MADISON, Wis. -- Ed Gein, the 'butcher of Plainfield' whose grotesque killings and grave robbing inspired the Alfred Hitchcock movie thriller 'Psycho,' has died at 77.
Gein died Thursday of respiratory failure in a state mental hospital. Officials at the Mendota Mental Health Institute said he also had been suffering from cancer.
Gein's murders, butchery and home furnishings made of human flesh made him an international byword in 1957. They inspired a book by Robert Block which was used as the basis for Hitchcock's classic terror film.
Gein lived on a farm with his mother in the east-central Wisconsin hamlet of Plainfield. After her death in 1945 he became withdrawn and lonely, but the townsfolk considered him harmless and even hired him as a babysitter.
Gein admitted in 1957 he had killed and butchered two women and looted the graves of about a dozen more in moonlight forays into cemeteries between 1944 and 1952. He never was convicted of the crimes because he was found mentally incompetent. He spent the rest of his life in mental institutions.
Gein told authorities he killed Mary Hogan, 54, a tavern operator, in 1954 and killed Bernice Worden, 58, a Plainfield hardware store operator, in 1957, because they resembled his dead mother. Psychiatrists said he had an abnormal love for his mother.
Authorities investigating the disappearance of Mrs. Worden went to the dilapidated Gein farm and found her body hanging by the heels in the woodshed. It was dressed out like a deer.
Inside the house, they found 19 skulls, shrunken heads, preserved torsos and death masks made of human skin. Furniture was fashioned from human remains. Clothing and bracelets appeared to be made of human skin and hair, and a human heart was found in a pot on the kitchen stove. Parts of human bodies were found scattered throughout the nine-room house.
Authorities eventually determined that 10 graves had been uncovered and that Gein had brought the bodies to his home.
Gein was diagnosed as a chronic schizophrenic. A mysterious fire consumed his farm about a year after the grisly discoveries.