I have spent the past week in bed battling the worst case of flu I can remember. I crawled out of bed to write a blog due on December 13 (it’s now December 12) only to find that although I made it to my computer I have the stamina of a new born. As such I’ve taken the liberty of reposting an old blog about a meek little old man from Wisconsin who was the basis for many of the serial killers we know from television, books, and movies. Happy holidays everyone.
Vaughn Hardacker here: At some point in a writer’s career they will be asked: Where Do You Get Your Ideas? It’s one of those questions that seems easy to answer until you’re standing before a group or sitting on a panel looking at the faces of an audience. My first impulse is to ask myself What humorous but insightful response can I give? The truth of the matter is that in my case there is only one answer: The real world.
In my novel SNIPER I was influenced by the D. C. sniper killings. In THE FISHERMAN it was Robert Pickton a Vancouver, B.C., killer who lamented that his quest to kill 50 women had come up just short at 49. The motivation for Black Orchid was the Black Dahlia case of 1947.
Surprisingly enough some of crime fiction’s most recognizable serial killers all came from a single source: a relatively unknown and diminutive reclusive named Edward Gein. Born at the turn of the century into the small farming community of Plainfield, Wisconsin, Gein lived a repressive and solitary life on his family homestead with a weak, ineffectual brother and domineering mother who taught him from an early age that sex was a sinful thing. Eddie ran the family’s 160-acre farm on the outskirts of Plainfield until his brother Henry died in 1944 (it is believed that Edward killed his brother, but it has never been proven) and his mother in 1945. When she died her son was a thirty-nine-year-old bachelor, still emotionally enslaved to the woman who had tyrannized his life. The rest of the house, however, soon degenerated into a madman’s shambles. Thanks to federal subsidies, Gein no longer needed to farm his land, and he abandoned it to do odd jobs here and there for the Plainfield residents, to earn him a little extra cash. But he remained alone in the enormous farmhouse, haunted by the ghost of his overbearing mother, whose bedroom he kept locked and undisturbed, exactly as it had been when she was alive. He also sealed off the drawing room and five more upstairs rooms, living only in one downstairs room and the kitchen.
Following her death in 1945, his mental health disintegrated. After Gein was apprehended as a suspect in a 1957 murder, the investigation of his home yielded a highly disturbed man who kept human organs and fashioned clothing and accessories out of body parts. He spent the rest of his life institutionalized, his story fueling the creation of such infamous movie characters as Norman Bates (Psycho), Jame Gumb (Buffalo Bill of The Silence of the Lambs), Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) as well as numerous lesser-known hack and slash horror movies.
Surprising is the fact that when compared to Ted Bundy, Gary Ridgeway (the Green River Killer) and the aforementioned Robert Pickton, Gein was more of a grave robber than a serial killer. He was convicted of two murders.
Under questioning, Gein confessed to killing Bernice Worden and three years earlier, a woman named Mary Hogan. Additionally, he admitted to digging up numerous corpses for cutting off body parts, practicing necrophilia and fashioning masks and suits out of skin to wear around the home. (I am underplaying the horrific extent of Gein’s psychosis but an internet search on him will bring forth the full extent of his illness and resultant crimes.) With that sort of evidence, authorities attempted to connect him to other murders and disappearances from recent years, but were unable to draw any definitive conclusions.
In early 1968, Ed Gein was determined fit to finally stand trial. That November, he was found guilty of the murder of Bernice Worden. However, he was also found insane at the time of the murder, and as such he was recommitted to Central State Hospital.
Save for his attempt to petition for a release in 1974, which was rejected, the mild-mannered Gein made virtually no news while institutionalized. Later that decade, his health failing, he was transferred to the Mendota Mental Health Institute, where he died of cancer and respiratory illnesses on July 26, 1984.
As I write this it becomes obvious to me that there is a lot of truth to the old saying: The truth is stranger than fiction.