Some criminals among us are like chameleons. They are experts at appearing normal at least at first glance. They can be charming, witty, highly intelligent, and attractive. They can be male or female. Most of us have heard of these types of criminals that we categorize as sociopaths and psychopaths. The psychopaths tend to be the more physically violent, but sociopaths can be very psychologically violent. Not all sociopaths and psychopaths end up in jail. Many remain at large in the general population affecting everyone they come in contact with. It is important to be aware of the warning signs.
First, let’s learn who the psychopaths and sociopaths are and how to spot them.
Some of the most heinous crimes are committed by psychopaths. We have touched on this category before in my posts on Predators, Bad Guys, and True Crime.
Next, let’s look at an example of a known psychopath.
I have mentioned Ed Gein before in the Bad Guys post. Ed Gein was a psychopath who lived in Plainfield, Wisconsin. He was truly the orignal “psycho.” I’ve mentioned the connection between Gein’s crimes and Hollywood movies. Now my library read through has brought me to Deviant: The Shocking True Story of Ed Gein, the Original “Psycho” by Harold Schechter.
Ed Gein was the child of an alcoholic father and a domineering, self righteous mother. Ed had one sibling, a brother, who died under questionable circumstances. At the time of his brother’s death, Ed acted strangely. He claimed that he thought his brother was killed from a fire they were trying to put out. Ed claimed he didn’t know where his brother was and rounded up a search party. However, as soon as the search party started to look for the missing brother, Ed led them straight to the body. His brother’s body had mysterious bruising about the head area. There were no burn marks or singeing of his body or clothing. Foul play was briefly suspected. It was known that Ed had been upset when his brother implied a slight criticism of their mother, but even law enforcement could not believe that Ed would harm his brother. The death was ruled accidental. Since Ed’s father had died four years previously Ed now had his mother all to himself.
Ed seemed inappropriately connected to his mother. She was his life and his inspiration. His mother’s approval was all that ever mattered to him. Ed’s mother had isolated her family in the country to avoid having to interact with the town’s people of Plainfield, who she believed were all evil. No one was good enough and she encouraged both of her sons to never marry or even interact with anyone unless absolutely necessary. Trips to town were only made when absolutely necessary. When Ed was old enough to drive, his mother would send him to town for the occasional necessities. However, she would constantly warn him about individual people in the town. Anyone Ed may have happened to mention would be an evil person whose sins were known and recited by his mother. Ed never questioned his mother’s omniscience. To Ed, his mother was at least equal to God. Ed’s faith in his mother was slightly shaken when she said she was so ill that he would have to take her to the hospital. Ed had a hard time believing that his mother needed help from anyone. After she suffered a stroke, Ed kept vigil at his mother’s hospital bedside. After her release from the hospital, Ed had to carry his mother into their house and then he nursed her back to health. When she was back on her feet, Ed was elated though somewhat disgruntled because his mother never once thanked him for taking care of her even though she was completely reliant upon him. When Ed’s mother had a second stroke and then died, Ed was very distraught.
From all outside appearances, Ed Gein appeared to be a quiet middle aged man. He helped his neighbors with anything he could and would sometimes hire on for odd jobs. Ed also became a somewhat popular babysitter. He was considered a very good and reliable worker. However, because Ed was different he was the brunt of pranks and often bullied and teased. He retreated inside himself holding in a lot of resentments towards his neighbors who he believed mistreated him and cheated him out of his pay.
Ed’s mostly pornographic reading material was focused on such things as tortures in Nazi prison camps, grave robbing, head shrinking, cannibalism, and various ways that the human body could be used to make household items and even musical instruments.
Eddie Gein killed two women, both of whom reminded him of his mother. Other victims are suspected but it was never proven that he killed more than two people. It was also never proven that Gein never killed men. (He was suspected in a least two murders of men.) It was proven that he dug up the remains of some of his victims from local cemeteries and perpetrated atrocities on the corpses.
The remainder of the book goes on to explain Eddie’s journey through the court system and mental health hospitals, as well as how the town’s people of Plainfield, Wisconsin dealt with the aftermath of Eddie’s crimes. Since I don’t want to spoil the book for those who may want to read it, I won’t say anything about the findings of the courts or the mental health system.
I would recommend this book to those interested in this true crime story. The author does a fantastic job of following Eddie through his life from his birth to his death. Harold Schechter keeps his tone conversational while clearly explaining what drove Eddie to commit the heinous crimes he committed. He also does a great job of following up the aftermath of Eddie’s crime spree. The reader will come away with a deep understanding of exactly what happened and why. The book itself is not scary, but it does have some rather gross descriptions in it that are definitely not for the squeamish! To me, the story is more sad than scary.
Due to the length of this post, I won’t comment in depth about the next book I came to, which is also by Harold Schechter. Psycho U S A: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of is a book which seeks to document psychopathic crime from almost the birth of the US.
Schechter identifies time periods from 1782 through 1961 when such crimes were not so widely publicized. Time frames and categories covered in this interesting book are:
- Fiends of the Early Republic 1782-1826
- Antebellum Maniacs 1840-1860
- Post Civil War Monsters 1866-1880
- Turn of the Century Psychos 1892-1896
- A Year of Horror 1927
- Demons of the Depression (Exact dates not given. Approximate dates 1928-1940)
- Soldier, Sailor, Serial Killer 1941-1961
There are very interesting articles in this book describing how certain stories have entered into American folklore. This book is worth the reader’s time.
Have you seen any of the movies based on Eddie Gein? Have you ever met someone with a diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder?