was judged too feeble-minded to stand trial. Straight to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, in Washtau, for ol' Ed. His trial, not held until 1968, adjudged him guilty of the murder of Bernice Worden. However, he was also adjudged too insane with schizophrenia at the time to be held legally responsible.
Home to Mendota State Mental Hospital, where he died of liver cancer, after spending decades mopping floors, gumming crackers, jacking off to pictures culled from Time and Newsweek, and generally disappearing into the fog of obscurity that had marked his previous life. He died July 26, 1984.
(Okay, I don't know if he ever actually jacked-off to Time and Newsweek. He seems as if he'd be more of a National Geographic man. You know, those pictures of bare-breasted African women).
A Rock Star of Rot
When I was a kid, I first laid eyes on old Ed in the pages of Bloodletters and Badmen (1973), by Jay Robert Nash, the legendary crime compendium I found on a bookshelf rack while Mom was shopping for blue-light specials at the old Marion K-Mart.
Bad dude. This is where I also encountered that OTHER notorious cannibal, Albert Fish. (The triumvirate would, most likely, be comprised of Fish, Ed Gein, and that other suave lothario ALSO hailing from Wisconsin, Jeffrey "Dog Guts" Dahmer.) The year might have been 1987, maybe 88.
Later, while walking around a used bookstore, in a house just off the Marion bypass, I encountered a book by an author named Harold Schechter, who would go on to author many, many books on historical American criminals and deviants. His book, Deviant (1988) featured the morose mug of Ed glowering grimly for the gallery, in a grave, near ghastly grimace of gruesome. (Well, he was in court for murder, dig?).
To confuse the media matter much more, Schechter's OTHER famous book on a necrophiliac cannibal nasty, Deranged (1990), is about the even less savory ALBERT FISH, a deviant who paddled his nuts, stuck pins in his balls, ate shit, molested kids across the country, and turned twelve-year-old Grace Budd into a stew he admitted to devouring over a nine-day period, while masturbating furiously, naturally. (Another victim, little Billy Gaffney, he confessedly devoured except for the genitals, which the demented old monster referred to as his "monkey and pee wees" He claimed they were just "too tough".)
Of course, Deranged happens to be the title of Alan Ormsby's film... on Ed Gein.
But, back to it.
A third book specifically on Gein, a weird little book called Ed Gein—Psycho! (1995), I bought as a puff-poo little thing from a Waldenbooks or something more than twenty years ago. It was a "cultural examination" of the Gein mythos: the bad taste "Geiner" jokes popular at the time; the movies; the underground comic books, the HEAVY METAL MADNESS.
Ed Gein, you see, is a posthumous fucking rock star. He's Rotting Rock N' Roll. To borrow a line from death metal deities Carcass, he's: "Rotting in the Free World."
The lead singer of "psychobilly" punk rock legends The Cramps, the late Lux Interior (Real name: Erick Lee Purkhiser), penned a bizarre fantasy for that book, one wherein he visits the ashen ruins of Ed Gein's Plainfield home (it was mysteriously torched after his arrest), and meets Ed, "in the flesh," so to speak. Then, they dance (One wonders if Ed danced a primitive jig while wearing his female suit and beating his human-flesh tom-tom.)
We've already mentioned the subpar punk rock of Ed Gein's Car; the most famous band to exhume and ravish the decaying corpse of the Gein mythos is undoubtedly heavy metal demigods Slayer, a band of whom the author of Ed Gein--Psycho!, Paul Anthony Woods, wrote: "May they always see the darkness, and never find the light. "
Slayer, on their 1990 mega-platinum or gold or something blockbuster album Seasons in the Abyss, pummeled their way through a song called"Dead Skin Mask," which features such lines as: "Dance with the dead in my dreams / Listen to their hollow screams. The dead have taken my soul..."
At the end of the song, a plaintive little girl or boy voice wails, "Hello Mr Gein? Please let me out! MR. GEIN!" as if it is trapped in the darkness, in the Plainfield Farmhouse of Hell.
Our favorite mosh-pit melody, though, is the morbid musical paen to Ed Gein by "murder metal" maestros Macabre, whose entire ouvure focuses exclusively on serial murderers and mass-killing maniacs. They've even done a concept album based entirely on Jeffrey Dahmer.
Featuring lyrics such as:
"I'm a killer, and grave robber,
My stew will be made of you,
I eat women, I'm a cannibal,
I'm a necrophiliac too..."
The song features on the band's 1987 Grim Reality EP, which also features a song about Albert Fish, and the incredible thrash metal anthem, "Serial Killer."
And that, as they say, is a wrap. One made, perhaps, from human flesh. Stolen from a cadaver. Exhumed from a cemetery...
We have elected, in the foregoing article, to exclude purported crime scene photos of what is alleged to have been the "Gein Collection" of dead skin masks, and other graveyard souvenirs. These are circulating the internet. We have done this, not only because we are uncertain as to what Vocal allows in regards to such images, but also because, in the internet age, one can never be certain if such images are, indeed, authentic. The image of the headless, hanging Bernice Worden is obviously too graphic to post here. You can easily find it with a simple Google search, if so inclined.
Also, the snippets of poetry that accompany this article are all originals, penned by your author. This is in the tradition of the bad taste "Geiner" jokes popular at the time the case first broke. The first poem, though, does seem a little too obvious a rhyme, and so I am wondering if, perhaps, I have not unintentionally borrowed something I read and absorbed subconsciously, then forgot.
I have, personally, featured Ed Gein in not one but THREE books, two published by Schiffer Publishing, Midwest Maniacs (which I just realized, eerily, was published 11-11 of 2011) and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest (2017); the third book, The Men Who Loved the Dead, begun in 2014, is very nearly finished, and is, as-of-yet, of course unpublished. I have a sort of weird spoken word piece based around Gein and a dream I had. To show off a little, it is featured as a part of a very noisy, experimental jazz music track from a net release I call Two Severed Heads Fighting Over an Ear, as "Extreme Volume Pop." Note: The project name is meant to be ironic; there's nothing "pop" about my recordings or music.
You do have to wait a while for the spoken track to appear.
The author, likewise, has been trying to sell this drawing as a coffee mug for years. Crass commercialism. Capitalism makes pigs, necrophiliacs, cannibals and grave robbers of us all.
Here is a link to Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest by Tom Baker.
Baker, Tom. Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest. Schiffer: Atglen, PA. 2017.
Bloch, Robert. Psycho. Simon and Schuster: New York. 1959.
Harris, Thomas. Silence of the Lambs. Manhattan: St. Martin's Press. 1988.
London, Sondra. True Vampires: Blood-Sucking Killers Past and Present. Feral House: Port Townsend, WA. 2003.
Nash, Jay Robert. Bloodletters and Badmen: A Narrative Encyclopedia of American Crime. Rowan and Littlefield: London. 1995.
Woods, Paul Anthony. Ed Gein--Psycho!. Manhattan: St. Martin's Press. 1995.