The product of a broken and abusive home, belittled by a shrewish mother who occasionally locked him in the basement when he failed to meet her standards of behavior, Edmund Kemper grew up timid and resentful, nursing a perception of his own inadequacy that gave rise to morbid fantasies of death and mutilation. As a child, he often played a “game” in which his sisters took the part of executioners, with Kemper as their victim, writhing in imaginary death throes when they “threw the switch.” Preoccupied with visions of decapitation and dismemberment he cut the head and hands off of his sister’s doll – a modus operandithat he would repeat, as an adult, with human victims.
Before the age of ten, Kemper graduated to living targets, burying the family cat alive and subsequently cutting off its head, returning with the gruesome trophy to his room, where it was placed on proud display despite his tender age, he brooded over fantasies of love and sex, with violence playing an inevitable role. Unable to express affection in a normal way, he showed the warning signals of a latent necrophile. One afternoon, discussing Edmund’s childish crush upon a grade-school teacher, Kemper’s sister asked him why he did not simply kiss the woman. Kemper answered, dead-pan, “If I kiss her, I would have to kill her first.” A second family cat fell victim to his urges, this one hacked with a machete, pieces of the carcass hidden in his closet until they were accidentally discovered by his mother.
Branding her son “a real weirdo,” Kemper’s mother first packed him off to live with her estranged husband, and then – after running away – the boy was delivered to his paternal grandparents, residing on a remote California ranch. There, in August 1963, fourteen-year-old Kemper shot his grandmother with a .22-caliber rifle, afterward stabbing her body repeatedly with a kitchen knife. When his grandfather came home, Kemper shot the old man as well, leaving him dead in the yard.
Interrogated by authorities, Kemper could only say that “I just wondered how it would feel to shoot Grandma.” He regretted not stripping her corpse, and this statement, along with the motiveless violence displayed in his actions, got Kemper committed to the state’s maximum-security hospital in Atascadero. In 1969, a 21-year-old behemoth grown to six-foot-nine and some 300 pounds, Kemper was paroled to his mother’s custody over the objections of the state psychiatrists.
During Kemper’s enforced absence, his mother had settled in Santa Cruz, a college town whose population boasted thousands of attractive co-eds. For the next two years, through 1970 and ’71, Kemper bided his time, holding odd jobs and cruising the highways in his leisure time, picking up dozens of young female hitchhikers, refining his approach, his “line,” until, he knew that he could put them totally at ease. Some evenings, he would frequent a saloon patronized by off-duty policemen, rubbing shoulders with the law and soaking up their tales of crime, becoming friendly with a number of detectives who would later be assigned to track him down.
On May 7, 1972, Kemper picked up two 18-year-old roommates from Fresno State College, Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa. Driving them to a secluded cul-de-sac, he stabbed both girls to death, then took their bodies home and hid them in his room. Delighted with his “trophies,” Kemper took Polaroid snapshots, dissected the corpses, and sexually assaulted various organs before finally tiring of the game. Bundling the remains into plastic bags, he buried the truncated bodies in the Santa Cruz mountains, tossing the heads into a roadside ravine.
Four months later, on September 14, Kemper offered a ride to 15-year-old Aiko Koo. Suffocating her with his large hands, Kemper raped her corpse on the spot and then carried it home for dissection. Koo’s severed head was resting in the trunk of Kemper’s car next morning, when he met with state psychiatrists and they pronounced him “safe,” recommending that his juvenile record be sealed for Kemper’s future protection. Following the interview, he buried Koo’s remains near a religious camp located in the mountains.
Another four months passed before the “Co-ed Killer” struck again, on January 9, 1973. Picking up student Cindy Schall, Kemper forced her into the trunk of his car at gunpoint, then shot her to death. Driving back to his mother’s house, he carried the corpse to his room, and there had sex with it in his bed. Afterward, Kemper dissected Schall’s head buried it in the back yard of his mother’s home.
By this time, various remains of Kemper’s victims had been found and officers were on the case. Apparently, none of them had the least suspicion that their friend, Ed Kemper, was the man they sought, and some felt comfortable enough in Kemper’s company to brief him on the progress of their homicide investigation. Smiling, often springing for the next round, Kemper was all ears.
On February 5, 1973, Kemper picked up Rosalind Thorpe, 23 and another hitchhiker, Alice Lin. Both young women were shot to death in the car, then stacked in the trunk like so much excess luggage. Driving home, Kemper ate dinner and waited for his mother to retire before stepping outside and decapitating both corpses as they lay in the trunk. Unsatisfied, he carried Lin’s body inside and sexually assaulted it on the floor. Returning to the car, he chopped her hands off as a casual afterthought.
With spring’s arrival, Kemper’s frenzy escalated, coming back full circle to his home and family. He toyed with the idea of killing everybody on his block, as “a demonstration to the authorities,” but finally dismissed the notion. Instead, on Easter weekend, Kemper turned upon his mother, hammering her skull in as she slept. Decapitating her, he raped the headless corpse, then jammed her severed larynx down the garbage disposal. (“This seemed appropriate,” he told police, “as much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years.”) Her head was propped on the mantle for use as a dartboard.
Still not sated, Kemper telephoned a friend of his mother’s, Sally Hallett, and invited her over for a “surprise” dinner in his mother’s honor. Upon her arrival, Kemper clubbed her over the head, strangled her to death, and then decapitated her. The headless body was deposited in his bed, while he wandered off to sleep in his mother’s room.
On Easter Sunday, Kemper started driving East, with no destination in mind. He got as far as Colorado before pulling over to a roadside telephone booth and calling police in Santa Cruz. Several attempts were necessary before his friends would accept his confession, and local officers were dispatched to make the arrest while Kemper waited patiently in his car.
In his detailed confession, Kemper admitted slicing flesh from the legs of at least two victims, cooking it in a macaroni casserole and devouring it as a means of “possessing” his prey. He also acknowledged removing teeth, along with bits of hair and skin from his victims, retaining them as grisly keepsakes, trophies of the hunt. Described as sane by state psychiatrists, Kemper was convicted on eight counts of murder. Asked what punishment he considered fitting for his crimes, the defendant replied, “Death by torture.” Instead, he was sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole.
Since his incarceration, Kemper has been very busy. In 1988, he and John Wayne Gacy took part in interviews via satellite. Kemper is also part of an FBI program aimed to build the FBI’s profiling system. He was led in a series of interviews by agent Robert Ressler. Edmund Kemper is now the model prisoner at his facility.
Walking down the street?”
A. “One side of me says, ‘I’d like to talk to her, date her.’
The other side of me says, ‘I wonder how her head
would look on a stick?’”