Home » Episodes » Episode 50 – Madison, WI & St. Louis, MO (Murder, But Make It Fashion)

It’s a Halloween Extravaganza for our final episode of Spooky Season. And, we went BIG! First, Rachel heads to Madison, Wisconsin to tell us all about the creep-tastic Ed Gein. Then, Emily takes us back to St. Louis to share the real life history behind the movie, The Exorcism.  Hopefully, you’re horrified.

Story 1 – Ed Gein

For our final episode of spooky season, I’m going to tell you about Ed Gein.

Edward Theodore Gein was born on August 27, 1906 in La Crosse, WI. His father, George, was an alcoholic, and his mother, Augusta, was a fanatical Christian… and also overbearing AF, which we know is a great combination, at least if you are trying to raise a future killer. She would regularly lecture Ed and his older brother Henry about carnal sin, desire, and lust. You know, kid stuff!

Ed Gein

Augusta ran a grocery store, which allowed the family to move to a farm in Plainfield in 1915. Ed would go to school, but he was teased there. He was a little effeminate, and also seemed to be off in his own world, sometimes laughing randomly at jokes that seemingly only he could hear. Otherwise, he spent pretty much all of his time at home with mommy dearest, Henry, and his passed-out dad.

In 1940, Ed was 34-years-old and still living at home, and his father died. From what I can tell, Henry was also living at home, and the two brothers tried to work odd jobs to support Augusta. Get this – although Henry and Ed both worked as handymen, Ed also did some babysitting. OF CHILDREN.

In 1944, Ed and Henry were burning some brush on the family farm, and the fire got too big to control, and Henry died, maybe from a heart attack? His body wasn’t burnt, and the official cause of death was asphyxiation. I guess the police put together a search party, and Ed led them straight to Henry’s body. Police didn’t suspect foul play at the time, but I have my suspicions, as I’m sure you all do too. Apparently, Henry met someone… get this Emily… a divorcee. And worse – a single mom with two kids. Who would date someone like that (she says sarcastically….). Henry was thinking about leaving Ed and Augusta to live with this harlot, but then he died, so he couldn’t.

Anywho, Gein and Augusta were now living alone, just the two of them. Augusta suffered from a stroke, which made it difficult for her to take care of herself, and if you thought Augusta’s preaching on the dangers of ladies and sexuality would have stopped after her stroke, or back when Ed was going through puberty and not continued well into his adult life, you’d be very, very wrong. Of course, Ed didn’t date, but it went beyond that – he didn’t socialize at all. He stayed at home, tending to his mama’s failing health, enduring her emotional abuse.

Then, in 1945, Augusta died. So Ed did what any grieving 39-year-old son would do. He stayed in the house, left Augusta’s room in pristine condition, with nothing untouched, and pretended everything was fine…. Except for the fact that he seemingly never cleaned the rest of the house. The rest of the house was very hoarder-esque. He had piles of shit everywhere… not literal shit, but trash. Oh, and he started reading some books. Just a little light research on… anatomy. No big deal, right? Oh, and he also spent his looking at porn and reading horror books. Awesome combo.

In 1954, Mary Hogan, a 54-year-old owner of a tavern went missing. This woman sounds like a blast. She was foul-mouthed, had been divorced twice, and allegedly had been a madame back in Chicago. She was essentially the anti-Augusta. However, they did look alike. Ed may have been confused, because he was sexually attracted to Mary. Ed Gein was not originally connected to Mary’s disappearance, however he later admitted to shooting Mary with a .22 caliber, piling her body onto a sled, and dragging her back to his hoarder house. He kept some of her body parts and burned the ones that didn’t suit him.

And around the same time that Mary Hogan went missing, 4 other women went missing from around Plainfield WI as well. Even though Ed was drinking at Mary’s Tavern the night she went missing, no one thought he was the one to take/kill her; they just lumped her disappearance in with the other women who disappeared. Who, in my amateur opinion, Ed Gein may also have killed.

At this point, Ed started to become obsessed with seeing a woman’s body. And, I know this is going to be surprising to you Em, but he was a little awkward with women. And I think he was also pretty confused about his gender identity, and probably also suffering from schizophrenia. So, this combination leads Ed to make multiple visits to local cemeteries. He was stalking obituaries to make sure he could pick his perfect candidates.

Ed started robbing fresh graves of middle-aged women… Perhaps around the same age and with some of the same physical qualities as the love of his life, Augusta. He would bring home the bodies, dissect them, and then return the parts of the bodies he didn’t want to the graves. Also, he kept their heads, hearts, sexual organs, livers, and intestines. Plus, he experimented with human taxidermy, which are two words that should NOT go together. Spoilers, when he was eventually caught and accused of necrophilia, Ed vehemently denied this. He said the bodies “smelled too bad.”

He wanted to make suits. And we’ll get more into some graphic details. But it seems like he was trying to become a woman… and not just any woman: His mother, Augusta. And I’m going to throw two words out there, and you can let your imagination run wild here: Mammary Vest.

On November 16, 1957, Bernice Worden, the owner of the hardware store, went missing. Bernice, like Mary Hogan, was a voluptuous middle-aged woman, much like Augusta. And here’s where Ed got confused again; he was attracted to Bernice, but also, she was the devil, per his mama. Bernice was a widow – but, allegedly – she stole her late husband from another woman. And the other woman was incredibly distraught… so much so that she completed suicide. So in Ed’s mind, this woman was the ultimate target.

Let me just throw out there, Ed Gein was no criminal mastermind. He was at the store the evening of November 15, where he ran into Bernice’s son, Frank. Ed asked her son if he was going deer hunting the next day, as it was the first day of deer-hunting season. So Ed told Bernice and her son that he would come back the next morning for a gallon of anti-freeze. So the next day, when there was no Bernice, but there was a receipt on the counter for anti-freeze, it was pretty easy for police to put two and two together.

Weirdly enough, after Ed bought the anti-freeze, he left the store. Then, he walked back in under the guise of exchanging his rifle. Bernice takes out a rifle from behind the glass case and handed it to Ed to take a look. And Ed pulled a bullet from his pocket – that’s right – he didn’t bring his own gun, but he did bring his own ammo. He shot Bernice in the back of the head.

When Frank returned back to the store after hunting, he found that the cash register had been emptied out. There was a pool of blood on the ground. And, of course, the receipt for anti-freeze. Frank called the police, and like I said, everyone suspected Ed Gein immediately.

Ironically, Ed and his only friend were in the car when officers showed up, about to head over to the hardware store to join the other Morbid Curious.

Now is the time for you to stop eating and heed all the trigger warnings.

While some officers were telling Ed he needed to get out of the car and come with them, two other officers decided to check out the house. The front door was locked, so they walked around back to the cellar, which was unlocked, but pitch black. They waived around their flashlights, and, eventually, their lights landed on Bernice Worden’s mutilated body, swinging from the rafters upside-down from a crossbar, which was pierced through her ankles. Her torso had been carved the way one might carve a deer, and she had been disemboweled and drained completely of blood. Oh, and PS, she had been decapitated, and officers could not find the head.

And, as we all know, the cellar was not the only gag-inducing place on that property. Inside the house, police found Bernice’s heart near the stove. They also found: Four noses, many many bones, nine masks made of human skin, bowls made from human skulls, ten scalped female heads, chair covers made from human skin, nine vulvas in a shoebox, skulls on the bedpost, organs in the fridge, a pair of lips on a string that were being used as a window shade, and of course, the belt made from women’s nipples.

The Butcher of Plainfield — America's Weirdest Serial Killer | by Sal  Writes | Lessons from History | Medium
Some of Ed’s souvenirs

Oh, and they found 2 heads: Mary Hogan’s head was in a paper bag, and Bernice Worden’s head was in a burlap sack.

And remember, the creepiest detail to me, Augusta’s bedroom had been boarded up and was completely pristine.

Now I’m going to take a hard left and remind you that I started my story talking about food. At first, Ed Gein didn’t want to talk with investigators. But he was easily persuaded to share when they gave him a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie with cheese on top.

On November 21, 1957, Ed Gein was charged with first-degree murder. He pled not guilty by reason of insanity, and truthfully, I believe him. And so did everyone else. He was found mentally incompetent and was unable to stand trial, and was sent to the Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Interestingly, in 1968, Ed was found competent enough to stand trial, and he was convicted for first degree murder. But, he was still legally insane, so he spent the remainder of his life in a mental hospital.

Ed Gein died on July 26, 1984 – which sounds super recent to me. But he lives on in infamy. He was the inspiration for multiple horror movies, including: Psycho, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and of course, Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs.

Story 2 – The Exorcism

for our final episode of Spooky Season I’m going to tell you the true story that inspired The Exorcist… the tale of the exorcism of Ronald Hunkeler.

The year is January 1949 and 13-year-old Ronald Hunkeler (who later took on pseudonyms like “Roland Doe” and “Robbie Mannheim”) is feeling sad. You see, his beloved Aunt had recently died. Ronald had loved his aunt. She had been a wonderful role model to Ronald, even teaching him important things like how to use a Ouija board. Shortly after the passing Ronald apparently tried to contact her with his Ouija board and then strange things started happening. First, Ronald’s grandmother (who lived in a room about her grandson’s bedroom) started hearing what sounded like marching feet. This is what we call… the infestation phase of demonic possession.

Soon, Ronald began to experience strange things. He heard scratching sounds coming from the floors and walls of his room. The sound of water dripping happened throughout the house but they could never find a source. Most troubling of all was that his mattress would suddenly move and fruit would fly across the room in the kitchen and coat hangers would fly off their hooks and land near Ronald. Then the family started feeling claw-like sensations down their backs and finally, Ronald started speaking Latin, which he had never learned.

Of course, this worried Ronald’s family and they started making some phone calls – likely saying things like “yo our kid is messed up, can you help?” Just kidding just kidding. Actually, they consulted doctors, psychiatrists, and their local Lutheran minister, to no avail. Finally, the Lutheran minister suggested that the family seek the assistance of the Catholics. Which, seems odd because in my experience Lutherans and Catholics are a bit like oil and water, but, maybe the minister just wanted to get rid of the family and was like “You know who is good with possessions? The Catholics…”

So, they reached out to Father E. Albert Hughes, who was the church’s assistant pastor. Father Hughes, prayed with the family and offered holy water and blessed candles for use in their home if the events began again. So, Ronald’s mother attempted to use the blessed items as instructed, but the holy water flew across the room one evening, smashing. The candles either blew out on their own or the flame shot up dangerously.

So, they moved on to the next option… Exorcism. who of course asked his superiors’ permission to perform an exorcism on the boy in late February of 1949. Shockingly, the church granted Hughes’ request. Which is weird because according to The Conjuring, it isn’t so easy to get the pope to sign off on things. But, apparently this seemed extra serious.  

So, Father Hughes came to the family’s house and prepared to perform an exorcism. I found it very interesting to research exorcisms. And found this info on a website about Catholic Culture. There are 10 Golden Rules for Exorcisms…

  1. First, the exorcist must be sure he is dealing with a possessed person, not someone with psychological problems.
  2. To do this, he must distinguish possession from superstition. Sometimes people believe they have been affected by the “evil eye” or some other form of black magic. They should not be denied spiritual aid, but no exorcism should be carried out in such cases.
  3. The following are signs of possession: a sudden capacity to speak unknown languages; abnormal physical strength; the disclosure of hidden occurrences or events; and a vehement aversion to God, the Virgin Mary, the saints, sacramental rites and religious images, especially the cross.
  4. In difficult cases, while always respecting the secrecy of the confessional, the exorcist may consult with spiritual guides or Church-recommended physicians and psychiatrists before deciding to perform an exorcism.
  5. In the case of non-Catholics or other unusual situations, the exorcist-priest can leave the final decision to his diocesan bishop, who may also consult outside experts.
  6. The exorcism should, if possible, be carried out with the consent of the possessed person, and with awareness of that person’s individual physical and mental condition.
  7. The exorcism must always be performed as an expression of Catholic faith, and should never give the impression that it is a superstitious or magical event.
  8. At the same time, an exorcism should never turn into a “show” for the faithful. For that reason, media representatives and journalists must not be allowed to attend. The success or failure of an exorcism is not to be announced or published.
  9. Relatives and friends may assist at an exorcism, if the exorcist deems it helpful, since they are able to help with their prayers. The possessed person should pray to God, particularly before the ritual, and strengthen his soul by receiving the sacraments of Baptism, Confession and Communion.”
  10. If at all possible, the exorcism should take place in a church, or if not, in a closed-in place, with images of Christ Crucified and of the Mother of God. The exorcist makes the sign of the Cross over the victim’s head, and immediately afterwards speaks the phrase commanding the devil, in Christ’s name, to depart from the body of the possessed.

With all that in mind, I’m sure, Father Hughes strapped the boy to the mattress and began his recitations.

Now, if you’ve seen any movies or shows involving an exorcism, you’ve heard the recitation… it’s in Latin, it starts with Exorcizamus te, omnis immundus spiritus or something like that usually. And so I decided to look up what the translation for one of these recitations was and frankly, the internet is confusing and so there are like 100 different options of what is considered a rite of exorcism. So, this is what they say the rite of exorcism is at Mt. Holy Oke seminary in Massachusetts:

“I exorcise thee, most vile spirit, the very embodiment of our enemy, the entire specter, the whole legion, in the name of Jesus Christ, to v get out and flee from this creature of God vv.

“He himself commands thee, who has ordered those cast down from the heights of heaven to the depths of the earth. He commands thee, he who commanded the sea, the winds, and the tempests.

“Hear therefore and fear, O Satan, enemy of the faith, foe to the human race, producer of death, thief of life, destroyer of justice, root of evils, kindler of vices, seducer of men, betrayer of nations, inciter of envy, origin of avarice, cause of discord, procurer of sorrows. Why dost thou stand and resist, when thou knowest that Christ the Lord will destroy thy strength? Fear him who was immolated in Isaac, sold in Josepth, slain in the lamb, crucified in man, and then was triumphant over hell

Boom. Done. Demon exorcised, right? Well… no. This one especially wasn’t going to be so simple, I’m afraid. After a few verses, he had to stop the rite because Ronald broke off a piece of mattress spring and slashed the priest across his shoulders. Apparently, this was enough to send Father Hughes running and he left without finishing the exorcism.

Now, what happened next is actually somewhat debated. Why did the family decide to hightail it to St. Louis? Some say that scratches gain appearing on Ronald – scratches that read GO and LOUIS, some accounts even say they said ST LOUIS. Other accounts simply say that the family had relatives in St. Louis that they thought could help. Whichever thing happened… they packed up and moved across the country.

One thing that we do know for sure is that a cousin of the family was attending St. Louis University at the time of Ronald’s struggles. That cousin put the Hunkelers in touch with a priest named Father Bishop, who met with the boy after blessing the home. Ronald’s bed was shaking when they met but the shaking stopped when the priest sprinkled holy water to make the sign of the cross.

The shaking bed must have scared Bishop enough because he went back to SLU (the university) and talked to Father William Bowdern, pastor of St. Francis Xavier College Church, SLU’s spiritual home. Father Bowdern was a World War II veteran with extensive teaching and pastoral experience, so he visited the family two days later. During the visit, Ronald suffered long scratches in the shape of a cross and objects, including holy water, flew across rooms. 

So, Bowdern and Bishop sought permission from St. Louis Archbishop Joseph Ritter to perform the formal Rite of Exorcism and he agreed.

Now, Bishop kept a diary, so we have his account of the exorcism pretty thoroughly, which is awesome. According to the diary Bowdern was the lead exorcist and they visited Ronald nightly throughout the rest of March and into April 1949. As the priests prayed, Ronald’s reactions got to be very extreme. Writing in his diary on March 18, 1949, Bishop noted,

“The prayers of the exorcism were continued and R was seized violently so he began to struggle with his pillow and the bed clothing. The arms, legs, and head of R had to be held by three men. The contortions revealed physical strength beyond natural power. R spit at the faces of those who held him and at those who prayed over him. He spit at the relics and at the priests’ hands. Then he writhed under the sprinkling of Holy Water. And he fought and screamed in a diabolical, high-pitched voice.”

During one evening session, Bishop reported that a picture of the devil appeared on the boy’s leg. On another, the word, “HELL,” manifested on his chest. The boy punched Halloran in the face, breaking his nose and resisted the rite through cursing, speaking in tongues and by other physical means

Throughout the twelve weeks that they were visiting Ronald, Bowdern noticed a pattern in his behavior. He was calm and normal during the day. But at night, after settling in for bed, he would exhibit strange behavior, including screaming and wild outbursts.

More information about the type of things that he would do included entering a trance-like state and making sounds in a guttural voice; he would supposedly become incredibly strong, his body distorting and transforming, heels touching the back of his head, the body forming a loop – all reported by priests who were witnesses. The priests also said they saw objects mysteriously flying in the boy’s presence and noted that he would react violently when he saw any sacred object presented. Curiously, during these convulsions, the doctors attending him could find no change in his pulse rate or blood pressure. The bed would shake violently. Obscene words and images appeared on his skin, in raised red welts.

At one point during this weeks-long ordeal, Bowdern reportedly saw an “X” appear in scratches on Ronald’s chest, which the priest believed signified the number 10. Eventually he came to believe that it meant the boy was possessed by ten demons.

The two priests never gave up as they continued the exorcism night after night. On the evening of March 20, the exorcism reached an unhealthy new level. Ronald urinated all over his bed and began shouting and cursing at the priests. Now, Ronald’s parents had had enough so they took him to Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis for more serious treatment.

But! Changing locations did not seem to help at first. In fact, while they were transporting him – they arrived at the center and the priests started making the Stations of the Cross (which by the way, Stations of the Cross are a 14-step Catholic devotion that commemorates Jesus Christ’s last day on Earth as a man. The 14 devotions, or stations, focus on specific events of His last day, beginning with His condemnation. The stations are commonly used as a mini pilgrimage as the individual moves from station to station…so they wanted to bless this move, apparently). 

Anywho, as they were doing this rite outside the hospital, Ronald attempted to jump off a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River! Luckily, they were able to tackle him before the boy jumped off the cliff.

Now, according to Saint Louis University’s version of the story.. it was Easter Monday, April 18, 1949, when Ronald woke up in a total fit at the Hospital. Bowdern continued the rite of exorcism, placing holy items like rosaries and whatnot in the boy’s hands and around his neck. According to Bishop’s diary, the exorcist then demanded to know the name of the demon possessing Robbie. The Jesuit demanded the demon leave the boy in peace.

The fit continued. According to Bishop, the demon mocked Bowdern, saying,

“He has to say one more word, one little word, I mean one BIG word. He’ll never say it. I am always in him. I may not have much power always, but I am in him. He will never say that word.”

Bowdern and the priests assisting him persisted. Shortly before midnight, the priests heard a different male voice come from Ronald, Bishop’s diary noted. 

“Satan! Satan! I am St. Michael, and I command you Satan, and the other evil spirits to leave the body in the name of Dominus, immediately. Now! NOW! NOW!”

Seven minutes later, Ronald woke up. The boy told the priests, “He’s gone,” and said that he had a dream that St. Michael the Archangel had battled the Devil and demons on a great battlefield to free him. 

According to Bowdern, the strange occurrences and behavior completely stopped after that.

In 1971, an author by the name of William Peter Blatty penned the bestselling novel The Exorcist, based on the unofficial diaries kept by Bowdern and the book stayed on the bestseller list for 54 weeks and spawned the hit movie in 1973.

The movie of course took a lot of liberties, turning the teenage Ronald into a 12-year-old girl named Regan. The movie’s story also takes place entirely in Washington, D.C.

Although the scratches, shouting, spitting, and cursing in the movie mimicked what Ronald had experienced, the boy’s head never turned 360 degrees like Regan’s did in the film and he definitely never uses a crucifix to masturbate, which is by far the most disturbing part of that movie to me.

Following the exorcism, apparently Ronald and his family moved back to the East Coast. Sources say that he found a wife and started a family. He named his first son Michael after the saint believed to have saved his soul. If he is still alive today, he is in his mid-80s.

Following the St. Louis exorcism, the room in Hospital was boarded up and sealed. The entire facility was torn down in 1978. The house where the family lived in Maryland is now an empty lot after it was abandoned in the 1960s. And because people in St. Louis apparently give no fucks, I guess the house from STL is still standing, and there is a family living there! There is also a legend that there is a whole floor of SLU that is boarded up and no one can enter because it holds relics and writings about the exorcism.

Interestingly, in my research I also found some information about the fact that apparently exorcisms are on the rise these days. It always seems like they are special, secret rituals performed only by the Catholic church, but apparently there are hundreds of self-styled exorcists around the world. And many people are not performing them on people who are seeing upside down crosses appearing out of nowhere burned onto people’s bodies like in a scary movie… instead, sometimes people are performing exorcisms when what really needs to happen is that someone offers help for someone mentally ill.

The Vatican actually even released a new rite of exorcism in 1999 that highlighted the importance of making sure mental health is taken into consideration before assuming demons, because – even though a good scary movie is kind of fun especially during spooky season – a belief in the efficacy of exorcism can have deadly consequences.

Just a few examples… In 2003, an autistic 8-year-old boy in Milwaukee, Wis., was killed during an exorcism by church members who blamed an invading demon for his disability; in 2005 a young nun in Romania died at the hands of a priest during an exorcism after being bound to a cross, gagged, and left for days without food or water in an effort to expel demons. And on Christmas Day 2010 in London, England, a 14-year-old boy named Kristy Bamu was beaten and drowned to death by relatives trying to exorcise an evil spirit from the boy.

So, although the creepy true story of Ronald Hunkely is fascinating, it seems we should all take it all with an air of suspicion and caution.


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