The Butcher of Plainfield: Ed Gein’s Case for Insanity

I originally wrote this for my Forensic Psychology class (which I loved by the way!). I decided to post it here since I feel it’s important in today’s society; especially the stigma of mental illness and inmates. Oh yeah, and I got an A in the class….

On a cold November day in 1957, in the little town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, Bernice Worden, owner of the town’s hardware store, was visited by a little man with a crooked smile. Edward Theodore Gein was known to everyone as being a nice, friendly, quiet man with a little bit of strangeness to him. Bernice was not surprised to see him that morning since he had been in the day before inquiring about antifreeze. While Bernice was filling up a glass container with antifreeze, Ed noticed a rack of rifles for sale behind the counter. After paying for the antifreeze, Ed asked Bernice if he could look at one of the rifles; he was interested in trading his in for a new one. Bernice removed one of the .22 caliber rifles and handed it to Ed. While Ed was examining the rifle, Bernice looked out of her shop window to the gas station across the street. Quietly behind her back, Ed had placed a bullet cartridge in the rifle and shot Bernice in the back of the head.

            Later that evening, Bernice’s son and the town’s Deputy Sheriff, Frank Worden was told that the hardware store had been closed all day. Finding that unusual Frank entered the store to find blood on the floor, the cash register gone and receipt for antifreeze. Frank was aware of who the suspect was; he was in the store the day before when Ed had come in inquiring about that antifreeze. Immediately, Frank alerted the Washuara County Sheriff’s office who put out a notice that they were looking for Ed Gein in suspicion of Bernice Worden’s disappearance. The first place they went to find Ed Gein was his home; an old run-down farmhouse on the outskirts of town. When the officers entered the house, they were not prepared for the horrors that lurked inside. Bernice Worden, hung upside down by her ankles on a crossbar and arms tied to her wrists, sliced open and dressed like deer. She was decapitated, her head lying in a nearby bag with hooks going through her ears, ready to be hung as a trophy. And that was not the only gruesome discovery that the officers would later discover. Ed Gein’s house was full of human remains which were fashioned into morbid household items. Refurbished furniture and lamps; masks, gloves, belts and even a mammary vest– all made from human skin. There were also skulls as decorations on his four-poster bed, skull caps used as bowls and boxes of female body parts filled the cramped and tiny rooms. Finally, a call came in that Gein had been taken into custody after being found at a local grocery store (Schechter, 1998a, p. 72). It would be later revealed that most Ed Geins “trophies” were from nine-eleven corpses dug up from various local cemeteries. Thus, began the story of America’s most bizarre and influential murderers of all time. But, was Ed Gein a truly devious and deviant criminal? Or was he the result of a life of social isolation, a fanatically religious and strict mother and an undiagnosed mental illness?

Ed Gein was born on August 27, 1906, the youngest child of George and Augusta Gein. Living on the outskirts of the small town of Plainfield, Wisconsin, the Gein’s were recluses from the rest of society. Ed Gein’s father was an alcoholic, who would spend most of his pay at a local tavern and abusive to both his wife and children and died of liver failure in 1940.

August Gein was a religious extremist who made her home her own self-contained little world. While Ed grew up with his older brother Henry, there would be no companionship that could change the influence of a puritanical mother who would frequently shame her children. She would preach to her two sons about the evils in the world and did everything in her power to keep them away from the hurts of society. She would physically abuse them if they made friends at school; making it clear that they should stay away from those who would turn them from their piety. She would read to her boys nightly from the Bible, quoting scripture and reminding them that society is full of evil, more specifically, that women were sinful. Her most significant proselytization was the Book of Revelations which specifically discusses the Whore of Babylon; a reference she would use to describe corrupt and sinful women. These specific teachings would have a profound influence on her youngest son.  To Ed, his relationship with his mother was the most important relationship he would ever have. When his brother Henry died, and Ed had his mother to himself, and he did everything he could to make her proud of him and doted on her morning through night. Ed loved his mother completely, regardless of whether she reciprocated her feelings or not. In his eyes, his mother was the most pious and magnificent woman in the world. Whenever asked about his mother, Ed would tear up and reply “she was pure goodness(Schechter, 1998b, p. 14).

It was not until his mother passed away on December 29, 1945, that Ed’s descent into madness began. Despite Ed’s strange affect, he was seen in the Plainfield community as an upstanding citizen. Disheveled and often wearing his signature checkered hat, Ed would work frequent odd jobs, functioned as a handyman to the citizens of Plainfield and even worked as a babysitter. He may have always been on the wrong end of a joke, but Ed was a friendly, quiet and kind man. Occasionally, Ed would say something or give a strange look that would make some uncomfortable; but they would just brush it off as Ed being Ed! However, it was shortly after the death of his mother, that Ed began to go to cemeteries with the belief that he “could raise the dead by willpower” (Schechter, 1998c, p.186). This was also the time that Ed Gein began to remove corpses of freshly buried middle-age women—women who reminded him of his mother. Ed would bring the corpses back to his now dilapidated family farm and remove the skin from their bodies. He would use the skin and other parts of the body to construct gloves, leggings, belts, masks and a vest with breasts. Later, he admitted, he would wear them to essentially become his mother.  During Ed Gein’s 1957 police interview, Gein admitted that between 1947-1952 that he exhumed between nine to eleven bodies from three local graveyards. Additionally, when asked why he not only murdered Bernice Worden but, as was later discovered, the murder of Mary Hogan, a popular tavern owner who went missing in 1954, Ed replied that they were “disreputable women with bad reputations” (Ed Gein’s Full Confession, 2019, p 68).

Ed Gein was arraigned in Washuara County Court on one count of first-degree murder. He entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, and was found mentally incompetent and was unfit to stand trial. Ed was sent to the Criminal State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, a maximum-security facility in Wapun, Wisconsin and later sent to Mendota State Hospital in Madison, Wisconsin for his initial psychiatric assessment. It was during his stay in the hospital, that Ed Gein was interviewed by several doctors. During the interviews, he would frequently discuss memory deficits as well auditory and visual hallucinations; stating that he often saw faces in leaves, heard voices and would see buzzards flying over half-burnt trees. Most notable was Ed’s discussion of the motivation to create “a substitute for his mother in the form of a replica that could be kept indefinitely” and showed an “abnormally magnified attachment to his mother” (Schechter 1998d, p 189). The doctors finally diagnosed with Schizophrenia of an undifferentiated type. Schizophrenia is a mental illness whose symptoms can include “delusions, hallucinations, trouble with thinking and concentration, and lack of motivation” (Parekh, 2017). Schizophrenia is also marked by distorted perceptions and disordered and confused thinking.

It would take ten full years for Ed Gein to be declared competent enough to stand trial. On November 14, 1968, Ed Geins trial began and only lasted a week. He was found guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in a psychiatric facility.  He was sent back to Mendota State Hospital to carry out the rest of his days. During his stay in Mendota, Ed was a model patient. He remained quiet, mild-mannered, friendly and often helpful in doing odd jobs around the hospital. In July of 1978, after senility and a long bout of cancer, Ed Gein died of respiratory failure. With only four attendants, Ed Gein was buried next to his mother in Plainfield, Wisconsin.

Ed Gein’s case is a great example of secondary psychopathy and the M’Naghten rule. Secondary psychopathy creates antisocial behavior and is caused by “social disadvantage and other psychopathology” (Huss, 2009a, p 80). Ed clearly had this form of psychopathy considering not only his upbringing in a poor and abusive family but also in his lack of social skills. Moreover, the M’Naghten rule played a key role in sending Ed Gein to a psychiatric hospital for the rest of his life. Insanity relies on the person having a diagnosed mental illness (in this case schizophrenia) and being unable to distinguish between right and wrong (Huss, 2009b, p.103). Furthermore, there is a clear indication that Ed suffered from severe social anxiety and had a very difficult time relating to other people, more specifically, women. Ed’s abnormal devotion to his deceased mother made it difficult for him to have a normal relationship with a woman and he remained a bachelor his whole life. Naturally, of course, there was a public outcry over the guilty by the reasoning of insanity from the people of Plainfield. They firmly believed that Ed could have been devious enough to pretend he had a mental illness. However, after reading Geins confession, I firmly believe that Ed Gein did suffer from a mental illness and that the sentence was appropriate.

Ed Gein is probably one of the most complicated killers I have ever researched. To the residents of Plainfield, Ed was viewed as a kindhearted and always willing to help kind of guy. Although he was a bit strange and remained an outcast, he never gave anyone the impression that he would commit the crimes that he did. While reading his confessions as well as Harold Schechter’s book, it was impossible not to feel some type of sorrow for him.  I would never condone the murder of an innocent person nor the desecration of corpses, however, given Ed’s upbringing, I feel that he was set up for failure. From a sociological perspective, Ed was kept from establishing normal peer relationships growing up and did not have many if any close friends. Peer groups have a significant influence on psychological and social adjustments for individuals (Schaeffer, 2013, p. 261). Peer groups also have an influence on a person’s gender role-something that often comes up frequently in the Ed Gein case. There is no doubt, that aside from the pitiful, sad and lonely person that was Ed Gein, there was a darker side that he could not escape from. With his complex and twisted crimes, it is no wonder the Ed Gein has become one of the most influential killers in American History.ed-gein-680x1024-680x675


Ed Gein Full Confession. (2019, 5 10) pg 68. Retrieved from Serial Killers Ink:

Huss, M. (2009a). Forensic Psychology: Research, Clinical Practice, and Applications. pg. 80. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Huss, M. (2009b). Forensic Psychology: Research, Clinical Practice, and Applications. pg. 103. Malden: Wiley-Blackwell.

Parekh, R. (2017, 7 1). What is Schizophrenia? Retrieved from American Psychiatric Association:

Schaefer, R. (2013). pg. 261 Sociology: A Brief Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Schechter, H. (1998a). Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein the Original “Psycho”. pg.72  New York: Pocket Books.

Schechter, H. (1998b). Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein the Original “Psycho”. pg. 14. New York: Pocket Books.

Schechter, H. (1998c). Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein the Original “Psycho”. pg. 186. New York: Pocket Books.

Schechter, H. (1998d). Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein the Original “Psycho”. pg. 189. New York: Pocket Books.



A Soap Box Moment

Ok. I need to stand on a soapbox for a moment. My speech of “I am going to change the criminal justice system” has begun. Or not? Sometimes I think it’s so far gone that change is impossible. Yet, here I am accumulating student loan debt that probably will not get paid off until I am dead.

Let me be frank here: The justice system sets people up for failure.

Sorry, it does.

I work (currently) as a Drug Screen Coordinator at a rehabilitation clinic for recovering drug addicts. It’s not the most exciting job, but it allows me to get a sneak peek on the crappy court system that these patients go through. Now, I am not going to lie. When I started his job, I was like “fuck drug addicts they did it to themselves.” Yeah, me being judgmental. I learned from it though.

Yes, there are patients who will more than likely be repeating and repeating rehab for years. You can tell the ones that are only there because the court ordered them to be there to avoid jail time and not that they really want to change themselves.

But then there are the ones who are working their asses off, following rules and doing everything they can to start over again. However, the stories I hear piss me off so bad that I would love to just go to court with these people and tell the judge a thing or to (not that thats his/her fault.)

Here are just a few:

A patient was in a court-ordered rehabilitation class. She was wearing grey shorts and got her period. She asked the instructor if she could leave. The instructor told her if she leaves, then she will be marked incomplete. Her choice was just to sit there and bleed through her clothes or leave the class to put in a tampon and have a mark against. She left of course. And at her next court hearing, she had to explain to a room full of people on how she got her period and had to leave.

A patient is a single mother and low income and can’t afford a sitter. She has to come in and do a drug test. She brings her 3-month-old baby to the clinic, and because we are not allowed to watch the baby while she does her drug test, she gets marked incomplete. Meanwhile, there are six staff members who could have easily watched her baby for the 5 minutes it takes her to do her drug screen.

Another patient is ready to complete his rehabilitation with our clinic. He is still on probation and will have to report to his probation officer for drug screens. Mind you, this patient is working a full-time job and getting his shit together. Our clinic is open from 6a-6p so patients who work have time to come in and do their thing. Now he is on probation and they only do drug screen check-ins from 10a-4p. So this guy who is finally working and getting on his feet now has to leave randomly during his workday to see his probation officer. If he doesn’t, well….back to prison.

These are just a few examples of how the justice system sets people up for failure. It’s frankly not fair. One on hand they expect them to better themselves, and on the other hand,  they fuck with their opportunities to get their shit together.

Can this be fixed? I have no idea. But I can tell you, I will do whatever I can to help people recover and get their lives back in order….somehow…..


My New Book

It is small. It took me over a year. But it is done!

Grave Spirits contains a collection of my writing (some published some not) pertaining to death, ancestors, death rites, voodoo and more!

It also contains a bunch of my photography of various cemeteries that I have visited over the years.

If anything! I hope this book makes you a death positive person!

You can purchase it here!




Back in September, I lost a very close friend, teacher, and mentor. I had known him for over 17 years. It was a hard loss. I allowed myself time to grieve. I was able to obtain copies of his writings in hopes to s3e11eea45850e506a164770fcad895cf--cemetery-angels-cemetery-statuesomeday carry on his memory and teachings. And thankfully, I was fortunate enough to let him know how important he was to me before he passed away.

It was not easy for me to lose someone so close to me, and I understood the importance of grief. Making sure that not only I honored his memory, but also making sure I was taking care of myself.

The other night I attended a Witches Ball which held an ancestor ceremony to honor those who have passed. As a death positive advocate, anything that honors and recognizes not only death but the death of those closest to us. This was my first ancestor ritual since the passing of my friend. I was fine up until the point where I had to light a candle on the altar. Then it was like the wound opened up wide.

My tears would not stop flowing. In our circle, we yelled the names of our loved ones. I never thought that it would be my friend’s name coming out of my mouth. Especially since in 2005, when I lost a dear friend to domestic violence, he did a special ritual just for her. He knew how much pain I was in and gathered everyone together to hold a ceremony for a person he didn’t even know. And there I was, lighting a candle and shouting his name.

It broke the flood gates for me. It all came rushing it. Grief is weird like that. Even for someone who acknowledges and appreciates death in all aspects. I understand the nature of grief. It ebbs and flows– but never makes it easier.

I recently had a patient whose grandmother passed away. She was in the office inconsolable. I hugged her and said how sorry I was, but I also told her how important it was that she grieves. A week later she showed up looking cheerful and happy. I asked her how she was feeling. She said that she was doing great. She had taken a second job the day after her grandmother died and had been to busy to grieve. She hadn’t allowed herself to feel the pain of loss. She covered it up by intentionally making herself busy. I reminded her that she needed to take the time to remember and honor her grandmother. That it is unhealthy not grieve.

Why are we so afraid to allow ourselves to feel the pain of loss? The death of one we love is a pain that will never go away. And that pain creeps up out of nowhere. And it sucks. But its what we need to do to honor our loved ones and turn our pain into something so much more.


Your Life is Going Down The Toilet

About the only thing I like about Facebook is when “Memories” pop up. The other day a memory came up from a former friend. It was a memory from 6.5 years ago.

“Girl. What is going on with you? Your life is going down the toilet.”

As I said, she was a former friend.

Her comment probably pissed me off then, but it pissed me off even more now. Seven years ago I was in the midst of a major upheaval of my life. One of those times when your life gets shaken up and you have no idea where you are going to fall.

I was ending a six-year relationship with someone who I thought was “the one.” He broke me financially and emotionally. I was always last in his life, and it hurt. I was tired. I was also experiencing a deep depression and major anxiety. The job that I loved was in jeopardy due to changes and I had no idea what was up and what was down. It was a time of tears, sleepless nights, heartache and fear of the unknown.

On the outside, yeah my life looked like an impending train wreck. It was. But was my life going down the toilet? When we are going through a major shift–does it mean we are flushing our lives away?

No. Absolutely not.

Naturally, when we are in the midst of life chaos, it can feel like our lives are dissolving. Every choice we ever made seems to be under suspicion. We spend time reflecting on what-ifs and why ifs. It’s not that our lives are going down the toilet. It means we are growing!

My relationship ended because I realized who I was and what I wanted in life. I also realized what was triggering my depression and anxiety–and it was a simple fact that I was unhappy. Do I regret the choices I made that brought me to that point? No way.

Regardless of how old you are— you are constantly growing. And with growth comes change. Most often that change is painful. At the moment, it feels like your life is going down the drain and if you will ever stop falling. And then by choices that you make- things fall into place.

No one’s life is ever going down the toilet. Even those who have made bad life choices. I work with patients who are recovering drug addicts. They have lost everything they had because of their choice to do drugs. By society’s view, these people are garbage. They are labeled “crack heads,” “tweakers,” “meth heads.” Yes. They made some fucked up choices. However, when they finally choose to get help and move forward-not only do they grow and acknowledge their past and choices- but they become beautiful people.

Wherever you are in life. Whatever you have done. Whether good or bad were all your choices. But even if you are hanging by a thread–your life is never going down the trash. You are learning, growing and changing. You own that.

Death Denial

bc7df36ec1efdcedd1bae56db709ecf8One major flaw with humans is our ability to deny just about anything. Even when it’s right in front of our faces. Especially death.

After the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic– no one ever discussed it. If it was discussed, it was in a passing comment or a three-sentence paragraph.

Same thing for the 1831 cholera pandemic in England and beyond. After more than 52,000 lives were claimed to cholera- it was never discussed or mentioned.

Oh yes, and the Black Death? The bubonic plague that decimated Europe for three years; again, rarely discussed.

The 1918 flu is never mentioned in textbooks when World War I is discussed; even though it killed more than the actual war itself.

Is it our fear of death that prevents us from actually acknowledging its existence? Even when its everywhere? Are we so afraid to acknowledge our own mortality?

I understand the trauma of seeing people dying every day. Seeing coffins stacked up. Mass graves being dug. But after it’s over…..

I recently had a patient who lost her grandmother. She was a wreck when she came into the office.  I offered my condolences and some advice on keeping healthy during a time of intense grief (I have experienced it way too many times). The following week she came back in, and while she looked tired, she didn’t seem like someone who just lost someone. I asked her the obvious question: How are you doing?

Her response was basically, “I am working two jobs and going to meetings so I can’t think about it.”

I jumped right away into healer mode. I explained to her how bad it was not to acknowledge the death of her grandmother, but also her own grief. Keeping in grief will only cause more damage in the future than actually dealing with it when its there. When I worked in hospice I saw it all the time. Family members not dealing with the reality that their loved one is dying. When death came they would just brush it off. The “we knew it was coming,” quote I heard a thousand times.

What about death is so frightening that when it’s right there we ignore it? Never discuss it. Never want to deal with it. Even those with strong religious and spiritual lives deny the obvious.

We are all dying.

Accepting our own mortality, even in the face of death itself, can not only empower us with the ability to live our lives to the fullest but also give us the strength we need when our loved ones pass away. We are not as fragile as we think we are. Pretending that death will not happen–or, that death happened on a large scale– is only denying our ability to recognize our own mortality.

And as for those who passed away- how horrible is it to just forget them? Forget what happened? Forget how they died? Never discussing it again. Don’t they deserve respect? I was so happy when I hear that the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia was holding a mournful march to honor those who died in the 1918 flu epidemic.  Finally acknowledging not only the victims but also death itself.

Until we can stop denying the obvious- we are never going to truly live.