Ed Gein, the man who inspired cult classic movies like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is an infamous American murderer who becomes the central focus of the MGM+ documentary series Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein. In the history of murderous atrocities, some true accounts of events are capable of shaking our very foundation of trust and understanding. The four-part documentary series is a chilling exploration of one of the most notorious criminal cases in the history of mankind. Through speculative discussion, retrieved tapes of Ed Gein, and some really disturbing graphic images containing Ed’s horrific deeds, we are able to unlock the secrets of the past and take a deep dive into the untold stories of Ed Gein.
Episode 1 opened with Harold Schechter, an Ed Gein historian and biographer, talking about his growing fascination with Ed Gein ever since he found that Gein was the inspiration behind famous films like Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Taking a closer look at Norman Bates from Psycho, we can recognize the uncanny resemblance between this fictional character and the Butcher of Plainfield, Edward Theodore Gein. Both of them had an intense amount of obsession with corpses, and an especially profound and questionable affection for their mothers.
Who was Bernice Worden? How did Ed Gein kill her?
Ed Gein was one of the most horrific murderers and body snatchers in American criminal history. His unsettling bond with his mother and his involvement in necrophilia had always intensified his criminal record. As episode 1 progressed, we were introduced to an archived recording of Ed Gein giving an interview to the lawyers. This recording was unearthed in 2019. As Harold Schechter played the recordings, we heard the judge, Boyl Clark, and the district attorney, Earl Kileen, interviewing the Plainfield butcher, Edward Gein, after the arrest.
It was the deer hunting season of 1957 in Plainfield when deputy sheriff Frank Worden’s mother, a 58-year-old woman named Bernice Worden, disappeared. Frank found a blood stain in his hardware store and immediately informed the authorities. As the investigation took place, the authorities found Bernice’s corpse at Gein Farm. The headless corpse of Bernice was hanging upside down, just like an animal in a slaughterhouse, and it was cut open from her genitals to her abdomen. This horrific scene communicated the twisted depths of Ed Gein’s psyche and illustrated his alignment with a satanic mentality. The more the episode delved deeper into his activities and his past, the more it became evident that his troubling background and poor parental supervision didn’t allow him to have a positive environment, driving him to commit horrible crimes that were hard to describe.
Who was Ed Gein? Why was he called a body snatcher?
Jooyoung Lee, a homicide researcher at Toronto University; forensic scientist N. G. Berrill; and Scott Bowser, biographer of Ed Gein, discussed the backstory of the murderer. Born in 1906 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, Ed grew up in a very unhealthy environment which perhaps took a toll on his mental health from the early days. He had an alcoholic father named George Philip and an extremely religious and Lutheran mother named Augusta Wilhelmine.
Ed also had a brother named Henry, and both the siblings were bizarrely devoted to their mother. It was not a regular mother-son bond, but the Gein siblings used to worship their mother as though she were the purest being on Earth. Their mother, Augusta, was dissatisfied with her alcoholic husband. She asked him to relocate to Plainfield and establish their farm. During this time, Augusta instilled in her sons the belief that all women are promiscuous and agents of the Devil, which sowed the seed of their misogynistic mindset. However, while Henry was obedient to his mother merely like a son, Ed had developed an Oedipus complex. Nevertheless, it’s speculative and uncertain whether this disturbing attraction was mutual between him and his mother.
On a regular basis, Augusta instructed them in sections of the Holy Bible and sometimes the Book of Revelation. She even forbade them from making friends, resulting in Ed and Henry’s introverted nature and antisocial behavior. These regulations had already pushed the darker tendencies within Ed. However, while Henry intended to stay away from this madness, Ed grew intensely attached to his mother. During this time, Ed harbored a deep-seated jealousy of his brother and didn’t want Henry to remain close to his mother.
Consequently, the jealousy led to a tragic incident in 1944. Ed Gein, who was burning marsh vegetation on their farm, was somehow responsible for the fire that broke out on their property. Even though the fire was brought under control in time, Ed told the concerned authorities that his brother had gone missing. Later, the search party found out that Henry, who was 43 years old by then, was dead. Despite the cause of death being revealed to be a heart attack, according to some speculation by the biographers Harold and Scott, it could be a murder committed by Ed Gein. The bruises found on Henry’s forehead indicated an altercation between the two brothers, which eventually resulted in Henry’s death. Probably, it was Ed who deliberately killed Henry to keep his mother for himself.
However, after Henry’s death, Augusta suffered a stroke, fell extremely ill, and eventually passed away in 1945. During her bedridden stage, Ed took genuine care of her, but the ultimate passing of his mother scarred him emotionally. Though it was not at all confirmed, many have speculated that he was desperate to resurrect his mother. There were a lot of speculations that indicated that Gein might have exhumed her mother’s corpse and had developed an inappropriate attachment to it. However, Ed Gein had always denied exhuming his mother, and neither the Plainfield town nor the documentary makers gained the permission for the exhumation of Augusta.
As we take a closer look at Ed Gein’s criminal activities and his obsession with body snatching from the graveyard, it doesn’t seem impossible for him to have desires to be sexually engaged with his mother’s corpse. Spanning several years, he had been involved in ghoulish practices as body snatching and experimenting with corpses in his apartment. He was mutilating the corpses to make a fashion lampshade out of their skin, upholstery for his chair, and even cutting their reproductive organs to use them for his pleasure. He even used human skulls as a vessel to eat his meals. There were some indescribably horrific things including several human skulls, face masks made out of skin, which were discovered in his apartment after his arrest. The Nazi atrocities had always been the source of inspiration for Gein, who became obsessed with the gore and horrific pictures depicted in pulp magazines. At the end of episode 1, we are left with the lingering question of whether the killing of Bernice Worden was the only murder committed by Gein. In the upcoming episodes of Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein, we may further explore other murderous activities of Ed Gein, unraveling the mystery surrounding his status as a suspected serial killer.
MGM+ documentaries bring forth some efficient storytelling through archival footage, recordings, and interviews. In this documentary, the creators didn’t shy away from displaying gore and horrific images, even scarier than those in horror movies. The compelling aspect of the documentary series was its captivating storytelling and the cinematic elements that established a gloomy tone. The documentary successfully offered us the experience that most horror and thriller lovers crave. Psycho: The Lost Tapes of Ed Gein, brought forth the chilling account of America’s most horrific murderer, Ed Gein, making us ponder that this man could have been our neighbor or coworker, hiding behind the facade of a gentleman.