In his gruesome journey into infamy, Edmund Kemper embarked on a sinister path that would haunt crime history. At 15, he committed the heinous act of murdering his grandparents.
This dark prologue would set the stage for a chilling saga of terror as he claimed eight women’s lives between May 1972 and April 1973.
The harbingers of his malevolence were apparent from early on. In his youth, Kemper displayed a disturbing penchant for violence, taking the lives of innocent animals and decapitating his sisters’ dolls.
As some say, after the seeds of violence have been sown, there is no turning back from the abyss.
Introduction to the Life of a Murderer: Edmund Kemper
Edmund Emil Kemper, born on December 18, 1948, is an infamous American serial killer whose reign of terror unfolded between May 1972 and April 1973, claiming the lives of eight individuals. His victims were a 15-year-old girl, his mother, and her best friend.
Kemper earned the ominous nickname of “the Co-ed Killer” because most of his victims were female college students who fell prey to his violence while hitchhiking in the vicinity of Santa Cruz County, California. Unspeakable acts, including necrophilia, decapitation, and dismemberment, characterized his crimes.
During his trial in 1973, Kemper was deemed legally sane and found guilty of his heinous acts. Surprisingly, he requested the death penalty for his crimes. However, capital punishment was suspended in California then, leading to his sentencing of eight concurrent life terms.
Subsequently, he has remained incarcerated at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, serving as a chilling reminder of the depths of human depravity.
The Early Life and Murders of Ed Kemper
Edmund Emil Kemper was born in Burbank, California on December 18, 1948. He occupied the middle position among his three siblings and was the sole son born to Clarnell Elizabeth Kemper (née Stage, 1921–1973) and Edmund Emil Kemper Jr. (1919–1985).
Edmund Jr. had served as a World War II veteran and, following the war, engaged in testing nuclear weapons at the Pacific Proving Grounds before returning to California, where he pursued a career as an electrician.
Interestingly, Clarnell frequently expressed dissatisfaction with her husband’s “menial” profession. Edmund Jr. later admitted that enduring life with Clarnell was a more formidable challenge than the perilous wartime missions and atomic bomb tests he had experienced, describing her influence as more profound than his time spent in combat.
From his earliest days, Kemper was marked by notable traits. Weighing a staggering 13 pounds (5.9 kg) at birth, he outstripped his peers in height by the tender age of four. Alarming signs of antisocial behavior emerged in his youth, including acts of cruelty towards animals.
At age 10, he carried out a disturbing act, burying a pet cat alive, exhuming it, decapitating the unfortunate creature, and grotesquely mounting its head on a spike. Astonishingly, Kemper took perverse satisfaction in successfully deceiving his family regarding the feline’s demise.
By age 13, he repeated this macabre pattern, this time targeting another family cat, perceiving it to favor his younger sister, Allyn Lee Kemper (b. 1951), over him. Disturbingly, he retained portions of the unfortunate animal in his closet until discovered by his mother.
Dark fantasies and a morbid imagination marred Kemper’s psyche. During his formative years, he engaged in unsettling rites involving his younger sister’s dolls, culminating in the gruesome removal of their heads and hands.
Additionally, Kemper recounted a disturbing habit from his boyhood, sneaking out of his home armed with his father’s bayonet to clandestinely observe his second-grade teacher through her windows.
When his elder sister, Susan Hughey Kemper, playfully inquired why he didn’t attempt to kiss his teacher, his chilling response was, “If I kiss her, I’d have to kill her first.”
He further revealed that some of his preferred childhood games were disturbingly named “Gas Chamber” and “Electric Chair.” In these games, he would ask his younger sister to tie him up and simulate the act of flipping an imaginary switch, after which he would collapse and writhe on the floor, mimicking the ordeal of execution by gas inhalation or electric shock.
Kemper’s youth was also marked by near-death experiences, further underscoring the darkness that enveloped his early life. On one occasion, his elder sister attempted to push him before a train. In another harrowing incident, she pushed him into the deep end of a swimming pool, nearly resulting in his drowning.
The dynamics of Kemper’s family were marked by significant shifts that profoundly affected him. Initially, he shared a close bond with his father, and the separation of his parents in 1957 and their ultimate divorce in 1961 devastated him.
Following the divorce, Kemper was sent to live with his mother, Clarnell, in Helena, Montana. Unfortunately, their relationship was marred by severe dysfunction. Clarnell, a neurotic and domineering alcoholic, subjected her son to a relentless barrage of belittlement, humiliation, and abuse.
Clarnell’s actions were nothing short of cruel. She often compelled Kemper to sleep in a locked basement out of fear that he might threaten his sisters. She took every opportunity to ridicule him for his imposing stature, which had already reached 6 feet 4 inches (1.93 m) by the age of 15.
In a particularly heart-wrenching incident, she referred to him as “a real weirdo” during a phone conversation with Kemper’s father, unaware that her son was eavesdropping. Furthermore, she withheld affection from Kemper under the misguided belief that displaying love would somehow “turn him gay.” She callously informed him that he reminded her of his father and callously asserted that no woman would ever love him.
Kemper would later describe his mother as a “sick, angry woman,” and it has been suggested that she may have suffered from borderline personality disorder.
At 14, Kemper fled from his home, driven by a desperate desire to reconcile with his father in Van Nuys, California. Upon his arrival, he discovered that his father had remarried and now had a stepson. Kemper stayed with his father briefly before being sent to live with his paternal grandparents, who resided on a ranch in the Sierra Nevada foothills along Road 224, approximately two miles west of North Fork.
This period in North Fork proved to be another tormenting chapter in his life, with Kemper describing his grandfather as “senile” and recounting that his grandmother consistently emasculated him and his grandfather, further exacerbating his troubled existence.
On a fateful day, August 27, 1964, at the age of 15, Kemper found himself embroiled in a heated argument with his grandmother, Maude Matilda (Hughey) Kemper, while seated at the kitchen table. Overwhelmed by rage, he abruptly left the room and retrieved a rifle given to him by his grandfather for hunting.
With chilling determination, he re-entered the kitchen and fatally shot his grandmother in the head. He then discharged the weapon twice more into her back. In a tragic and eerie twist, his grandmother’s last words were reported to be, “Oh, you’d better not be shooting the birds again.”
Some accounts even mention that she endured multiple post-mortem stab wounds inflicted with a kitchen knife.
When Kemper’s grandfather, Edmund Emil Kemper Sr., returned from a grocery shopping excursion, young Ed began to panic. Still grappling with the horrors he had just wrought, Kemper ventured outside and fatally shot his grandfather in the driveway near his car in a chilling sequel to the tragedy.
Overwhelmed by guilt and uncertainty about his next course of action, he contacted his mother, seeking her guidance in this nightmarish situation. She advised him to alert the local authorities, and Kemper complied, ultimately waiting for his apprehension by the police.
Following his arrest, Kemper made a chilling confession, admitting that he had committed these horrendous acts because he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma.” He testified that he had killed his grandfather to spare him the anguish of discovering his wife’s lifeless body, fearing that his grandfather would react angrily towards Kemper for what he had done.
Psychiatrist Donald Lunde, who later interviewed Kemper during his adulthood, shed light on the deeply complex motivations behind these disturbing actions, suggesting that in his way, Kemper had sought a form of retribution for the rejection he had experienced from both his father and mother.
The brutality of Kemper’s crimes was profoundly unsettling, particularly considering his youth. Court-appointed psychiatrists diagnosed him with paranoid schizophrenia, finding his actions incomprehensible for a 15-year-old to commit.
Consequently, he was committed to Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum-security facility in San Luis Obispo County, specifically designated for housing and treating mentally ill convicts.
Detention of Ed Kemper in Youth reformation Facility
During his time at Atascadero, the assessments and observations of California Youth Authority psychiatrists and social workers diverged from the initial diagnoses made by court-appointed psychiatrists. These reports highlighted a different facet of Kemper’s mental state.
According to these professionals, Kemper displayed no signs of “flight of ideas,” interference with thought, delusions, hallucinations, or evidence of bizarre thinking. Instead, they noted his intelligence and introspective qualities.
Initial testing at Atascadero yielded an IQ score of 136 for Kemper, which exceeded the average of over two standard deviations. Subsequently, he was re-diagnosed with a less severe condition, described as a “personality trait disturbance, passive-aggressive type.” As his stay at Atascadero progressed, another IQ test was administered, revealing an even higher score of 145.
Remarkably, Kemper managed to earn the favor of his psychiatrists by becoming a model prisoner. He was even entrusted with administering psychiatric tests to fellow inmates. One psychiatrist remarked, “He was a very good worker, and this is not typical of a sociopath. He took pride in his work.”
Furthermore, Kemper’s time at Atascadero saw him becoming a member of the Jaycees, an organization dedicated to community service and leadership development. He claimed to have contributed to the field of psychology during his work with Atascadero’s psychiatrists, stating that he had developed new tests and scales for the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, including an “Overt Hostility Scale.”
Disturbingly, Kemper admitted that his comprehension of how these psychological tests functioned allowed him to manipulate his psychiatrists. He candidly revealed that he learned a great deal from the sex offenders to whom he administered these tests, raising unsettling questions about the nature of his actions and motivations.
Ed Kemper is Released, But He Is Far From Rehabilitated
On his 21st birthday, December 18, 1969, Edmund Kemper was granted parole and released from Atascadero. This decision went against the recommendations of the hospital’s psychiatrists. Instead of being released into the care of professionals or a different environment, he was entrusted to his mother, Clarnell, who remarried, adopted Strandberg, and divorced again.
Clarnell lived in Aptos, California, a short distance from her workplace, as an administrative assistant at the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC).
Kemper sought to demonstrate to his psychiatrists that he had undergone rehabilitation and was ready to reintegrate into society. On November 29, 1972, his juvenile records were permanently expunged, a significant milestone that signaled his perceived transformation. The final report from his probation psychiatrists conveyed a remarkably positive assessment:
“If I were to see this patient without having any history available or getting any history from him, I would think that we’re dealing with a very well-adjusted young man who had initiative, intelligence, and who was free of any psychiatric illnesses … It is my opinion that he has made a very excellent response to the years of treatment and rehabilitation, and I would see no psychiatric reason to consider him to be of any danger to himself or any member of society … [and] since it may allow him more freedom as an adult to develop his potential, I would consider it reasonable to have a permanent expunction of his juvenile records.”
While living with his mother, Kemper adhered to his parole requirements by attending community college. His ambition at that time was to become a police officer, but he faced rejection due to his towering height. At the point of his release from Atascadero, Kemper stood at an imposing 6 feet 9 inches (2.06 m), earning him the nickname “Big Ed.”
Despite being turned down for a police career, he established and maintained relationships with Santa Cruz police officers. Kemper became a familiar presence at a local bar called the Jury Room, a favored hangout for law enforcement officers, earning him the description of a “friendly nuisance” within that community.
Ed Kemper Starts to Lose It Again
During the period following his release from Atascadero, Edmund Kemper held a series of menial jobs before securing employment with the State of California Division of Highways. Despite his attempts to establish a life separate from his mother, his relationship with Clarnell remained tumultuous and hostile. They engaged in frequent, heated arguments, often loud enough for their neighbors to overhear. Kemper later recalled the intensity of these verbal battles, stating:
“My mother and I started right in on horrendous battles, just horrible battles, violent and vicious. I’ve never been in such a vicious verbal battle with anyone. It would go to fists with a man, but this was my mother, and I couldn’t stand the thought of my mother and I doing these things. She insisted on it and just over stupid things. I remember one roof-raiser was over whether I should have my teeth cleaned.”
As soon as he had saved enough money, Kemper took the opportunity to move out and live with a friend in Alameda. However, his efforts to distance himself from his mother proved challenging as she maintained contact, frequently phoning him and making surprise visits. Financial difficulties also plagued Kemper, leading him to regularly return to his mother’s apartment in Aptos
In his early twenties, Kemper became engaged to a high school student from Turlock High School, and the engagement lasted for over a year before it was eventually terminated due to his second arrest. Her identity was kept confidential at her parent’s request, but it was reported that she was 17 years old and still attending high school.
Around the same time he began working for the Highway Division, Kemper experienced a significant event when he was struck by a car while riding a recently purchased motorcycle. The accident resulted in a severe arm injury, and Kemper received a $15,000 settlement (equivalent to $98,883 in 2022) from the civil suit he filed against the car’s driver.
With part of this settlement, he acquired a 1969 Ford Galaxie, which he used to cruise around. During this time, he noticed a substantial number of young women hitchhiking, leading him to start storing plastic bags, knives, blankets, and handcuffs in his car.
Initially, Kemper picked up young women hitchhikers and released them without harm. He claimed to have picked up around 150 hitchhikers who fit this pattern. However, this was before he began to experience homicidal sexual urges, which he called his “little zapples.”
Eventually, he started acting on these urges. At times, Kemper shifted blame onto the women he killed, accusing them of recklessness by hitchhiking and suggesting their actions symbolized the societal dysfunction he perceived.
Ed Kemper Becomes a Serial Killer
Between May 1972 and April 1973, Kemper committed the grievous act of taking the lives of eight individuals, all of them women. His modus operandi involved picking up female students who were hitchhiking, then transporting them to remote locations where he would employ various means such as shooting, stabbing, smothering, or strangling to end their lives.
Following these horrific acts, he would return their lifeless bodies to his residence, where he would engage in a series of gruesome actions. This included decapitation, performing disturbing acts upon their severed heads, engaging in sexual intercourse with corpses, and ultimately dismembering them.
Within these 11 months marked by a harrowing murder spree, Kemper’s victims encompassed five college students, one high school student, his mother, and his mother’s closest friend. In retrospect, Kemper has revealed in interviews that he often sought out potential victims following contentious arguments with his mother.
He recounted how she adamantly refused to introduce him to women attending the university where she worked, uttering words of rejection such as, “You’re just like your father. You don’t deserve to get to know them.” Both psychiatrists and Kemper have proposed the unsettling theory that these young women were substitutes for his eventual target: his abusive mother.
The Murders by Ed Kemper
Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Mary Luchessa, two 18-year-old hitchhiking Fresno State University students, were picked up by Kemper on May 7, 1972, as he was driving through Berkeley on the pretext of transporting them to Stanford University. After an hour’s drive, he arrived at a remote woodland location close to Alameda that he was familiar with from his work at the Highway Department without informing his passengers that he had diverted from their intended route.
He chained Pesce and confined Luchessa in the trunk there, then killed Pesce by stabbing and strangling him before similarly killing Luchessa. Kemper subsequently admitted that, when handcuffing Pesce, he “touched the back of [his] hand against one of her breasts, and that embarrassed him,” and that, despite killing her minutes later, he exclaimed, “‘Whoops, I’m sorry.'”
He added that the women were “of a finer class of folks than the scroungy, untidy, unclean, stinky, hippy kinds I wasn’t interested in” and that they appeared to be upper middle class.
Kemper placed the remains of the two women in the Ford Galaxie’s trunk before driving back to his apartment. Police stopped him along the way for having a broken taillight, but they failed to notice the bodies inside the vehicle. As Kemper’s flatmate wasn’t home, he brought the bodies inside, where he photographed and had sex with the corpses while they were still naked before dismembering them.
The body parts were placed in plastic bags, which he later dumped close to Loma Prieta Mountain. Kemper played irrumatio with Pesce and Luchessa before tossing their severed heads into a ravine. Pesce’s skull was discovered on Loma Prieta Mountain in August of that year.
Despite a thorough search, the remainder of Pesce’s remains and any signs of Luchessa were not found.
Aiko Koo, a 15-year-old dance student, was picked up by Kemper that evening on September 14, 1972, after she decided to hitchhike to a dancing lesson after missing her bus. He went to an isolated location again, pulled a gun on Koo, and locked himself out of the car. Even though the pistol was still in the car, Koo allowed him to enter. He then raped, killed, and choked her to death inside the automobile.
Kemper then loaded Koo’s body into the trunk of his car, made a few drinks at a local pub, and drove back to his apartment. Afterward, he said that as soon as he left the bar, he opened the trunk of his vehicle and “admired [his] catch like a fisherman.” He had sex with the corpse when he got home, dismembered it, and disposed of the pieces as he had with his previous two victims.
Koo’s mother called the police to report her daughter missing and distributed hundreds of fliers begging for information, but she never heard back about Koo’s whereabouts or condition.
On January 7, 1973, Kemper, who had returned to living with his mother, was picking up 18-year-old student Cynthia Anne “Cindy” Schall while driving about the Cabrillo College campus. He took a car to a wooded place and used a 22-caliber pistol to shoot her. He then put her body in the trunk of his car, drove to his mother’s house, and spent the night hiding her body in a closet there.
The following morning, when his mother left for work, he had sex with Schall’s corpse, extracted the bullet, and decapitated and dismembered her in his mother’s bathtub.
After several days of holding Schall’s severed head and participating in regular irrumatio, Kemper buried it in his mother’s garden with its upward-facing towards her bedroom. He claimed he committed this crime after being apprehended that his mother “always wanted others to look up to her.”
He threw the remainder of Schall’s body parts off a cliff. All of Schall’s remains were found for the next three weeks and “pieced together like a macabre jigsaw puzzle,” except for his head and right hand. A pathologist found that Schall had been hacked to pieces with a power saw.
Kemper stepped outside in search of potential victims after a contentious fight with his mother on February 5, 1973. Students had been warned to only accept rides from cars with university stickers due to increased suspicions that a serial killer was preying on hitchhikers in the Santa Cruz area.
Because his mother worked at UCSC, Kemper was able to get a sticker. On the UCSC campus, he came across Alice Helen “Allison” Liu, 20, and Rosalind Heather Thorpe, 23. Kemper claims that Thorpe convinced Liu to enter his car by doing so first. He used his revolver to shoot Thorpe and Liu fatally before covering their bodies in blankets.
Kemper returned to his mother’s home with his victims once more, but this time, he beheaded them in his car before bringing the headless corpses inside to engage in sexual activity. The victims were later mutilated, the bullets were removed to conceal identification, and the remains were dumped the following morning. A week later, some remains were discovered at Eden Canyon, and more were discovered in March close to Highway 1.
When asked in an interview why he severed the heads of his victims, he responded: “The head trip dreams like a prize in some ways. You know, the brain, eyes, and mouth are all located in the head. As a child, I recall hearing that the body would die if you chop off the head. The body is nothing after the head is removed, but that isn’t accurate because the girl’s body still contains a lot.”
Edmund Kemper Murders His Mother and Her Friend
Kemper’s mother Clarnell Strandberg was awakened on April 20, 1973, by him returning from a party. She was reading in bed when Kemper walked into the room, and she commented to him, “I suppose you’re going to want to sit up all night and speak now.”
“No, good night,” Kemper retorted.
He waited until she was asleep, then crept back into her room and sliced her throat with a penknife and a claw hammer. Then, according to a 1984 interview, Kemper “humiliated her corpse” after beheading her. Kemper claimed that he “smashed her face in” after screaming at her for an hour and throwing darts at her head before doing so.
Additionally, he removed her larynx and tongue and threw them in the garbage disposal. The tissue, however, was thrown back into the sink since the garbage disposal could not cut through the strong vocal cords. Kemper later remarked, “It seemed appropriate, as much as she’d bitched and screamed and raged at me over so many years.”
After concealing his mother’s body in a cupboard, Kemper went to a neighboring pub for a drink. When he got home, he asked Sara Taylor “Sally” Hallett, 59, his mother’s closest friend, for dinner and a movie. To fabricate a story that his mother and Hallett had taken a vacation together, Kemper strangled her to death when Hallett arrived.
He then hid any visible indications of a disturbance, placed Hallett’s body in a closet, and left a message for the police. It goes as follows:
Appx. 5:15 A.M. Saturday. No need for her to suffer anymore at the hands of this horrible “murderous Butcher.” It was quick—asleep—the way I wanted it. Not sloppy and incomplete, gents. Just a “lack of time”. I got things to do!!!
Kemper subsequently left the area. Using caffeine pills to keep awake for the more than 1,000-mile (1,600 km) drive, he drove nonstop to Pueblo, Colorado. He thought he was the subject of an ongoing manhunt and had three firearms and a tonne of ammunition in his car. When he arrived in Pueblo, he couldn’t find any news about his mother’s and Hallett’s killings on the radio, so he searched for a phone booth and dialed the police.
He called the police and admitted to killing Hallett and his mother, but they did not take him seriously and urged him to contact them later. A few hours later, Kemper called back and requested to speak with an officer he knew. He told the officer that he had killed Hallett and his mother and then waited for the police to come and arrest him.
Kemper also admitted to killing the six students when he was found.
Kemper responded when questioned about his decision to bring himself in: “The initial goal was no longer there. There was no tangible, genuine, or emotional benefit to it. Simply put, it was a waste of time. I reached my emotional breaking point after a while. Near the end, I began to realize how foolish the whole situation was, and when I was on the verge of collapse from tiredness, I just gave up and called it a day.”
Where Is Ed Kemper Today?
Ed Kemper was incarcerated at the California Medical Facility, sharing confinement with infamous individuals like Charles Manson and Herbert Mullin. Remarkably, at 72, Kemper resides in the same prison where he has spent many years of his life.
During the initial years of his incarceration, Kemper voluntarily engaged in numerous interviews with both reporters and law enforcement officials. It wasn’t long before he began meeting with the FBI, engaging in conversations that chillingly dissected his heinous crimes and their motivations.
As portrayed in the first season of Netflix’s crime series “Mindhunter,” Ed Kemper’s candid testimony regarding his mental state during his acts of murder played a pivotal role in enhancing law enforcement’s comprehension of the workings of serial killers. His willingness to provide insight into the psyche of such individuals was instrumental in advancing their understanding of this dark realm.
Recently, the individual known as the Co-Ed Killer has cultivated a reputation as a well-behaved prisoner. Ed Kemper has assumed the responsibility of scheduling appointments with psychiatrists for other inmates, reflecting his apparent transformation during his incarceration.
Additionally, he has dedicated over 5,000 hours to narrating audiobooks, including works like “Dune” and “Star Wars.”
However, skepticism remains among those who had personal connections with Kemper. His half-brother, who chooses to protect his identity through an alias, expressed doubt regarding any genuine change in Kemper’s character.
He described Kemper as a complete sociopath, capable of maintaining a facade of remorse while secretly harboring sinister intentions. According to this perspective, Kemper possesses the unsettling ability to appear genuinely remorseful while simultaneously concealing malevolent intentions, leaving others oblivious to any potential danger.
By all means, Kemper should remain incarcerated.
Next, read about the Story of Sugar Ray Robinson’s Nightmare That Came True, and then, about the Leshy, a Horrible Monster from The Scandinavian Legends
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