Just after he came out of Atascadero , the town that would become his new home made national headlines.
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 ordinary citizens.
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.
The Beginning 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.
Frightening Times 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
He 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."
The 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.
First Murder As 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."
The 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.
And 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.
In 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 parts.
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."
He continued with this activity until September 14, 1972.
Psychiatric Follow-up 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.
He 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."
The 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.
More 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."
Revenge 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 inebriated state).
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 matter.
He 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."
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 work.
One 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.
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.
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 interviewed.
Assessment 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.
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.
The Psychiatric Viewï»¿ Lunde was in the thick of the fear and hysteria in Santa Cruz as he assessed John Linley Frazier 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 Frazier, 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.