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Stuff You Should Know podcast Ed Gein episode

Ed Gein’s Real Life Horrors on Stuff You Should Know Podcast

The story of deranged Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein is featured in the latest episode of the Stuff You Should Know podcast.

The most recent episode of the Stuff You Should Know podcast recounts the grisly details of Ed Gein – his traumatic childhood, his extracurricular activities with human remains, how he claimed to tear his mother’s head from her body when he opened her grave.

Did you know filmmaker Werner Herzog once visited Plainfield Cemetery with a clandestine plan to verify Gein’s account by exhuming Augusta’s corpse under the cover of dark?

Also, Cult of Weird gets a nice little shout out for the story of Ed Gein’s cauldron. Thanks guys!

Listen to the episode right here.

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.

Related:

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.

How to talk to your kids about Ed Gein

How to Talk to Your Kids About Ed Gein

Kids go to the Plainfield Cemetery to learn about Ed Gein.

There comes a time when you have to sit your kids down and have The Talk. You know, that one awkward conversation every parent dreads. It is inevitable and unavoidable. And no, it’s not about where babies come from. It’s the other conversation, in which your children come up to you unexpectedly one day and say, “Who was Ed Gein?”

Well, before you load the kids up in the Volkswagen for a field trip to Plainfield to learn about ol’ Uncle Eddie and why he wore women’s skin, give this video a watch for some pointers.

From the description:

HOW TO TALK TO YOUR KIDS ABOUT ED GEIN is a short 10 minute film by Steve Chappell (CHAP) documenting one day back in 1997 when the family stopped at the PLAINFIELD CEMETERY in Plainfield, WI to teach the kids all about Ed Gein, the guy who inspired Robert Bloch to write the novel PSYCHO which in turn served as the inspiration for such movies as Alfred Hitchcock’s PSYCHO, THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE, and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS.

Notably, this was filmed several years before Ed Gein’s gravestone was stolen, so it can be seen in the video:

Kids learn about Ed Gein at his grave in Plainfield, WI

I hope the follow up will be one of those “Kids react to…” videos about the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer.

This was originally shared in the unofficial Cult of Weird fan club.

Ed Gein's grave in Plainfield Cemetery

What Happened to Ed Gein’s Gravestone?

For almost two decades now, visitors to the grave of Ed Gein have found the Wisconsin killer’s grave unmarked. This is why.
The grave of Ed Gein in Plainfield, Wisconsin
Ed Gein’s grave in Plainfield Cemetery

Wisconsin deviant Ed Gein was arrested on November 16, 1957, after putting a bullet in the head of hardware store owner Bernice Worden and hauling her body back to his farm outside of town, where she was found beheaded and gutted later that evening. Upon his arrest, investigators made a shocking discovery inside Gein’s dilapidated home: Shrunken human heads, bones, lampshades and suits made of human skin, and other items Gein had fashioned using remains plundered from local cemeteries.

Related:

60 years later, Gein’s depravity still fascinates true crime aficionados and fans of movies inspired by his crimes, including Psycho, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Silence of the Lambs. That curiosity lures hundreds, if not thousands of visitors to Plainfield every year to see the property where Gein’s house of horrors once stood, visit the hardware store where his final murder was committed, and pay their respects at the gravesite of the Gein family, situated among the same empty graves whose occupants Ed exhumed decades earlier.

But many visitors to the Plainfield Cemetery are surprised to find an empty, grassy space between Ed’s brother Henry and their mother, Augusta. Where the Mad Butcher of Plainfield’s gravestone once stood, there is now only a small, hand-dug hole from which souvenir hunters have been collecting dirt for years.

Gravestone of Ed Gein
Ed Gein’s gravestone

So where is Ed Gein’s gravestone?

“Everybody says he was buried at midnight,” Betty Petrusky told Meg Jones of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “That wasn’t true because I buried him. It was 4 in the afternoon.”

Petrusky served as caretaker of the Plainfield Cemetery for nearly 30 years. She helped dig Gein’s grave and attended the graveside service after he died of cancer in the Mendota Mental Health Institute in July 1984. She was visiting the grave of her husband on a quiet Saturday in June of 2000 when she discovered Gein’s 150-pound stone was missing.

Authorities immediately began watching eBay, expecting to see it turn up for auction along with other Gein relics such as wood and dirt from the privately-owned land that once belonged to the Gein family.

A year went by with no leads. Then, in 2001, Seattle police made a strange discovery.

In May 2001 the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported the “Angry White Male Tour,” a nationwide summer tour of live punk music, art, and oddities, headed up by “ringleader” Shane Bugbee, was including Gein’s tombstone in their promotions. Seattle police arrived on the first stop of the tour and confiscated the stone, despite Bugbee’s claims that it was a fake.

“It’s a really rude, exaggerated piece of artwork,” Bugbee said. Confiscating it “is the silliest thing I’ve ever heard of. The Seattle police overreacted.”

It turned out to be the real thing. Positive identification was made by comparing the graffiti and jagged edges where visitors had chipped off chunks of the stone.

These days Bugbee is an artist, sculptor, purveyor of Darth Vader penis enamel pins, and founder of the Ed Gein Fan Club.

“I had visited geins homeland a few times,” he told me in an email, “and every time the grave would be trashed… litter, crude and prophane scrawls on the stone and every time, there would be a person trying to have a gentle and sensitive moment visiting their departed loved ones. I just felt I was providing a service, to liberate the stone and bring it to those who had a morbid interest or dark ascetic, so It was taken from those who had no interest, those who were disturbed by the presence of outsiders dancing around a serial killers grave and, I brought it to those who really, really wanted to see it… Those who reveled in it.”

The gravestone was returned to Plainfield, but police weren’t sure what to do with it.

“We could put it back in the cemetery,” Waushara County Sheriff Patrick Fox told the Stevens Point Journal, “but it would only get stolen again.”

The Waushara County Historical Society wanted to exhibit the gravestone in the downtown Wautoma museum that once served as the county jail, the place where Gein was held after his arrest. I haven’t found any information to confirm whether or not the stone was ever actually displayed, but it seems concerns over the possible controversy it might stir up lead to the decision to store it away in the basement of the police department, instead.

Ed Gein’s second gravestone

Ed Gein's second gravestone
Ed Gein’s second gravestone, via Reddit user lucisferis

Huey Long, owner of Emerald City Collectibles near Janesville, Wisconsin, displays a crude, handmade gravestone in his store that he says someone made to replace Gein’s after it was stolen.

A few years ago, someone brought the stone into Huey’s store on Highway 14 just outside Janesville,” Tim Elliot wrote for NBC 15 in 2013. “After checking with authorities to make sure he could legally buy the stone, he went ahead and made the deal.”

“There’s a lot of people who come in here that are grossed out by it but they have to touch it,” Long told Elliot. “They have to touch the headstone but some people won’t touch it whatsoever.”

Also, the stone may be cursed.

“It’s drawn blood on me at least three times before because of the nails on the backside,” Long said. “People always ask me why do they have nails on there? And I say to keep Ed down.”

The stone can still be seen in Long’s shop, though it is not for sale. He was once offered $3,000, but he hopes to eventually sell it online where he believes it will fetch much more.

Grave of Ed Gein
The graves of the Gein family in Plainfield Cemetery

Ed Gein's cauldron

Ed Gein’s Cauldron: The Story Behind the Ghoulish Relic

Ed Gein’s cauldron is said to have been found containing blood and human remains in the aftermath of the killer’s crimes at his isolated rural farm in Plainfield, Wisconsin.

If you’ve been following my writing long enough, you’re probably aware that Cult of Weird’s base of operations is in the weird backwoods of Wisconsin, uniquely positioned in the heart of some of the strangest and most depraved crimes committed in modern times. Amidst our ghosts and goatmen, UFOs and hodags, there are other, much more tangible evils lurking. Here, a 12-year-old girl was stabbed and left for dead as a ritual sacrifice to Slenderman. Milwaukee cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer murdered and dismembered 16 young men before he was finally arrested in 1991. In 1957, the investigation of a missing hardware store owner in Plainfield lead authorities to the discovery of eccentric handyman Ed Gein‘s deranged hobbies.

Related:

For many of us here in Wisconsin, who grow up with this bogeyman in our backyard, the story of Ed Gein becomes a lifelong fascination. In Plainfield, however, there are still families who remember or were directly affected by Gein’s actions. It doesn’t take long to find someone who says they were babysat by Gein, someone whose relative was exhumed by Gein, someone who ate Gein’s venison (although he didn’t hunt), or someone who remembers seeing headlights in the cemetery at night. The so-called “House of Horrors” was very real, and locals have been trying to heal from the wounds of that nightmare for nearly 60 years.

I’ve been researching Gein since I was probably about 14, have been to Plainfield several times, and have written about those strange and tragic crimes on many occasions hoping to unlock some of the mysteries that remain, uncover new stories, gain new insight into Ed’s state of mind.

A cauldron that belonged to Wisconsin serial killer Ed Gein
Photo of Ed Gein’s cauldron, courtesy of Pientka Auction Service.

In early 2015 I was contacted by a man named Dan McIntyre. He had stumbled onto some of my work and reached out with his own story because he was hoping to drum up interest in an upcoming auction. McIntyre, it turned out, was hoping to get rid of a gruesome relic previously owned by his grandmother. He said she had purchased it in March of 1958, just a few months after Gein’s arrest, when his property and belongings were sold off. McIntyre said his grandmother found the old, simple cauldron at the sale, and thought it would make a great planter.

Years later, a friend of McIntyre’s named Hollis Brown, who, according to McIntyre, had been a neighbor of the Gein’s, caught a glimpse of the cauldron stuffed away in the garage. Horrified, he realized he had seen it before…on the Gein farm where he was assisting police with the cleanup.

McIntyre described this revelation in an email:

Hollis saw many terrible things. He told me upon entering the home he saw a woman’s breast as the doorbell. Inside he saw a skin lampshade, a comforter/blanket made from human skin, furniture made of skin/breast, bloody gut buckets, a change purse made from a woman’s vagina, a belt with nipples on it. When Hollis saw the cauldron in my parents garage, he recognized it as the same Black Cauldron that he has seen Eds parents use to render hog fat on the farm. He also recognized its as the same cauldron in one of the outbuilding sheds, and remembered Eds sinister use for it. He remembers the cauldron was covered in dry blood and guts, next to two barrels/tubs of bloody human entrails, intestines. 50 yrs. later Hollis recognize the cauldron in my parents garage and turned white as a ghost. I asked him how does he know it was the same one covered in dry blood? He lifted his arm and said,”the hair on my arm stands straight up every time he looks at it in my parents garage.”

I immediately broke the news of this object and its impending sale here on Cult of Weird for fellow Gein researchers and collectors. That weekend, the cauldron and a few other more mundane objects that belonged to Gein (shovel, skis) were sold. When I followed up with McIntyre and the auction house, they informed me that Zak Bagans of Ghost Adventures had phoned in the winning bid.

In my communications with McIntyre afterwards, he expressed belief that the cauldron had a dark energy, which might have been dormant while it was sitting covered in his garage. When it was disturbed in preparation for the auction, he seemed to feel something had reawakened. He experienced a mysterious illness, disruption of nearby electronics, and other phenomena when the cauldron was mentioned. In the presence of the cauldron, he described feelings of unease, dizziness and anxiety.

He wrote:

I’m not so sure that displaying an item that represents such evil is a good idea. What evil will it inspire? I wonder if I should have kept it, and planted flowers in it, only to be forgotten in time. Then there would be one less item in this world to remind us of the evil that lurks on the flipside of mankind’s good.

Is Ed Gein’s cauldron charged with negative energy?

The cauldron was featured in an April, 2017 episode of Zak Bagan’s series Deadly Possessions on the Travel channel. McIntyre appeared on the episode to share his story, as well as a group of paranormal researchers who experience bad things after purchasing the skis.

The cauldron can now be seen on display at Bagan’s Haunted Museum in Las Vegas, along with other purportedly haunted or cursed objects.

More: What happened to Ed Gein’s Gravestone?