The story of Ed Kemper provides an interesting look into how a serial killer discovered his hidden talent at a young age, manipulated the system to gain freedom so he could continue killing, and then went on to perfect his gruesome talents. With an abusive mother and angry father, Ed Kemper is the perfect example of how it takes both genetics and abuse to turn a person into a killer. Buckle up.
Edmund Kemper Is Born
Clarnell Elizabeth Kemper and Edmund Emil Kemper II welcomed their second child and only boy into the world on December 18, 1948, in Burbank, California. Baby Ed Kemper weighed in at a whopping 13 pounds at birth. By the age of 4, he was head and shoulders taller than his peers. By the time Kemper was an adult, he grew to an impressive 6 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 250 pounds. His beastly size did little to dissuade his victims from getting into his car for their last ride.
Like most serial killers, Kemper discovered his love for torture and hurting things at a young age. At the age of 10, Ed Kemper was an intelligent child with a sadistic streak that knew little bounds. For example, he once burned the family cat alive. Once the poor cat had died, Kemper dug the lifeless animal back out of the ground, dismembered it, and put its head on a spike as some sort of gross trophy. Kemper later talked about how much joy and power he felt over lying to his family about the fate of their beloved pet.
A few years later, Kemper killed the family cat once again. This time he claimed he did it because the cat loved his sister more. He was jealous so he tortured and killed the animal. He then kept the dismembered body parts as gruesome reminders of his cruelty. His mom eventually found them in his closet and got rid of them. Nothing about finding decomposing animal parts in her son’s closet made Clarnell decide to seek help for her son.
Ed Kemper’s behavior had all the hallmarks of a future serial killer in other ways as well. He enjoyed playing gas chamber and electric chair with his sisters. The game he called electric chair entailed having his sister tie him to a chair and then flip an imaginary switch. Then Kemper would fall to the floor and writhe about, as though he was actually being put to death via electric current.
Like Richard Ramirez, Ed Kemper suffered two traumatic near-death experiences as a kid. His sister once tried to push him in front of a moving train. His sister enjoyed more success when she pushed him into the deep end of a pool where Kemper nearly drowned. Whether or not early near-death experiences have any impact on a person becoming a serial killer is yet to be figured out. But, this is an interesting commonality between monsters.
Ed Kemper’s parents divorced in 1957. Kemper was 9. He was very close to his father so the young boy was devastated when he was forced to move to Helena, Montana with his violent, abusive mother. Kemper’s father was a World War II vet who had experienced violent, life-altering events during his wartime career as a nuclear weapons tester.
The senior Kemper knew his wife could be an absolute monster. He was quoted as saying, “suicide missions in wartime and the atomic bomb testings were nothing compared to living with her” and also that she treated him in a way that left him feeling worse than war time did, “as a grown man more than three hundred and ninety-six days and nights of fighting on the front did”. Yet, when he couple split, he allowed his wife to take the children far from the only home they knew.
A young Ed Kemper suffered at the hands of his abusive, neurotic, alcoholic mother. She constantly belittled, made fun of, and terrorized the boy. She made him sleep in the cold basement because she said she was afraid he would harm his sisters. Maybe she was on to something there. She refused to coddle the boy, denying him affection for fear she would turn him gay. She would constantly make fun of his size as Kemper stood 6 feet four inches tall at 15 years old. She would call him a “real weirdo” and tell him no woman would ever want him as he was just like his father, the same father young Kemper adored.
After suffering near constant abuse at the hands of his mother for 5 long years, Kemper ran away, back to California to be with his father again. Kemper lived with his father again for a short time, however, Kemper’s presence made it difficult for his father to enjoy his new life. He had remarried and gained a stepson. Kemper was sent to North Fork in the mountains of California to reside with his paternal grandparents, Maude and Ed Kemper.
Sending Kemper away to live with his grandparents felt very much like rejection by his father. Once there, Kemper did not settle quietly into his new life. He felt his grandmother was senile and projected his hate for his mother onto the woman. He accused his grandma of emasculating his grandfather and himself, just as his mother did to Kemper and his father.
Kemper’s First Kills
It wasn’t long before tensions in his grandparents’ home became too much for Kemper to deal with. On August 27, 1964, when Kemper was only 15 years old, Kemper argued with his grandmother while at the kitchen table. She asked him to stop killing birds. This enraged Kemper, causing him to storm off and grab the .22 caliber rifle his grandfather had given him for hunting. He then shot his grandmother once in the head and twice in the back. Some reports state there were multiple post mortem stab wounds over the woman’s body, a clear sign of the rage brewing in the mind of a young Edmund Kemper.
Kemper was not finished with his first kills. He waiting for his grandfather to come home, shooting him in the driveway. He later said he only killed his grandfather to keep him from finding his dead wife. Kemper’s youth and inexperience got the best of him at this point. He was unsure of what to do after murdering his grandparents. So he called his mother. Surely with as cruel as she was, she would be the right person to call when looking for what to do after committing his first brutal murders. His mother advised the boy to call the police and wait for them to arrive.
Edmund's First Incarceration
Ed Kemper was diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia by court psychiatrists before being sentenced to the California Youth Authority and placed in the Atascadero State Hospital criminally insane unit. Psychiatrists felt the murders of his grandparents were a way for Kemper to get back at his parents for the rejection of by his father and abuse at the hands of his mother.
While at Atascadero State Hospital, anther set of psychiatrists performed their own battery of tests. They felt Kemper was not at all a paranoid schizophrenic. The tests given to Kemper indicated that he showed “no flight of ideas, no interference with thought, no expression of delusions or hallucinations, and no evidence of bizarre thinking”. These are all hallmarks of a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Kemper was instead diagnosed as having a personality trait disturbance, passive aggressive type. Initially, Kemper’s IQ was tested at 136. Later he was retested as having an IQ of 145.
Kemper was a model prisoner. He worked to endear himself to staff at the hospital, eventually gaining the ability to perform psychiatric tests on other patients. Like John Wayne Gacy, Kemper became a member of the Jaycees while hospitalized. While administering tests to other inmates, Kemper learned how to take the tests to ensure his desired test results. He also gained knowledge from working with the sex offenders in the hospital. For example, Kemper learned it was best to kill a woman after raping her so as not to leave any witnesses.
Ed's New Lease On Life
On his 21st birthday, Kemper was paroled from Atascadero State Hospital. He was released to his mother, despite the recommendations of psychiatrists. He further charmed parole officials into having his juvenile records permanently expunged within a few years of his parole. This means there was no official record of this man who had committed atrocious acts against his very own family.
After spending some time living with his mother, Kemper moved in with a friend in Alameda. His mother was still very much a nuisance in his life, with phone calls and stopping over all the time. Kemper began working for the highway department and became engaged to a 16-year-old high school student. With a settlement he received for a motorcycle accident, Ed Kemper purchased the fated yellow 1969 Ford Galaxy.
It was while driving around this vehicle that Kemper began to notice the larger number of hitchhikers, mostly college students who happened to be young women. This caused him to begin building his kill kit, including knives, blankets, bags, and handcuffs. He claims to have picked up and dropped off more than 150 young women during this time, not killing anyone until his gross sexual urges took over. Kemper referred to these urges as “little zapples” and he soon followed those urges.
Kemper Kills Again
Ed Kemper began acting on his dark urges in the early summer of 1972. For 11 months, Kemper picked up female hitchhikers and murdered them. Ed Kemper victims were mostly young female college students. He took the bodies back to his home where he would dismember them and perform sex acts with the severed heads and bodies. Kemper would often kill after falling victim to one of his mother’s violent outbursts. After interviewing Kemper, psychiatrists believed he was using the young female victims as a surrogate for his mother, the one he really wanted to kill.
Kemper’s first pair of victims were Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa. On May 7, 1972, both 18-year-old girls were hitchhiking, on their way to Stanford University when Kemper offered them a ride. Remembering what he had learned about leaving no witnesses, Kemper placed Pesce in handcuff and locked Luchessa in the truck. He then stabbed and strangled each girl, one at a time.
Quick note: If you want to read more about Ed Kemper I highly recommend this book. It is a fascinating read.
He placed both girls in the trunk of his car and drove to his apartment. He had sex with the corpses, took pornographic photographs, and this dismembered and decapitated both bodies. Once finished with his gross hobby, he dumped the heads of both girls into a ravine. The bodies were dumped nearby. When Ann Pesce’s head was discovered the following August, an extensive search failed to turn up the bodies or the head of Anita Luchessa.
A Korean dance student, 15-year-old Aiko Koo, was Kemper’s next victim. On September 14,1972, Koo decided to hitchhike home after a dance class because she had missed her bus. After driving to a wooded area, as he did with his first murders, Kemper unwittingly locked himself out of his car after brandishing a gun at Koo. Aiko Koo let Kemper back into his car despite his flashing a gun.
He then choked her until she lost consciousness. He raped the girl, killed her, and took her body back to his apartment. Once there, he dismembered her body and treated it much the same way he did his first two female victims. Her body was not found although her parents made exhaustive efforts to locate her.
Ed Kemper: The Co-ed Killer
Kemper earned his nickname of the “Co-ed Killer” because he stuck with young female college students as his preferred victims. On January 7, 1973, Cindy Schall was murdered and dismembered after accepting a ride from Kemper. He took her body back to his mother’s home where he dismembered her, and did disgusting things with her dead body. There were multiple warnings issued to the public about taking rides from cars without a university sticker on the window. Ed Kemper’s mother’s car had that very sticker. Kemper, despite his size, appeared to be a very normal, unassuming person.
Rosalind Thorpe and Allison Liu fell victim to Kemper on February 5, 1973. Kemper needed to kill after an ugly argument with his mother. Ed Kemper differed from his usual MO by beheading the bodies in his car before returning to his mother’s house to finish his sick game.
Kemper's final murders allowed him to exact the revenge he sought out his entire life. On the night of April 20, 1973, Kemper entered his mother’s room where found her sitting in her bed, reading a book. She said to him, “"I suppose you're going to want to sit up all night and talk now.” Kemper replied, “No, good night”. He left the room and waited for his mother to fall asleep before returning to slit her throat and beat her with a claw hammer.
He repeated his usual beheading his victim and then engaging in sex acts with the severed head. Only this time, it was his own mother’s head. He went above and beyond his normal sickness with this killing. After he was finished with his sick sex act, he used her head as a dart board, placed the head on a bookshelf and screamed at it for an hour, and then cut her tongue and larynx out. These he threw into the garbage disposal.He then raped what was left of his mother, hid her in the closet and went out for a drink. Sounds normal.
Kemper was far from done on this night. He called his mother’s best friend, Sally Hallett, and invited her over for dinner. He strangled her, decapitated her and then spent the night defiling her headless body. After he finished with the body, he stuff her into a closet.
Ed Kemper was finished. Not long after hiding the body of Sally Hallett, he called the police, confessed to killing his mother and her friend. Much like the killing of his grandparents, he then waited for the police to arrive.
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Kemper faced 8 counts of first-degree murder. He attempted to end his own life twice while awaiting trial. While Kemper’s attorney tried to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, court appointed psychiatrists found Kemper to be sane, despite a confession of cannibalism, which Kemper later recanted. Kemper requested death by torture, however, California had a moratorium on the death penalty during that time. He received 7 years to life for each count of first-degree murder to be served concurrently. Instead of prison, Kemper was sent to the California Medical facility.
At the age of 69, Edmund Kemper is still a resident of the California Medical Facility. He lives among general population and is said to be a model prisoner. He first came eligible for parole in 1979. He was denied parole in 1979, 1980, 1981, and 1982. After those denials, Kemper waited his right to a parole hearing, stating his belief that no one will ever grant him parole. Perhaps Kemper is one of those people who actually thrive within the confines of prison. He waived his hearing in 2017. Kemper won’t become eligible for parole again until 2024.
Ed Kemper Interview
There are multiple interesting, in-depth interviews available with Ed Kemper. He discusses his belief that there are multiple spree killers at work in the United States. He talks about his passion for killing and how the urge would overtake him. He states he felt some semblance of guilt or apprehension over killing young women. The videos of the interview show a very average looking man discussing his penchant for extreme violence.
Ed Kemper On MindHunter
The Netflix series MindHunter features a number of scenes with Ed Kemper in the first season. Ed Kemper proves to offer valuable insight into the mind of this type of killer. His character discusses his mother and how she turned him into a monster. He discusses again his theory of how many serial killers there are at work in America at any given time. The actor portraying Ed Kemper did a wonderful job capturing his attempts at being a “normal” person who also kills and does despicable things to his victims. His scenes are dark, chilling and disturbing.
Check out Mindhunter - the true crime book that inspired the TV Show.
Ed Kemper Quotes
- "One side of me says, I'd like to talk to her, date her. The other side of me says, I wonder what her head would look like on a stick."
- "I remember there was actually a sexual thrill.. you hear that little pop and pull their heads off and hold their heads up by the hair. Whipping their heads off, their body sitting there. That'd get me off."
- "With a girl, there's a lot left in the girl's body without a head. Of course, the personality is gone."
- "I just wanted to see how it felt to shoot Grandma"
- "If I killed them, you know, the couldn't reject me as a man. It was more of less making a doll out of a human being.. and carrying out my fantasies with a doll, a living human doll."
Images via Wikimedia
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