On November 16, 1957, Plainfield hardware store owner Bernice Worden disappeared and police had reason to suspect Edward Gein. Worden’s son told investigators that Gein had been in the store the evening before the disappearance, saying he would return the following morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. A sales slip for a gallon of anti-freeze was the last receipt written by Worden on the morning she disappeared. Upon searching Gein’s property, investigators discovered Worden’s decapitated body in a shed, hung upside down by ropes at her wrists, with a crossbar at her ankles. The torso was “dressed out” like that of a deer. She had been shot with a .22-caliber rifle, and the mutilations were made after death.
Searching the house, authorities found:
- Four noses
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Nine masks of human skin
- Bowls made from human skulls
- Ten female heads with the tops sawn off
- Human skin covering several chair seats
- Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag
- Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack
- Nine vulvae in a shoe box
- A belt made from female human nipples
- Skulls on his bedposts
- A pair of lips on a draw string for a window-shade
- A lampshade made from the skin from a human face
These artifacts were photographed at the crime lab and then were destroyed.
When questioned, Gein told investigators that between 1947 and 1952, he made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies while he was in a “daze-like” state. On about 30 of those visits, he said he came out of the daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order, and returned home empty handed. On the other occasions, he dug up the graves of recently buried middle-aged women he thought resembled his mother and took the bodies home, where he tanned their skins to make his paraphernalia.
His case influenced the creation of several fictional serial killers, including Norman Bates from Psycho, Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Jame Gumb from The Silence of the Lambs.