1989 book about the Butcher of Plainfield. The Ghoul of Plainfield. The Real Psycho. The Grandfather of Gore. The one and only, Ed Gein. Not a guts and gore true crime and not a full biography.
I'd read a few short items about Gein before and even knew a guy who worked at the Mendota Mental Health Institute when Gein was there. But, I knew little about the Gein and what he did.
Gein did some incredibly horrible things but he killed "only" two people. Any murder is one too many. But, Gein's murder count of two in 1957 seems quaint in comparison to the many serial killers and mass murderers with victim counts into the double digits. The horror is what he did with the bodies of the two women he killed and all the corpses he dug up from local cemeteries.
The various film versions of Gein are not always too far out from reality. Gein did use the skin and skeletal remains of many people to create masks, belts, leggings, and torso pieces. He would wear the remains around his house and mounted the faces on his walls. His soup bowl was the top half of a human skull.
Gein's childhood and life follow the pattern of many serial killers and the "quiet, and lonely troubled killer". His father was a drunken layabout and his mother was a religious and sex wacko. Gein was no genius and socially inept. He was a great babysitter for smaller kids. He had a strong reputation as a hired hand. He would creep people out with his weird smile and behavior. His was caught after he murdered his second victim at her hardware store. Days before the killing he was questioning her on whether she would be open during deer season (when the town would empty out into the woods to hunt). A trail of blood from the store's counter to the back door alerted the victim's son to trouble and the son then found a handwritten receipt with Gein's name on it.
I kinda wonder how much you can trust Gein's truthfulness. On some issues he was very forthcoming. He admitted to the body parts and pieces around the house. It took a while to get him to fess up to the murders - he would still claim one killing was an accident with a rifle he was inspecting. One topic I doubt his veracity on is whether he was a necrophiliac or cannibal.
Gein's mother was a nut who thought unmarried women were evil, most men were evil, and all sex outside procreation was vile and evil. Whenever Gein talked to a woman it would bring a very forceful lecture from his mother. His habit of dressing as women - literally so because he was in their freaking skin - seemed to have a sexual aspect. Heck, using a skull as a bowl would seem to fit cannibalism already so why wouldn't he eat some liver and heart? (Stories of Gein sharing human meat chili with his neighbors is false.) But, Schechter is adamant about Gein not doing either.
Schechter uses some purple prose with descriptions of evil, and sinister, and dark. Yet, he stays away from sensationalism. In fact he spends a good deal of time on the press madness about Gein. Plainfield was a town of less than 1,000 people (2010 population was 862) and was flooded with local and national reporters. Those reporters would print most anything a local resident said. Rumor, exaggeration and speculation found their way into print. Off the cuff statements were printed up. Other people would claim to be Gein's best pal. One woman said she was his fiance and dated him for years and then recanted after going to press.
Schechter also covers, to a lesser extent, the surviving victims. Maybe 40+ years made it tough to track down any willing interview subjects. Gein's actions made Plainfield notorious and many people were left wondering whether their relatives's graves had been robbed. Grave exhumation was a very touchy topic for the town residents and the Sheriff's office.
The Sheriff himself was overwhelmed. The Waushara County Sheriff's Department was three people. How do you investigate two murders, multiple grave robberies, perform a full forensic search of a house and 200 acres of land, and guard the house 24 hours a day? The Sheriff couldn't pay for all the work that needed to be done. The State of Wisconsin did not have enough money budgeted to cover many of the expenses.
1. Gein may have killed his brother. Gein's older brother, Henry, died in 1944. Ed claimed Henry was missing after caught in a prairie fire. But, Ed led searchers straight to the body and the body did not show much evidence of burns but was found in a burned field. I don't recall if the author wrote about an autopsy and checking for smoke inhalation.
2. Robert Bloch used to live in Milwaukee. He and his wife were living with her parents not far from Plainfield as the wife had recovered from an illness I don't think I ever read one of his novels.
3. After Gein was caught there was hope he may be the guilty party for several disappearances around the state. The book discuses the Wechler girl's disappearance in 1947 in Jefferson. The girl went missing after being dropped off at her house after school. There was a recent follow up article in the Jefferson newspaper on that disappearance. Other disappearances discussed include a 15-year-old in La Crosse.
4. Plainfield is South of Stevens Point and just off Interstate 39. I go through Stevens Point one or two times a year to get to some of Boy #1's mountain bike races. Gein was buried by his mother and father in Plainfield in 1989. I've thought about touring through there to see if there are any Gein sites. I have not done so.