Ed Gein's Affinity for Human Skin Was Part of the Inspiration for Leatherface

Ed Gein was known partly for his fascination with human skin, but was 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' based on him? Is it even a true story?

Chrissy Bobic - Author

Apr. 9 2021, Published 10:47 a.m. ET

Ed Gein
Source: YouTube

Over the years, some horror fans have gotten the idea into their heads that serial killer Ed Gein was the person on which Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was based. They certainly share some key characteristics, like an affinity for human skin (both on and off the body) and a penchant for killing innocent people.

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But at its core, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is pure fiction. At the time of its initial 1974 release date, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was marketed as being based on true events. However, the story of Leatherface — a human skin mask-wearing, chainsaw-wielding killer with no clear motive or reason behind his rampage — is all made up.

texas chainsaw massacre leatherface
Source: New Line Cinema
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Was 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre' based on Ed Gein in any way?

Although Leatherface never existed outside of the movie and the sequels and remakes that came after it, he was based in part on real-life serial killer Ed Gein. Like Leatherface, Gein's calling card was human skin and bones. In fact, when authorities eventually raided his home, they found a wastebasket made of human skin, skulls in his bedroom used as decoration, and a belt made from human nipples, among other things.

However, unlike Leatherface, Gein said repeatedly that he did not eat his victims. That was one aspect of his pattern of mutilation that was clear to many. Whereas the fictional Leatherface would kill and cook his victims, Gein was known to murder and rob graves to remove skin and bones from recently deceased people. The fascination with human skin is where the similarities between Gein and Leatherface end.

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But Gein had a reputation for inspiring all kinds of nefarious psychopaths in pop culture, like Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs. The fictional character and Gein shared a love of keeping trophies in the form of human skin and bones. Norman Bates from Psycho was also partially based on Gein. The fact that he kept his mother's rotting corpse in his home long after her death gives them a connection through being unafraid of closeness with dead bodies.

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Did Ed Gein use a chainsaw?

One of the most prominent connections people have made over the years in regard to movies using Gein as inspiration is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. But, in reality, Gein never even used a chainsaw on his victims. Many of the people whose bodies he mutilated and skinned were from graveyards. When he did attack living people, Gein used a gun rather than a chainsaw.

In 1954, Gein used a gun to kill a barkeeper, then brought her body to his house, presumably to dissect her. He later killed a cashier at a local hardware store. While it is believed that Gein murdered others during his active years, he only ever admitted to these two specific cases. They were enough to convict him, however. And until his 1984 death, Gein spent his remaining years in a mental institution.

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