Edmund Emil Kemper
III (born December 18, 1948),
also known as The Co-ed Killer, is an American
serial killer who was active in the early 1970s.
He started his
criminal life as a teenager by shooting both his
grandparents while staying on their 17-acre ranch in
North Fork, California, a crime for which he was
Kemper later killed
and dismembered six female hitchhikers in the Santa
Cruz, California, area. He then murdered his mother and
one of her friends before turning himself in to the
Kemper was born in Burbank,
California, to Clarnell Stage and Edmund Emil Kemper Jr.
He was very intelligent with an IQ of 136, however, he
displayed sociopathic behavior from a young age: he
tortured and killed animals, acted out bizarre sexual
rituals with his sisters' dolls and once said that, in
order to kiss a teacher he had a crush on, he would have
to kill her. Worsening the situation was Kemper's mother,
who constantly berated and humiliated her son and often
made him sleep in a locked basement due to a fear that
he would molest his sisters. Kemper's mother Clarnell
apparently suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder
which resulted in her rages and abuse against her son.
On August 27, 1964, Kemper shot his
grandmother while she sat at the kitchen table putting
the finishing touches on her latest children's book.
When his grandfather came home from grocery shopping,
Kemper shot him as well. Then he called his mother, who
urged him to call the police. When questioned, he said
that he "just wanted to see what it felt like to kill
Grandma", and that he killed his grandfather because he
knew he would be angry at him for what he had done to
his grandmother. Kemper was just 15 at the time.
Kemper was committed
to Atascadero State Hospital where he befriended his
psychologist and even became his assistant. He was
intelligent enough to gain the trust of the doctor to
the extent of being allowed access to prisoners' tests.
With the knowledge he gained from his "apprenticeship"
he eventually was able to impress his doctor at the
hospital enough to let him go.
He was released into his mother's
care in Santa Cruz, California, against the wishes of
several doctors at the hospital. Kemper later
demonstrated further to the psychologists that he was
well—and not only managed to convince the doctors he was
reformed, but to have his juvenile records sealed
forever as well.
Kemper worked a series of odd jobs
before securing work with the State of California's
Department of Public Works/Division of Highways in
District 4 (now known as Department of Transportation or
Caltrans). By that time, his height had reached 6 feet,
9 inches, and he weighed more than 300 pounds (136 kg).
Between May 1972 and February 1973,
Kemper embarked on a spree of murders, picking up female
students hitchhiking, taking them to isolated rural
areas and killing them. He would stab, shoot or smother
the victims and afterwards take the bodies back to his
apartment where he would have sex with them and then
He would often dump the bodies in
ravines or bury them in fields, although on one occasion
he buried the severed head of a 15-year-old girl in his
mother's garden as a kind of sick joke, later remarking
that his mother "always wanted people to look up to her."
He killed six college
girls (including two students from UC Santa Cruz, where
his mother worked, and one from Cabrillo College). He
would often go hunting for victims after arguing with
In April 1973, Kemper battered his
mother to death with a pick hammer while she slept. He
decapitated her, raped her headless body and used her
head as a dartboard, after putting her vocal cords in
the garbage disposal, but the machine could not break
the tough tissue down and regurgitated it back into the
sink. "That seemed appropriate," Ed said after his
arrest, "as much as she'd bitched and screamed and
yelled at me over so many years."
His murderous urges not yet satiated,
he then invited his mother's best friend over and killed
her too, by strangulation. He then drove eastward, but
when no word of his crimes hit the radio airwaves he
became discouraged, stopped the car, called the police
and confessed to being the Co-ed Killer.
He told them what he had done and
waited for them to pick him up, seemingly unashamed as
he confessed to necrophilia and cannibalism. At his
trial he pleaded insanity, but he was found guilty of
eight counts of murder. He asked for the death penalty,
but with capital punishment suspended at that time, he
instead received life imprisonment.
At the time of Kemper's murder spree
in Santa Cruz, another serial killer named Herbert
Mullin was also active, earning the small California
town the title of "Murder Capital Of The World." And,
adding to the college town's infamy was the fact that
these multiple murders were preceded three years earlier
by multiple murders committed by John Linley Frazier.
In a manner similar to
the Charles Manson murders, Frazier murdered a Santa
Cruz family of five, eye surgeon Victor Ohta and family.
A reference was made to this in the film "The Lost Boys",
which was shot in Santa Cruz, but called Santa Carla,
where they repeatedly call the town the "Murder Capital
of the World." Kemper and Mullin were briefly held in
adjoining cells, with the former angrily accusing the
latter of stealing his body-dumping sites.
Edmund Kemper remains among the
general prison population and is incarcerated at
Vacaville State Prison.
of Ed Kemper
Maude Kemper August 27,
Ed Emil Kemper August
Mary Anne Pisce May 5,
Anita Luchese May 5,
Aiko Koo September 14,
Cindy Schall January 8,
February 5, 1973
Alice Lui February 5,
April 21, 1973
Sally Hallett April 21,
The Berzerker's song "Forever"
from the self titled album contains samples from Ed
Kemper's testament, including "As I'm sitting there
with a severed head in my hand, talking to it, or
looking at it, and I'm about to go crazy, literally
I'm about to go completely... Flywheel loose and
just fall apart". It also contains samples such as "At
the age of 24, he murdered his mother, then called
police and confessed to having dismembered college
co-eds for two years, as well as cannibalizing and
raping their headless bodies" and "put her vocal
cords in a garbage disposal, then threw darts at her
severed head". These are all references to Kemper's
Church of Misery's song "Killfornia"
contains a long testament by Kemper, also featuring
the line "As I'm sitting there with a severed head
in my hand..."
Optimum Wound Profile also use
long segments of Kemper's testimony on the song "Crave",
once more including the "severed head" line.
American death-grind metal band
Macabre wrote a song about Edmund Kemper on their
1993 album Sinister Slaughter entitled "Edmund
Kemper Had a Horrible Temper."
He was once quoted in an
interview: "What do you think, now, when you see a
pretty girl walking down the street?" and answering
himself: "One side of me says, 'Wow, what an
attractive chick. I'd like to talk to her, date her.'
The other side of me says, 'I wonder how her head
would look on a stick.'" In Bret Easton Ellis' book
American Psycho, main character Patrick
Bateman, himself a serial killer, paraphrases this
quote when asked about women, although he mistakenly
attributes it to Ed Gein.
Author Thomas Harris based the
character of Buffalo Bill in his book The Silence
of the Lambs in part upon Kemper. In the book,
Buffalo Bill was a serial killer who, like Kemper,
had begun his "career" by impulsively killing his
grandparents as a teenager.
The Ed Kemper Trio took their
name from the killer. The band formed in the late
nineties in Montgomery, Alabama, releasing three
albums on Pinebox Records.
System of a Down's song "Forever"
(aka "Fortress" or "Outer Space") from the leaked
album "Toxicity II" contains lyrics referencing
Kemper including "Edmund Kemper solved it all, He
fooled the shrinks." The song was later dropped from
the released "Steal This Album!"
Pioneering industrial act
Throbbing Gristle's song "Urge to Kill", performed
only once at a 1978 concert, details Kemper's crimes.
Dr Octagon - The Instrumentalyst
album has Kemper interview excerpts in the song "I'm
The Discovery Times show Most
Evil featured Edmund Kemper in their episode on "Masterminds".
The intro of the song "The
Glorious Dead", by Dutch death metal group Gorefest,
features Edmund Kemper speaking "I am an human being
and I kill human beings, and I did it in my society".
Kemper is described as an "exotic"
serial killer compared to Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy,
and Jeffrey Dahmer in the novel Black House, by
Stephen King and Peter Straub.
SuicideGirls model Kemper took
her name from the serial killer.
The 2003 movie Cradle of Fear
features a convicted serial killer named Kemper.
Cheney, Margaret, Why: The
Serial Killer in America. R& E
Publishers:Saratoga, CA (1992). (Reprinting of the
author's The Co-Ed Killer. Walker and
Company:New York, NY (1976). ISBN 0-8027-0514-6.)
Damio, Ward, Urge to Kill.
Pinnacle Books:New York, NY (1974). ISBN
0-523-00380-3. (Discusses Kemper plus two
contemporary Santa Cruz killers: John Linley Frazer
and Herbert W. Mullin)
Leyton, Elliott, Hunting
Humans: The Rise Of The Modern Multiple Murderer.
McClelland & Stewart (2005). ISBN 0-7710-5025-9.
(Full chapter on Kemper)
Ressler, Robert K., Whoever
Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial
Killers for The FBI. (approx. 20 pages on Kemper).
West, Don, Sacrifice Unto Me.
Pinnacle Books:New York, NY (1974). ISBN
0-515-03335-9. (Story of Kemper and Herbert W.
Douglas, John, Mind Hunter.
Pocket Books:New York, NY (1995). ISBN
Christine Ann (2002). Understanding the
Borderline Mother -- Helping Her Children Transcend
the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile
Relationship. Jason Aronson,
129-131,136,139,141,144,278. ISBN 0765703319.
EDMUND KEMPER III
6'9'', it's hard to keep a low profile, and to this rather obvious fact,
we may owe much of our insight into the mind of the serial killer. It
must have occurred to Edmund Kemper, as he drove frantically eastward
from the scene of his last two murders that the jig was most definitely
up. His six previous murders had been so carefully planned and carried
out. He had picked up young female hitchhikers, women with whom he'd had
no previous contact, and after he'd killed them, he took great care to
conceal their identities and eliminate evidence.But now, he had
committed a murder, the circumstances of which would point straight to
him-he had killed his mother in her own home. It would only be a matter
of time until her body and that of her friend, whom he'd also
dispatched, were discovered.
soon begin searching for Edmund, and, with his unmistakable appearance,
he must have known there was really nowhere for him to hide. So,
exhausted and anxious, Edmund placed a call from a phone booth in
Pueblo, Colorado to the police in Santa Cruz, California. And he spilled
his guts, so to speak.
Still, the scope
and detail of his confession can't be completely attributed to his
appearance. If he'd wanted, he probably could've confessed only to his
last two murders, keeping mum about the six hitchhikers. There was no
direct evidence as of yet connecting him with any of those killings.
He'd been careful, and because two other serial killers were operating
in the Santa Cruz area at roughly the same time, police were confused as
to who was killing whom. But Edmund had had a lot on his mind for a long
time and was ready to be rid of all of it. Also, the size of his ego
rivaled the size of his body, and once he was the center of police
attention, he must have enjoyed the spotlight. He told them details that
only he knew, that he expected they'd never be able to uncover on their
own. He felt important and intelligent. He was relieved to be speaking
openly of what he'd kept hidden for so long. And the police, recognizing
all this, listened closely. Edmund talked and talked and talked, and
when interrogators thought he couldn't possibly give them anything else,
he talked some more. Because he did talk, we know a lot about what
motivates such a killer, what peculiar thoughts and fantasies occupy
such a mind.
Kemper III's childhood parallels that of many serial killers-his
parents, Clarnell and E.E. Kemper, Jr., had a stormy marriage and
separated when Edmund was nine. They divorced four years later, and he
pined for his absent father through a succession of stepfathers. In
their new home of Helena, Montana his domineering mother and sisters
belittled him, and as he grew older they banished him to the basement
because they considered his sharing a room with his sister unseemly. His
ever-increasing size was disconcerting, even when he was a pre-teen, and
Clarnell constantly reminded him of this.
Not that his
parents didn't try-indeed, both Edmund's parents were much more engaged
in his upbringing and wellbeing than many parents were. But Edmund was
difficult. He was unduly afraid of being physically hurt by other boys
and unable to sustain friendships with his peers. He was unable to put
the pain of his parents' divorce behind him. He tortured and killed
animals, and he entertained fantasies, which combined sex and violence
from an early age. His mother found him dour and unmanageable, and he
was sent to Los Angeles, at his own request, to live with his father and
stepmother. Their reaction to him was the same as his mother's-his
strangeness was threatening, and they were quickly at their wits' end
for something to do with him. With frightened exasperation, Kemper Jr.
sent Edmund away. Maude and Edmund Kemper, Sr. (Edmund's paternal
grandparents) had a seventeen-acre farm in North Fork, California, and
Edmund was brought there during the Christmas holidays of 1963.
He was not
pleased to be left at the farm with his grandparents when the holidays
ended, but he began school anyway and seemed to make at least some
progress. His teachers at Sierra Joint Union High School in nearby
Tollhouse, California found him quiet, rather meek in fact. He caused no
trouble, made average grades, and drew no undue attention to himself,
apart from his size. At home with his grandparents, the situation was
tense, but bearable. They found him disconcerting, as had his mother and
father, but he kept busy and out from underfoot with his dog and a .22
rifle given to him by Kemper, Sr. He shot rabbits and gophers, and he
shot birds (though he had been warned not to), but evidently contained
his aggression to this one outlet. At the end of the school year he
returned to his mother and sisters in Helena, ostensibly to spend the
summer, but within two weeks he was back at the farm.
Upon his return,
Maude Kemper commented that he had regressed. He seemed more sullen,
more ominous, and now that he wasn't in school, he was ever present at
the farm. For his part, Edmund found his grandmother a nag and his
grandfather a bore. His violent fantasies returned, this time starring
Maude. He imagined her in the outhouse as he shot it full of holes. He
lined her up unawares in the sites of his rifle and thought about what
it would be like to kill her. As the tension at the farm mounted, his
grandmother grew more nervous. She took Kemper, Sr.'s .45 caliber pistol
with her on at least one outing, for fear it would fall into Edmund's
hands. She had warned him not to touch it, but obviously did not trust
him to do as he was told. Edmund took this lack of trust as an insult,
and brooded on it. All summer long, the tension grew.
On August 27,
1964, Edmund sat with Maude at the kitchen table, going over proofs from
a children's book she was writing. Looking up, she noticed Edmund had an
odd stare, and frightening look she had seen many times before. It
unnerved her, and she told him to stop it. After a moment, Edmund picked
up his gun and whistled for his dog, saying he was headed out to shoot
some gophers. Maude warned him not to shoot the birds, and returned her
attention to her work. Edmund turned around upon exiting the house and
watched her through the screen door. Her back was to him as he raised
his rifle and took aim at her head. He fired once, and Maude slumped at
the table. Then he fired twice more, hitting her in the back. Inside the
house again, he wrapped her head in a towel and dragged the body into
the bedroom. Within a few minutes, Kemper Sr. returned home from buying
groceries. As he began to unload the truck Edmund took aim and shot him
in the back of the head.
dismayed, not only because of what he'd done, but because he knew he'd
be caught. His grandparents weren't the sorts to take off on a sudden
extended vacation, so even if he hid their bodies, their friends and
family would miss them immediately. Confused and fretful, he called his
mother in Montana, who advised him to call the sheriff. He was taken in
for questioning, and soon he confessed to both murders, saying he'd
often thought of killing his grandmother, and that he'd killed his
grandfather as an act of mercy, to protect him from seeing his dead wife
and possibly having a heart attack. Edmund was incarcerated in Juvenile
Hall while the California Youth Authority decided what to do with him. A
court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed Edmund as paranoid and psychotic,
and the Youth Authority committed him to Atascadero State Hospital. He
entered the facility on December 6, 1964. He was not yet sixteen years
Hospital, though a secure facility, was by no means a prison. There were
no guard towers, and the purpose of one's stay was treatment, not
penance. Edmund took an extensive battery of tests and began to gain
insight, if not into the nature of his own crime, into what others
thought of that crime. He didn't accept actual responsibility for his
crime, saying it had been beyond his control, but he worked hard at
learning the language of treatment and appearing recovered. He worked in
the psychology laboratory and helped administer tests. He took pride in
doing a good job, which his doctors interpreted as a very good sign.
Sociopaths (and Edmund had been diagnosed at Atascadero as that) were
usually reluctant and uncooperative workers, but Edmund seemed eager to
do his best.
got to know others at Atascadero, including serial rapists who shared
stories of their crimes with him. The tales of their exploits made an
impression, and his rapidly developing teenage sexual awareness became
inextricably linked with domination and violence. In Atascadero, this
kind of thinking seemed not perverse, but quite normal. His violent
sexual fantasies became intricate and intense. And he took note of what
the incarcerated rapists around him had done wrong. They had been caught
because they hadn't been smart-they left witnesses and evidence. They
attacked women they knew, or they did their attacking in too public a
place. Quietly, he filed this information in a corner of his mind.
Although he hadn't yet formed any concrete plan, he knew each fact, each
story would be useful to him later. He didn't share his fantasies with
his doctors, though. For them, he behaved and worked hard. He claimed
religious conversion and took to looking up any biblical reference he
heard. He was clean-cut and conservative, intelligent and sheltered, and
when he was released in 1969, the changes that had occurred in the
outside world must have come as quite a shock. His renewed contact with
the outside world began at a community college near Atascadero. While he
attended school, he was still under the supervision of the Youth
Edmund was a
square. All around him hippies sported long hair and flouted authority
while he, with his short hair and neat mustache, wished fervently to be
a law enforcement officer. His hopes were dashed. In addition to minimum
height requirements both the local and state police had maximum height
limits. Edmund was too tall to be a cop. To assuage his disappointment,
he bought a motorcycle. With it, he could at least feel like a cop.
Meanwhile, he did very well in his studies, and after three months, he
was paroled for another eighteen months. His doctors at Atascadero had
recommended strongly that he not be returned to his mother, who had
relocated to Santa Cruz, California. Against their advice, the Youth
Authority sent him straight to her.
Strandberg (as she was now known, having been married and divorced
again) held a responsible position as an administrative assistant on the
University of California at Santa Cruz campus. She was competent and
well liked, and the absence of her son had given her several years of
relative peace (ex-husband aside). But verbal battles loud enough to be
heard by the neighbors began upon Edmund's arrival at her duplex in
suburban Aptos. She still harangued and blamed him, and Edmund would
later claim that she hounded him relentlessly about matters as trivial
as whether he should get his teeth cleaned. Often he sought refuge at
the Jury Room, a local bar frequented by off-duty police and deputies.
He was still fascinated by law enforcement and whiled away many an hour
discussing the merits and shortcomings of various sorts of guns and
ammunition with the officers. He was respectful of them, and they
referred to him as "Big Ed."
various positions as a laborer, and finally secured one with the
Division of Highways, which enabled him to move out of his mother's home
and into an apartment in Alameda, which he shared with a friend. Still,
he said later, his mother continued to berate and belittle him. And he
quickly wrecked his motorcycle twice. The Division of Highways gave him
time off to recuperate from his broken left arm after the second
accident. With an out-of-court settlement, he bought a car that looked
very much like an unmarked police vehicle.
He equipped it
with a radio transmitter and microphone and a large whip antenna, and he
began to pick up hitchhikers. Small, pretty female hitchhikers. He
watched how they reacted to him. He learned how to make them trust him.
He delivered them safely to their destinations, and privately, he
indulged in his violent fantasies, imagining what he would do to his
captive hitchhikers when he finally got all the details taken care of,
all the possibilities seen to. He began to outfit his car for his future
plans. The antenna came off, and the passenger door was rigged to keep
it from being opened from the inside. Plastic bags, knives, guns, and a
blanket went into the trunk. Edmund picked up girl after girl, treating
each as a sort of experiment, waiting for his moment. It took a while,
more than a year of picking up girls and letting them go, but on May 7,
1972, Edmund's moment finally came.
Mary Ann Pesce
and Anita Luchese were students at Fresno State College, and they were
hitchhiking to Stanford University after a couple of days in Berkeley.
They never reached their destination, and the families of both filed
missing persons reports, though it was hard to get the police to pursue
such a case with gusto, what with so many runaways and transients around
the Bay Area. Girls disappeared all the time, only to turn up sooner or
later with this or that friend or boyfriend. Even if the police had
sprung into immediate action it wouldn't have done any good. Edmund had
dispatched Mary Ann and Anita soon after picking them up. After driving
them around for a bit, he took his gun out from under the seat and
pulled off into a deserted area. He put Anita in the trunk of his car
and turned his attention toward Mary Ann. He handcuffed her, laid her
across the backseat face down, put a plastic bag over her head, then
attempted to strangle her with a length of terrycloth. But she bit a
hole in the bag and the cloth snapped. Frustrated, Edmund pulled out his
knife and stabbed her repeatedly. Eventually, he slashed her throat. He
removed Anita from the trunk and, with a larger knife, he began to stab
her. She fought and screamed, but he eventually wore her down.
He drove around
with the bodies in the car for a while, deciding what to do. Eventually
he brought Mary Ann's body into his apartment, where he undressed and
dissected her. He also beheaded Anita's body. Mary Ann's body was buried
in the plastic bag he'd used to try to suffocate her, and later Edmund
would lead police to this site. He kept both their heads for a while,
eventually disposing of them in a ravine. Mary Ann's was found and
identified in August. Neither Anita's head nor her body was ever found.
No one suspected
polite, clean-cut Edmund Kemper of anything untoward, so he continued to
prowl. On the evening of September 14, 1972, he picked up Aiko Koo, a
fifteen-year-old dancer of Korean descent, who was on her way to a dance
class. She had tired of waiting for the bus and decided to hitchhike.
Aiko caught onto his plan quickly and panicked. He convinced her that he
was planning to use the gun to kill himself, and that if she didn't try
to signal police or passersby she would not be harmed. He drove into the
mountains and turned off the main road, parking out of sight. He taped
her mouth and tried to suffocate her by putting his thumb and index
finger in her nostrils. She fought, but lost consciousness, only to
awaken again moments later. Edmund began to suffocate her again, this
time continuing until she stopped breathing completely. He removed her
from the car, laid her on the ground, and raped her. With her own scarf,
he strangled her, and when he was absolutely sure she was dead, he put
her body in the trunk and drove away from the scene. He stopped soon at
a local bar and had a couple of beers, and, after that, he went to his
mother's house. From time to time, he would open the trunk and gaze at
his conquest. Late that night he brought Aiko's body into his apartment
and placed it on his bed. He dissected her just as he had Mary Ann and
Anita, and he disposed of her head and hands in a different location
than the rest of her body. Very little of her ever turned up, and her
disappearance was not thought to be related to Mary Ann and Anita.
passed. Other victims of other killers were found in the Bay Area and
public concern was aroused, but Edmund was under no suspicion for any of
the killings. On January 8, 1973 he bought a .22 caliber automatic
pistol, even though he was forbidden to own a firearm because of his
prior crime. He had no trouble with the purchase in spite of his record,
but he feared that eventually the police might catch on to the fact that
he was in illegal possession of a handgun. He stepped up his cruising
and killing activities beginning that very day.
He picked up
Cindy and drove her into the hills near Watsonville, where he forced her
into the trunk and shot her with his new gun. The bullet lodged in her
skull. Edmund had recently moved back in with his mother, so he brought
the body to the duplex in Aptos and into his room there, and when
Clarnell left for work the next morning he had sex with Cindy's corpse.
He dissected her in the bathtub, taking great care afterward to wash
away all traces of what he'd done. He removed the bullet from her skull
and buried the head in his mother's back yard. Later he threw the body
parts, which he put in plastic bags, off a cliff. This time, however,
the body was discovered within twenty-four hours. Edmund took notice,
but still wasn't really worried. He'd been extraordinarily careful.
Within a month he was ready to kill again.
On the night of
February 5, 1973, Edmund and Clarnell had a monumental row, and Edmund
stormed out of the apartment, keyed up and ready to strike. He picked up
Rosalind first and engaged her in conversation. In a short while, he
stopped for another hitchhiker, Alice. She had no trepidation about
getting in the car, what with Rosalind already there and the UC Santa
Cruz parking sticker (which Clarnell had procured) prominently
displayed. They rode for a while, and this time Edmund didn't even stop
the car to do his killing. He drew Rosalind's attention to a lovely view
off to the passenger side, and as she looked, he slowed down, drew his
.22, and shot her in the head. Quickly, he pointed the gun at Alice in
the back seat and fired several times. Unlike Rosalind, she didn't die
immediately. He shot her again point blank once he got out of town, and
that finished her off. Pulling into a cul-de-sac, he quickly transferred
the bodies to the trunk.
He stopped for
gas, then went to his mother's duplex, which he quickly left again,
claiming to need cigarettes. Once outside the apartment, he pulled the
car to the street, opened the trunk, and beheaded the bodies. The next
morning, he brought Alice's body inside and had sex with it in his room.
He also brought in Rosalind's head so he could remove the bullet that
had lodged in it, as he had done before with Cindy's. He drove away from
Santa Cruz to dispose of most of the body parts, then on to Pacifica to
get rid of the heads and hands.
Strandberg never seemed to show any suspicion that Edmund was up to such
depravity, and she probably didn't suspect that she'd become his victim.
But on Easter weekend, roughly a month after the killings of Rosalind
and Alice, he decided the time had come to be rid of her. He waited all
night in his room while Clarnell slept peacefully, carefully considering
what he was about to do. At 5:15 a.m., he got a hammer from the kitchen
and went to her bedroom. He struck her once, very hard, and then slashed
her throat. Within a minute, he had killed and beheaded her, removing
her larynx in the process. He tried to put it down the garbage disposal,
but the machine spat it back out, which Edmund found darkly appropriate
and not at all surprising. He hid her body in a closet and cleaned up a
bit, then left the house.
he pondered what to do, and decided that if someone else were found dead
with his mother, then suspicion might point away from him. Returning to
the duplex, he called Sara Hallett, a friend of Clarnell's, to invite
her dinner. He wasn't able to reach her immediately, and he fretted
about his plan until Sara called for Clarnell at around 5:00 p.m. He
made the invitation, saying the dinner was a surprise for his mother.
When Sara arrived he strangled her, first manually, and finally, with
the scarf he had obtained from Aiko. He then removed Sara's clothes and
put her on his bed, and sometime that night attempted to have sex with
On Easter Sunday
morning, he left town, driving east in Sara's car. Fearing discovery, he
rented another car and dropped off Sara's car at a gas station, telling
the attendant it needed repair. He drove for eighteen hours, stopping
only for gas and sodas and No-Doz. He was stopped in Colorado for
speeding, but his seemingly staid, quiet appearance belied his crimes.
He paid his fine and moved on. Finally, exhausted, he stopped in Pueblo,
Colorado. He placed a call to the Santa Cruz Police Department, where he
already knew several of the officers, and he began his marathon
contact required several calls. First, he had to convince the Santa Cruz
Police he wasn't a crank caller. Then he had to help them find him. He
was disoriented and wasn't quite sure how to lead police to the Pueblo
phone booth from which he was placing his calls. When he was taken into
custody, a party of investigators from Santa Cruz headed for Pueblo,
where they would question Edmund about the crimes for which he claimed
responsibility. As their tape recorder rolled, Edmund talked, giving
incredibly explicit and detailed confessions to all eight murders
Upon his return
to Santa Cruz, Edmund led investigators to the various disposal sites he
had used and continued his seemingly endless confession. When he was
finally finished, he'd been so thorough that he left his court-appointed
public defender, James Jackson, no avenue for defense except that of
A series of
witnesses was brought in to try to establish that Edmund was not
responsible for his crimes, but the prosecutor undermined the testimony
of each one. Prosecution witness, Dr. Joel Fort, did the most damage to
Edmund's insanity defense. He had spent quite a bit of time reviewing
Edmund's case, going all the way back to his diagnoses after the killing
of his grandparents and during his time at Atascadero. He had also
interviewed Edmund, eliciting previously unknown information about his
sexual practices with the bodies, and even cannibalism.
Edmund was not a
paranoid schizophrenic, Fort said. He was obsessed with sex and
violence, and he craved attention, going so far as to slash his own
wrists with a ball point pen during the trial in an ostensible suicide
attempt, but he was not insane. Furthermore, Fort said, if he were ever
released he would kill again, and he would kill the same sort of victim.
During the three weeks of the trial, no witness, not even Edmund's
sister or his doctors from Atascadero, was able to convince the jury
that Edmund was insane. They deliberated for only five hours, and they
found Edmund guilty of first-degree murder on all eight counts. After a
short observation stint at Vacaville Medical Facility, he was sent to
the maximum-security prison at Folsom for the rest of his life.
remains behind bars. Since he was put away in 1973, countless other
serial killers, many just as brutal and depraved as he, have captured
our attention. Edmund, as if to maintain his place in our consciousness,
remains eager to speak of his crimes. He has done extensive interviews
with Robert Ressler of the FBI, which were aimed at building the FBI's
nascent serial killer profiling program. In 1988, he participated, along
with the notorious John Wayne Gacy, in a satellite broadcast during
which each killer discussed his crimes. As always, he was loquacious and
explicit, and he seemed to have garnered quite a bit of psychological
insight into the nature of his crimes. In prison, he is well behaved and
cooperative, and seems to take great pride in his status as the "genius"
serial killer who aided in his own capture and conviction. He knows, as
we know, that his release would lead to tragedy, and he is aware of and
resigned to the fact that he isn't going anywhere. That's okay with him,
and it's certainly okay with us.
There is only
major book devoted to Edmund Kemper it is out of print and difficult to
obtain.: Margaret Cheney's Why: The Serial Killer in America was
published in 1992 by R& E Publishers (Saratoga, CA).
Ressler's book, Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial
Killers for The FBI, does have approximately twenty pages on Kemper.
Ressler interviewed Kemper extensively for the FBI's serial killer
Jay Robert Nash
has a chapter on Edmund Kemper in his encyclopedia Bloodletters and
Badmen (M. Evans and Co, 1995).
information is also available from contemporary San Francisco
newspapers, such as the San Francisco Chronicle.
The Coed Butcher
On August 27, 1964, 15-year-old Edmund Emil Kemper III
was with his paternal grandparents on their 17-acre ranch in North Fork
, California . He'd gone there during the previous Christmas holidays,
remaining for the rest of that school year before returning to his
mother, and was now back. He wasn't happy about that. Already
six-foot-four and socially awkward, he was an intimidating figure, and
people tended to shunt him from one place to another. He'd grown
frustrated and angry, and later described himself as a "walking time
bomb." If only someone had known then how to defuse his rage. Instead,
the people around him seemed to ensure that it would grow worse.
Kemper disliked how his mother treated him, and his
grandmother was just as bad. They were always pushing him around and
telling him what to do. According to his own statements, he harbored
fantasies of killing and mutilating them. And not just them: As a child,
writes psychiatrist Donald Lunde in Murder and Madness , Kemper wished
that everyone else in the world would die, and he envisioned killing
many of them himself. He had also indulged in tormenting cats. He'd
buried one alive, then dug it up, cut off its head and stuck the head on
That August afternoon, he argued in the kitchen with his
sixty-six-year-old grandmother, Maude. Lunde, who interviewed him at
length years later, says that he had displaced his anger at his mother
onto Maude, so it did not take much to make him react. Enraged, Kemper
grabbed a rifle, and when she warned him not to shoot the birds, he
turned and shot her instead. He hit her in the head, writes Margaret
Cheney in Why? The Serial Killer in America , killing her, and then shot
her twice in the back. (Lunde says that he also stabbed her repeatedly
with a kitchen knife, and David K. Frazier writes in Murder Cases of the
Twentieth Century that it was three times in the back.) So his first
killing, if this account is correct, was impulsive, more a thoughtless
act than a planned predatory incident. But then he had to do something
to hide it from his grandfather. He was a big kid for his age, the
product of a six-foot mother and a father who was six-foot-eight. So he
did not have much difficulty dragging his grandmother's corpse into the
But then his grandfather, also named Edmund, drove up.
The man was 72, and it was he who had given the boy the .22 caliber
rifle the previous Christmas. Young Edmund heard his car outside. He
went to the window and made the decision to finish the job he'd begun.
As the elderly man got out of the car, Kemper raised the rifle and shot
him as well. Cheney says that he then hid the body in the garage. "In
his way," writes Lunde, "he had avenged the rejection of both his father
and his mother."
Not knowing what else to do, he called his mother in
Montana and told her what he had done. Clarnell urged him to call the
police, and no doubt she was thinking of the dire warning that Cheney
says she had given Edmund's biological father, whose parents were now
dead. She had told him not to be surprised if the boy killed them one
The Incomprehensible Edmund Kemper
Kemper called the police and they came to the ranch to
take him into custody. He was waiting calmly on the porch for them. They
placed him with the California Youth Authority, and in an interview, the
police later reported, he said he had shot Grandma to see what it felt
like. That comment would become the quote most often associated with
him, used to show how cold-blooded he was at such a young age. Yet
another reading of it indicates that he was merely stating the end
result of his frustration with the woman. He explained that he'd killed
his grandfather to spare him having to find Maude dead, murdered by her
At the time, it seemed incomprehensible to the California
system that a child could do such a thing. He was sent for psychiatric
testing and diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia. He was also
found to have a near-genius IQ. Instead of staying at a facility
operated by the Youth Authority, he ended up at the secure Atascadero
State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and because he was so
intelligent and astute he was allowed access to some of the assessment
devices - even to administer them at times, according to John Douglas in
Mindhunter . Frazier says that while in the hospital, Kemper actually
memorized the responses to 28 different assessment instruments,
providing himself with the proper tools to convince those doctors who
evaluated him that he would be safe to release upon his 21st birthday.
With his mother's help, he achieved this.
The most comprehensive sources on Kemper's case come from
people who wrote during the 1970s, immediately after his trial,
including psychiatrist Donald Lunde and authors Ward Damio and Margaret
Cheney (who had access to transcripts of what she called his "compulsive
confessing"). Kemper also did an interview in 1978, which ended up on
Court TV's Mugshots program. Others included former FBI profilers Robert
R. Ressler and John Douglas, who interviewed him at length and discussed
their encounters with him in their respective books.
While self-report is generally suspect, what Kemper has
to say about himself and his background is revealing. Accounts of him
generally emphasize his huge size - six-foot-nine and nearly three
hundred pounds - but the manner in which he thinks and speaks is more
interesting. Kemper's string of crimes was the third for San Jose ,
California , since 1970, so it's instructive to look at the first two
briefly to understand the climate of fear that hovered over the area
upon his arrest.
Just after he came out of Atascadero , the town that
would become his new home made national headlines.
Death Capital of the World
The beach town of Santa Cruz lies south of San Francisco
on the Pacific Coast . Surrounded by mountains, ocean, and towering
redwood trees, it's a tourist Mecca and an upscale place to own a home
or rent an apartment. During the early 1970s, when the murders began,
townspeople were already torn over the "hippies" moving in, thanks in
part to the University of California opening a new campus there. Young
people flooded in, and not all of them were what residents called
At the time, Damio writes, 95 percent of murders that
occurred in America were primarily situational - inspired by tense
domestic incidents or the result of some kind of altercation among
acquaintances. But the murders during the 1970s in Santa Cruz defied
this pattern, and while one killer was quickly captured after his crime,
for several months no arrests were made or suspects identified for the
other cases. By 1973, people were purchasing guns to protect themselves,
because clearly these offenders were boldly entering the homes of
Near the end of 1970, John Linley Frazier murdered five
people - the Ohta family and Dr. Ohta's secretary - to stop what he
viewed as the spread of progress that was ruining the natural
environment. An extremist in the hippie lifestyle, he was diagnosed with
paranoid schizophrenia but nevertheless was found sane and convicted.
His trial became a circus, in part because he wanted to appear to be
pretending to be insane so the jury would believe he was malingering.
But there was also an air of suspicion against "hippies," because over
the span of two nights during the previous year Charles Manson and his
gang had massacred seven people down in Los Angeles . Like Manson,
Frazier had invaded a home and brutally killed the occupants (including
two children) for some bizarre drug-inspired vision.
Then in late 1972 and early '73, across a terrifying
period of four months, another series of murders occurred around Santa
Cruz . Among the victims were four campers, a priest, a man digging in
his garden, a young girl, and a mother and her two children. The police
finally stopped the killer, Herbert Mullin, 25. Although he had been
institutionalized and evaluated as a danger to others, he'd nevertheless
become an outpatient, which allowed him to roam freely. He'd stopped
taking his antipsychotic medication and "heard" a voice that urged him
to kill. It was his mission, Mullin believed, to save the people of
California from a super-earthquake that would send it into the ocean.
Thus, he decided that he had to "sing the die song," which he believed
would persuade thirteen people to either kill themselves or allow
themselves to become human sacrifices (which he said they conveyed to
him telepathically). Using a knife, gun, or baseball bat to slay those
he selected, he killed until police picked him up. Also diagnosed with
paranoid schizophrenia, he was nevertheless considered legally sane and
was convicted on ten counts of murder.
But even before that, in May 1972, female hitchhikers
began to disappear. To subdue public panic, the authorities tried
linking these disappearances to Mullin so they could assure the
community that the spate of murders was at an end, but it soon turned
out to be another person altogether - someone who surprised them.
Eventually the Santa Cruz Sentinel , the local newspaper,
would put together a magazine that reviewed important events in the area
across the decades and featured these three killers. "It felt like the
actions of a world gone crazy," recalled reporter Tom Honig. The 1970s
was an age of violence, and along with Frazier and Mullin, they would
add Edmund Kemper, now a young man. Altogether the three killed 28
people, and represented the three basic types of multiple murderers:
Frazier killed all his victims at once, Mullin in a spree (accounting
for his projected goal of thirteen), and Kemper as a serial killer.
Early Life of Edmund Kemper
Kemper's crimes began before Mullin and stopped after
him. What precipitated it, according to his account in several
interviews, was his mother's constant needling and humiliation. When
released by the parole board from Atascadero in 1969, the psychiatrists
had advised that Kemper not be returned to Clarnell, because it could
trigger more violence. But it appeared that no one was keeping watch.
Having no means of support and no assistance from the Youth Authority,
Kemper did move in with Clarnell and, according to him, she took up
berating him again.
Having left her third husband, she had taken a job at the
new university in Santa Cruz as an administrative assistant and moved
into a duplex on Ord Drive in Aptos. They had frequent arguments that
the neighbors overheard. Whether or not Clarnell was a primary influence
in his subsequent actions, there is no doubt that they had an
unrelentingly toxic relationship. As part of his parole requirements,
Kemper went to a community college and did well, but he hoped to get
into the police academy one day. When he learned that he was too tall,
his consolation was to hang out in the jury room where the police
gathered and listen to their stories. They knew him as "Big Ed" and
generally thought of him as a polite young man. His voice was soft, his
manner polite, and his speech intelligent and articulate. He idolized
John Wayne and everyone knew it. Little did they know that they would
eventually be telling one of their most bizarre tales about him .
He got several different jobs and finally ended up with
the California Highway Department. When he had saved enough money to
move out of his mother's home, he went north to Alameda , near San
Francisco , and shared an apartment with a friend. But he often had no
money and sometimes ended up back with Clarnell. He purchased a
motorcycle, but got into two separate accidents, one of which Damio says
paid out in a settlement that gave him $15,000. With this he bought a
yellow Ford Galaxy and began to cruise the area. He noticed young
females out hitchhiking - the popular mode of travel for college
students in those days along the West Coast. And when he looked them
over, as he described in later interviews, he thought about things he
could do to them. Quietly, he prepared his car for what he had in mind,
placing plastic bags, knives, a blanket, and handcuffs that he had
acquired into the trunk. He had only to await an opportunity. For a
period of time, he picked up girls and let them go. By his estimation,
he picked up around 150 hitchhikers, any of whom might have been chosen
for his plan. Finally, he felt the urgent inner drive of what he called
his "little zapples," and he acted.
Frightening Times of Edmund Kemper
On May 7, 1972, as people were still troubled by the
conclusion of the Frazier trial less than six months before, Mary Ann
Pesce and Anita Luchessa hitchhiked from Fresno State College to meet
friends at Stanford University . Damio, Newton , and Frazier laid out
the events chronologically. When the girls failed to arrive at their
destination, their families contacted the police. But runaways were all
too frequent during those days and the girls had left behind no clues as
to where they had gone, so there was little the authorities could do.
Then, on August 15, the remains of a female head were
recovered from an area in the mountains and identified as that of Pecse.
No other remains were found, but it was assumed that both girls had met
with foul play and were dead.
On September 14, dance student Aiko Koo disappeared while
hitching from Berkley . On October 13, Mullin's series of murders began
to catch people's attention, but then, early in 1973, 18-year-old Cindy
Schall disappeared while traveling to class at Cabrillo Community
College. She was hitchhiking, and had stopped off at a friend's house.
Someone saw her get a ride and then she was just gone. Less than two
days later, dismembered arms and legs were found on a cliff overlooking
the Pacific Ocean. Then an upper torso washed ashore, which was
identified via lung X-rays as Schall's. Eventually a lower torso came
in. A surfer also found her left hand, which offered fingerprints, but
her head and right hand remained missing. The papers began talking about
the "Chopper" and the "Butcher."
Then, on January 25, two local families were shot to
death in their homes. The Santa Cruz area was in a panic, and soon four
young men who were camping were all shot at close range in the head.
Two more girls out hitchhiking disappeared on February 5:
Rosalind Thorpe and Alice Liu. There were no leads whatsoever in their
disappearances. Then on February 13, a witness called the police after
another shooting of a man in his garden. In short order, they arrested
Herbert Mullin. He was tied to most of the shootings, but not to the
murders of Cindy Schall or Mary Ann Pesce, or the disappearance of the
other hitchhikers. Kidnapping and dismemberment were not part of his MO.
Yet Damio indicates that upon Mullin's arrest, the media coverage of the
local violence inspired an atmosphere of terror.
One reporter, whom Ward identifies as television reporter
Marilyn Baker, consistently exaggerated rumors and offered
uncorroborated information as fact, angering the police and alarming the
citizens. She gave daily reports of satanic rituals and linked together
a number of murders over the course of a year. "The butcher murders are
unique," Damio quotes her as saying. "The decapitation and dismemberment
is done with the skill of what police say borders on perhaps
professional knowledge. The bodies were placed in a slant position, the
heads lower than the feet, so the blood would drain out, making such
dismemberment easier." Baker also mentioned that one of more of the
victims appeared to have been held captive for a period of time prior to
being killed, and noted that the Achilles tendon was sliced on Cynthia
Schall. She suggested that the killer was a lesbian or transvestite and
scolded the police for their mistakes during the investigation. She
warned that the butcher murders occurred on Mondays after dark and
during the full moon - which was patently untrue. Yet for her, it seemed
like evidence of cult activity.
On March 4, a couple of hikers came across a human skull
and jawbone not far from Highway 1 in San Mateo County . They were not
from the same person. The police searched the area and found another
skull that went with the jawbone, so they knew they had a pair of
victims killed close together. They had reports of several missing
female hitchhikers, so they compared what they had to the descriptions,
and identified the remains of Rosalind Thorpe and Alice Liu. Liu had
been shot twice in the head, Thorpe once. It was not long thereafter
that the university decided to institute a bus system that would assist
off-campus students to get safely to their classes.
The authorities were stymied. The area had become a
hotbed of murder and missing persons, mostly young women. They had few
leads and no methods for ending the killing. The university experienced
a sudden drop in enrollment. But then the unexpected occurred. The
police heard from the last of the killers - the one who was killing the
coeds. He had stopped the spree himself.
Edmund Kemper Makes the Call
On April 23, 1973, the Santa Cruz police received a call
that they could not quite believe. It was from a phone booth in Pueblo ,
Colorado , from a twenty-four-year-old man who had eaten with them,
drank with them, and talked with them for hours: Big Ed, or Edmund
Kemper. And now he was telling them that he had committed murder -- in
fact, a double homicide four days earlier, and then some. He had killed
his mother, Clarnell Strandberg, on Good Friday. Then he'd gone drinking
with his cop buddies. He'd returned and invited his mother's friend,
Sara "Sally" Hallett, over for dinner and a movie. She was delighted.
When she arrived, he'd killed her, too, and removed her head. Both
bodies were stuffed into closets in his mother's duplex on Ord Drive .
Kemper explained that after leaving the house, he had
driven for several days, had dropped off one car and rented a green
Chevy Impala, and had finally decided to turn himself in. He'd been
taking No-Doz for three days and felt half crazy. He listed half a dozen
other murders that they had yet to solve, referring over and over to
"the coeds." He wanted someone to come and pick him up. He had 200
rounds of ammo and three guns in the car that scared him, and he was
turning himself in.
But the officer who took the first call believed it was a
prank, says David Everitt in Human Monsters . He suggested the young man
call again later. Kemper did so, but once again had a difficult time
convincing the person at the other end of the line to take him
seriously. Those who knew him believed it was all some practical joke.
He continued to place calls until he was able to persuade an officer to
go check out his mother's house. He said that an officer, Sergeant
Aluffi, had been there not long before to confiscate the .44-caliber
revolver he had purchased. Alluffi would know.
Sergeant Aluffi did indeed know, and went to the home
himself. As he entered, he smelled the putrid odor of decomposition.
When he opened a closet and saw blood and hair, he secured the scene and
called in the coroner and detectives. To their amazement, they found the
two bodies, just as Kemper had described. Both had been decapitated, and
Clarnell had been battered and apparently used for dart practice.
Her tongue and
larynx, Kemper had said, were chopped up, having been placed in the
garbage disposal, which had spit them back out.
Investigators now realized why the "Coed Butcher" had eluded them for so
long. As John Douglas put it upon hearing how Kemper had been privy at
the jury room and the investigation details, "He was analyzing what he
was doing and learning to perfect his technique." He had discovered
their strategies and plans for trapping him, and he was able to
out-think and elude them. But he also had not come across as a killer.
He had learned how to make people feel safe around him, and that was
probably how he had found ways to get girls into his cars, despite
warnings issued to students throughout the area.
Peter Chang and a party of detectives traveled across three states to
pick Kemper up from detention, where local police had placed him, and
they found him waiting calmly for him. He seemed to know that he was
dangerous and unable to control himself, and understood that he needed
to be locked up. He was willing to talk and twice waived his right to an
attorney (though he would later say that he'd asked for a lawyer).
story that unfolded was as bizarre as any they had yet heard. He went on
for hours, confessing everything that he had done to the six coeds, his
mother and her friend. Adding these to the murders of his grandparents
years earlier, he had committed ten murders in all. To prove his tale,
he took detectives to areas where he had buried or tossed parts of his
victims that had not yet been found. He described having sex with the
heads of his victims and said that he'd loved the feeling of totally
possessing them and their property.
stories would grow worse during the trial, thanks to psychiatric
probing, and both sides set about finding out what they could do about
this disturbing young man.
Creating a Killer
Born in Burbank California on December 18, 1948, Edmund E. Kemper III
was the second child for E. E. (Edmund Jr.) and Clarnell Kemper. He had
a sister six years older and a sister two and a half years younger. Ed
was close to his father, but E.E. divorced Clarnell in 1957 when Edmund
was nine and she moved with the children to Montana . It was a difficult
separation for Edmund, nicknamed Guy, and he claimed that to toughen him
up, his mother locked him in the basement. (He would eventually provide
several different motives for this behavior, depending on who was
interviewing him.) He believed that he must have been a constant prickly
reminder to his mother. He hated her but often spoke as if he understood
her motives and behavior. In many different interviews, he described his
fear and anger growing up, along with the things he envisioned doing.
said that when he killed the family cat, placing its head on an altar,
he had felt empowered after persuasively lying about it. He honed this
ability to present a public façade that people trusted while his private
world contained much darker ideas. Everitt indicates that by the time he
was ten, he was already thinking about females in sexual terms. He was
also developing a violent inner world.
"When I was in school," Kemper said in a taped interview, "I was called
a chronic daydreamer and I saw a counselor twice during junior high and
high school, and that was very routine. They didn't ask me a lot of
questions about myself and that was probably the most violent fantasy
time I was off into."
Stories from his sisters involved disconcerting memories. One goaded him
to kiss a teacher, says Frazier, and he apparently said that if he did,
he'd then have to kill her. His younger sister recalled that he often
cut the heads off her dolls. His mother apparently relegated him to the
basement to keep him away from the girls because she did not trust him.
Her instincts were apparently right; Kemper has said, "I lived as an
ordinary person most of my life, even though I was living a parallel and
increasingly violent other life."
When he was thirteen, Kemper slaughtered his own pet cat with a machete
and stuffed the remains in his closet (which his mother found). Cheney
offers gruesome details of this episode from Kemper's descriptions.
Kemper also ran away from home that year to go live with his father. He
was certain it would be a better life for him, but after he arrived, he
eventually learned that his father, who had remarried and had another
son, was not quite as happy to see him as he'd hoped. E. E. welcomed him
for a while, but then sent him back to Montana . But Clarnell, too, was
unwilling to have him, because she was planning to marry her third
husband, and this overgrown adolescent was a handful. Her solution was
to pack Ed up and send him to his father's parents' ranch in California
. (On Mugshots , Kemper says that his father actually sent him there,
and Frazier indicates that Kemper ran away twice, and the second time he
ended up with his grandparents.) "I went to live with Dad," he said, "and
he sends me up to Grandma. Now she's going to undo all the terrible
things that my mother did to me. I'm going to be a showpiece. She's
going to show the world that my mother was a lousy parent. I'm going to
be a pawn in this little game."
experience was unpleasant for him. Ultimately, it was here with Maude
and Edmund Kemper Sr. that Edmund began his career in murder. Once he
got out of the psychiatric hospital, he set his sights on becoming a
police officer. (Lunde points out that there were no psychologists or
psychiatrists on the parole board that released him, and no follow-up
psychiatric care.) He was disappointed and unable to find appropriate
alternative employment. Although he shared an apartment with a friend,
he was afraid he might end up living with his mother. In fact, he did,
and that proved the undoing of them both.
Edmund Kemper's First Murder
Clarnell had done with her three ex-husbands, she attacked Edmund on
many occasions, aiming at his manhood and sense of worth. Although he
wanted to socialize, she refused to introduce him to women on campus. "She's
holding up these girls who she said were too good for me to get to
know," he recalled. "She would say, 'You're just like your father. You
don't deserve to get to know them.'" This kind of talk infuriated him,
and he went out to cruise for the girls that he couldn't have. He knew a
way to get them on his terms.
Kemper had picked up many hitchhikers. "I'm picking up young women," he
said in the interview shown on Mugshots , "and I'm going a little bit
farther each time. It's a daring kind of thing. First there wasn't a gun.
I'm driving along. We go to a vulnerable place, where there aren't
people watching, where I could act out and I say, 'No, I can't.' And
then a gun is in the car, hidden. And this craving, this awful raging
eating feeling inside, this fantastic passion. It was overwhelming me.
It was like drugs. It was like alcohol. A little isn't enough."
experience changed for him on May 7, 1972. Even before Mullin began his
reign of terror in the area, Kemper decided to make his move. "It was
stupid for anyone to hitchhike," he said, "but to these people who
thought it was fun and exciting and maybe even a little bit daring -- it
is if they're dead." He got insights and tidbits from reading police
novels. For example, he learned how to keep the car door locked once the
girls were inside. He also knew how to give them the impression that
they were safe with him.
Clarnell had acquired a university sticker for Kemper's Ford, which made
it easy for him to go in and out of the campus without raising
suspicion. (It should be noted that coworkers at the university found
Clarnell charming and easy to get along with, which differed from
Edmund's version. She did give him assistance and allowed him to live
with her.) On this day, Kemper picked up two 18-year-old college
students out hitchhiking, Mary Anne Pesce and Anita Luchessa. He wanted
to rape them, but decided on murder to leave no witnesses.
was the first time I went looking for someone to kill. And it's two
people, not one. And they're dead. Very naïve, too. Painfully naïve in
that they thought they were streetwise." In fact, they were quite
grateful for the ride. It wasn't far to Stanford, perhaps an hour, so
Kemper said he was willing to take them all the way. They couldn't
believe their luck, but their glee soon turned to terror.
Kemper drove off the highway and came to rest on a dirt road. The girls
sensed that something was amiss. As if to intensify his own game, he
told them that he intended to rape them and that he was going to take
them to his apartment, although he had learned from listening to the
stories of rapists in Atascadero that it was better to leave no
witnesses. Handcuffing Pesce to the back seat, he forced Luchessa into
the trunk of the car. He then tried unsuccessfully to smother Pesce and
to stab her. The knife blade hit her backbone and would not enter, but
she felt the pain and put up a tremendous struggle. She also bit through
the bag that he had placed over her head. Finally, he slit her throat
and killed her. He then turned his attention to Luchessa and killed her
as well, though it was an ordeal he hadn't expected. Now he had two
corpses all to himself.
he was nearly caught, as the police learned during his confession. As he
drove toward Alameda , he was stopped for a broken taillight. He
maintained a calm, polite attitude and got off with a mere warning.
During the entire encounter, Kemper later said, he was excited. Had the
officer decided to do a routine check and look into the trunk, Kemper
would have killed him on the spot.
Alameda , his roommate was out, so he knew he could work on the bodies
there without being disturbed. Wrapping them in blankets, he placed them
in the trunk of his car and drove to his apartment. There he brought the
bodies inside and laid them on the floor. His own confessions provide
the details. He took them into his own bedroom, where he photographed
them. As he removed parts from them, he took more photographs and paused
from time to time to savor the erotic moments of possessing them so
completely. He said that he also engaged in sexual acts with the severed
Placing Pesce's parts in a bag, he left them in a shallow grave in the
mountains, making sure to remember the place for later visits. He used
her head for sex before tossing it into a ravine, along with Luchessa's
head. He then fell back into his habit of picking up girls and taking
them safely to their destinations. He would even talk to his riders
about the man who was killing female hitchhikers, all the while
evaluating each as a potential victim. "When someone put their hand on
my car-door handle, they were giving me their life."
continued with this activity until September 14, 1972.
Psychiatric Follow-up of Edmund Kemper
That's the day he picked up Aiko Koo, who had given up waiting for her
bus and hitched a ride. He'd been feeling the energy that inspired his
fantasies of murder. This girl seemed perfect for his next grim venture.
He was surprised that she was only fifteen, but determined to carry out
his plan. About that encounter, Kemper said: "I pulled the gun out to
show her I had it...she was freaking out. Then I put the gun away and
that had more effect on her than pulling it out." He got out of the car,
locking himself out, which gave her an advantage, but she was too scared
to pick up his gun. "She could have reached over and grabbed the gun,"
he said later, "but I think she never gave it a thought." Instead, she
unlocked the door and let him back in.
pinched her nostrils to force her to black out, says Frazier, and raped
her. Then he strangled her until he was sure she was dead and rode
around with her body in the trunk of his car. He had a few drinks before
taking her home to dismember and dissect her in the same manner he had
done with his first two victims. Once he had tasted this power over
women, he knew, it was only a matter of time before he'd want it again.
But first he had to prepare to convince the psychiatrists who were
monitoring his case that he was "cured."
day after he killed Aiko Koo, Kemper went before a panel of
psychiatrists as a follow-up requirement for parole. He'd done well in
school, had tried finding a job, and as far as anyone knew, he had
stayed out of trouble. He knew what they wanted to hear and he put on
his best act. The first doctor talked with him for a while and indicated
that he saw no reason to consider Kemper a danger to anyone. The second
one actually used the words "normal" and "safe," according to Cheney.
Both recommended the sealing of his juvenile records as a way to help
him to become a better citizen. Yet even as the two psychiatrists
congratulated themselves on being part of a system that had
rehabilitated a child killer, Kemper delighted in his secret. Damio
writes that not only had killed a girl the day before the analysis, but
he had her head in the trunk of his car outside, which Kemper disputes.
Once again, he was in the game. He had succeeded at convincing the
learned professionals that he was something other than he really was,
and they had wrongly inferred that he was "no longer a danger." The
judge did not agree, but had no grounds to deny the request to seal the
records. Thus, eight years after he had killed his grandparents, Kemper
gained his freedom. As he drove away with a clean bill of mental health,
he felt pleased. Now he was free to continue with his experiments. He
found a place to bury Koo's head and hands above Boulder Creek, and
there they remained undiscovered until the following May.
he was not finished. While he laid low for a while, he kept fantasizing
about taking the lives of those young women. He kept trophies and
photographs of his grisly work to help renew the experience, and as he
clashed with his mother time and again, the urge to kill built up within
More of Edmund Kemper's Victims
Later, Kemper tried to explain his motive for these crimes: "My
frustration. My inability to communicate socially, sexually. I wasn't
impotent. I was scared to death of failing in male-female relationships."
purchased a .22-caliber pistol and then looked for a pretty hitchhiker.
The one he found was named Cindy Schall, who accepted a ride with him on
January 7, 1973. Again, he drove to a secluded area and shot her
quickly. He wasn't interested in torture. He just wanted a body to
handle. He was now living with his mother again, and he took the corpse
home to dismember her in the bathtub. He kept her overnight in his room
and then beheaded her, burying the head in the backyard. He threw the
body parts over a cliff, but they quickly washed up onto the beach.
Still, he knew they could not tie it to him. He'd removed the bullet
from the head. And he was right. No one suspected him.
February 5, after a horrendous argument with his mother, Kemper went out
again. That's when Rosalind Thorpe and Allison Liu disappeared from
campus. He picked up Rosalind first, and her presence in the car
apparently reassured Allison, who willingly got in. "Miss Liu was
sitting in back right behind Miss Thorpe," Kemper recalled. "I went on
down a ways and slowed down. I remarked on the beautiful view. I
hesitated for several seconds. I had been moving my pistol from down
below my leg in my lap. I picked it up and pulled the trigger. As I
fired, she fell against the window. Miss Liu panicked. I had to fire
through her hands. She was moving around and I missed twice."
hit her in the temple, and he aimed again and fired. But she was still
alive as he approached the university gate. (This part of the story
varies according to different accounts.) One account indicates that she
was already dead, but another describes her breathing loudly and
moaning. Two young men were at the security gate, but when they saw
Kemper's university sticker, they waved him through. The two women were
wrapped in blankets, and one of them was in the front passenger seat. He
told some interviewers later that he explained to the guard that these
girls were drunk and he was trying to get them back to their dorms. The
guard apparently accepted the story, and Kemper decided that he was as
good as invisible: "It was getting easier to do. I was getting better at
took the girls' bodies to his mother's home and dismembered and beheaded
them with his mother nearby and neighbors around. (Another account says
that he beheaded them outside in the car and then took one headless
corpse inside to have sex.) He was aware that a neighbor only had to
walk by and look in the window and see what he was doing in order to
catch him. But no one did. The next morning, he deposited the limbs in
the ocean and around the hills, tossing the heads away separately. His
fourth episode of killing had been successfully completed. It would not
be long before he vented his rage closer to home.
After killing six young women, the six-foot-nine giant turned his anger
against his ultimate target: his mother. While most experts later claim
that his killing was really about symbolic rehearsal for killing his
mother, and once he'd dispatched her, he no longer needed to kill,
Kemper's explanation is quite different. He indicated in an interview
that he had sensed the cops closing in after Sergeant Aluffi had paid
him a call about his gun and he wanted to spare his mother the
embarrassment of learning that he was the "Coed Butcher." However, his
treatment of her corpse tells another story.
Kemper also said that he feared that his mother had found the items he
had taken from the women he'd killed. He wondered if he should flee or
kill her. "I can't get away from her...She knows all my buttons and I
dance like a puppet." He knew that he would now kill her, but he waited
for the opportune moment. She went out with friends one evening and came
home tipsy from alcohol (although some accounts say nothing about her
Kemper went into her room, and according to him, she said, "I suppose
you want to talk now." He told her no. In his 1978 interview, he said he
then started to cry and put his hand to his mouth. It was the first time
he had broken his composure. He'd spoken about the other murders with no
show of guilt, compassion or remorse, but his mother's death was another
waited for her to go to bed, he said, and then went into her room with a
claw hammer. "It was so hard." He admitted that to remember it hurt him.
"I cut off her head, and I humiliated her, of course. She was dead,
because of the way she raised her son." But later he said he'd wished
she'd stayed up and talked to him. He put her head on the mantel and
said what he wanted to say. He also threw darts. For the first time, she
did not argue with him. That felt satisfying, but he also knew it was
over for him. He would undoubtedly be linked to this crime. He penned a
brief note, quoted in Cheney's book: "Appx. 5:15 A.M. Saturday. No need
for her to suffer anymore at the hands of this horrible 'murderous
butcher.' It was quick, sleep, the way I wanted it."
Some sources indicate that Kemper believed having two victims would
deflect attention from him, so he then invited Sally Hallett over. He
punched and strangled her, then laid her naked on his bed. He spent the
night with the two corpses in the house, with blood everywhere, and one
account indicates that he tried to have sex with Hallett's corpse. He
also beheaded her. On Easter morning, he fled in Sally's car. As he
drove, he turned on the radio, hoping to hear on the news that someone
had discovered the bodies. Yet there were no news flashes. That
disappointed him. By the time he reached Pueblo , after driving some
1,500 miles, he decided to instigate the discovery himself. Stopping at
a phone booth, he called the police.
Kemper made it easy for the cops. He showed them where he had buried the
head of Cynthia Schall in his mother's backyard, saying he had placed it
there so he could take satisfaction in knowing, according to one
detective, she was on his property looking toward the sky. As they
drove, he described each murder in minute detail and showed them where
he had deposited each victim's remains.
Edmund Kemper On Trial
Edmund Kemper was indicted on eight counts of first-degree murder on May
7, 1973. The Chief Public Defender of Santa Cruz County, attorney Jim
Jackson, had defended Frazier and was assigned to the Mullin case as
well. He now also took on Kemper's defense, which he offered as an
insanity plea. He had his hands full, especially because Kemper's
detailed confessions sans attorney had robbed him of any strategy except
an insanity defense. But it would not be easy, since Kemper was so
articulate and clear in the way he had planned and prepared for his
fatal encounters. Nevertheless, he had once been diagnosed as psychotic,
and despite the psychiatric records that pronounced him safe, he clearly
had not been cured. For Jackson , there was hope that this defense could
While awaiting trial, Kemper tried twice to commit suicide by slashing
his wrists. He failed both times. The trial began on October 23, 1973,
and three prosecution
psychiatrists found him to be sane. Dr. Joel Fort had looked at Kemper's
juvenile records to examine the diagnosis that he was then psychotic. He
interviewed Kemper at length, including under truth serum, and told the
court that Kemper had probably engaged in acts of cannibalism. He
apparently cooked and ate parts of the girls' flesh after dismembering
them. Nevertheless, Fort decided that he had known what he was doing in
each incident, was thrilled by the notoriety of being a mass murderer,
and had been entirely aware that it was wrong. That was good enough to
find him sane. California relied on the M'Naghten standard for sanity
that was used throughout most of the country. According to the wording,
this standard held that a defendant might be found insane if, by reason
of a disease or defect, he did not know that what he was doing was
wrong. Kemper clearly did know that his acts of murder were wrong. He
had also shown clear evidence of premeditation and planning.
defense psychiatrist was willing to testify to insanity based on the
"product standard," which allows someone to say that the crime is the
product of a diseased mind - a subtle difference -- but that was not
within the state's definition. Kemper's younger sister described the
strange acts she had seen her brother do, trying hard to show that he
was abnormal, while Jackson fought valiantly through cross-examination
to get the prosecution's experts to admit that many of the things Kemper
had done with the victims were clearly aberrant. They did, but generally
stuck with their original evaluation. They also questioned the
Atascadero staff's diagnosis of Kemper when he was fifteen. Having a
lively fantasy world was not necessarily psychotic.
Kemper on the Stand
Kemper himself took the stand on November 1. What the jury thought of
this man who had so easily killed is not on record. They had heard large
portions of his detailed confession and already knew what he had to say
for himself. He discussed what he knew about his mental state and tried
to convince the jury that his need to possess a woman and his acts of
necrophilia were clear indications of an unstable state of mind. He had
already told his interrogators that he'd felt remorse and that he'd
taken to drinking more and more to relieve the pressure. But he had also
described the sexual thrill he achieved from removing someone's head and
had said that killing was a narcotic to him. He also described the
feeling he had that two beings inhabited his body, and when his killer
personality took over, it was "kind of like blacking out." He indicated
that the same thing had happened when he had shot his grandmother.
trial lasted less than three weeks. How many of his outrageous
admissions were actually true is anyone's guess. While Kemper had
admitted to cannibalism during Dr. Fort's analysis, he recanted that
later, claiming it was meant for an insanity defense.
November 8, the six-man, six-woman jury deliberated for five hours, says
Frazier, before finding Kemper sane and guilty of eight counts of
first-degree murder. Although Kemper hoped to receive the death penalty,
he was convicted during a time when the Supreme Court had placed a
moratorium on capital punishment and all death sentences were commuted
to life imprisonment. The death penalty became applicable only to crimes
committed after January 1, 1974.
Everitt says that the judge asked him what he thought his punishment
should be. It wasn't difficult for him to come up with something, as
he'd been thinking about this moment since childhood. He told the judge
that he believed he ought to be tortured to death.
such luck. Instead, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. Sent first to
the California Medical Facility State Prison at Vacaville, north of San
Francisco, for observation, writes Cheney, he ended up at the maximum
security prison at Folsom.
one point, he requested psychosurgery, which involved inserting a probe
into his brain to kill brain tissue and potentially cure him of his
compulsive sexual aggression. His request was denied, possibly because
authorities feared that he might then petition for release. He became a
model inmate, helping to read books on tape for the blind, but when he
went before the parole board, he told them he was not fit to go back
into society. In prison, he is reported to be cooperative and kind, and
would like to forget his past. While he readily participated in requests
for interviews and self-examination -- hoping he would help others to
learn about offenders like him -- he often disliked what some of his
interviewers later said about him. (Cheney said that when she asked for
access to his juvenile records, he refused to cooperate.) Yet it's
interesting to see how other professionals regarded him.
Edmund Kemper Prison Interviews
Special Agents John Douglas and Robert R. Ressler became part of the
Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico during its early years in the 1970s,
and while they were on the road talking with local jurisdictions, they
came up with the idea to visit prisons and interview notorious killers.
They hoped to include this information in the data they were gathering
about crimes being committed by those unknown suspects on whom they were
offering profiles. A database about the traits and behaviors of known
killers could offer a substantial backbone for their teachings. Douglas
and Ressler both write about these visits in their books, and they were
generally the team who did the prison interviews. "If you want to
understand the artist," Douglas writes in Mindhunter , "look at his
They contacted different types of offenders, including mass murderers,
assassins, and serial killers, and collected data on 118 victims,
including some who had survived an attempted murder. The goal was to
gather information about how the murders were planned and committed,
what the killers did and thought about afterward, what kinds of
fantasies they had, and what they did before the next incident. Edmund
Kemper was among the 36 men who agreed to be interviewed, and Ressler
had a hair-raising story about it. (Kemper has told private
correspondents, who related it to this author, that he sneers at these
tales and that a psychiatrist who visited him tells the same story in
some attempt to make it seem as if these interviews were truly
dangerous. On the other hand, he may well have done this with several
people simply because he enjoyed playing this trick. Chenry relates a
similar story about a female correspondent who may have reminded Kemper
of Sara Hallett.)
Ressler, who includes a photo of himself posing with Kemper, says that
at the end of his third interview at Vacaville Prison, Kemper made his
move. In two previous visits, Ressler says that he was accompanied by
someone else, but this time, he thought that he had achieved a rapport
with Kemper, so he ventured in alone. They ended up in a small, locked
cell near death row for four hours. Ressler finally used a button to
summon a guard, but no one came. He continued to talk and press the
button, and still no one came. He says that Kemper was sensitive to his
psyche and he believed he must have appeared apprehensive, for he
claimed that Kemper told him to relax and then said, "If I went apeshit
in here, you'd be in a lot of trouble, wouldn't you? I could screw your
head off and place it on the table to greet the guard."
Ressler mentally sparred with him, trying to buy time and hoping to give
the impression that he had a way to defend himself. Eventually the guard
came, and Kemper said that he had merely been kidding, but Ressler never
again went alone to an interview with him.
Douglas , too, describes an encounter in Mindhunter , indicating that he
and Ressler did several prison interviews over the years with Kemper,
and he offers quite a bit of detailed information about Kemper, having
found him to be among the brightest prison inmates he'd ever
Assessment of Edmund Kemper
Douglas offers a detailed impression of Kemper. Indeed, he was surprised
that Kemper had even agreed to talk with them. Douglas thought he was
merely curious about them and their agenda. His first impression was
that the killer was enormous. "He could easily have broken any of us in
two." But it was also clear that Kemper was well above average in
intelligence, with a high degree of self-awareness. He apparently also
liked to talk; Douglas indicates that Kemper talked with them for
several hours. Because they had researched his file in detail and knew
about his crimes, he soon realized that they were aware when he was
attempting to deceive them. Ultimately, he relaxed and talked openly.
Kemper seemed distant and analytical to Douglas , and wasn't emotionally
moved except when he referred to his mother's treatment of him. He
believed that because he looked like his father, she hated him and used
him as a target for her frustrations. He claimed that his mother made
him sleep in a windowless basement because she was afraid he would
molest his sister. In this dark place, he said, he allowed his hatred of
women to fester and grow. His mother made him feel dangerous and
shameful, so he had killed the two family cats. As he grew up, his
feelings only intensified, although he continued to live with his mother
- the person he most hated. Because he had learned about psychological
assessment in such detail, he knew how to describe himself in the proper
psychiatric jargon. "He knew all the buzzwords," writes Douglas .
What interested Douglas and Ressler most was the way in which Kemper saw
what he was doing to people as a game. He figured out the best ways to
put girls at ease and to make them believe they were safe. "This type of
information," Douglas writes, "would start suggesting something
important: the normal common-sense assumptions, verbal cues, body
language, and so on that we use to size up another people...often don't
apply to sociopaths." Listening to Kemper, Douglas summed up his
approach and his ultimate goals: "manipulation, domination, control."
Douglas also pointed out the central role of violent fantasies for the
sexual predator. Kemper had developed fantasies early in his life, which
had given him a chance to rehearse for years the relationship between
sex and death. To possess another person meant to take his or her life.
Kemper's confession confirmed this, as he stated that he wanted his
victims to belong to him completely. It was his way of getting back at
kids who had shunned him throughout his childhood. Ultimately, however,
his "overriding fantasy" was to be rid of his mother. He told Douglas
that before he started killing anyone, he would go quietly into his
mother's bedroom while she was asleep and envision hitting her with a
hammer. Given what Kemper has said about her, Douglas felt that Clarnell
had helped to make him into a serial killer who was in fact practicing
on others before aiming his frustration at his true target.
Even so, Douglas admitted that he had liked Ed. "He was friendly, open,
sensitive, and had a good sense of humor." He believed that Kemper's
enjoyment of dismemberment was fetishistic rather than sadistic, but Dr.
Donald Lunde offered a different view in Murder and Madness .
Psychiatric View of Edmund Kemper
Lunde was in the thick of the fear and hysteria in Santa Cruz as he
assessed John Linley Frasier and Herb Mullin. He was also called in to
the Kemper case and was allowed access by Kemper's defense attorney to
the trial transcripts. To Lunde, Kemper, unlike Mullin or Frasier,
seemed like a man who had complete awareness of what he was doing and
had fully relished its perversion. He believed that Kemper's sexual
aggression stemmed from childhood anger and violent fantasies. Lunde
found Kemper's ambivalent relationship with his mother to be common
among sexual sadists, and they generally bring the killing of their
mother into their fantasy world. The act of killing becomes a powerful
aspect of sexual arousal.
Kemper's anger began early, Lunde writes, when he was
separated from his father. He laid the full blame for that on his
mother, although she had expressed concern about the lack of a father
figure in his life. Lunde also recorded incidents remembered by Kemper's
younger sister. "He would stage his own execution in the form of a
childhood game, in which he had her lead him to a chair, blindfold him,
and pull an imaginary lever, after which he would writhe about as if
dying in a gas chamber."
Kemper had told Lunde about his strong interest in
weapons and his desire to kill women. Instead, he killed cats. "He also
imagined such things as killing everyone in town and having sexual
relations with corpses." While he apparently longed for a relationship
with a female, he felt so inadequate that he decided he could only
engage in one form of activity with them: killing them. He would also
have sex with the corpses.
Lunde lamented the fact that the years Kemper had spent
in a psychiatric institution as a boy had failed to prevent him from
becoming such a violent and dangerous person. "There may be a point in
the sexual sadist's development," he says, "beyond which sexual and
violent aggressive impulses are inextricably interwoven." Effective
treatment would have had to have taken place much earlier during his
childhood. Yet it's difficult to identify such children, because they
generally engage in their fantasies secretly and deny they are guilty of
the petty offenses they commit.
Kemper is among those serial killers who have freely
offered an extravagant amount of detail about his crimes and his
fantasies. Despite how disturbing his revelations are, we can be
grateful that we know more about the development of a sexual predator
from his accounts.
All text that appears in this section was provided by
www.crimelibrary.com (the very best source for serial killer information
on the internet). Serialkillercalendar.com thanks the crime library for
their tireless efforts in recording our dark past commends them on the
amazing job they have done thus far).
EDMUND KEMPER INTERVIEW
Front Page Detective
By MARJ von
Just a few hours after California's mass murderer
Edmund Kemper, 24, was convicted on eight counts of first degree murder,
he kept a promise and granted me an exclusive interview. It was not my
first person-to-person talk with the young killer.
As a reporter assigned to cover the grisly murder
investigation (I’ll Show You Where I Buried the Pieces of Their
Bodies, August INSIDE, 1973) and the trial, I had, by chance,
chatted with him a few weeks before his trial, as he was waiting at the
Santa Cruz County courthouse for a conference with his lawyer.
I wrote a story about our meeting and my impressions
of him and he liked it, thus came his promise of an interview once the
trial was ended. Kemper had warned me the court hearings on the gory
sex-killings of six coeds and the subsequent murders of his mother and
her best friend probably would turn my stomach. They did.
As a sex-starved young man in what should have been a
peak of his virility, he was sexually and socially so uncertain of
himself that he began to prey on hitchhiking coeds, not as a rapist, but
as a murderer and necrophiliac.
"At first I picked up girls just to talk to them,
just to try to get acquainted with people my own age and try to strike
up a friendship," he had told investigators. Then he began to have sex
fantasies about the girls he picked up hitchhiking, but feared being
caught and convicted as a rapist So, he said: "I decided to mix the two
and have a situation of rape and murder and no witnesses and no
Kemper’s first two victims were 18-year-old Fresno
State college coeds, Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa whom he stabbed
to death May 7, 1972, after he picked them up in Berkeley.
"I had full intentions of killing them. I would loved
to have raped them, but not having any experience at all..." he trailed
He disclosed that, despite the fact he killed Miss
Pesce, she had awakened a feeling of tenderness in him that none of his
other victims did. "I was really quite struck by her personality and her
looks and there was just almost a reverence there," he said.
Kemper decapitated the girls' corpses, burying Miss
Pesce's body in a redwood grove along a mountain highway and casting
that of Miss Luchessa out in the brush on a hillside. He kept their
heads for a time and then hurled them down a steep slope of a ravine.
The girls were listed as "missing persons" for months
until Miss Pesce's head was found by hikers and, subsequently,
identified through dental charts. Kemper later led investigators to the
grave where he had buried her.
"Sometimes, afterward, I visited there ... to be near
her ... because I loved her and wanted her," he said on the witness
Miss Luchessa's head and body never were found.
A month after Miss Pesce's head was discovered,
Kemper chose another victim. Beautiful Aiko Koo, 15, a talented Oriental
dancer, was hitchhiking from her home in Berkeley to a dance class in
San Francisco. She never arrived. Kemper literally snuffed out her life
in the darkness of an isolated spot in the mountains above the city of
Her mouth was taped shut and he pinched her nostrils
together until she suffocated. Then he raped her inert body and put it
in the trunk of his car. A few miles away, he stopped at a country bar
"for a few beers."
Before going into the bar, he opened the trunk to
make sure she was dead. He told investigators:
"I suppose as I was standing there looking, I was
doing one of those triumphant things, too, admiring my work and admiring
her beauty, and I might say admiring my catch like a fisherman."
Kemper also spoke of a sense of exultation in his
"I just wanted the exaltation over the party. In
other words, winning over death. They were dead and I was alive. That
was the victory in my case."
He said of the act of decapitation, "I remember it
was very exciting … there was actually a sexual thrill … It was kind of
an exalted triumphant type thing, like taking the head of a deer or an
elk or something would be to a hunter.
"I was the hunter and they were the victims."
On the witness stand, though, Kemper testified that "death
never entered as a factor" in the coed killings. He said:
"Alive, they were distant, not sharing with me. I was
trying to establish a relationship and there was no relationship there...
"When they were being killed, there wasn't anything
going on in my mind except that they were going to be mine ... That was
the only way they could be mine." (Kemper testified that as a child of
eight he had killed his pet cat, which had transferred its affections to
his two sisters, "to make it mine.")
His desire to possess the coeds led Kemper even
further than murder, he revealed in court. In his fantasies he literally
made two of the girls "a part of me" by eating "parts of them."
Of all his coed victims he said: "They were like
spirit wives... I still had their spirits. I still have them," he
declared in the courtroom.
Kemper did not kill again until after he bought a
.22-caliber pistol in January of this year.
"I went bananas after I got that .22," he told me.
The day he bought it he fatally shot coed Cynthia
Schall, a 19-year-old Santa Cruz girl, in the trunk of his car. He
carried her body into his mother's apartment near Santa Cruz, kept it in
his bedroom closet over night and dissected it in the bathtub the next
day while his mother was at work.
He buried the girl's head in the back yard "with her
face turned toward my bedroom window and, sometimes at night, I talked
to her, saying love things, the way you do to a girlfriend or wife."
Less than a month later, Kemper picked up two girls,
Rosalind Thorpe, 23, and Alice Liu, 21, on the campus of the University
of California at Santa Cruz (UCSC). He shot them both to death in the
car before driving off campus and later cut off their heads in the trunk
of his car while it was parked in the street in front of his mother's
He told investigators the killings came on an impulse
bom out of anger with his mother.
"My mother and I had had a real tiff. I was pissed. I
told her I was going to a movie and I jumped up and went straight to the
campus because it was still early.
"I said, the first girl that's halfway decent that I
pick up, I'm gonna blow her brains out," he revealed.
Kemper's final killings were those of his mother,
Mrs. Clarnell Strandberg, 52, and her best friend, Mrs. Sara Hallett,
59, in his mother's apartment on Easter weekend. Then he began a
cross-country flight, in a rented car loaded with guns and ammunition,
that ended in a decision to surrender, "so I wouldn't kill again."
On April 24, 1973, he was arrested in a public
telephone booth in Pueblo, Colo., after he had called policemen he knew
in Santa Cruz to say he was the coed killer and told them where to find
the bodies of his mother and Mrs. Hallett.
The afternoon I went to see Kemper in the Santa Cruz
County jail where he was being kept pending sentencing the next morning,
I expected to talk to him for an hour or so, in the presence of a jailer.
Instead, I spent over five hours alone with him, locked up in a tiny
glass-walled room within sight but not sound of the jailer's desk.
Though he wore manacles on his ankles, his hands were free.
Disarming as he is at times, more than once during
the long afternoon I was reminded that I was sitting face to face with a
six-foot, nine-inch 255-pound giant who had murdered and mutilated six
coeds, beaten his sleeping mother to death with a hammer and strangled
his mother's best friend in a matter of seconds. The frequent traffic of
jailers and inmates past the glass wall was reassuring comfort.
My visit with Kemper was an unforgettable experience,
inducing a collage of feelings. As he talked on and on, he was many
- A lonely young man, grateful for companionship on
the eve of what was certainly to be his last day outside prison.
- An angry and bitter sibling recalling what he felt
was rejection and a lack of love from a divorced father who "cared more
for his second family than he did us."
- A son who alternately hated and "loved" a mother he
described as a "manhater" who had three husbands and "took her violent
hatred of my father out on me."
- A sometimes wry and boastful raconteur, chronicling
the events of his life and a person quick to see the humorous side of
things and laugh, even if the joke is on him.
- An anguished and remorseful killer when speaking of
the coeds whose bodies he had sexually assaulted after death and of the
"pain" he had caused their families. "The day those fathers [of the
Pesce and Luchessa girls] testified in court was very hard for me ... I
felt terrible. I wanted to talk to them about their daughters, comfort
them ... But what could I say?"
Kemper also was a person who momentarily precipitated
in me a flush of terror and then allayed my misgivings by faultlessly
assuming the role of the gracious host. He talked about the jury's
verdict that morning. He had pleaded not guilty and not guilty by reason
of insanity to each of the killings.
Court-appointed psychiatrists, called to testify by
the prosecution, described Kemper as suffering from a "personality
disorder," but said he was not criminally insane by California's legal
standards. One doctor called Kemper a "sadistic sex maniac."
The jury found Kemper was guilty and sane.
He didn't disagree with the jury's verdict.
"I really wasn't surprised when it came out that
way," he said. "There was just no way they could find me insane ...
Society just isn't ready for that yet. Ten or 20 years from now they
would have, but they're not going to take a chance."
But he expressed regret that the "sane" verdict would
mean he would go to prison, instead of possibly returning to Atascadero
Kemper spent five years at Atascadero after he
murdered his grandparents in 1964 at the age of 15. He recalled with
pride the job he'd held there as head of the psychological testing lab
at the age of 19 and working directly under the hospital's chief
psychologist. He said:
"I felt I definitely could have done a lot of good
there, helping people return to the streets ... I could have fit in
there quicker than anybody else...
"After all," he explained, "I grew up there. That
used to be like my home.
"Basically, I was born there, you know. I have a lot
of fond memories of the place ... And I don't know anybody else who
has," he added with a rueful laugh.
It was there that he became a member of the Junior
Chamber of Commerce. During his trial, he wore his membership pin in his
lapel, apparently with pride.
Because of his intelligence and ability, he
apparently was a valuable aide in psychological testing and research. "I
helped to develop some new tests and some new scales on MMPI... You've
probably heard of it ... the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality
Inventory," he said with a chuckle. "I helped to develop a new scale on
that, the 'Overt Hostility Scale'... How's that for a..." He groped for
"Ironic?" I suggested.
"Ironic note," he agreed. "There we go, it was an
ironic note that I helped to develop that scale and then look what
happened to me when I got back out on the streets."
Though Kemper couldn't give me a positive answer to
why he did what he did, he partly blamed society, the courts and his
parents as well, saying:
"I didn't have the supervision I should have had once
I got out... I was supposed to see my parole officer every other week
and a social worker the other week.
"I never did. I think if I had, I would have made it.
"Two weeks after I was on the streets, I got scared
because I hadn't seen anyone.
"Finally, I called the district parole office and
asked if I was doing something wrong... was I supposed to go to my
parole officer, or would he come to see me, I asked."
Kemper said the man on the phone asked him, "What's
the matter, you got a problem?" When Kemper told him, "no," the man
replied, "Well, we're awfully busy with people who have; we'll get to
Kemper blamed the court for counteracting the plan of
Atascadero doctors to release him in stages geared to get him accustomed
to the world outside again. He said they planned to send him to a
"halfway house" environment where he would still have counseling, have a
chance to get acquainted with girls at social functions and become aware
of persons in his own age group.
"When I got out on the street it was like being on a
strange planet. People my age were not talking the same language. I had
been living with people older than I was for so long that I was an old
Instead, Kemper was sent to a California Youth
Authority institution by court order, only to be released abruptly five
months later, paroled to the custody of a mother who was "an alcoholic
and constantly bitched and screamed at me."
Kemper looked down at his hands and said, "She loved
me in her way and despite all the violent screaming and yelling
arguments we had, I loved her, too." "But," he continued, "she had to
manage your life... and interfere in your personal affairs."
He said his mother was a "big, ugly, awkward woman
who was six feet tall and she was always trying to get me to go out with
girls who were just like her... friends of hers from the campus." (His
mother was an administrative assistant at UCSC.)
"I may not be so much to look at myself," Kemper said
with a laugh, "but I have always gone after pretty girls."
All of his hitchhiking coed victims were pretty and,
with the exception of one girl, were small and delicate in stature.
Of his father, he said, "he didn't want me around,
because I upset his second wife. Before I went to Atascadero, my
presence gave her migraine headaches; when I came out she was going to
have a heart attack if I came around."
It was because of that, Kemper said, that he was
"shipped off" to his paternal grandparents to live in "complete
isolation" on a California mountain top with "my senile grandfather" and
"my grandmother who thought she had more balls than any man and was
constantly emasculating me and my grandfather to prove it.
"I couldn't please her... It was like being in
jail... I became a walking time bomb and I finally blew ... It was like
that the second time, with my mother."
Kemper laughed as he recalled an incident with his
grandmother when she left him home alone one day but took his
grandfather's .45 automatic with her in her purse, because she was
afraid he might "play" around with it in her absence. His grandparents
were going to Fresno on a monthly shopping trip. He recalled:
"I saw her big black pocketbook bulging as she went
out the door and I said to myself, 'Why that old bitch, she's taking the
gun with her, because she doesn't trust me, even though I promised I
wouldn't touch it.'"
He said he looked in his grandfather's bureau drawer
and "sure enough the gun was gone from its usual place...
"I toyed with the idea of calling the chief of police
in Fresno and telling him 'there's a little old lady walking around town
with a forty-five in her purse and she's planning a holdup' and then
give him my grandmother's description."
He laughed appreciatively at the idea and asked me:
"How do you suppose she would have talked herself out of that?" There
were moments, prior to her death, when he felt like punishing his
mother, too. Kemper told investigators he had killed his mother to spare
her the suffering and shame that knowledge of his crimes would bring.
But, he said, as he sat in the little room with me:
"There were times when she was bitching and yelling
at me that I felt like retaliating and walking over to the telephone in
her presence and calling the police, to say, 'Hello, I'm the coed
killer,' just to lay it on her."
Kemper's testimony in court revealed his desire to
punish his mother did not end with the fatal hammer blow. He cut off his
mother's head, "put it on a shelf and screamed at it for an hour ...
threw darts at it," and ultimately, "smashed her face in," he recalled
for the horrified court.
Once during the long afternoon, a deputy brought us
in some coffee. Another one came to inquire if Kemper needed any
medication. (Under doctor's orders he was allowed to have tranquillizers
as required and sleeping pills at night.)
The jail nurse also came in while I was there and
changed the bandage on his wrist where he had slashed an artery in one
of his four suicide attempts after his arrest.
"Would you like to see my wound," he said, holding
his arm out to me.
(The cutting instrument he had used to make the
suicidal incision had been fashioned from the metal casing of a ball
point pen I had given him. Jailers at the neighboring San Mateo county
jail, where he was kept for security reasons after two suicide attempts
in Santa Cruz, had failed to remove the pen from his folder of papers
when Kemper returned from court.)
He had previously assured me, "It's not your fault."
He tried to explain his suicide attempts, saying that he did not have a
suicidal feeling when he was first "locked up." Then the "kindness and
respect with which I was treated by the people [jail personnel] after a
while started to get to me ...
"I started feeling like I didn't deserve all that
nice treatment after what I had done ... and I guess that's why I
started cutting myself up."
Kemper also talked about his previous statements
that, if he were sent to prison he would kill someone so he could die in
the gas chamber, and indicated he had had a change of heart.
"I guess you heard me say that I wanted to kill
'Herbie' Mullin, my fellow mass murderer," he said. (The Mullin story,
Chalk Up Another for Mr. Kill-Crazy, appeared in the June, 1973,
issue of INSIDE DETECTIVE.)
"Well, there was a time when I thought it would be a
good solution for everyone.
"It would be good for society and save everyone a
bundle of money. Instead of spending thousands and thousands of dollars
to lock the two of us up for life to protect us from people and people
Kemper had told investigators and psychiatrists he
thought he would kill again if he ever were released. He also admitted
under cross examination by District Attorney Peter Chang that he had
fantasized killing "thousands of people," including Chang himself. He
"I figured that if I killed him [Mullin] and then
they sent me to the gas chamber, it would be a good solution to the
"I know I'd never get a chance to though and I don't
have any intention of killing him or anyone else...."
(Mullin was convicted of two counts of first degree
murder and eight counts of second degree murder in the shooting deaths
of ten persons he killed during a 21-day rampage early in 1973 in Santa
Cruz County. Five of the victims were complete strangers to him. He said
he killed three others in 1972.)
Kemper and Mullin were next-door neighbors in their
security prisoner cellblock at the San Mateo County jail before Mullin
was tried and convicted. Kemper made no secret of his disdain for Mullin
from the first moment of their meeting in San Mateo.
"You're a no-class killer," he taunted him.
During Kemper's trial, under questioning from Chang,
Kemper admitted he had thrown water through the cell bars onto Mullin to
"shut him up when he was disturbing everybody by singing off-key in his
high-pitched, squeaky voice."
Kemper added, though, "When he was a good boy, I gave
him peanuts. He liked peanuts."
Kemper said of the alternate water treatment and the
peanuts, "It was behavioral modification treatment... The jailers were
very pleased with me."
“You know, though," Kemper told me, as he looked out
of the window in the little room, "It really sticks in my craw that
Mullin only got two 'firsts' and I got eight.
"He was just a cold-blooded killer, running over a
three-week period killing everybody he saw for no good reason."
He paused for a moment, then broke into laughter,
saying, "I guess that's kind of hilarious, my sitting here so
self-righteously talking, like that, after what I've done."
When Kemper assured me that he had given up thoughts
of trying to take his own life again, I asked him what he planned to do
with the rest of his years in prison. He told me he knew he would be
locked up in tight security for the first few years and that he thought
he would try to do a lot of reading and studying. "I've always loved
science and math," he said, "and I'd also like to study French and
”After that, I hope, I can find a way to help other
people . . . Maybe they can study me and find out what makes people like
me do the things they do."
(The next morning. Judge Harry F. Brauer sentenced
Kemper to life in prison and told him he was going to recommend "in the
strongest terms possible" that Kemper not be released for "the rest of
your natural life.")
One relationship that obviously has touched Kemper is
that with Bruce Colomy, Santa Cruz County sheriff's deputy. Colomy has
been with Kemper more than any other officer, transporting him to and
from San Mateo County Jail to Santa Cruz for court appearances and
remaining with him at all times when he was out of his cell.
Kemper said of Colomy, only a few years older than
himself, "He's more like a father to me than anyone I have ever known
... He's like the father I wish I had had."
(Deputy Colomy told me later that one of the last
things Kemper did before he left the Santa Cruz courthouse for state
prison was to remove his cherished Junior Chamber of Commerce membership
pin from his coat lapel "and give it to me." The deputy said, "Ed looked
at it for a long time and tears came to his eyes. Then he handed it to
me and said, 'Here, I want you to have it.'")
For all of his seeming ability to relate to people in
an animated and warm exchange, Kemper also has the ability to withdraw
without warning into a kind of frightening reverie, reliving his acts of
violence. I watched it happen.
He had paused in his outpouring of talk about himself
and looked at me curiously.
"You haven't asked the questions I expected a
reporter to ask," he said.
"What do you mean," I replied. "Give me some
He drawled, "Oh, what is it like to have sex with a
dead body? ... What does it feel like to sit on your living room couch
and look over and see two decapitated girls' heads on the arm of the
couch?" (He interjected an unsolicited answer: "The first time, it makes
you sick to your stomach.")
He continued, "What do you think, now, when you see a
pretty girl walking down the street?"
Again, an unsolicited answer: "One side of me says,
'Wow, what an attractive chick. I'd like to talk to her, date her.'
"The other side of me says, "I wonder how her head
would look on a stick?'"
(The public defender appointed as Kemper's attorney
told jurors in his closing argument: "There are two people locked up in
the body of this young giant, one good and one evil... One is fighting
to be here with us and the other is slipping off to his own little world
of fantasy where he is happy."
"Oh, for God's sake, Ed," I said, just a trifle
piqued by the feeling he was putting me on and hoping that was it, "the
jury found you legally sane and I agree with that. But, at the same
time, I can't help but believe that, as you yourself said, you must have
been sick when you did the things you did.
Kemper, himself, earlier had told me he thought his
actions were that of a "demented person."
"In my estimation," I continued, "it doesn't make any
more sense to ask a delirious patient what he's thinking than it would
to ask you what you were thinking when these things were going on."
Despite that, for the first time, he began to detail
to me how he killed one of his victims. The illustration he chose made
me even more uncomfortable. It was the killing of Mrs. Hallett, not a
coed but a mature woman, like me.
Kemper straightened up in his chair and began a
graphic description. "I came up behind her and crooked my arm around her
neck, like this," he said, bending his powerful arm in front of himself
at chin level.
"I squeezed and just lifted her off the floor. She
just hung there and, for a moment, I didn't realize she was dead ... I
had broken her neck and her head was just wobbling around with the bones
of her neck disconnected in the skin sack of her neck."
He began to wobble his head around, never changing
the position of his arms and gazing fixedly at me. His jail-pale face
had become slightly flushed, his eyes glazed, his breath coming a little
quickly and he stuttered almost imperceptibly as, he spoke.
"Holy Christ," I said to myself, "what am I doing
I reached for a cigarette in my pocket and said the
first thing that came into my mind to try and change the subject without
showing I was upset. "Have you always been so strong, Ed," I asked in a
"No," he replied. "As a matter of fact..." he relaxed
and then we were off and talking about other more comfortable topics.
The sky outside the windows of the little room had
grown dark and I made efforts to leave, saying I had been "virtually
incommunicado all day as far as my family was concerned and they would
wonder why I had not arrived for dinner."
Kemper was reluctant for me to go. "Well, you can
always tell them later, you have been over talking with Ed Kemper all
afternoon," he laughed.
As it turned out, though, I stayed for dinner with
Ed. The trusty had brought his dinner and it was getting cold. When I
insisted that we should stop talking and that Kemper should eat, the
jailer invited me to stay for dinner.
"Big Ed" urged me to accept and I did. He carried the
trays into the little room himself and arranged them on the desk chairs.
We chatted as we ate and he was the host. He ate hungrily and I noticed
he had finished his rice with meat sauce. I had more than I could eat,
so I offered to share. What seemed like a large portion to me must have
been but a morsel to a large man like him.
He gratefully accepted the added food, but cautioned
me as I scraped it from my tray on to his, "Save some for yourself."
I gave him my milk as well, saying, "I really hate
milk, you can have it."
"Do you?" he said. "I love it."
When dinner was over, I said I must go and, when he
got up and proceeded toward the door, I said, "Do you think you could
knock on the window and get the jailer to spring me, Ed?"
He laughed and replied, "I'll try."
He stood in the doorway, his hair brushing the top of
the door jamb, watching me leave, as if he were graciously bidding a
guest goodbye from his home.
He said to a deputy, "Could I have some matches?" (I
had been lighting his cigarets all afternoon with my lighter.)
The sergeant on duty at the desk said to the deputy,
"He can't have any matches, but light his cigarette for him." Kemper
looked at me and grinned like a teenager. "Yesterday," he said, "I had
matches, but isn't it funny when you're convicted, you immediately
"Well, Ed," I retorted, "if you'd learn to stay out
of trouble, you wouldn't find yourself in these predicaments."
"Right on," he said, with a final salute of his hand
and a smile.