GIVE THE MAN A HAND
The sad, strange life of Ed Gein still shocks…
By Don Stradley
By Don Stradley
Schechter is to American murderers what Bert Sugar was to boxers, or what Bob Costas is to the New York Yankees. He’s written several books about mass killers, and tells their stories without being overtly academic or judgmental. I like him best when he writes with a nod toward to the lurid pulps of the past: “Gein’s house looked grim even in broad daylight. On a frozen winter’s night, with icicles hanging from the porch roof and dead clumps of weeds poking up through the snow, its desolation was so extreme that even a brave man could be spooked by the sight of it. It was hard to believe that anything human could make a home in such a place.” Schechter also succeeds in helping us understand Gein’s unfathomable psyche (“…a schizophrenic personality isn’t so much split as shattered…”) and even attempts to explain something as brutal as necrophilia, devoting a section to some peculiar lads in the 1800s who may not have been as deranged as Gein, but were every bit as nasty.
There are no heroes in the book. The cops aren’t especially bright, while the people of Plainfield seem provincial and slightly thick; in hopes of distracting the locals from the Gein case, the postmaster proposed a commemorative stamp praising the prairie chicken. As often happens in a book like Deviant, the only character who stands out is its star. Few could match a fellow who, following the death of his mother, “tried to slake his unbearable loneliness by seeking companionship in the community of the dead.”
Whether, as Schechter suggests, Gein killed more people than he admitted, or robbed more graves, I neither know nor care. What has stayed with me after reading Deviant is that the Gein farm was without electricity. Augusta, you see, was too frugal to indulge in such a frivolous expense. Hence, Eddie spent much of his life in darkness, or by candlelight, or oil lamps. It was also intriguing to learn that, along with hoarding bags of noses and other body parts, Gein had a stash of musical instruments in his home, including a violin and a harmonica. There’s no reason to think he could actually play these instruments, but I like to imagine that, when he wasn’t fondling human bones, he’d pull down one of those dusty harmonicas and give it a blast.