Is Norman Bates a real person? The famous serial killer behind the character

Norman Bates

In 1959, Robert Bloch created Norman Bates, a horror genre character that would transcend generations. Alfred Hitchcock gave Norman Bates life-long infamy by making him the star of his 1960 horror film Psycho. The film, one of the pioneers of slasher horror movies, was an unprecedented success, earning Hitchcock an Academy Award nomination for Best Director. 

Since 1960, Bates has appeared in various television, film, and print productions. His most recent appearance came in the TV series Bates Motel, in which Freddie Highmore portrayed the demented murderer. The series shows how Norman developed his dissociative identity disorder (DID).

Norman Bates was reportedly inspired by real-life killer Ed Gein

Ed Gein
The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Robert Bloch lived less than 50 miles away from Ed Gein’s residence when authorities discovered the original house of horrors. Gein was a person of interest in the disappearance of a local woman. When police searched Ed’s property for the woman, they found her lifeless body decapitated and hung upside down. 

The grizzly scene was just the tip of the iceberg. Authorities found objects made from human skins, plates and cups fashioned from skulls, furniture upholstered using human skin, and a belt made of nipples. The police also found various body parts, including bones, fingernails, noses, and genitals. 

Bloch said he based Norman Bates on the idea of Gein and not on the murderer himself. He created Bates on the ‘notion that a man next door may be a monster unsuspected even in the gossip-ridden microcosm of small-town life.’

Robert said he knew little about Gein as authorities declined to reveal various details about his life. He was reportedly fascinated by how much the fictional Norman Bates resembled the real Ed Gein. 

The most apparent similarity between Norman and Gein wasn’t their penchant for murder but their obsessions with their mothers. 

Gein, like Norman, was convinced by his mother to shun all other women except herself. Bloch suggested that Norman’s relationship with his mother was incestuous; authorities suspected possible maternal incest in Ed’s case. 

Many believed that Ed killed his brother to ensure only he had access to their mother, Augusta. However, Augusta passed away a year later, sparking Ed Gein’s descent into previously unheard of depravity. 

Gein converted Augusta’s bedroom into a shrine, keeping it in pristine condition. Ed told investigators that he raided his first grave two years after Augusta’s death in search of body parts that resembled his mother. 

Gein told the police he wanted to create a ‘woman suit’ that he could crawl into and become Augusta. Norman in Psycho occasionally adopted his dead mother’s personality and dressed in her clothes. The mother personality committed the murders depicted in Bloch’s publication. 

In a twisted way, Ed and Norman were both inspired by their mothers to kill. Bloch claimed he didn’t use Ed’s life and crimes to create Norman, but the characters’ similarities are too apparent to ignore. 

Robert later admitted that he was surprised when he ‘discovered how closely the imaginary character I’d created resembled the real Ed Gein both in overt act and apparent motivation.’