While not technically a serial killer, the terror Ed Gein wrought throughout the Plainfield, Wisconsin, area has been fodder for American nightmares ever since.
Upon his capture by authorities for the murder of two women, Gein admitted to a whole slew of unimaginable practices committed after digging up the graves of recently deceased middle-aged women whom he thought bore a resemblance to his beloved dead mother. Found in his shed were keepsakes and personal ornamentation Gein had fashioned from the bodies of his victims, including death masks, lampshades of stretched human skin, salted genitalia in a box, a “woman suit” which Gain donned when pretending to be female, and an “armchair” constructed out of actual human arms.
Given the aforementioned horrors, it’s easy to see how this one real man could have influenced some of cinema’s most recognizable mad men. Norman Bates (Psycho) inherited Gein’s mommy-complex, Leatherface (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre) eponymously references Gein’s death mask obsession, whereas the cannibalistic Buffalo Bill appears among the serial killers portrayed in Oscar-winning The Silence of the Lambs.
After his arrest, he was immediately deemed mentally insane to a degree that prevented his trial for decades. When he finally did face a jury, it took them only one week to convict him, ensuring his incarceration in various state mental institutions until his death in 1984.
Gein’s body was laid to rest in the Gein family plot only a few meters from the original burial sites of some of the corpses he’d previously exhumed. Visitors had taken to chipping off pieces of his headstone until the entire slab was stolen in 2000. A year later, the tombstone was found thousands of miles away in Seattle, and returned to Wisconsin, though it presently resides in a Waupaca museum for safe keeping. His burial is currently marked by flowers, flanked on either side by the graves of his mother and brother.
For the morbidly fanatical, the Gein family land can still be located in Plainfeild, though none of the buildings remain after an act of arson – occasionally attributed to Plainfield’s authorities – leveled “the place of evil,” effectively preventing the farm from becoming another morally dubious tourist attraction.
Know Before You Go
I-35 exit 136. East on Hwy 73, then an immediate left (north) on 5th Ave. to the Cemetery. Ed is buried next to his mom; look for the "Gein" headstones.