The Truth About Ed Gein's Mother

The saying "A boy's best friend is his mother" has become synonymous with Anthony Perkins' unnerving portrayal of a certain homicidal momma's boy, Norman Bates, in the Hitchcock classic Psycho. By now, it's well known that Hitchcock ripped his script from the pages of Robert Bloch's book, Psycho, and that the character of Bates was based on the so-called Butcher of Plainfield, Wisconsin, a man named Ed Gein. 

Gein, who had a deeply dysfunctional bond with his mother, murdered at least two women and robbed dozens of graves, per A&E. He fashioned women's remains into a suit, used a skull as his soup bowl, turned shin bones into table legs, and made a belt out of nipples. History writes that the killer admitted to targeting women who reminded him of his mother — so it might come as a surprise, then, that Norman Bates' deranged relationship with his mom wasn't modeled after Gein. As the Post Crescent recounts, Bloch says in his 1993 autobiography, "I knew very little of the details concerning that case and virtually nothing about Gein himself at the time." Later, he was struck by the eerie similarity. According to an essay in Peeping Through the Holes, the author originally drew inspiration from the work of Sigmund Freud, reasoning that such a "ghoulish killer" would harbor Oedipal longings. 

However, the true nature of Gein's fixations was more complex.

Ed Gein's worst friend was his mother

According to ThoughtCo, Ed Gein grew up on a Wisconsin farm with his brother, Henry, his father, George, and his mother, Augusta. Augusta and George had a miserable marriage. He was an alcoholic, and she despised him but refused to divorce for religious reasons. Augusta forbade her children from having friends, and even beyond his mother's intervention, Ed suffered socially: As detailed in in Firebirds Among the Psychopaths, he was shy, had a lazy eye, and a speech impediment that made him a prime target for bullies. When Ed came home crying, George "would repeatedly beat him on the head until his ears started ringing." Meanwhile, Augusta browbeat Ed and Henry because she thought they would turn out like their alcoholic father. She was also vehemently puritanical and preached that sex and women were sinful. One time, when she caught a 12-year-old Ed pleasuring himself in the bathtub, she pinched his privates and decried them as the "curse of man."

When Ed was 34, his father died, and several years later, his brother perished fighting a fire. That left him with his mother, and after Augusta died in 1945, Gein became obsessed with sex, dismemberment, and the human experiments conducted by Nazis at concentration camps. He eventually enlisted a friend to help him rob graves so he could act out carnal fantasies and engage in cannibalism. Among these corpses was his mother. As time went on, and as his depravity grew more desperate, he eventually resorted to murder.