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. Hed 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 wasnt 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. Hed 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.
Murder and Madness
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. Hed buried one alive, then dug it up, cut off its head and stuck the head on a stick.
Edmund Kemper’s grandmother as young woman
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 grandmothers corpse into the bedroom.
Edmund Kemper’s grandfather as young man
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 hed 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 Edmunds biological father, whose parents were now dead. She had told him not to be surprised if the boy killed them one day.
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 hed killed his grandfather to spare him having to find Maude dead, murdered by her grandson.
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 mothers help, he achieved this.
The most comprehensive sources on Kempers 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 TVs 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. Kempers string of crimes was the third for San Jose, California, since 1970, so its 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.
Map: Santa Cruz, California
The beach town of Santa Cruz lies south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast. Surrounded by mountains, ocean, and towering redwood trees, its 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 desirable.
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.
John Linley Frazier
Near the end of 1970, John Linley Frazier murdered five people – the Ohta family and Dr. Ohtas 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, hed nevertheless become an outpatient, which allowed him to roam freely. Hed 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.
Kempers crimes began before Mullin and stopped after him. What precipitated it, according to his account in several interviews, was his mothers 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.
Clarnell, Edmund Kemper’s mother
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 mothers 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.
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, Mullins series of murders began to catch peoples 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 friends 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 Schalls. 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 Mullins 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 CallOn 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 hed gone drinking with his cop buddies. Hed returned and invited his mothers friend, Sara Sally Hallett, over for dinner and a movie. She was delighted. When she arrived, hed killed her, too, and removed her head. Both bodies were stuffed into closets in his mothers 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. Hed 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.
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.
DA Peter Chang
Edmund Kemper in custody
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 didnt 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, hed 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 Kempers 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 hed 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 fathers 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 shes going to undo all the terrible things that my mother did to me. Im going to be a showpiece. Shes going to show the world that my mother was a lousy parent. Im 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.
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. Shes holding up these girls who she said were too good for me to get to know, he recalled. She would say, Youre just like your father. You dont deserve to get to know them. This kind of talk infuriated him, and he went out to cruise for the girls that he couldnt have. He knew a way to get them on his terms.
Kemper had picked up many hitchhikers. Im picking up young women, he said in the interview shown on Mugshots, and Im going a little bit farther each time. Its a daring kind of thing. First there wasnt a gun. Im driving along. We go to a vulnerable place, where there arent people watching, where I could act out and I say, No, I cant. 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 isnt 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 theyre 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.
Mary Anne Pesce
Clarnell had acquired a university sticker for Kempers 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 Edmunds 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.
It was the first time I went looking for someone to kill. And its two people, not one. And theyre dead. Very naïve, too. Painfully naïve in that they thought they were streetwise. In fact, they were quite grateful for the ride. It wasnt far to Stanford, perhaps an hour, so Kemper said he was willing to take them all the way. They couldnt 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 hadnt expected. Now he had two corpses all to himself.
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 Pesces 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 Luchessas 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.
Thats the day he picked up Aiko Koo, who had given up waiting for her bus and hitched a ride. Hed 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 hed 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. Hed 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 Koos head and hands above Boulder Creek, and there they remained undiscovered until the following May.
Trophies of Kemper’s victims
And 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 him.
Later, Kemper tried to explain his motive for these crimes: My frustration. My inability to communicate socially, sexually. I wasnt impotent. I was scared to death of failing in male-female relationships.
He 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 wasnt 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. Hed removed the bullet from the head. And he was right. No one suspected him.
On February 5, after a horrendous argument with his mother, Kemper went out again. Thats 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.
He 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 Kempers 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 it.
He took the girls bodies to his mothers 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.
RevengeAfter 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 hed dispatched her, he no longer needed to kill, Kempers 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 hed killed. He wondered if he should flee or kill her. I cant 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. Hed spoken about the other murders with no show of guilt, compassion or remorse, but his mothers 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 hed wished shed 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 Cheneys 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 Halletts corpse. He also beheaded her. On Easter morning, he fled in Sallys 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.
Edmund Kemper, in custody, dwarfs others
Body removed, Edmund Kemper’s home
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 Kempers defense, which he offered as an insanity plea. He had his hands full, especially because Kempers 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.
Edmund Kemper in court
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 Kempers 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 MNaghten 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.
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 states definition. Kempers 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 prosecutions 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 staffs 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 hed felt remorse and that hed taken to drinking more and more to relieve the pressure. But he had also described the sexual thrill he achieved from removing someones 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.
Edmund Kemper in prison garb
The trial lasted less than three weeks. How many of his outrageous admissions were actually true is anyones guess. While Kemper had admitted to cannibalism during Dr. Forts analysis, he recanted that later, claiming it was meant for an insanity defense.
On 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 wasnt difficult for him to come up with something, as hed been thinking about this moment since childhood. He told the judge that he believed he ought to be tortured to death.
California Medical Facility State Prison
No 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.
At 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 its interesting to see how other professionals regarded him.
FBI 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 work.
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, youd be in a lot of trouble, wouldnt 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 hed ever interviewed.
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.
Edmund Kemper, chained
Kemper seemed distant and analytical to Douglas, and wasnt emotionally moved except when he referred to his mothers 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 dont 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. Kempers 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 mothers 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 Kempers enjoyment of dismemberment was fetishistic rather than sadistic, but Dr. Donald Lunde offered a different view in Murder and Madness.
The Psychiatric View
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 Kempers 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 Kempers sexual aggression stemmed from childhood anger and violent fantasies. Lunde found Kempers 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.
Kempers 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 Kempers 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 sadists 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 its 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.