Edmund Emil “Big Ed” Kemper III, also known as “The Co-ed Killer”, is an American serial killer and necrophile who was active in California in the early 1970’s.
Kemper was born on December 18, 1948 in Burbank, California, the middle child and only son born to Edmund Emil Kemper, Jr. (1919–1985) and Clarnell Stage (1921–1973). As a child, he was extremely bright but exhibited sociopathic and passive-aggressive behaviour from a young age such as cruelty to animals; he purportedly fatally stabbed a pet cat at age 13, acted out bizarre sexual rituals with his sisters’ dolls, was a pyromaniac and exhibited a dark fantasy life. He recalled later that his eldest sister pushed him into the deep end of a swimming pool and he had to struggle to get out and nearly drowned. She also pushed him within yards of a moving train.
Kemper had a close relationship with his father and was devastated when his parents divorced in 1957 and he had to be raised by his mother in Helena, Montana. He had a horrible relationship with his mother Clarnell, a violent alcoholic who would constantly belittle, humiliate and verbally abuse him. Clarnell often made her son sleep in a locked basement, because she feared that he would rape his younger sister. It is alleged that she had borderline personality disorder.
In the summer of 1963, Kemper ran away from home in search of his father in Van Nuys, California. Once there, he learned that his father had remarried and had another son. Kemper stayed with his father for a short while until the elder Kemper sent him back to Montana. Clarnell, however, was unwilling to let Kemper back into her household and instead sent him to live with his grandparents, Edmund and Maude Kemper, who lived on a 17-acre ranch in the mountains of North Fork, California. Kemper hated living in North Fork; he referred to his grandfather as “senile” and claimed that his grandmother “was constantly emasculating him and his grandfather.”
On August 27, 1964, Kemper’s grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table working on her latest children’s book when she and Kemper began arguing. Eventually Kemper shot her in the head. (Some sources claim that he also stabbed her with a kitchen knife after shooting her.) When his grandfather came home from grocery shopping, Kemper went outside and fatally shot him in the driveway. Kemper then called his mother, who urged him to call the police. When questioned, he said that he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma”, and that he killed his grandfather because he knew he would be angry at him for what he had done to his grandmother.
At age 15, Kemper was sentenced to youth authority and committed to Atascadero State Hospital, where he befriended his psychologist and became his assistant. He was intelligent enough with a very high I.Q. (136, though during adulthood he tested at 145) to gain the trust of the doctor to the extent of being allowed access to prisoners’ tests. With the knowledge he gained from his apprenticeship he was eventually able to impress his doctor at the hospital enough to let him go. After serving fewer than five years he was released in early 1970 into his mother’s care against the wishes of several doctors at the hospital, at the time of his release he had grown to 6 ft 9 inches and weighed close to 280 pounds. Kemper later demonstrated further to the psychologists that he was well, and to have his juvenile records expunged. He worked a series of menial jobs before securing work with the State of California’s Department of Public Works/Division of Highways in District 4 (now known as Department of Transportation or Caltrans). By that time, he weighed about 300 pounds.
Edmund’s mother was an administrative assistant at the University of California. She got Ed a university parking sticker so he could park on campus. Ed had always dreamed of being a cop, but it was impossible for him because of his height. He bought a car that looked like an unmarked police vehicle, and he equipped it with a radio transmitter, microphone, and a large whip antenna. Then he started picking up female hitchhikers. He took them to their destinations, but the whole time he was dreaming up violent sexual fantasies. Eventually he removed the antenna, and rigged the passenger side door so that it couldn’t be opened from the inside.
Between May 1972 and February 1973, Kemper embarked on a spree of murders, picking up six female students hitch-hiking, taking them to isolated rural areas and killing them. He would stab, shoot or smother the victims and afterwards take them back to his apartment where he would have sex with their decapitated heads and bodies and then dissect them. He killed five college girls (four students from UC Santa Cruz and one from Cabrillo College). He would often go hunting for victims after his mother’s outbursts towards him. Kemper had managed to stay one step ahead of investigators by virtue of being friends with many Santa Cruz County police officers. Edmund was a regular at a bar called The Jury Room, which was a popular hangout with local law enforcement officers. None of his friends had any suspicions and they freely discussed the case with him.
On May 7, 1972, Kemper was driving in Berkeley when he picked up two 18-year-old hitch-hiking Fresno State students, Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa, on the pretext of taking them to Stanford University. After a one-hour journey, he drove to a secluded, wooded area near Alameda. There, he smothered and stabbed Pesce to death before fatally stabbing Luchessa. Kemper then put both corpses in the trunk of his 1969 Ford and returned to his apartment. In his room, he took some pornographic photographs of the naked corpses before dismembering them and putting the body parts into plastic bags, which he later abandoned near Loma Prieta Mountain. Kemper had oral sex with Pesce’s severed head before disposing of it and Luchessa’s head in a ravine. Mary Ann was found and identified, nothing of Anita was ever found.
On the night of September 14, 1972, Kemper picked up 15-year-old Aiko Koo, who had decided to hitch-hike to dance class after missing the bus and was afraid of being late. While keeping her at gunpoint, he stopped his car at the side of a road and taped her mouth and tried to suffocate her. Eventually he succeeded and she lost consciousness he then removed her from the car, laid her on the ground and raped her. Afterwards he suffocated her with her scarf and put the body back into the trunk. Now and then he would look at the corpse in his trunk to gaze at his conquest, later he placed her on his bed and dissected her like he did with his previous victims. Very little of Aiko was ever found. Her Head was in his car when he drove to Fresco for a meeting with a couple of court psychiatrists. They were so pleased with his progress that they recommended his juvenile record be sealed.
On January 7, 1973, Kemper was driving around the Cabrillo College campus, where he picked up 19-year-old student Cindy Schall. Edmund drove her into the hills near Watsonville, where he forced her into the trunk and shot her with his new gun (.22 caliber pistol). He drove back to his mother’s house, where he dissected her in a bathtub. He kept the body in his room overnight until he removed the bullet from her head and decapitated her. He later dismembered her body and buried her severed head in his mother’s garden as a joke, later remarking that his mother “always wanted people to look up to her.” He later proceeded to dismember the rest of her body and discarded the rest of her remains in a ravine.
On February 5, after an argument with his mother, Kemper left the house in search of possible victims. He later encountered 24-year-old Rosalind Thorpe and 23-year-old Alice Liu, who were on the UC Santa Cruz campus. According to Kemper, Thorpe entered his car first, which apparently reassured Liu to enter after her. Right after leaving the university grounds, Kemper fatally shot Thorpe and Liu with a .22 caliber pistol. He then wrapped their bodies in blankets, and placed them both in the back seat of his car. He then sexually abused their bodies. The next morning, he dismembered the bodies of Thorpe and Liu, and discarded the remains off in Eden Canyon in San Francisco, where they were found a week later.
On Good Friday of 1973 (20th April), Ed drove to Aptos to see his mother. She had gone out straight from work, so Ed sat drinking and watching TV. She finally turned up around 4 a.m. He talked to her briefly, then returned to his bed and lay there till around five, when he was sure she was asleep.
He crept in with a claw hammer and a penknife, watched her sleep for a while, then brought the hammer down on her temple with all the force he could muster. He then slit her throat, removed her head, and raped her headless corpse before finally using it as a dart board. He also cut out her vocal cords, then put them in the garbage disposal. The garbage disposal could not break down the tough vocal cord tissue and ejected the tissue back up into the sink. “That seemed appropriate,” he said after his arrest, “as much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years.”
Afterwards he phoned Sally Hallet, a women in her late fifties, who was a friend of his mother. Luring her to the house he then murdered and beheaded her before going to bed. Kemper left the scene of his final crimes and drove eastward, leaving California, then driving through Nevada and Utah, before stopping at a telephone booth in Pueblo, Colorado after hearing no news on the radio about his crimes.
He confessed to the murder of his mother and Hallet but at first, the police didn’t take his call seriously and told him to phone back at a later time. Several hours later, Kemper phoned again and asked to speak to an officer he knew personally. At this time, he did not speak of his crimes as the “co-ed killer”, and he waited inside his car until he was arrested.At his trial, he pleaded “not guilty” by reason of insanity. He was found guilty in November 1973 of eight counts of murder. He asked for the death penalty, but with capital punishment suspended at that time, he instead received life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
At the time of Kemper’s murder spree in Santa Cruz, another serial killer named Herbert Mullin was also active, earning the small California town the title of “Murder Capital of the World.” Also adding to the college town’s infamy was the fact that Kemper’s and Mullin’s crimes were preceded three years earlier by multiple murders committed by John Linley Frazier, who murdered Santa Cruz eye surgeon Victor Ohta and his family. Kemper and Mullin were briefly held in adjoining cells, with the former angrily accusing the latter of stealing his body-dumping sites.
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. Kemper remains among the general prison population at California Medical Facility in Vacaville, California.