|“||When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things: one part of me wants to take her home, be real nice and treat her right; the other part wonders what her head would look like on a stick.||”|
Edmund Emil "Ed" Kemper III, a.k.a. "The Co-Ed Killer" or "The Co-Ed Butcher", is an American necrophilic, ephebophilic, and cannibalistic serial/spree killer active in the early 1970s. His murders coincided with those of another California serial killer, Herbert Mullin.
Kemper was born on December 18, 1948, in Burbank, California. His parents were Edmund Jr. and Clarnell Kemper (née Strandberg). He also had one older and one younger sister and was very close to his father. Because of this, he was troubled when they divorced in 1957 and his mother took Kemper and his sisters and moved to Helena, Montana. Though very bright (he was later found to have an IQ of 145 during adulthood), he displayed sociopathic traits at an early age; he was a pyromaniac and often used his sisters' dolls to enact murders and bizarre sexual rituals. He particularly enjoyed pulling their heads off. He took great delight in torturing and killing cats; one of them he stabbed to death. Another he reportedly buried alive, dug up again, decapitated it and put its head on a pole. He fantasized about being executed by electric chair and would often enact it as a game with his sisters. His emotionally abusive mother would often lock him in the basement because she was afraid that he would rape the youngest. At the age of 13, he ran away and made it all the way to his father in California, only to discover that he had remarried and made his stepson the object of his affection. Kemper, heartbroken, was sent back to his mother.
At the age of 14, Kemper was sent to live with his paternal grandparents, Edmund Sr. and Maude Kemper, at their ranch in North Fork, California. Even though he already was an imposing 6 foot 4 inches (1,93 m) tall, he was easily bullied by classmates. He also didn't get along with his grandmother. On the afternoon of August 27, 1964, he shot and killed first her, then Edmund Sr., with a rifle that had been given to him for Christmas the previous year. Sources vary on exactly how it happened; some claim it was a spur of the moment after Kemper and she had an argument. Others claim that she was working on her next children's book when she was shot and that Kemper did it just to find out how it felt. He then killed his grandfather when he came home from grocery shopping to spare him the sight of his dead wife and made two phone calls; first to his mother to tell her what he had done and then to the local police to do the same. He then sat down on the porch and waited for their arrival. After being arrested, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and placed in mental care at the Atascadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. He surprisingly got along well with his psychiatrist and was even made his assistant. On December 18, 1969, on his 21st birthday, Kemper was released against the wishes of several psychologists and placed in the care of his mother in Santa Cruz.
Serial Killings, Capture, and Incarceration
After being released, Kemper, still living with his mother, took a number of menial jobs before eventually getting a job at the State of California's Department of Public Works as a laborer. He was then 6 foot 9 (2,05 m) and weighed ca. 300 pounds (ca. 140 kg). He befriended several local police officers and even planned to become one himself, a dream that ended when he learned that he was above regulation height. Though he wasn't good with money, he eventually saved up enough to move away from his mother and get an apartment with a roommate. After getting a $15,000 settlement through a motorbike accident, he bought a yellow Ford Galaxy and began cruising the Pacific coast area in search of female hitchhikers, all the while gathering kill supplies such as a knife, plastic bags and handcuffs. He eventually had to leave his apartment and move back in with his mother, who had been divorced a total of three times by that point. On May 7, 1972, he committed his first two murders as a serial killer. Over the following nine months, he killed four more women, coinciding with murders committed by fellow Californian serial killer Herbert Mullin. Many of his murders were committed after an argument with his mother. On April 19, 1973, he bludgeoned his mother to death in her sleep and spent hours mutilating her body, severing her head, using it for oral sex, tossing darts at it and throwing her vocal cords into the garbage disposer. When the murder didn't satisfy his homicidal needs, he invited over Sally Hallett, a friend of his mother, and killed her as well when she arrived.
Kemper then took his car and drove away, all the while listening to the radio for reports about his murders. After four days on the road without hearing any such broadcasts, he stopped at a phone booth in Pueblo, Colorado, called his friends at the Santa Cruz PD and confessed to his eight murders. At first, they thought it was a poor joke, but, after a few phone calls, learned that he was telling the truth. He then sat down in the car and waited for them to come and arrest him. After unsuccessfully pleading insanity, he requested to be sentenced to death and executed by electrical chair, like he had fantasized about, but due to the state having temporarily suspended capital punishment, he was denied his childhood dream and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, he was one of the first 36 convicted killers to be interviewed by the then recently founded Behavioral Science Unit. He was interviewed three times by Robert Ressler. During the third time, the guards didn't respond when he called for them and he found himself locked in the small room alone with Kemper, who started making death threats and taunting him. When the guard finally came, he claimed to have been kidding. John Douglas, who also interviewed him, later admitted to liking Kemper, who was friendly, open, and sensitive when they spoke. Kemper is still (March 2021) serving his sentence at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville.
"If I killed them, you know, they couldn't reject me as a man. It was more or less making a doll out of a human being... and carrying out my fantasies with a doll, a living human doll."
Kemper targeted women, most of whom were co-eds aged in their teens to mid-twenties, most of whom attended the same college his mother worked at. All victims during his serial killer period, with the exception of his mother and Sally Hallett, were hitchhikers who were given rides by him when he cruised around. After taking them somewhere secluded, chatting them up on the way, he would kill them in various ways, including shooting, stabbing, and strangling, and then take their remains to his room, where he would perform bizarre experiments on, eviscerate, and engage in sexual activities with their bodies. He would also decapitate his victims' heads and have oral sex with them. One of the psychiatrists who interviewed him using a truth serum, Dr. Joel Fort, also believed that Kemper had cooked and eaten parts of his victims. He took Polaroid photos of their mutilated corpses as souvenirs. After he was done with the bodies, he would dispose of them, often by throwing them into a ravine or a gorge. The heads of some victims were buried in his mother's garden, with Kemper claiming he placed them there because his mother "always wanted people to look up to her". When he killed his grandparents, he shot them both with a .22 rifle.
- Kemper's killings were part of the reason why Santa Cruz, California, earned the apt nickname "Murder Capital of the World". The other reasons were:
- The murders committed by serial killer Herbert Mullin and mass murderer John Linley Frazier happened around the same time.
- The Zodiac Killer was also active in the same state a few years earlier.
- Another cluster of murders suspected of being a serial case known as the "Astrological murders" were also committed in California around that time. Like Kemper, that offender also targeted women and disposed of their remains in ravines.
- The Manson Family, led by Charles Manson, and the Hillside Stranglers, Angelo Buono and Kenneth Bianchi, also committed several murders in California in the 70s.
- Additionally, Richard Ramirez, The Night Stalker, and an unidentified serial killer and rapist known as the Original Night Stalker were active in the state in both the 70s and the 80s, as was Lonnie David Franklin, who returned in the 2000s.
- Harvey Glatman, Richard Chase, Juan Corona, and Leonard Lake and Charles Ng were also active in California, as were William Bonin, Patrick Kearney, and Randy Kraft, the three of whom were believed to be a single serial killer known as The Freeway Killer.
On Criminal Minds
- Season One
- "Charm and Harm" - Kemper was mentioned as an example of killers who save their most meaningful murders for last, referring to how he killed his mother.
- Season Two
- "The Last Word" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Kemper appears to have been an inspiration for The Mill Creek Killer - Both are necrophilic serial killers who targeted women, killed them via manual means (The Mill Creek Killer beat his victims to death, while Kemper killed by various means), engaged in necrophilia with them, were given nicknames by the media for their murders, and were active at the same time and place as another independant serial killer.
- Season Three
- "Doubt" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Kemper appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Nathan Tubbs - Both were spree killers with almost identical victimologies (young female college students, though Kemper also killed others), picked up victims with their cars by offering them rides, stabbed them to death (though this was only one of Kemper's methods), performed ritualistic acts on their bodies after death (Tubbs stabbed his post-mortem and folded their arms across their chests, while Kemper eviscerated, experimented with, and even engaged in necrophilia with his), kept souvenirs of some kind (Tubbs kept newspaper articles of his murders, while Kemper kept Polaroid photographs of his victims and their body parts).
- "Penelope" - Kemper was mentioned alongside Ted Bundy and Robert Anderson as examples of killers who appeared to gain sadistic satisfaction out of gaining the trust of their victims and out of lulling them into a false sense of security.
- "Damaged" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Kemper appears to have been an inspiration for Chester Hardwick - Both were serial killers who targeted women, seemingly killed them through similar means (though Hardwick's M.O. is never fully elaborated on), had similar sentences (Hardwick was sentenced to death and presumably executed off-screen, while Kemper wished to be sentenced to death by electric chair, but wasn't), and were both interviewed by FBI personnel. Their interviews took a turn when the guards failed to show up, resulting in both killers taunting and threatening their interviewers (Kemper repeatedly taunted and threatened to kill Robert Ressler, while Hardwick intended to kill Hotch and Reid), but never actually harmed them. The interviewers distracted the killers by talking to them and stalling them until the guards could arrive. Hardwick's physical appearance even seems to mimic Kemper's.
- Season Four
- "Zoe's Reprise" - While not directly mentioned or referenced in this episode, Kemper appears to have been an inspiration for the episode's unsub, Eric Ryan Olson - Both are serial killers with a varying M.O., appeared to mainly target one gender (Kemper mainly targeted young women, though did kill elderly ones as well as his grandfather, Olson appeared to have mainly targeted men, though also killed women), and committed crimes before their later murders. Also Kemper's quote: "When I see a pretty girl walking down the street, I think two things: one part of me wants to take her home, be real nice and treat her right; the other part wonders what her head would look like on a stick." is somewhat similar to the one Olson gave to the BAU.
- Season Six
- "The Stranger" - In the episode, Kemper was compared by Reid to the episode's unsub, Greg Phinney and appears to have been based on him - Both were serial/spree killers with an identical nickname ("The Co-Ed Killer") who were active in California, targeted female college students, had close relationships with their fathers, and part of their rage was driven by being separated from them after they were institutionalized (in Kemper's case, his father remarried, moved to another state and got a stepson, in Phinney's case, his father remarried and died). Like Kemper, Phinney also killed surrogates for his real intended target (Kate and Kemper's mother), both women who wronged them in some perceived way (Kemper's mother abused him, while Phinney targeted Kate believing she was the one responsible for sending him away).
- Season Seven
- Season Eight
- Season Eleven
- Wikipedia's article about Kemper
- TruTV Crime Library articles about Kemper
- Evil Beyond Belief's (2009, ISBN: 978-1-84837-000-5) article about Kemper
- Cannibal Serial Killers: Profiles of Depraved Flesh-Eating Murderers (2011)
- Radford University's summary of Kemper's life
- Serial Killers Podcast article about Kemper
- Find A Grave articles: