The People vs. Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein (The Butcher of…
The People vs. Edward Theodore "Ed" Gein (The Butcher of Plainsfield)
Mary Hogan, December of 1954
Bernice Worden, November of 1957
Desecration of Remains
Made articles of clothing from victims' remains
Used victims' remains to decorate his home
Robed local graves
In addition to murdering Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden, Gein exhumed and desecrated the remains of nine others, whose identities were not published.
Although he was charged with first-degree murder, Gein plead guilty by reason of insanity and deemed unfit to stand trial. Gein was placed in the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, but was later transferred to Mendota State Hospital. Finally, after a decade in mental hospitals, Gein stood trial and was convicted of first-degree murder, but because of his mental illness he remained in a mental hospital until his death in 1984.
Gein's crimes were directly linked to his mental illness and traumatic history.
Gein was raised in a single parent household by his abusive and controlling mother.
Gein's mother both physically and psychologically abused him, beating and isolating him.
By preventing him from ever interacting with the opposite sex, Gein's mother stunted him and prevented him from ever forming any meaningful relationships with women, and thus prevented him from "settling down" later in life.
Kept wholly separate from women, Gein likely developed an obsession with the female form, which he later internalized as desire to transform.
Not only did Gein wish to transform, he wished to become his own mother. This desire was triggered by her death and the unhealthy codependence that her abuse caused.
Gein tried and failed to exhume the remains of his own mother, and this failure lead him to exhume the remains of other women and eventually murder Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden.
Augusta Wilhelmine Gein
Gein likely viewed the murder of his victims as nothing more than a means to an end, fueled by his need for their bodies.
The act of mutilating the bodies of his victims allowed Gein to fashion garments out of their remains and masks out of their faces
For Gein, wearing the skin of the women he killed/exhumed constituted an act of transformation. Because Gein was unable to change his own body, the only way for him to become a woman was to physically wear the bodies of dead women.
Gein's mother was a domineering evangelical Christian and his father was an alcoholic. Gein lost his father in 1940, his brother in a brush fire in 1944, and his mother in 1945.
Combined with the grotesqueness of his crimes and the incomprehensibility of his actions to the average sane individual, Gein's traumatic history paints a picture of profound mental illness.
The depth of Gein's mental illness was so evident that his plea of insanity was not a difficult one to accept.
The virtually irrefutable presence of Gein's mental illness has created a sort of gold standard of insanity pleas in the minds of many people because id a man who kills women and wears their skin isn't insane, who is? However, most other insanity plea cases do not share the clarity of the Gein case, as many cases of mental illness manifest themselves more subtly.
Insanity plea cases usually exist in a realm of grey area, uncertainty, and agonizing decisions; thus, cases involving the insanity plea seldom have clear answers like the Ed Gein case.
Ed Gein's case acts as a poster child of insanity pleas, providing an example of how the insanity plea functions ideally. Gein was clearly a very disturbed and traumatized individual, whose actions mirrored his disturbed psyche and whose sentencing to a mental instution was appropriate for his level of mental illness. However, cases such as these paint an unrealistic image of "normal" insanity plea cases, where resolutions are often fraught with uncertainty and unease in the correctness of the decision.
While Gein's case remains one of the most famous applications of the insanity plea in the 20th century, it is not representative of the vast majority of cases where the insanity plea is used.
The truly grotesque nature of Gein's crimes sparked the imaginations of artists and directors. Although the influence of the Ed Gein case may subtly inform many works, three films drew their inspiration directly from Gein. The serial killer "Buffalo Bill" in
Silence of the Lambs
skins his victims and makes clothing out of their remains in a clear nod to Gein's treatment of human remains. In addition,
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
borrowed some elements of horror from the infamous Gein.
This case received both local and national coverage
Depiction of Plainsfield and the people who lived there
Initially, the popularly held belief that small towns are inherently safer than urban areas lead national news sources to focus on the juxtaposition between Plainsfield's pastoral nature and the heinousness of Gein's crimes.
After details of Gein's abusive childhood surface, news coverage of Plainsfield became darker as news sources began to portray Plainsfield and its residents in a more sinister life.
Coverage of the details of the crime and the victims
Gein's crimes were described in vividly, sparing no gory details.
Gein's victims were dehumanized by media coverage
Because of the many degrees of separation between journalists writing for national news sources and the town of Plainsfield, the national media lacked the sensitivity of local media in covering the story, not considering the people directly affected by Gein's crimes.
The town of Plainsfield was depicted in a compassionate and sympathetic light.
Gein's victims were mentioned by name and described in familiar and humanizing terms.
According to Jack McMahon, local and national news coverage of the Gein case differed significantly in areas including how graphic the story was, to what extent victims were dehumanized, and how the town of Plainfield and its residents.(