My blog post topic for today was supposed to be Ed Gein. He’s inspired more fictional serial killers than any other single person on the planet. Norman Bates (Psycho), Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs), Leatherface (Texas Chainsaw Massacre), and dozens of others that were lesser known are all based on aspects of Gein’s life.
While I often think childhood is way overstated in the acts of serial killers, living Ed’s life would have been enough to damage anyone. His father was an abusive alcoholic. His mother was a religious zealot. Ed was a little slow (using terminology from the 1940s and 1950s). His brother was better treated than he was and after his brother’s death (whom some speculate might have been Ed’s first murder), it only got worse.
Ed was a not allowed to show any normal, adolescent behaviors. His mother harshly punished him for having dirty fingernails, unkempt hair, and heaven forbid he express any type of sexuality. When it came to girls, his mother referred to all of them as “dirty whores” who were “agents of Satan.” In other words, their only reason for existing was to tempt good boys into becoming bad boys.
However, he was shy, kind, and likable. And surprisingly, a few former classmates admitted to having a crush on the young man while they were in high school. Once Gein’s father died, he began working outside of the house to help his mother make ends meet doing odd jobs. Yet, even as an adult, if Ed went out for a beer with guys after work, his mother would punish him for straying onto the path to Hell. When she had a stroke and became infirm, she insisted Ed spend all his non-working hours at her bedside… for two very long years. After his mother died, he was all alone. His entire family was dead and his domineering mother had made sure that he didn’t have a close group of friends to help him grieve.
None of this excuses Gein for his crimes. He still killed a fair amount of people. He also robbed graves and made himself a “woman’s suit” from real, dead, female bodies. His preference for older ladies is hard to misinterpret… His mother had been his only companion for most of his life, so of course he preferred the flesh of older ladies to make his suit. He really was recreating his mother to the best of his ability. He didn’t stop with just a suit though. He also tanned their hides for lampshades, cushion covers, and other items. Their bones were used to make all sorts of things. He may have cannibalized at least small parts of his victims. And he might have also been a necrophiliac.
Ed was institutionalized instead of imprisoned. He is the only serial killer that I have ever felt some kind of sympathy for. He was mentally handicapped and then physically and emotionally abused (some sources say his mother not only abused him emotionally, but sexually as well). He forced to live a life of isolation with fire and brimstone hanging over his head. As I said, none of these things excuse him from his crimes, but Ed probably would have turned out a lot different if his world hadn’t been so bad. He is one of the few examples where nurture seems to have been entirely responsible for his killing instincts. This is in direct contrast to most serial killers. For example, Bundy had a terrible home life, but by age three, he was already showing early symptoms of psychopathic behavior (like surrounding his aunt with knives one night while she slept and killing the family cat a year later because the cat hissed at him).