The Story Behind The Real Leatherface
Updated: Jul 12
With the brand-new Texas Chainsaw Massacre now available to watch on Netflix, I thought now would be as good a time as any to re-visit the real-life story and serial killer that inspired Tobe Hooper’s original 1974 slasher The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. As creepy as Leatherface is, I feel the real story and the killer behind it are far more terrifying than anything that could be put in a horror film. So, let’s take a look at real life story of The Butcher of Plainfield.
For those of you who are not familiar with the back story behind one of Hollywood’s most iconic slasher characters, Leatherface, Hooper drew inspiration from Edward Theodore Gein (also known as Ed Gein) and his gruesome crimes back in the 1950s. Gein was also the inspiration behind other horror icons such as Norman Bates from Psycho and Jame Gumb A.K.A Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. Pretty easy to understand why when you find out the extent of his crimes.
Who Was Ed Gein?
Ed Gein was born August 27th 1906 in La Crosse County, Wisconsin to Augusta Wilhelmine Gein and George Gein. He was the youngest of two boys being born after his brother Henry George Gein. It was far from an ideal loving family environment in the Gein household- his father was an alcoholic who his mother hated and decided to vent her frustrations by being verbally abusive to both her sons, Ed in particular. They lived on a 155-acre farm in Plainfield, Wisconsin that was seemingly cut off to the outside world. Augusta took advantage of the farms isolation by turning away outsiders that could negatively influence her sons. Ed spent most of his time doing chores on the farm and only left to attend school. To make matters worse, his mother was said to punish him if he attempted to make friends with anyone outside his immediate family. This combined with the unfortunate living environment and the fact his mother was incredibly religious lead Ed to developing strange behaviour and little to no proper social skills.
His father passed away April 1st 1940 from heart failure following years of alcohol abuse. May 16th 1944 his brother Henry died in mysterious circumstances following a fire that got out of control on the farm. Although Gein reported his brother missing to the police, he was able to lead them directly to the burned body when they arrived. Despite bruising being found on the victim’s head, police dismissed any possibility of foul play and the county coroner officially listed asphyxiation as Henry’s cause of death. Ed and his mother know lived on the farm alone and following a stroke shortly after Henry’s death that left her near enough paralyzed, Ed devoted himself to looking after her full time. December 29th 1945 Augusta Gein died at the age of 67 leaving Ed devastated, according to biographer and writer Harold Schechter, he had "lost his only friend and one true love. And he was absolutely alone in the world." In subsequent years, Gein cordoned off the areas of the house that his mother had used most frequently, preserving them as something of a shrine.
Following the death of his mother, Gein inherited the family farm. He received a farm subsidy from the federal government in 1951 and earnt extra money from odd jobs and handyman work around town. In turn, these odd jobs would have most likely introduced him to hardware store owner Bernice Worden, who Gein would later murder.
November 16th 1957, Plainfield Hardware Store owner Bernice Worden disappeared. Her son (and Deputy Sheriff) Frank Worden came into the store later that day to find the cash register open and blood on the floor. Gein had been seen in the store earlier that day and a Plainfield resident had recalled the hardware store truck leaving the rear of the property around 9.30 that morning. Further investigations revealed a sales slip for a gallon of anti-freeze that morning for Ed Gein, this was the last receipt Worden had written before her disappearance.
That evening Gein was arrested at Westfield Grocery Store and Waushara County Sheriff’s Department was sent to search Gein’s farm and the surrounding area. Upon their search a deputy came across the grizzly discovery of Bernice Worden’s body- she had been fatally shot then decapitated. She was found in Gein’s shed hung upside down by her legs with a crossbow at her ankles and ropes around her wrist, her torso was “dressed out like a deer”. Unfortunately for Waushara County Sheriff’s Department, this was just the beginning…
Gein’s farm was subsequently dubbed the ‘House of Horrors’ following police searches that discovered various other body parts as well as clothing and house décor made from various human body parts. Authorities found the following items after carrying out a lengthy search on the property.
A waste basket made from skin.
Whole human bones.
Fragments of human and animal bones.
Skulls on Gein’s bedposts.
Fingernails from females.
A belt made from female nipples.
Bowls made from skulls.
A corset made from a female torso than had been skinned from shoulders to waist.
Several chairs upholstered with skin.
A young girl’s dress with the vulvas of two females, estimated to have been around fifteen years old.
Nine masks made from skin, most taken from female corpses.
The skulls of ten females, some with the top removed/sawn off.
Various human organs in the refrigerator.
A pair of leggings made from skin.
A set of lips on a widow shade drawstring.
Nine vulvae in a shoe box.
A lampshade made from skin
Bernice Worden’s heart in a plastic bag next to Gein’s kitchen stove.
Bernice Worden’s whole head in a burlap sack.
Further searches also revealed a second victim of Ed Gein- Mary Hogan, a tavernkeeper in the town of Pine Grove who went missing December 8th 1954. A mask made from the skin of her face was found in a paper grocery bag and her skull was found in a box.
All this evidence was detailed, photographed and logged accordingly and destroyed shortly after.
The Aftermath of Gein's House of Horrors
When questioned Gein admitted killing both Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan but plead not guilty by reason of insanity. He was also a suspect in several other unsolved cases in Wisconsin around the same time, including the disappearance of Evelyn Grace Hartley in 1953, however police never found enough evidence to link them to him. Further questioning also revealed Gein regularly made trips to three local graveyards to exhume recently buried bodies of women that mostly resembled his mother.
He admitted that between 1947 and 1952, he had made as many as 40 nocturnal visits to three local graveyards whilst in a daze-like state. On the majority of those visits he admitted coming out of his daze while in the cemetery, left the grave in good order and went home empty handed. However, on other occasions he would dig up the grave of a recently deceased middle-aged woman that he thought resembled his mother Augusta and take them home. Upon arriving home, he would then tan her skin and use them to make various items. Gein even took police to several of the graves he had exhumed. Whilst he denied engaging in any sort of sexual activity with the bodies, he later recalled in an interview that “They smelled too bad”, he did admit to various mutilations and removal of various body parts and organs. In fact, shortly after his mother’s death in 1945, Gein had begun construction of a ‘woman suit’ to keep his mother alive by becoming her so to speak.
Gein was put on trial late November 1957 and was found guilty of one count of murder in the first degree, due to financial issues at the time prosecutors only pursued prosecution for the murder of Bernice Worden. However, Gein was found mentally incompetent meaning he was committed to a State mental hospital for the criminally insane instead of being sent to prison. The house and Gein’s possessions were set to be auctioned off end of March 1958, there was rumours of the house and land it stood on becoming a tourist attraction after the case gained worldwide notoriety. The house was destroyed by a fire early morning of March 20th, arson was suspected but never proven. He spent the remainder of his life in a mental hospital and died due to respiratory failure secondary to lung cancer July 26th 1984 at the age of 77. He now resides in Plainfield Cemetery in an unmarked grave between his parents and brother.
There you have it horror fans, the real life story and crimes of the monster that partly inspired such horror greats such as Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, American Horror Story, The Silence of the Lambs, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and many more. As scary as some films, books and tv shows can be, will there ever be anything more terrifying than knowing what one human being is capable of doing to another?