When thinking about monsters, creatures such as Godzilla, Dracula, and even Frankenstein’s monster may come to mind. However, the scariest monsters can be humans, just like us. Serial killers, for example, are quite terrifying to most people and are completely human. They may appear to be just like everyone else, but the crimes they commit, the people they hurt, and the pain they cause, make them resemble monsters more so than humans.
One example of a human monster, is a man named Edward Theodore Gein, from Wisconsin. Born August 27, 1906, Ed was the second son born to Augusta and George Gein. George was an alcoholic, and Augusta was very religious, with “preachings about the sins of lust and carnal desire.” (Biography.com) George Gein died in 1940, just four years before the death of Henry, his oldest son, and Ed’s brother. According to research done by students at Radford University, Henry and Ed were burning brush on their farm in 1944, when the fire suddenly got out of control. Henry mysteriously goes missing, and Ed conveniently leads police to his body. Despite his apparent cause of death being inconsistent with being the result of the fire, the county coroner listed it as caused by asphyxiation, which is suffocation. (Radford) Not long after Henry’s death, Ed’s mother Augusta suffered a stroke. She later had a second stroke, leading to her death in late 1945. His mother’s death was difficult for him, and he boarded up much of the house aside from two rooms. (IMDb) Preserving those rooms would be one of the least odd things Gein does in his life.
After his mother’s death, Gein was intensely lonely and began visiting his mother’s grave at the cemetery. He later is said to have also had visions that lead him to the cemetery. He began digging up the graves to get to the corpses, and according to the research done at Radford University, the first corpse he unearthed belonged to his late mother. He is said to have twisted her head off before shrinking it, in a way he learned from a book, but that was only the beginning.
“During the period of 1950-55, he visited three local cemeteries at night and dug up at least ten graves. He removed bits and pieces from each body, returning some to their graves.He used skullcaps for bowls, and stitched chair seats and lampshades out of human skin. On special occasions, he would dance outside in the moonlight wearing numerous stitched skin coverings, including the face masks of some of his victims.” (Imdb)
Digging up the remains of those already dead eventually stopped being satisfying enough for him. In December of 1954, Ed commits what was supposedly his first murder, shooting Mary Hogan in the forehead. Mary Hogan ran a tavern that Gein frequented. Also, around this time, a few other residents went missing but no definitive conclusions were made that connected him. (Biography.com) Three years later, in November of 1957, Ed Gein murdered Bernice Warden, the mother of Deputy Frank Warden. After her disappearance, Frank Warden went on to suspect Gein. Upon entrance to Gein’s summer kitchen/shed, police discovered Bernice Warden hanging by the ankles, cut open. Ed Gein was arrested and at trial was found to be schizophrenic and a “sexual psychopath”, as such was sent to Central State Hospital where he lived before being transferred. (Radford) He was transferred to Mendota Mental Health Institute, before dying from respiratory failure and cancer in 1984. He tried to be released from the hospital but ultimately was rejected. (Biography.com)
Ed Gein has served as inspiration for the creation of other monsters as well. A well-known representation of Gein is Norman Bates from Psycho, but he’s also represented as Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and as Bloody face/Oliver Thredson from American Horror Story: Asylum. Thredson is a psychiatrist working with criminals, who gets himself assigned to a murder case in which the accused man, Kit Walker gets put into an insane asylum, while determining his sanity. Thredson convinces Walker to confess to the murders that were committed by “Bloody Face” so that he will be protected from being caught himself. Thredson also convinces Lana Winters, another patient at the asylum, that he is someone to be trusted. He helps her to escape the asylum, before taking her to his home, torturing her, and raping her. In his home, she notices a lampshade made of human skin, and a bowl that looks like it was carved from a skull. He admits to being Bloody Face, going so far as to wear a mask fashioned from a woman’s head, mirroring Ed Gein.
Thredson, like Gein, also had an obsession with his mother, was a necrophile, and they both killed more than once before being caught. They managed to escape the scene before someone saw them, similar to Cohen’s second thesis, “The Monster Always Escapes.” The damage the monsters all wreaked was visible, such as, how Gein had left some of Bernice Warden’s blood on the scene and had stolen the cash register from her store. (IMDb) They also escaped going to jail, though their fates were not pleasant. Gein was committed to a mental hospital, and Thredson was shot by Lana Winters.
Oliver Thredson is a good representation of Ed Gein, although more fearsome in my opinion. Thredson is more frightening because he killed more people, tortured more women, and was careful enough about it that he wasn’t suspected. Thredson also was able to get himself on the case of Kit Walker, and convince Kit to confess to the crimes committed by Bloody Face. Thredson was also worse than Gein in that he actually had sex with a woman he’d killed, and eventually burned her in his fireplace at home. That woman was named Wendy, and she was a teacher, whose partner was Lana Winters, a writer who got herself committed to Briarcliff Manor, an insane asylum, to write a story about Bloody Face. Lana was raped and tortured by Thredson, after he helped her escape Briarcliff, and he impregnated her. Lana gave the child to the foster system, only for him to find out who he was and to want him to be just like his father, Bloody Face. Not only was Thredson a monster, he created one as well.
Cohen’s first thesis, “The Monster’s Body is a Cultural Body” can be connected to Ed Gein and Oliver Thredson/Bloody Face to help explain why they are monsters. They evoke fear and anxiety in people, and show their desires and fantasies the way they attacked the women. They also help represent a cultural shift in fear; before them, people had been afraid of those creatures that weren’t entirely human. There was a fear of vampires and werewolves, while Ed Gein and Oliver Thredson brought about the fear of the humans around us.
These monsters can also be connected to Cohen’s sixth thesis, “Fear of the Monster Is Really a Kind of Desire.” They took part in forbidden practices, by killing people, robbing graves, and making furniture out of bodies. “We distrust and loathe the monster at the same time we envy it’s freedom, and perhaps it’s sublime despair.” (Cohen, 17) Most people don’t trust serial killers, nor do they like them. They lack remorse, which gives them freedom from feeling guilty for their actions.
It’s important to attempt to understand monsters such as Ed Gein or Oliver Thredson. Understanding why someone would commit such horrendous acts is crucial to preventing someone else from repeating the behavior. If the causes can be determined, there is a chance for intervention and for preventing the effects. These kinds of monsters are more terrifying, especially because they can be difficult to recognize as monsters because they are also humans, just like the rest of us.
Cohen, Jeffrey Jerome. Monster Theory: Reading Culture. University of Minnesota Press, 1997. This source includes Cohen’s seven theses about monsters, which helps to define monsters. It discusses various monsters and helps us to understand them. I used this source to relate back to Ed Gein and the representations of him. This is a scholarly source.
“Ed Gein.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 11 Oct. 2017, http://www.biography.com/people/ed-gein-11291338. This biography of Ed Gein gives information about his life, with a focus on his criminal history. It discusses the crimes he committed, his death, and also provides information about characters inspired by Gein. I used this source for gathering information and multiple quotes. This source is reliable as their main purpose is to give biographies, and when compared to other reliable sources, information matched up accurately.
“Ed Gein.” IMDb, IMDb.com, m.imdb.com/name/nm1273684/bio. This website provides a biography of Ed Gein’s life. It discusses his family, the crimes he committed, his disturbing visits to cemeteries, and what he did with the bodies. I used this source as a way of gathering information and quotations for a better understanding of Ed Gein. This website is not scholarly, however there are editors and information matches up from other sources across the internet.
Falchuk, Brad, and Ryan Murphy. American Horror Story, Season Asylum, FX, 17 Oct. 2012. This season of American Horror Story is based in an asylum in the 1960s. It tells of the horrors patients faced inside of this asylum, and of some of their lives after the asylum. While the season focuses on things other than just Bloody Face or Oliver Thredson, I used it mostly for information on him so I could relate him back to Ed Gein. This is a primary source of a representation of my monster.
Jenkins, Brandie, et al. Edward Theodore Gein “American Psycho.” Radford University, maamodt.asp.radford.edu/Psyc%20405/serial%20killers/Gein,%20Ed.pdf. This source provides a timeline of the life events of Ed Gein, helping to provide understanding of why he became such a monster. It also gives dates for each life event, which is important. I used this source to develop my understanding of his life and for quotations. This source is a scholarly source from the University of Radford, and it is peer reviewed, with sources cited.