A novel about Wisconsin killer Ed Gein

Author Frank Ladd is Reimagining the Life and Crimes of Ed Gein as a Novel

Wisconsin serial killer and grave robber Ed Gein’s deviant acts are the subject of author Frank Ladd’s first novel.
Author Frank Ladd with the Ed Gein house in the background
Author Frank Ladd with the Ed Gein house in the background, via @frankwladd

I’ve been researching and writing about Ed Gein a long time. I answer questions from visitors all over the world interested in Gein, some hoping to dig up additional facts to flesh out their school reports. If fact, I recently learned that my work is apparently being taught in at least one Canadian high school classroom. For better or worse, that will probably be the pinnacle of my achievement.

I am fascinated by this particular ghoul because his story is horrific, tragic, and, most importantly, he’s local – a gruesome campfire story that really happened right in my own backyard. This isn’t ghosts or goatman. Ed Gein really exhumed freshly buried corpses and filled his farmhouse with the creations he made from those remains.

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While there is still much mystery surrounding the case, it’s a story over 60 years old and there seems to be little new to add. Gein admitted to two murders, and was only tried and convicted of one. Yet there is evidence, including unidentified body parts found amongst his collection, that he may have killed least several other young women. Two hunters who went missing in 1951, along with their entire truck, may be buried somewhere on the Gein property. Some even claim to know where, though most of those stories come second or third hand these days.

Then there is the cauldron that hit the auction block a few years ago with a dubious story that can never be confirmed because anyone who could is long dead.

The Real Ed Gein

I thought there was nothing left to get excited about when it comes to Ed Gein, until I stumbled onto an Instagram account run by Frank Ladd, a writer who set his sights on the Butcher of Plainfield as the subject of his first novel.

Ladd’s account @therealedgein showcases “research on Ed Gein and Plainfield, Wisconsin in 1957 from my novel in progress.” Posts include vintage photos and relics of Gein and Plainfield history, which would be enough to get my attention. But it’s the captions, Ladd’s inspection of a scene in which the object or location in the photo may have been involved in Gein’s story, that drew me in.

Of course, Ed Gein has inspired numerous books, movies and other media over the years. But the historical fiction Ladd is constructing feels different, deeper – a mold-covered and moth-eaten thing exhumed from the past, still stinking of damp earth and worms. The combination of photos and prose with each post captures what feels like an authentic and eerily intimate moment, the isolation and desperation of small town life in mid-century rural Wisconsin that both enabled and drove Gein to seek companionship with the deceased.

This post, written from the perspective of Waushara County Sheriff Art Schley (whose abuse of Gein during interrogation caused the killer’s initial confession to be ruled inadmissable):

Map of Plainfield, Wisconsin showing the location of Ed Gein's property and Worden'shardware store

The western bite of the county felt like a lost cause. The great dead heart of Wisconsin—Sheriff Schley had heard the old saying and found little reason to argue with it. Plainfield put on a good show with its shops and diner and crumbling theater, but the Opera House had closed a decade ago. Same for the Mitchell House. Two filling stations counted for something, he supposed. Worden’s sold most of what notions folks might need, and Gamble’s carried the rest. The bank still gave out subsistence loans. Plainfield scratched out just enough livelihood to call itself a town.

But drive six miles west and the farms sagged. Fields browned with decay. A scatter of turkey vultures kited in the distance, late for their yearly migration, stalking the scent of death. If he kept on county trunk D into Adams county, the pine barrens and wild marsh would swallow him.

Here is another example – Ed’s perspective of his mother’s room which he sealed off after her death, and the grave directly in front of the Gein family plot in Plainfield Cemetery that Ed robbed. The grave is still empty today, though the headstone marking what was intended to be Eleanor Adams’ final resting place remains.

Ed Gein house

The summer kitchen opened to the kitchen proper. Vines and berries on the wallpaper—that’s Ma. Her old lace curtains twitched in the early winter draft. This would always be her house. We kept it for her. How many times she fried tongue or creamed peas at that cook stove, we didn’t care to reckon.

A knot in the board nailed across the hall door showed into the parlor. Her rocking chair didn’t move an inch. Ma was stubborn. We’d stood at her grave until our knees locked and neck ached for a week from all the concentrating and focusing our powers on her cold body. She refused to rise. The woman next plot over was appealing, though. We’d felt something. Maybe the ground was softer there, now that we recall. Early spring of ’46 and still brutal cold.

Here’s another:

Ed Gein wearing lipstick

We lit a candle by Ma’s cloudy mirror. Unwrapped the secret we’d borrowed from Georgia—found among her oddments and sundries, the powders and scenty waters laid atop her dresser. Soft wax packed in a bullet shell. We unscrewed the base and a round stick rose like butter, red for a tart’s lips and dark as dried blood. Tasted of burning fat. Bitter as wormwood. We slid the lipstick across our mouth: a bright slippery gash. It was still our face staring back. A wash of moon through sooted lace mottled our skin with shadow, like the tattooed savages we’d read about in magazines, island tribes who ate their own.

You’ll notice throughout the posts that anytime Gein is referring to himself, Ladd uses “we” instead of “I” – an interesting choice I’m eager to explore.

With his work, Ladd is weaving the historical details and desolate reality of life in Plainfield into a compelling narrative of Ed Gein’s state of mind as he committed the crimes that still scar the town and its people. I feel like I can swipe a finger through the dust and grime accumulating on the garbage piled up in Gein’s house, and smell the mildew on the discarded human remains mouldering within.

If these posts are any indication of what to expect from the novel, I’ll be first in line for the pre-order.

Follow @therealedgein to keep up on Frank Ladd’s work and Ed Gein research.

The Swim Reaper

The Swim Reaper: Death Goes to the Beach

Death enjoys some fun in the sun in these hilarious reminders to stay safe at the beach.

Making a megalodon

Making a Megalodon

Artist Gary Staab builds a life-size replica of a medgalodon for the National Museum of Natural History.

“You’re gonna need a bigger building.”

In May a life-size replica of a megalodon went on display at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. To recreate the massive prehistoric shark, the museum called on “paleo artist” Gary Staab, who has spent decades creating ancient creatures and human ancestors for museum exhibits.

This short video goes behind the scenes to show the process of breathing life back into the megalodon.

Paleo artist Gary Staab working on a megalodon for the National Museum of National History
Paleo artist Gary Staab working on a megalodon for the National Museum of National History

Target Halloween decorations

Hyde and Eek Boutique: Target Unveils New Halloween Decor

A peek at the ghoulish new Halloween decor coming this fall from Target.

It’s mid-July and nearly 100 degrees in the hot summer sun…but you and me, we’re definitely thinking about Halloween. Target is getting a jump on the season too, it seems, releasing a peak at this year’s new Halloween decor.

Target’s Halloween offerings have been really great in the last few years, and I usually have a long wish list. This year is no different, with a variety of monstrous plants, tombstones, and other ghoulish goodies that would seem right in home in Tim Burton’s Halloween Town or in the dark corners of the Addams Family mansion.

Here are some of my favorites:

Skull pineapple Halloween decor

Coffin Halloween decor

Ghoulish Garden Halloween decor

Ghoulish Garden Gravestone Halloween decor

Howling wolf statue Halloween decor

Ophelia Payne gravestone Halloween decor

Ghoulish Garden Halloween decor

Ouija board tray Halloween decor

Skeleton DJ Halloween decor

Ghoulish Garden Halloween decor

Skeleton flamingo Halloween decor

Vintage skull computer Halloween decor

Talking skull in cloche Halloween decor

Ghoulish Garden Halloween decor

See more right here.

Halloween store meme

UFOs in Dundee

July 2019 Newsletter: Wisconsin’s UFO Capital of the World

A look at the bizarre history of a small town in Wisconsin with an unusually high number of UFO sightings.

According to data from the National UFO Reporting Center, Wisconsin ranks 23rd for UFO sightings in the United States. An unknown object witnessed in rural Barron, WI in 1934 inspired Coral Lorenzen to pioneer UFO research. And there are three individual UFO festivals held around the state every year in locations known to have an unusually high number of UFO sightings.

Of those three places, one area in particular is perhaps the most peculiar.

UFOs Over UFO Daze

On the evening of July 17, 2004, a crowd was gathered at a tavern on the shore of Long Lake in Dundee, Wisconsin for the annual UFO Daze festival hosted by local UFO researcher Bill Benson. UFO enthusiasts have been gathering here by the hundreds to share their experiences and hoping to spot something strange in the sky since 1988. But this particular night would be different.

When the hot and humid summer day gave way to night, many of the day’s visitors remained to see if anything unusual would show up in the night sky. It was near midnight when excited murmurings from the crowd turned all eyes to the sky.

Something was coming.

“What I remember first about the experience was the bluish green light,” attendee Noah Voss wrote in his book UFO Wisconsin. “From the absentee stars I observe what seems to be perhaps a triangle shape.”

The object passed low and silent over the crowd with a Y-shaped pattern of lights, and disappeared over the tree line.

Whatever it was the crowd at UFO Daze witnessed that night, it was not an isolated incident. Mysterious orbs of flashing lights and strange objects in the sky are not uncommon in the area, and have turned more than a few skeptics into believers.

There is a long history of unexplained sightings over Long Lake and nearby Dundee Mountain, and Bill Benson is eager to share it with anyone who asks.


Spheres of light filmed over Long Lake by UFO Daze attendees on July 22, 2002

Benson’s UFO Headquarters

Bill’s extraterrestrial-themed tavern, Benson’s Hide-a-Way, may be the only place in Wisconsin where you can report a UFO sighting, see an alien in a jar, and get a killer fish fry on a Friday night. Alien posters, UFO models, tinfoil hats, and inflatable little green men adorn the interior. There is a scrapbook at the bar full of glowing circles set against a black backdrop – unidentified flying objects photographed in the area by Bill’s friend Tim Hildebrandt, who spent many nights with his cameras on the summit of Dundee Mountain capturing those images.

Benson’s is located in the heart of the picturesque Kettle Moraine State Forest, an area known for hiking, camping, and fishing. It seems an unlikely setting for flying saucers and alien abductions. Nevertheless, decades of strange happenings have lead locals to proclaim it the “UFO Capital of the World.”

Visitors have come from around the globe to get a glimpse of something otherworldly hovering over the rural community, and they congregate at the Hide-a-Way.

UFO photos
Bill Benson’s collection of UFO photos, including a crop circle that appeared in the reeds in Long Lake in 1995.

Bill’s unusual interest began in the late 1940s, he said in a recent interview. When he was a child, crop circles appeared in an oat field about four miles from his home. The farm was owned by relatives of Bill’s in an area near Dundee known as the jersey flats.

Later, during his time serving in the US military in Vietnam, he personally witnessed a large bright light moving unnaturally in the distant sky while on guard duty one night.

“I saw a strange orange light dancing off in right angles, flashing quickly, twisting and moving around rapidly,” he told the Fond du Lac reporter in 1993.

But for Bill, the seminal moment came in 1985 when a circular object hovering near his neighbor’s farm on Vista Drive kept frightening the cows out of the pasture and into the barn. Another neighbor witnessed the event from his car while driving down the road.

This incident prompted Benson, along with his friend and radio personality Robert “UFO Bob” Kuehn, who claimed to maintain ongoing telepathic communication with an extraterrestrial named Eveata from the Plaidian star system (Eveata liked to visit and catch Green Bay Packers games), to hold the first UFO Daze as a safe place for others who had similar experiences to share their stories.

Over the years, locals have reported glowing orbs hovering over the summit of Dundee Mountain, sometimes being chased by US Air Force jet craft or helicopters. In 1995 a crop circle inexplicably appeared in the reeds near Benson’s. Formations of lights have been seen over the lake, and even flickering from the depths beneath.

It’s been 31 years since the first UFO Daze, and it is still a popular excuse to craft intricate tinfoil hats. Benson’s enthusiasm for the subject matter is known worldwide.


A triangular object filmed over Long Lake by UFO Daze attendees on July 17, 2004

Something Under Dundee Mountain

Dundee Mountain
Dundee Mountain

Dundee Mountain looms high above the tree line at the southern end of the lake. Gouged from the earth by the last glaciers to tear through the area, the “mountain” is actually a 270-foot high moulin kame formation made up of sediment left behind by the glaciers when they retreated over 10,000 years ago. And, depending on who you ask, it may be the source of the area’s mysterious activity.

Long before the modern sightings around Dundee Mountain, it seems Native Americans were well aware of it’s unusual properties.

“They called it ‘Spirit Hill,'” Bill said during a 2008 interview with the Fond du Lac Reporter. “There’s been strange things forever out here.”

But what exactly does the ominous mound of dirt have to do with the unusual occurrences in the area?

Bill doesn’t pretend to have the answers. He has no idea why Dundee is the center of so much strange activity. But he does seem to believe Dundee Mountain may be the source of it.

“Something is under there,” he told a reporter in 2016.

But what it is, not even Bill knows.

The 31st annual UFO Daze is happening July 20, 2019.

UFO Summer Camp

Cult of Weird UFO Summer Camp

I launched a new Cult of Weird shop over at TeePublic with t-shirt, prints, stickers, and more, including this limited edition UFO Summer Camp shirt.
SHOP NOW

Weird News

A selection of the strangest and most fascinating headlines in science, history, archaeology, travel, and more from last month:

July Observances

July 2 – World UFO Day
July 5 – Roswell UFO Festival begins, celebrating the anniversary of the Roswell UFO crash
July 5 – P.T. Barnum was born on this day in 1810
July 8 – World Disclosure Day
July 10 – Nikola Tesla was born on this day in 1856
July 19 – Cannibal Alexander Pearce was executed on this day in 1824
July 21 – Rev. Thomas Baker was eaten in Fiji on this day in 1867
July 22Feast of Mary Magdalene

Send questions, photos of your favorite oddities, or share share your strange or unexplained experiences to be included in the next newsletter. Use the contact form or email info@cultofweird.com

WTFact

Ray's Sausage and the home of the Cleveland Strangler

For several years, a Cleveland meat shop called Ray’s Sausage was battling a foul smell that had taken hold inside the building and was threatening to ruin the nearly 60-year-old, family-owned businesses. The family spent $20,000 on new plumbing, sewer lines, and grease traps, but the odor persisted. In October 2009, police discovered the source: 11 decomposed bodies in the house next door to Ray’s. The house belonged to serial killer Anthony Sowell, the “Cleveland Strangler,” who had moved in shortly before the stench began.

Previous Newsletter: The Woman Who Pioneered UFO Research

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