The Texas Chainsaw Massacre revolutionized the horror genre in 1974. The remake saw even more commercial success and was equal parts terrifying and disgusting – but did you know the story is actually true?
The Real Texas Chainsaw Massacre
From the minute the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre hit theaters, there was massive rumors about an actual skin-wearing, chainsaw wielding madman living in rural Texas. It was said that director Tobe Hooper got inspiration from a group of actual events that took place on August 18, 1973, which would’ve been impossible since the film wrapped four days before.
So what inspired this iconic film? Click through to read the real story of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Serial Killer Ed Gein Inspired the Film’s Killer
Leatherface is undoubtedly a terrifying and deranged character, but he was based on the real-life serial killer Ed Gein. Ed Gein had a very difficult, troubled life after being born in 1906 in Plainfield, Wisconsin. His father, George, was an abusive alcoholic, and his mother, Augusta, was fanatically religious. Throughout his most formative years, Gein suffered major physical and mental abuse from both his father and mother. This is when he became reclusive and began to develop strange habits that concerned some of his classmates. It’s safe to say Ed Gein was never popular in class.
Ed Gein’s Classmates Thought He Was a Total Weirdo
It’s not surprising that with all the abuse Ed Gein suffered at home, he was somewhat strange and reclusive in school. His classmates were scared by his weird, unsettling habits. One of the strangest was that he would randomly laugh out loud like he had told a joke to himself that was hysterical. Clearly, Gein was not of sound mind from a very young age, and his constant abuse at home only made it worse. When Gein came home from school, he had to face a really harsh reality.
Ed Gein’s Home Life Was Traumatic
There was immense tension within Ed’s family life. His father, George, couldn’t keep a job because of his severe alcoholism. This caused Augusta, Ed’s mother, to resent and despite him. In addition, Augusta taught her boys, Ed and Henry, strict religious values. She primarily preached from the Old Testament and filled their developing minds with an immense fear of sexuality and a mistrust of women. Augusta was extremely distrustful of women in a way that bordered on full paranoia. To her, all women were sinful and instruments of the devil. She spent her life trying to keep her sons away from them.
Augusta Gein’s Verbal Abuse
Augusta made sure her boys didn’t have access to any world views but her own sincere, smothering paranoia. Once August pumped her children up with extremely damaging world views, she forced them to be complete recluses. Both Ed and Henry were not allowed to have visitors. In fact, they were often punished for making friends. If that wasn’t damaging enough, Augusta reminded her sons daily that no woman would ever love them. This was an effort to keep them away from sin, but her words merely became the roots which helped ground a real-life serial killer.
More Tragedy Hits Ed Gein at Home
In 1940, tragedy hit the Gein family. This would become a rather common occurrence within their reclusive farm life. George passed away from alcohol-related heart failure when Ed was 30 years old. This left Ed and his brother Henry alone with their abusive mother. They became more and more isolated. This is when Ed began developing serial-killer like tendencies. The combination of abuse and strange ideas fed from his mother would eventually meet their breaking point. His first victim, for which he was never accused, would end up being his very own brother.
Henry Gein Dies in a Suspicious Fire
Though Ed Gein was never charged with the death of his brother, it’s widely regarded as his first possible kill. Four years after Ed’s father passed away, his brother would lose his life in a terrible accident.
In 1944, a fire broke out on the Gein property. Ed managed to escape and insisted that he somehow got separated from his brother and couldn’t find him with all of the smoke. When the search party came to find Henry and try to save him, Ed ended up leading them directly to his dead body, as if he knew exactly where it was the entire time. Henry was pronounced dead due to smoke inhalation even though he had bruising on his head. Ed was never charged.
Ed Gein Develops an Interest In Cannibalism
Ed devoted his life to his holier-than-thou mother. He never sought a romantic relationship with anyone. Instead, he preferred to listen to his mother’s Bible stories and read magazines. The magazines Ed was most interested in had rather sinister content – he loved old detective stories and geographical magazines that reported about cannibalistic tribes and the mechanics behind shrunken heads. He enjoyed reading tales about Nazis making lampshades from human skin and began studying anatomy by reading Gray’s Anatomy, a textbook meant to teach medical students about the human body. It’s possible that he was thinking about committing more crimes but had yet to make the move.
Ed’s Mother Becomes Sick
Ed Gein lived most of his life as a total recluse (probably for good reason, as he regularly donned the skin of his victims like it was just another coat he purchased at the local Kmart). His only salvation was his mother, who suffered a stroke shortly after Henry’s death. Ed became her full-time nurse, but sadly she passed away a year later sending Ed into an intense downward spiral.
Ed boarded up the room in her farmhouse and left it untouched. He made it a shrine to her, but let the rest of his house fall to shambles. He began frequenting a local bar, until the mysterious disappearance in 1954.
The Disappearance of Mary Hogan
Ed Gein took up drinking after his mother passed away, and frequented a bar called Hogan’s Tavern. The bar’s owner, Mary Hogan, mysteriously disappeared in 1954. Police didn’t find her body, but rather found a pool of her blood in the bar and a .32 caliber cartridge nearby. Gein allegedly joked about her disappearance to bar patrons saying “Mary’s not missing — I got her hung up back at my place right now!” No one thought anything about his sense of humor.
The Murder of Bernice Worden
Bernice Worden’s murder is the act that would eventually get Ed Gein taken down. In 1957, he stopped into Worden’s Hardware and Implement Store. He picked up some anti-freeze from the store owner, Bernice Worden. Gein had brought a .22 caliber bullet with him and hid it in his pocket. He picked up one of the hunting rifles for sale, loaded it with the bullet and shot Worden. The crime scene was the same as the Mary Hogan’s – just a pool of blood and no body.
Police noticed that the crime scenes were the same and ended up getting Gein’s name from a store receipt. They rushed to his farmhouse, hoping to find Bernice alive, but what they found was so much worse.
Ed Gein’s House of Horrors
Gein’s farmhouse was deserted when cops rolled up. He was having dinner with a neighbor, and while some cops went to arrest him and bring him for questioning, others looked around his property. This is where they found an absolutely horrific scene.
Bernice Worden’s body was headless, hung upside down and completely gutted like you would do to a deer you had hunted. His home was a macabre, nightmare-filled lair that stunk of decaying flesh. He hung human skulls on his bedposts and used them as soup bowls. Bernice’s heart was found on Gein’s stovetop. There was a pair of lips hanging from the window, a belt made of human nipples, a lamp shade made of human skin, a box filled with female sex organs, a box filled with human brains and nine human faces that were crafted into masks and hung on the wall like trophies.
Ed Gein Admitted To Robbing Graves
Only two of the bodies found could be linked to actual disappearances – the disappearance of Mary Hogan and Bernice Worden. Gein explained that the other bodies were a product of grave-robbing, a hobby he had picked up after his mother’s death.
“I started to visit graveyards in the area regularly about 18 months after my mother died,” he told District Attorney Earl Kileen. “Most nights, I would just stand and have private conversations … with my ma…. Other times, I couldn’t make myself go home without raisin’ one of ’em up first. Maybe on about nine occasions, I took somebody, or part of somebody, home with me. It was kind of an evil spirit I couldn’t control.”
Gein admitted that he would scan obituaries in the paper, look for women with a similar body type to his late mother, and steal their corpses. To him, it was “an uncontrollable desire to see a woman’s body.”
Ed Gein’s Woman Suit
The image that inspired Texas Chainsaw Massacre was the suit found in Ed Gein’s house. He made a suit out of a woman’s body, that he would wear at night in his yard. The suit was a pair of human skin leggings and a vest made from a women’s torso, with breasts attached. Gein was thought to suffer from gender dysphoria, at least that’s what he described to the District Attorney of Waushara County during questioning.
“It was sort of a sex problem… I blame all my trouble on my mother. She should have made me a girl. I almost never went out with girls. I was afraid of them. All I could think of was my mother, and how much I really loved her. I used to wonder if some kind of operation could change me into a woman.”
Ed Gein’s Sentencing and Death
Gein was charged with just one count of first-degree murder, despite the fact that he was involved in both Bernice Worden’s and Mary Hogan’s murders. He was found unfit to stand trial and never saw a single day in jail. Gein spent the rest of his life in mental hospitals and passed away in 1984 from heart and respiratory failure. Gein was buried next to the love of his life, his mother, in the same cemetery he used to steal corpses from.
But Ed Gein’s story isn’t the only one of its kind – but it is the most famous. He was said to have inspired the films Psycho, House of 1000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects and Deranged. He undoubtedly inspired the killer from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but more dangerously, he also inspired another copycat crime.
Robert Elmer Kleasen, theT Copycat
No one knows whether Robert Elmer Kleasen was inspired by the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or if he had even seen the movie before it premiered, but one thing is for certain. His crimes were eerily similar to the film.
Kleasen had pretty normal beginnings, but he was known for erratic, dangerous behavior. He was the only child of a mentally ill store clerk, and both he and his father had a passion for guns and hunting. His first real incident occurred when he was just 18-years-old. Kleasen stepped on a rusty nail and his mom took him to the hospital. He ended up going insane while he waited to be treated. He hit his mother, ran to her car, grabbed a gun, came back and shot up the emergency room. No one was injured but he was placed in a mental hospital for two years.
Kleasen Was a Skilled Liar and Taxidermist
Kleasen was an extremely skilled liar. He frequently pretended to be a war hero, a CIA agent, a university scholar, an Olympic athlete and more – anything that would let people hold him in a high regard.
After the incident at the hospital, Kleasen’s life was pretty quiet despite what he told others. He married and completed a course in taxidermy. In 1962 he became a deputy sheriff in upstate New York but he only lasted two years in the position before his superiors decided he was too unstable. From here, he drifted, eventually landing in Austin in the early ’70s. He became a Mormon, which is how he met his victims.
The Murder of Mark Fischer and Gary Darley
On Oct. 28, 1974, Kleason murdered a couple of young Mormon missionaries. Mark Fisher, 19, and Gary Darley, 20, went to Kleasen’s trailer for dinner. They were never seen again. Without a warrant, police couldn’t search Kleasen’s home, but eventually found an illegal gun purchase from his years of collecting guns. They got their warrant and ended up finding weapons, porn, fake IDs and a watch with blood on the band that had belonged to Fischer. Police arrested Kleasen.
Kleasen’s Crime and Sentencing
The cops found plenty of evidence in Kleason’s home, including a bloodstained jumpsuit and a six-foot-tall taxidermy saw with fragments of human hair. It was thought that he dismembered his victims’ bodies with the saw then buried them, but no bodies were ever found.
The prosecution had enough evidence to convict him for Fischer’s murder, but he was never tried for Darley’s. He was sentenced to Death Row but ended up walking because of a technicality. In 1977, his conviction was overturned on the basis that the cops had obtained a faulty search warrant. He got a retrial and left a free man.
Kleasen’s Life as a Free Man
Kleasen would never be really free. He bounced around from the U.S. to England and remarried. Kleasen spent the rest of his life in and out of jail for various firearms violations and domestic abuse charges.
In 2001, technology was invented that would allow for DNA blood testing. The U.S. began the process of using this technology to see if the blood on Kleasen’s pants at the murder scene matched that of Darley. Unfortunately, it was dropped when Kleasen died of a heart attack in an English jail in 2003. Justice was never served.
The Blind Melon Tribute
In addition to the horror classic Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ed Gein inspired a bevy of other filmmakers and even musicians. One such band was the ‘90s cultivated Blind Melon. On their 1995 album “Soup” they released a song called “Skinned”. If you are familiar with Blind Melon’s music, it’s definitely a strange choice to say the least. Blind Melon’s most popular song is probably the well-known hit “No Rain”, which is still played often today. The song “Skinned” is relatively happy-sounding which discusses some of Gein’s crimes. One lyric goes, “I’ll make a shoehorn outta your shin, I’ll make a lampshade of durable skin.” Yikes!
Ed Gein’s Gravesite
In 1968 Ed Gein was found guilty of murder, he was also found unfit to stand trial and was sent to live out the remainder of his life in a mental hospital. Eventually, Ed died in July of 1984. He was then buried in the same cemetary where his parents had been laid to rest, which also happened to be where Ed stole some of his bodies from. Of course, Ed had begun to gain some notoriety after his crimes and the 1974 Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Some fans began to take their fascination to an extreme and many people would stop at his gravesite for photos. However, it was what fans began to do next that really pushed the boundaries of common decency.
The Stolen Headstone
As people continued to congregate at the macabre figure’s gravesite, some fans even began to chip at the headstone in order to take a piece of it with them. Apparently, this was thought of as some kind of grotesque souvenir. Ultimately, one person went so far as to actually steal and remove the headstone. Apparently, it was later recovered but officials did not replace it in fear of the same thing reoccurring. Now, Ed has an unmarked grave but apparently some locals might still know where the original location of his grave was. After all, the locals reportedly burned down the house that he grew up in.
Ed Gein’s Car
Another famous part of lore from the horrifying story of Ed Gein, was his old car that he used in order to transport bodies he had graverobbed from the local cemetery. Although it would seem that people certainly would want nothing to do with an item used in such terrifying endeavors, people still did. You would also think that possibly people would simply destroy the vehicle, however that was also not done. A man named Bunny Gibbons who was a carnival sideshow operator bought the car for $760 at auction. He later charged people a quarter to see the car.
Ed Gein Inspired Psycho
Ed Gein’s story was so completely terrifying that it captured the imagination of millions including many filmmakers. Another of the most classic horror films in film history today is the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho which has sprung off several remakes, sequels and even a TV series. Did you know that the character Norman Bates was inspired by none other than Ed Gein? Before Psycho became a movie it was novel written by Robert Bloch. Bloch actually lived about 35 miles away from Plainfield, the scene of Ed Gein’s crimes. After it was revealed that it was thought Ed Gein made himself a “woman’s skin” in order to pretend he was his own dead mother, Bloch became grotesquely fascinated with the story.
Norman and Ed
It probably also helped that because writer Robert Bloch was staying in such close proximity to the scene of Ed’s crimes in Michigan, he felt a particular closeness with the heinous story. Out of his intense interest, the mother-obsessed character Norman Bates was born. In the book (and the film), the character also has a strange fascination with taxidermy, which is quite close to real life killer Ed Gein’s interests. After the years went on and more details about Ed Gein’s life were revealed, Bloch was said to be rather impressed that many details matched with his imaginary character Norman Bates.
Another Gein Inspired Killer
In addition to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Psycho, Ed Gein inspired yet another iconic movie killer. The now classic film, “The Silence of the Lambs”, crafted the disturbing serial murderer Buffalo Bill after real-life counterpart Ed Gein. To be fair, Buffalo Bill is allegedly a mix of multiple real-life murderers including Ed Gein, Gary Heidnik, Edmund Kemper and Ted Bundy. Perhaps, the most disgusting part of the killer’s entire modus operandi was actually inspired by Ed Gein. In the same way that Ed fashioned himself a suit of woman’s skin, Buffalo Bill also collected his own “woman suit”. Buffalo Bill was played to creepy perfection by actor Ted Levine.
Other Ed Gein Inspired Films
Ed Gein clearly did a number on the collective mind of America and definitely left his impression within the cultural lexicon. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Psycho and Silence of the Lambs are all now considered classics within American cinema. However, these are not the only films, directors, and writers inspired by Gein. There have been several films made directly about Ed Gein including Deranged, Ed Gein and Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield. Allegedly, Rockstar, writer and film director Rob Zombie was also highly influenced by Ed for his films House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. Ed also supposedly served as an inspiration for the character Dr. Oliver Thredson in the American Horror Story:Asylum.
Rest In Peace Tobe Hooper
Despite all of these other films drawing inspiration from the story of Ed Gein, arguably the most well-known take on the events remains to be the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Perhaps it is also the cult status of the film and the gritty barebones budget way the film was made that truly captured the imagination of people around the world. Director Tobe Hooper was the mind behind the film, although he continued to direct and write throughout his life nothing ever surpassed his first film (except perhaps Poltergeist). Tobe passed away in August of 2017 at the age seventy four, however his contributions to film and the horror world will remain forever.
Albert Fish is another killer that rivals Ed Gein in terms of creepiness. Albert was a pedophile and murderer, who traveled across the United States. He claimed to “have children in every state” but he was only put on trial for one murder. He was convicted of the murder of ten-year-old Grace Budd. He was also thought to have taken and murdered a four-year-old boy named Billy Gaffney. A little boy that had accompanied Billy when he was kidnapped said “The Boogeyman took him”. However, it was Albert’s own words that truly revealed just how heinous his actions had been.
Albert’s Disturbing Letter
Grace Budd was taken after Albert Fish visited the family farm under the pretense of hiring her family member for work. However, he presented himself under a different name and also claimed to be going to a birthday party of a niece asking if Grace might join him. Her parents sadly agreed, unknowing what fate could await her. Grace never returned home. Six years later, Grace’s mother received a horrific letter that outlined her murder and Albert’s cannibalism. Not long after the letter, they were able to track down the origin of the letter and discovered the true identity of Albert Fish. He was subsequently tried for the murder of Grace and later executed in the electric chair.
Armin Miewes is arguably one of the most famous of modern day cannibals and perhaps the most interesting. Armin, a German man, was a member of message board called The Cannibal Care, which attracted people who had had a cannibal fetish. Armin posted an ad looking for a willing person or more specifically, “for a well-built 18 to 30-year-old to be slaughtered and then consumed.” If you can believe a person actually responded. Bernd Jürgen Armando Brandes, a German engineer, was the man who responded in 2001. The two later made a video which showed very graphic footage of cannibalism which he continued to engage in over a period of ten months.
Armin Miewes was arrested in 2010 after a college student found new ads attempting to lure a willing candidate for cannibalistic acts. The ads traced back to Armin where they found remains of Bernd as well a film of the killing. He was later found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to eight years in prison. He now admits guilt and also expresses remorse for the murder. He has also aided authorities in solving other similar cases. Although, psychologists have also said that he also still has fantasies about these horrifying acts and thus would be likely to re-offend. In 2005, he was later retried and convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Another recent terrifying killer, in the same vein of Ed Gein is British man Stephen Griffiths. Stephen reportedly had an obsession with the serial killer the “Yorkshire Ripper” or Peter Sutcliffe. Stephen attempted to follow in his footsteps and sought out his victims in the form of prostitutes. In 2010, murdered and cannibalized three women – Susan Rushworth, 43, Shelley Armitage, 31, and Suzanne Blamires, 36. In a style that harkens back to the Texas Chainsaw Massacre he even called his house “the slaughterhouse”. He referred to his acts of cannibalization as “part of the magic” when questioned by authorities.
Andrei Chikatilo was a serial killer from the Soviet Union. He murdered, cannibalized and mutilated over fifty women and children in Russian and the Ukraine from late 1970s until 1992. He confessed to fifty-six murders. His heinous acts gave him the nickname the Rostov Ripper, after the area where the majority of his murders were committed. He was tried on fifty-three of the murders he confessed to and was found guilty. Reportedly, throughout his trial he would regularly have outbursts and would have to be reprimanded by the judge who once chastised him, “You’re not crazy!” He was sentenced to death and was executed in February of 1994.
Peter Bryan is another murderer who hails from London. Throughout his life he had multiple violent outbursts. Although, Peter also suffers from schizophrenia, which when untreated can result in violent outbursts. He has also admitted to being a cannibal. After killing a friend, he was taken into Broadmoor mental hospital which is where he murdered his last victim, fellow patient named Richard Loudwell. Although, he murdered him he was unable to perform cannibalism although he said he would have had he not be interrupted. He is expected to spend the remainder of his life imprisoned in a high security mental hospital.
Luka Magnotta is perhaps one of the most famous cannibals on the list which is likely a title he would highly desire. Luka, a Canadian citizen, was first known to authorities after he posted videos online of himself killing kittens. Later, he gained notoriety after killing, mutilating, and reportedly cannibalizing a Chinese international student named Lin Jun. Luka actually sent parts of Lin Jun’s body to various places including elementary schools and political party offices. At the time, the case was reported on internationally. Luka reportedly posted a video of his heinous actions against Lin Jun, which led to an international manhunt. He was later caught in Berlin, Germany reading about himself online.
Luka Magnotta is said to be suffering from a variety of mental heal disorders, including being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia as a teenager. However, chief among his mental disorders seem to be narcissism and he seemed to be fixated on publicity and notoriety within the public sphere. After a twelve-week trial Luka was found guilty and ordered to life imprisonment, although almost unbelievably he will be eligible for parole in twenty-five years. At one point, he attempted to try an appeal but later withdrew his request. He currently remains in prison.
Katherine Knight, one of the few woman cannibals known, is perhaps one of the disturbing of all stories. Katherine, an Australian citizen, became involved with a man named John Price who had three children from a previous marriage. Katherine had also been married before as well as engaged in a variety of relationships with various men and was known for her violent tendencies. Ultimately, her violent with John also became violent and ended up with her stabbing him. He kicked her out of his home and sought a restraining order for himself and his three children. The same day he told his friends at work that if he did not come to work the next day it would be because Katherine killed him.
The Female Ed Gein
When John arrived home Katherine was waiting for him and had sent the children away for a sleepover. She seduced John and later stabbed him while he slept. She then skinned him and cooked various parts of his body with vegetables as though preparing a large dinner. She even set the table with name cards of his children. His head was also found in a pot with vegetables. Katherine was found unconscious due to her intentional overdose of pills. She attempted to leave a note blaming John for the rape of her daughter, however the claims were later found to be baseless. She was later found guilty of murder, although she still does not take responsibility for her actions. She was sentenced to life in prison with the additional stipulation of “never to be released” which has never been applied to a woman in Australia until her case.