This is a well-researched book about Ed Gein, the mild mannered, Midwestern psychopath from Plainfield, Wisconsin who, in the nineteen fifties, would shock the nation with his gruesome crimes. Ed Gein would become the basis for the best selling book by Robert Bloch, "Psycho", as well as for the Hitchcock film of the same name. Accounts of Ed Gein's heinous crimes would also enter the consciousness of a young Tobe Hooper who, as an adult, would write and direct the classic cult film, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre".
The author writes a cogent, factual account of the life of Ed Gein and the grisly crimes that shocked the nation at the time of their discovery. It details the hold that Ed's domineering mother had on him, a hold that would manifest itself in unimaginable ways. It is almost hard to believe that this small, inoffensive man could be such a madman, but who but a madman would do what he did? Ed Gein, it was discovered, had turned his small farmhouse into a gruesome charnel house, replete with furnishings adorned with human flesh and bones.
Aficionados of true crime will find this book fascinating, as it is a well-written account of one of the most horrifying and bizarre series of crimes ever to be committed. Eight pages of photographs are included in the book and serve to provide the reader with a brief, visual glimpse into the life of Ed Gein, a man with a secret hobby so depraved that it would shock the entire nation when it came to light. Lovers of true crime accounts will be fascinated by this well researched foray into the life of a seemingly innocuous man from America's heartland who ended up being so deviant from the norm.
on February 17, 2000
I've heard of Ed Gein off and on for many years. I've heard his crimes were of an unspeakable, stomach-churning, monstrous nature. Yet again, I wanted to satisfy my somewhat morbid curiosity and see just how morbid his crimes were. I was repelled. Psycho, The Silence of the Lambs, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre...all of these films came to, thanks to Eddie and his crimes. A cannibal, necro-sadist grave robber. Not even in fiction have I seen a person crazier than Gein. Harold Schechter does a job that is, in a word, brilliant. As awkward as it may seem, I sympathize with Gein. If his early life hadn't been as it had, he most probably wouldn't have gone so over the edge as he had done in his later life.
It is true to say his crimes are inexcusable, but Schechter looks at it in such an angle that I actually (believe it or not) saw a reason for Gein acting in the way he did...as depraved, as sickly demented as it was. It is highly informative, and written very well. There is not a single boring moment in it. It is impeccably researched. And, believe it or not, it's a true story. This actually happened.
on May 29, 2003
Honestly, whatta nut. Very good documentary about a very strange man from the North Woods. Of course, by now aficianados should expect that Schechter will get it right. And very stylishly so.
Apropos of nothing, my family originated pretty near that...and my father used to torment his mother (a very prim and proper lady) by asking for stories about "Cousin Ed." Needless to say, she found that about as amusing as Ed's woman suit.
BTW, the REALLY graphic pictures and wonderful line drawings can be found in the book written by the presiding judge at his trial, Judge Robert Gollmar. Hard to find, but well worth it.
on July 10, 2004
I found this book to be extremely well-written and informative. The details of Gein's family history and of his crimes are fairly well covered in the true-crime books that make reference to him, but the aftermath is usually not examined very closely - and this book fills in the blanks, describing not only what led up to Gein's arrest, but also the whole media madness that ensued afterwards. The way Eddie was catapulted to "stardom" literally overnight was astonishing - an estimated 4,000 cars filed past Gein's farm on a single weekend after the news of his deeds had spread throughout the nation, and his story was on the front pages of "Life" and "Time" magazines, as well as just about every major newspaper.
The details of Eddie's confessions and the quotes from psychiatric reports are very interesting as well. While it may be impossible to fully understand mental illness, this book makes an attempt to explore the workings of a demented mind.
(Note: this book has none of the usual gory photos; for these, see judge Gollmar's book.)
on March 27, 2004
The author, Harold Schechter, draws incomplete conclusions when seeking the rationale for Ed Gein's disturbing behavior. Yes, Gein's disturbed, fundamentalist mother, Augusta, impacted Gein's psychological development and his resulting pathology. But there are other men who have had domineering mothers with strange attitudes about sex, who didn't go on to become serial killers. Let's not forget that Gein, despite his reported gentleness, killed two people, probably three (his brother as well.)
The one link you will find when researching the lives of violent criminals, is that they come from homes with violent, abusive fathers or father figures. And they often grow up watching their fathers abuse their mothers, as was the case in the Gein family. Augusta is depicted by Schechter as the controlling one, but her husband hit her often, according to the book. Someone who is getting beaten regularly is not an unambiguous model of power. Gein grew up in a household where violence was acceptable, especially violence toward women.
Gein was also beaten by his father, and that is the key to the formation of Ed's rage as well as his lack of compassion. Violence begets violence, and plays a role in psychopathology. Sigmund Freud overlooked early exposure to violence in human personality formation and instead focused mainly on a subject's mother's personality. Schetcher makes the same mistake.
on March 23, 2004
I see Ed Gein as one of the most different serial killers. First of all, he's barely a serial killer himself, since he "only" killed 2 persons. It was bodies that he was interested in. Schechter book does an amazing job of exposing who Ed Gein was. That's what I enjoy a lot with this author, he's very honest and never tries to turn the serial killer into some mythical being. By the end of the book I found myself pitying Ed Gein more than I think I ever would. Personally I don't hold Ed Gein for being mean, again he killed two old women, but that is a case of split personality and he was not even conscious at that moment, supposedly. Nevertheless, these two murders are not those of a sadist, there was no torture or anything like that. Bullet in the neck if I remember well, at any rate, tese deaths were rather painless compared to what other killers have done. Ed was a simple minded person, like a sort of kid playing with toys of his own in the most terrifying loneliness. It's a greatly interesting story, but if you expect some bloodthirsty monster, you may be surprised. Ed Gein is a kind of dark Forest Gump. I recommend that book, for its excellent writing and above all for its brilliant honesty and unbiased approach (very different from that movie texas chainsaw massacre who supposedly base itself on Ed Gein, with that book you'll see that it's a heap of lies).
As usual, Schechter draws the reader's attention to the context, the 50es and plenty other things that gives a typically Schechterian richness to the book, as is the case to all the books I have read from him so far. Definitely a GREAT book.
on December 30, 2003
In the autumn of 1957, the nation learned of a nightmare unfolding in the little rural town of Plainfield, Wisconsin. A local recluse and simpleton by the name of Edward Gein murdered Bernice Worden, the owner of the local hardware store. A murder, even in 1950's America, wouldn't grab the attention of most folks, but this crime did. Local police searching Gein's farmhouse uncovered a soul shattering house of horrors. Not only did they find murder victim Worden in the most degrading condition, the police also discovered pieces of human bodies inside the house. Gein had fashioned soup bowls out of human skulls, masks out of human faces, and furniture out of human flesh. Every hour spent in the farmhouse turned up even more horrors, enough to make even the most hardened cop sick to his stomach. As the official inquiry deepened, America learned that a human monster lived in the most unlikely of settings, a man who embodied virtually every ghastly psychopathology known to modern science. The name Eddie Gein became synonymous with evil and he quickly became part of the dark side of American pop culture. Author Harold Schechter, a professor of American culture at Queens College, decided to write a factual account of the horrendous crimes of Edward Gein in an effort to finally set the record straight about one of America's premier boogeymen. "Deviant" is the result.
The author adroitly sums up Gein's family tree in a few pages. Despite what must have been a scarcity of information, Schecter reveals Ed's father as an orphan who went on to a successful career as an alcoholic and pest. The only thing Gein's father accomplished in life was his marriage to Augusta, Eddie's mother and an all around terror. According to "Deviant," the complex relationship between this overweening woman and her sons led directly to the seething mass of insanity that was Edward Gein. Augusta preached an ultra conservative Christian theology that saw all women in the world as inferior beings. She constantly railed about the sinfulness of the world to her two sons, making it clear that no woman would ever be good enough for her two boys. When not on a religious tirade, Augusta belittled her husband with a vigor rarely seen in the worst of marriages. After closing down a family run store in La Crosse, Augusta moved the clan to a farm near Plainfield. Ed's father died soon after, a shattered wreck barely missed by the rest of the family. His brother Henry died under mysterious circumstances while fighting a brushfire on the Gein property, a death many attributed to Ed because Henry had the temerity to question Augusta's iron rule. With the death of his mother shortly thereafter, Ed was left alone in the world for the first time.
Plainfield residents always liked Ed Gein. Sure, the guy was a little strange, always walking around with a dopey grin on his face while making the most outrageous statements about shrunken heads and other oddball stuff, but people generally thought him harmless. Many of his neighbors appreciated Ed showing up and helping out when work needed doing, or volunteering to watch the kids when the parents headed into town (!). Not until the police exposed Gein's repulsive activities did anyone have an inkling of what this guy was really about. Once they knew, the questions and outrageous stories started. Ed became a lightening rod for every mysterious disappearance in Wisconsin and neighboring states during the previous fifteen years. Even though police later cleared Gein in all but two murders--Bernice Worden and Mary Hogan--investigators and citizens continued to suspect Ed in a series of crimes. Moreover, townspeople came forward with supposedly "true" tales about close calls with the now exposed killer. The media, writes Schechter, carries most of the blame for printing the most ridiculous stories in an effort to sell papers. These media accounts went a long way towards installing Gein as an enduring pop cultural icon, an icon who continues to exert an influence even today.
I had a few problems with "Deviant" even though I consider the book well written and nicely researched. The biggest difficulty concerns the lack of footnotes. I imagine Schechter had to make a tradeoff with the publishing company since a book marketed to a general audience will not sell well if potential buyers see pages of citations. But a book from a scholar that purports to tell the facts behind the Gein case needs to contain citations so interested readers can reproduce his findings. I hate to harp about footnotes/endnotes since I like to avoid them whenever possible as much as the next guy, but a book that references this many public officials, newspapers, and public documents should have the notes.
"Deviant" does do a good job in several areas. Schechter presents compelling evidence that Gein was not a cannibal, a revelation that may come as a shock to many who consider themselves knowledgeable about the case. Not that it really matters, of course, because Ed indulged in so many appalling excesses that removing one stigma does nothing to lessen the overall horror of his activities. Still, it is nice to see someone finally look closely at all of the case documents in order to write the most truthful account possible. "Deviant" is grim stuff, some of the worst accounts of human atrocities captured on paper, but true crime buffs will appreciate Schechter's attention to detail concerning the man who many consider to be one of the worst criminals in American history. I also recommend "Deviant" for first time readers with an itch to learn about the guy who inspired Norman Bates, Leatherface, and nearly every horror film psycho since the 1960s.
on October 24, 2002
Ed Gein was the king of psychopathic losers. In spite of the horrific nature of his crimes it is almost possible to pity such an addlebrained childish idiot, even an idiot of such monstrous evil. In the end though, it is the evil that overshadows the pathetic incapacity of the man. Gein is of course the source for the films 'Psycho', 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' and even 'Silence Of The Lambs'. Never has so much been made out of such a loser. Unable to handle the difficulties of even his simple dissolute existence, Gein's addled brain took refuge first in necrophiliac fantasies and eventually in inept sex driven murder. He also made all sorts of totems out of his victims, from kitchenware to 'clothing' and furniture. Schechter tells Gein's pathetic story in graphic detail, and like all of his books, Deviant is riveting. From the description of Gein's trash filled house to the details of the crimes, nothing is left out in this chilling book. The horror of Gein will shock you, his crimes are far worse than those of his on screen copies, but you will be unable to put the book down. This is the first book by Schechter I read, but after finishing it I promptly picked up all the others I could find, all were equally excellent. The book is highly recommended. I also recommend Deranged, Depraved and Bestial.
on October 6, 2002
This is the story of a man obsessed with his mother, Augusta. Hating her and loving her at the same time. From the time he was born, he revered her like a saint. Following in her views of the town they lived in and her views of women. To her, everyone was living in sin and all women were harlots who should never be looked at much less spoken to. When she died, Eddie Gein's world fell apart. Before he would be caught, Ed Gein would kill two women and rob the graves of at least nine other women. He would rob them of their genital areas, the head, and the skin off other parts. He'd also parade around in the skin dressed like a woman because that is what he secretly wanted to be. No one could believe that this slight, shy litte man could be capable of such heinous crimes against the dead. He was a true deviant in every sense of the word. This book takes you on a journey from birth to death to everything in between in the life of Ed Gein, the real "Psycho". This book is recommended to anyone who is a fan of true crime novels.
on April 28, 2002
By Harold Schechter
This book is about a shy, retiring farmer, Ed Gein, who was born in 1906 in La Crosse, Wisconsin to a drunkard no good father and a domineering mother who convinced her son that all women were evil, except her and to have nothing to do with them.
Well, of course, after his mother died, Ed got to visiting the local graveyards at night and digging up women and taking them home with him (this was long before there were singles bars).
He got all wound up in his work, did a lot of slicing and dicing but I won't go into all that here but needless to say, after he killed at least two or possibly as many as six or more live individuals, people began to suspect something was amiss around old Ed's place as some local kids playing there saw some heads hanging on his walls.
They finally locked him away for life in the mental hospital where he did quite well as it was the best place he had ever lived and he finally died of old age in 1984.
Now, when you hear someone talk about the "good old days" when everything was so much better, ask them if they ever heard of Ed Gein along about the time Elvis was getting started in 1957.