Ed Gein is possibly one of the most disturbing and heinous serial killers of all time. His grotesque and perverted views of women and the world sparked killings that seem too terrifying to be real. The question is: are serial killers born this way or are they created? In Ed’s life, it’s almost certain that his abusive and unsettling childhood played a role in who he would become—and his mother, Augusta Wilhemine Gein, was the one who arguably shaped his sinister personality. 

Later becoming the “inspiration” as Norman Bates’s mother in Alfred Hitchcock’s movie Psycho, Augusta instilled fear, violence, and hatred into Ed, which would lead him to murder at least two people, with five or more suspected, and rob the graves of many more. How exactly did she create the monster we know today as the “The Butcher of Plainfield”? Let’s take a deeper look into the twisted world of the Gein family. 

Augusta Wilhelmine Gein Was A Religious Fanatic

Born Augusta Wilhelmine Lehrke in 1878 in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, Ed’s mother was one of eight children born to German immigrants Amalia and Frederick Lehrke. The Lehrke’s their home in Prussia during the great Old Lutheran exodus of the mid-19th century and moved to the Midwest, her family was very conservative and resisted change. Augusta grew up with Old Lutheran beliefs that every single human act and thought was derived from sin and that all humans were doomed for eternal damnation in hell. 

It was on Dec. 11, 1900, that Augusta married a man by the name of George Phillip Gein, whose mother was also a German immigrant. Not long after, they gave birth to their first son, Henry George Gein. It was at this time that Augusta realized she had made a mistake marrying George, however, due to her deep-rooted religious beliefs, leaving her husband was out of the question. Although George was a “working man,” he could never hold down a job and alcoholism gripped his life. At this point, Augusta began to resent her husband and subsequently all men. 

Stuck in a life of fear and increasingly fanatical religious beliefs, Augusta went on to have yet another son (although she had always dreamed of having a daughter)—Edward Theodore Gein was born in August of 1906. Ed’s mother was determined to make sure that her youngest son would not grow up to be like other men and became overprotective and overbearing of Ed, creating a bizarre mother-son relationship where he completely worshipped his mother

She Was A Cruel Mother To Ed Gein

In 1915, Augusta picked up her family and moved to an isolated farmhouse outside Plainfield, WI, when Ed was just 8-years-old. It was her attempt to be as far away from the immorality of the city and the sinners that resided in it. This farmhouse would end up being the setting for his bizarre and twisted upbringing, and later where his monstrous crimes would take place. Both Ed and his brother Henry were forbidden to leave the farm except to go to Roche-a-Cri grade school where he was known as an excellent reader. 

Upon returning from school every day, Augusta would force her sons to read bible passages while enforcing the beliefs that women and drinking were two of the evilest things to exist. Augusta would also command her sons to remain virgins throughout their entire lives because sex was a sin that would send them straight to eternal damnation. 

In addition to the frightening and unsettling home life with abusive parents, both Gein brothers were forbidden to make any friends. If either Augusta or George found out that they were talking to anyone outside the family, they were reprimanded and beaten. This ghastly childhood experience left Ed sexually confused and created a deeply toxic relationship with his mother. 

When Ed’s father passed away in 1940, Augusta and her sons remained on the farm where they worked as local handymen. Then, in 1944, Henry died of suspicious causes, leaving Ed alone with his mother on the farm. Augusta suffered her first stroke in late 1944 and began to quickly deteriorate. Soon after, she suffered her second stroke in 1945, which would lead to her death. It was at this point that Ed’s behavior turned diabolical while still holding onto the obsessive thoughts of his mother. 

Ed Gein Memorialized Her Life

the headstone for Ed Gein, the serial killer
(Bryanwake/Wikimedia Commons)

After Augusta died, Ed boarded up his mother’s bedroom and sitting rooms, making them “museums.” On Augusta’s gravestone, Ed bizarrely had the word “Mother” engraved with her birth and death year. Alone for the first time in his entire life, Ed’s legend as a depraved serial killer and grave robber began. 

Eighteen months after Augusta passed away, Ed began to make nighttime visits to his mother’s and nearby graves. Eventually, the demonic Ed would dig up his mother’s grave and remove her head, which he took home to “shrink” and memorialize in his home. Soon after, he started to dig up other graves of women around his mother’s age, so he could collect their skin and body parts—Ed wanted to make a “skin suit” to wear so that he could essentially “become his mother.”

As if these behaviors weren’t gruesome enough, Ed also scouted, stalked, and murdered women that resembled or reminded him of his mother. After suspicions of missing people around town arose around Ed in 1957, police searched Ed’s farm where they made the disgusting and disturbing findings of both Augusta and his other victims. Deemed “insane,” Ed would spend the next ten years in an asylum. In 1974, Ed would file petitions claiming that he was mentally competent and should be released—each petition was denied. 

On July 26, 1984, Ed died in the geriatric ward of the hospital from cancer, dementia, and respiratory failure. He was laid to rest the next day in a coffin between his brother and his mother at the Plainfield Cemetery. 

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