The Truth About Ed Gein's Obsession With His Mother

Editor's note: A previous version of this story had a photo of a woman indicating it was Ed Gein's mother, but it was another unrelated woman. We have replaced the prior photo. 

Ed Gein was a quiet, eccentric Wisconsin man whose name would become synonymous with an obsessive love for his mother that eventually manifested in some of the most horrifying discoveries in the 20th century.

Ed's mother, Augusta, is described in various reports as controlling, puritanical, fervently religious, and domineering. She believed that all women — besides herself — were "instruments of the devil" (per Isthmus). Augusta drilled it into her sons from the time they were children — Ed and his older brother by five years, Henry — that sex and lust were immoral and to be avoided, according to Crime and Investigation.

Ed doted on his mother all his life, as she demanded. He never moved out of the family home and was 44 years old when Augusta died of a stroke in 1945. Just about a year before Augusta's death, Henry died on the family farm under mysterious circumstances. Their alcoholic father died in 1940.  Gein was alone. His larger-than-life mother was no longer around for him to serve.

According to Isthmus, as much as Augusta preached against the evils of the world, Gein could feel something sinister growing inside of himself. Gein told a psychiatrist that after losing his mother, "a force built up in me." In 1947, two years after Augusta died, that "force" led to the middle-aged loner digging up recently deceased women's graves and taking body parts in an effort to bring his mama back. Obviously, it just wasn't the same.

Ed Gein's obsession with his mother is hard to understand, since by today's standards her treatment of her children would be considered abusive.

Ed Gein did it all for the twisted love of his mother

Yet the book Firebirds Among the Psychopaths explains how Augusta was determined to keep the evil outside world at bay, and those efforts were clearly planted deep in Ed's psyche. The book relates that Augusta would "severely punish" her sons if they tried to make friends, and once when she caught Gein masturbating in the bathtub she "grabbed his genitals and called them 'the curse of a man.'"

Isthmus reported that one psychiatrist who examined Gein "perceived hostility and sexual repression in Gein's unusual attachment to his mother. Those feelings were kept in check when she was alive, but after her death Gein acted on a 'desire for a substitute for his mother in the form of a replica or body that could be kept indefinitely.'" While Gein created new, tangible things out of women's body parts, like home decorations and a suit of skin, over time it didn't satiate his urges anymore. Gein later admitted to killing two women, per the Sheboygan Press

The final murder in 1957 led investigators to discover the human remains he'd collected, along with Gein's last victim, Bernice Worden. Her body was freshly gutted, decapitated and hanging from the rafters by her ankles like a deer. 

Gein told investigators his victims, both the dead and the living, were all women who reminded him of his beloved mother, per the Sheboygan Press.

Discovery+ will stream the documentary Ed Gein: The Real Psycho beginning April 9.