It seems that Gein was not at home, so the officers decided to look around. Entering a deteriorating and darkened out-building, they spotted a dressed deer carcass hanging from the rafters. Going closer, they thought there was something odd about this deer. It didn't hang right.
Suddenly, under a flashlight's glare, they realized that the carcass was no deer: it was a human corpse. Hung feet first was the headless nude body of a woman, slit from her genitals to her neck, with her legs splayed apart. The officers wondered if this might be the missing storekeeper, Bernice Worden. Whoever it was, she'd clearly been the victim of a crime, and there was no one around but eccentric Ed Gein. Was he peculiar enough to commit outright murder, they wondered? It certainly seemed possible.
Next, the police entered Gein's house and right away their question was answered. Inside, scattered around, they found all manner of body parts, including skin, a box of preserved female genitalia, a heart in a frying pan, a box of cut-off noses, the sawed-off crania from several skulls, death masks peeled off dead females, a skin vest with female breasts and genitals, and a female scalp with black hair. They wondered just how many women Gein had killed. It appeared that there were parts from at least a dozen victims, possibly more. Then they found Bernice Worden's head in a bag, with nails driven through the ears.
In those days, little was known about the kind of person who might kill repeatedly — although a handful of serial killers were at large around the country — other than that he had to be some sort of monster. It was one thing to kill; it was quite another to remove and preserve body parts to decorate one's home. This wasn't Nazi Germany, after all. In fact, it appeared to the investigators, from items in a frying pan, that perhaps Gein was indulging in a bit of cannibalism as well. They could only wonder how long he'd been doing it and they intended to check their records for more missing women when they returned to town. But first they had to find Gein.
Once arrested and taken to
However, Bernice Worden had been alive the last time anyone had seen her. She'd gone missing from the store where she'd been working that day. Gein readily confessed to having killed her, as well as another missing woman, Mary Hogan, who had disappeared three years earlier. They both had been about the size of his dead mother and he'd been unable to wait until they died; he'd needed them to complete his project. So he'd shot them and brought them home. The police listened in horror as he described his grisly pastime.
Gein remained a suspect in the disappearance of four others, but those women he did kill or dig up he'd used to make himself a female "suit." He'd skin them for the various pieces, but he found that dead skin was not very pliable, and he'd heard or read that living women worked better for this purpose. Apparently he missed his dead mother so much that he was trying to become her by dressing in his special female "suit." Sometimes he wore it, he admitted, while he pranced around in the yard during a full moon.
"When I made these masks, you see," he said in his confession, "I stuffed them all out with paper so they would dry." He also had used salt as a preservative. In any event, he was detained and diagnosed with schizophrenia. Eventually, Gein was deemed competent to stand trial for one murder, but then found not guilty by reason of insanity. In 1974, he petitioned for release from the psychiatric institute in which he'd been a patient, but his petition was denied. He died a decade later.
It's true that there's little in TCM that compares to what Gein did, aside from the skin mask that Leatherface wears, but the house where this character resides with his family is similar to Gein's: isolated, cluttered, full of body parts, and generally disgusting. Alone and socially inept, apparently unaware that what he was doing was wrong, Gein had devoured books on human anatomy and Nazi experiments, even sending away for shrunken heads. Although he denied consuming the flesh, some who studied the case believe he did. In any event, regardless of the facts, he certainly has the reputation of being a cannibal, and he was mentally so stunted and dysfunctional that he served as a viable model for the Leatherface character.
A grave-robber, too, Leatherface wears a mask made of skin and a bloody butcher's apron. Yet he relies on a chainsaw to kill and dismember his victims, and there's no indication that Gein ever used such an implement on people. He did gut and behead his two live victims, which is gruesome enough, but he didn't run around like Leatherface does. So just how did Gein come to inspire Tobe Hooper to create TCM?