Rumors are swirling in cable television circles about an upcoming Cold Case Files episode exposing a link between infamous killer/grave robber Ed Gein and the classic television series, “The Andy Griffith Show.” Top A&E executives have been deluged with inquiries from media outlets but have been tight lipped, refusing to confirm or deny any such project in the works Fans dedicated to websites celebrating the Mayberry TV series and sites chronicling Mr. Gein’s psychopathic love fest with body parts have been at each other’s electronic throats for the last few weeks in a bitter, sometimes threatening, internet shouting match.
Most of my older readers are familiar with the iconic Mayberry series and the memorable characters which it produced: Sheriff Andy Taylor, Deputy Barney Fife, Aunt Bee, Opie, Gomer & Goober Pyle, Floyd the barber, and more.
You may be less familiar with Ed Gein, who was also known as the Plainfield Ghoul. He acquired that moniker because he was a resident of Plainfield, Wisconsin where he committed his nefarious deeds. In 1957 Mr. Gein aroused the suspicion of local authorities after it was discovered that he had been robbing graves in his hometown to acquire “trophies” for his personal Museum of Horror. According to Wikipedia a search of his house revealed the following:
- Four noses
- Whole human bones and fragments
- Nine masks of human skin
- Bowls made from human skulls
- Ten female heads with the tops sawn off
- Human skin covering several chair seats
- Mary Hogan’s head in a paper bag
- Bernice Worden’s head in a burlap sack
- Nine vulvas in a shoe box
- Skulls on his bedposts
- Organs in the refrigerator
- A pair of lips on a draw string for a window shade
- A belt made from human female nipples
- A lampshade made with the skin from a human face
Seems like a regular sort of guy to me. Hey, some dudes like to bowl or go fishing. Others watch NASCAR or football. A few like to eat chicken noodle soup from a hollowed out human skull while fondling their shoebox full of vulvas. I have to draw the line at the pair of lips on a draw string, however, as that seems a bit over the top.
Old Ed was consigned to the looney bin in 1957 and stayed there until his death in 1984. He has become the stuff of horror legend in the ensuing years with characters such as Norman Bates (Psycho), Leatherface (Texas Chain Saw Massacre), and Buffalo Bill (Silence of the Lambs) owing their derivation to the depredations of Ed Gein.
You are probably asking yourself what all of this has to do with Mayberry and I was initially perplexed as well…until I did a little digging of my own (on the net, not in a graveyard). I was told by a reliable source that, on numerous occasions during the sixties, Ed Gein was transported, under heavy police escort, to the set of the Mayberry series.
Apparently old Ed was a big fan of the show and had submitted several scripts to the producers. Wary, at first, they left the scripts unread on top of a file cabinet until Goober picked one up and was seen on the set laughing to beat the band. He insisted that the rest of the cast read the scripts and all were uniform in their praise of the writer.
The producers, bowing to pressure from the cast, decided to give the green light to Mr. Gein’s submissions. It was Ed Gein who was responsible for the creation of the character Ernest T. Bass and, although he obviously could not play the part, he was allowed to assume the character for some on set screen tests and he played an active role in picking the actor who played this character. Some thought it rather strange that Mr. Gein’s selection for the role of Ernest T. Bass was Howard Morris, not because he wasn’t qualified, but because he bore a striking resemblance to Ed Gein himself. Gein got his way and tutored Howard in the eight episodes in which Earnest T. Bass appeared, often acting out the part so that Mr. Morris could get a feel for the character.
The only suggestion Mr. Gein made that was rejected was when he said that Earnest should run around Mayberry tossing human skulls through windows. He went into an artist’s pique when the producers tempered this image by insisting that Earnest should toss rocks instead.
My source disclosed that Ed became part of the Mayberry family. Aunt Bee was seen on set knitting faux vulvas so that Mr. Gein would remain happily occupied in his cage when the day’s shooting ended. Nosy neighbor Clara Edwards was competing for Ed’s attention with her award-winning soup recipes. The only actor who had qualms about Ed was Don Knotts who routinely shit in his pants every time he had to do test shots with the notorious lunatic.
The entire crew took an oath of secrecy regarding Mr. Gein’s role in the series and all of the film footage which included old Ed was incinerated. They threw away the B&W still shots but a stagehand rescued the photos from the garbage, took them home, and stored them in a trunk in his basement. These images were discovered by his children after their father’s death. Not only did they find the photos, but the stagehand left voluminous notes regarding the comings and goings of Mr. Gein on the Mayberry set.
The heirs contacted me and visited my single-wide with the documents and photos which they left with me overnight. Evidently, they had second thoughts about the value of these items and came back early the morning to retrieve them. I returned them without protest and thanked God for computer scanners.
I contacted Bill Kurtis’ agent in Hollywood with the information that I had gathered and, after a terse conversation, was told that he would contact Mr. Kurtis, but that I should not expect much in the way of a response. To my surprise, the very next day the phone rang in my single-wide and, thinking it was a bill collector, I let my answering machine pick it up. When the caller identified himself as Bill Kurtis, I ran to the phone, not in time, however, to stop the squawking high-pitched feedback that continued until I managed to smash the answering machine with a ball-peen hammer that I keep on my desk.
Mr. Kurtis was quite calm when he spoke to me and requested that I return the duplicate copy that I told him about. He became flustered when I asked him if I should return the duplicates of the duplicates and the duplicates of the duplicates of the duplicates as well. I guess that he thought I was getting ready to shake him down in some sort of blackmail scheme and he asked me what he could do to make me keep this story under my hat. I told him that the photocopies were in a much safer place than my hat (although I did have one set there during our conversation).
He was relieved when I told him that I would not reveal any of the information that I had acquired and that the show could go on unhampered by this reporter. I told him that I wanted something in return: exclusive rights to do a follow-up book about the Gein/Mayberry connection. I also told him that I wanted to interview him personally. He readily agreed to all of this but said that he was currently vacationing on his farm in Kansas and would I rather wait for him to return to New York in a month? A month is forever and, in this high-tech world, today’s news can become ancient history no time flat. I told him I would set out first thing in the morning from my home in South Carolina and that he could expect me in two days.
I asked Mr. Kurtis where he lived in Kansas to which he responded “Nowhere”. We went back and forth on that revelation (sort of like Abbott and Costello doing the “Who’s On First Routine”) until I was able to clarify that he did live in “Nowhere, Kansas” (see map).
I was worried about getting there on time due to a lack of funds but, thanks to my trusty rubber hose, I was able to siphon off enough gas from the Harleys at the biker bar down the street to fill not only my tank but a ten-gallon container as well. I packed the ’76 Pinto wagon with a camera, a pad and pencil, a spare set of socks and underpants and left for Kansas early the following morning.
I was nervous during the trip because there was a small pinhole towards the top of the plastic gas container and, every time I hit a bump, a little squirt of gas hit my hat. I decided to remove the documents from there and put them in the glove box.
Upon arriving at Mr. Kurtis’ home I knocked on the door and was ushered in by a servant. Mr. Kurtis’ invited me outside for a long walk through a field of wheat. I was nervous about this because of all the horror movies that I had seen where some unfortunate soul is being chased through tall corn fields by evil, pitchfork-wielding townsfolk only to stumble on some poor schmuck moaning on a cross with his eyeballs being plucked out by crows. No chance of that as the wheat was only head high unless, of course, there was a midget on a teeny cross with his eyeballs being plucked out by hummingbirds. It was daytime anyway and everybody knows that kind of stuff only happens at midnight on a full moon.
Well, to tie things up here, Mr. Kurtis was most courteous and thanked me for not contacting “48 Hours.” I gave him the gasoline soaked photocopies that I had made, got my interview, and was escorted back to the house. He gave me a bag of biscuits and a cast iron fireplace poker as a token of his appreciation. I left Kansas, eagerly awaiting the upcoming broadcast, ready to delve into what I knew would become a best seller…