Edmund Kemper III
When youre 69, its hard to keep a low profile, and to this rather obvious fact, we may
owe much of our insight into the mind of the serial killer. It must have occurred to
Edmund Kemper as he drove frantically eastward from the scene of his last two murders
that the jig was most definitely up. His six previous murders had been so carefully planned
and carried out. He had picked up young female hitchhikers, women with whom hed had
no previous contact and, after hed killed them, he took great care to conceal their
identities and eliminate evidence. But now, he had committed a murder, the circumstances
of which would point straight to himhe had killed his mother in her own home. It would
only be a matter of time until her body and that of her friend, whom hed also dispatched,
Police would soon begin searching for Edmund and, with his unmistakable appearance, he
must have known there was really nowhere for him to hide. So, exhausted and anxious,
Edmund placed a call from a phone booth in Pueblo, Colorado to the police in Santa Cruz,
California. And he spilled his guts, so to speak.
Still, the scope and detail of his confession cant be completely attributed to his
appearance. If hed wanted, he probably couldve confessed only to his last two murders,
keeping mum about the six hitchhikers. There was no direct evidence as of yet connecting
him with any of those killings. Hed been careful and because two other serial killers were
operating in the Santa Cruz area at roughly the same time, police were confused as to who
was killing whom. But Edmund had had a lot on his mind for a long time and was ready to
be rid of all of it. Also, the size of his ego rivaled the size of his body, and once he was the
center of police attention, he must have enjoyed the spotlight. He told them details that
only he knew, that he expected theyd never be able to uncover on their own. He felt
important and intelligent. He was relieved to be speaking openly of what hed kept hidden
for so long. And the police, recognizing all this, listened closely. Edmund talked and
talked and talked, and when interrogators thought he couldnt possibly give them anything
else, he talked some more. Because he did talk, we know a lot about what motivates such
a killer, what peculiar thoughts and fantasies occupy such a mind.
Edmund Emil Kemper IIIs childhood parallels that of many serial killershis parents,
Clarnell and E.E. Kemper Jr., had a stormy marriage and separated when Edmund was
nine. They divorced four years later and he pined for his absent father through a
succession of stepfathers. In their new home of Helena, Montana, his domineering mother
and sisters belittled him and, as he grew older, they banished him to the basement because
they considered his sharing a room with his sister unseemly. His ever-increasing size was
disconcerting, even when he was a pre-teen, and Clarnell constantly reminded him of this.
Not that his parents didnt tryindeed, both Edmunds parents were much more engaged
in his upbringing and well being than many parents were. But Edmund was difficult. He
was unduly afraid of being physically hurt by other boys and unable to sustain friendships
with his peers. He was unable to put the pain of his parents divorce behind him. He
tortured and killed animals and he entertained fantasies from an early age, which combined
sex and violence. His mother found him dour and unmanageable and he was sent to Los
Angeles, at his own request, to live with his father and stepmother. Their reaction to him
was the same as his mothershis strangeness was threatening, and they were quickly at
their wits end for something to do with him. With frightened exasperation, his father sent
Edmund away. Maude and Edmund Kemper, Sr. (Edmunds paternal grandparents) had a
17-acre farm in North Fork, California, and Edmund was brought there during the
Christmas holidays of 1963.
He was not pleased to be left at the farm with his grandparents when the holidays ended,
but he began school anyway and seemed to make at least some progress. His teachers at
Sierra Joint Union High School in nearby Tollhouse, California found him quiet, rather
meek in fact. He caused no trouble, made average grades, and drew no undue attention to
himself, apart from his size. At home with his grandparents, the situation was tense, but
bearable. They found him disconcerting, as had his mother and father, but he kept busy
and out from underfoot with his dog and a .22 rifle given to him by his grandfather. He
shot rabbits and gophers, and he shot birds (though he had been warned not to), but
evidently contained his aggression to this one outlet. At the end of the school year he
returned to his mother and sisters in Helena, ostensibly to spend the summer, but within
two weeks he was back at the farm.
Upon his return, Maude Kemper commented that he had regressed. He seemed more
sullen, more ominous, and now that he wasnt in school, he was ever present at the farm.
For his part, Edmund found his grandmother a nag and his grandfather a bore. His violent
fantasies returned, this time starring Maude. He imagined her in the outhouse as he shot it
full of holes. He lined her up unawares in the sites of his rifle and thought about what it
would be like to kill her. As the tension at the farm mounted, his grandmother grew more
nervous. She took her husbands .45 caliber pistol with her on at least one outing, for fear
it would fall into Edmunds hands. She had warned him not to touch it, but obviously did
not trust him to do as he was told. Edmund took this lack of trust as an insult, and
brooded on it. All summer long, the tension grew.
On August 27, 1964, Edmund sat with Maude at the kitchen table, going over proofs from
a childrens book she was writing. Looking up, she noticed Edmund had an odd stare and
frightening look she had seen many times before. It unnerved her, and she told him to stop
it. After a moment, Edmund picked up his gun and whistled for his dog, saying he was
headed out to shoot some gophers. Maude warned him not to shoot the birds, and
returned her attention to her work. Edmund turned around upon exiting the house and
watched her through the screen door. Her back was to him as he raised his rifle and took
aim at her head. He fired once, and Maude slumped at the table. Then he fired twice more,
hitting her in the back. Inside the house again, he wrapped her head in a towel and
dragged the body into the bedroom. Within a few minutes, his grandfather returned home
from buying groceries. As his grandfather began to unload the truck, Edmund took aim
and shot him in the back of the head.
Edmund was dismayed, not only because of what hed done, but because he knew hed be
caught. His grandparents werent the sorts to take off on a sudden extended vacation, so
even if he hid their bodies, their friends and family would miss them immediately.
Confused and fretful, he called his mother in Montana, who advised him to call the sheriff.
He was taken in for questioning, and soon he confessed to both murders, saying hed often
thought of killing his grandmother, and that hed killed his grandfather as an act of mercy,
to protect him from seeing his dead wife and possibly having a heart attack. Edmund was
incarcerated in juvenile hall while the California Youth Authority decided what to do with
him. A court-appointed psychiatrist diagnosed Edmund as paranoid and psychotic, and the
Youth Authority committed him to Atascadero State Hospital. He entered the facility on
December 6, 1964 when he was not yet 16 years old.
Atascadero State Hospital, though a secure facility, was by no means a prison. There
were no guard towers and the purpose of ones stay was treatment, not penance. Edmund
took an extensive battery of tests and began to gain insight, if not into the nature of his
own crime, into what others thought of that crime. He didnt accept actual responsibility
for his crime, saying it had been beyond his control, but he worked hard at learning the
language of treatment and appearing recovered. He worked in the psychology laboratory
and helped administer tests. He took pride in doing a good job, which his doctors
interpreted as a very good sign. Sociopaths (and Edmund had been diagnosed at
Atascadero as that) were usually reluctant and uncooperative workers, but Edmund
seemed eager to do his best.
Meanwhile, he got to know others at Atascadero, including serial rapists who shared
stories of their crimes with him. The tales of their exploits made an impression, and his
rapidly developing teenage sexual awareness became inextricably linked with domination
and violence. In Atascadero, this kind of thinking seemed not perverse, but quite normal.
His violent sexual fantasies became intricate and intense. And he took note of what the
incarcerated rapists around him had done wrong. They had been caught because they
hadnt been smartthey left witnesses and evidence. They attacked women they knew, or
they did their attacking in too public a place. Quietly, he filed this information in a corner
of his mind. Although he hadnt yet formed any concrete plan, he knew each fact, each
story would be useful to him later. He didnt share his fantasies with his doctors, though.
For them, he behaved and worked hard. He claimed religious conversion and took to
looking up any biblical reference he heard. He was clean-cut and conservative, intelligent
and sheltered, and when he was released in 1969, the changes that had occurred in the
outside world must have come as quite a shock. His renewed contact with the outside
world began at a community college near Atascadero. While he attended school, he was
still under the supervision of the Youth Authority.
Edmund was a square. All around him hippies sported long hair and flouted authority
while he, with his short hair and neat mustache, wished fervently to be a law enforcement
officer. His hopes were dashed. In addition to minimum height requirements both the local
and state police had maximum height limits. Edmund was too tall to be a cop. To assuage
his disappointment, he bought a motorcycle. With it, he could at least feel like a cop.
Meanwhile, he did very well in his studies, and after three months, he was paroled for
another 18 months. His doctors at Atascadero had recommended strongly that he not be
returned to his mother, who had relocated to Santa Cruz, California. Against their advice,
the Youth Authority sent him straight to her.
Clarnell Strandberg (as she was now known, having been married and divorced again)
held a responsible position as an administrative assistant on the University of California at
Santa Cruz campus. She was competent and well liked, and the absence of her son had
given her several years of relative peace (ex-husband aside). But verbal battles loud
enough to be heard by the neighbors began upon Edmunds arrival at her duplex in
suburban Aptos. She still harangued and blamed him, and Edmund would later claim that
she hounded him relentlessly about matters as trivial as whether he should get his teeth
cleaned. Often he sought refuge at the Jury Room, a local bar frequented by off-duty
police and deputies. He was still fascinated by law enforcement and whiled away many an
hour discussing the merits and shortcomings of various sorts of guns and ammunition with
the officers. He was respectful of them, and they referred to him as "Big Ed."
Edmund took various positions as a laborer, and finally secured one with the Division of
Highways, which enabled him to move out of his mothers home and into an apartment in
Alameda, which he shared with a friend. Still, he said later, his mother continued to berate
and belittle him. And he quickly wrecked his motorcycle twice. The Division of Highways
gave him time off to recuperate from his broken left arm after the second accident. With
an out-of-court settlement, he bought a car that looked very much like an unmarked police
He equipped it with a radio transmitter and microphone and a large whip antenna, and he
began to pick up hitchhikers. Small, pretty female hitchhikers. He watched how they
reacted to him. He learned how to make them trust him, while he delivered them safely to
their destinations, and privately, indulged in his violent fantasies. Edmund imagined what
he would do to his captive hitchhikers when he finally sorted out all the details and
evaluated all the possibilities. His car was customized to suit his future plans. The antenna
came off, and the passenger door was rigged to keep it from being opened from the inside.
Plastic bags, knives, guns, and a blanket went into the trunk. Edmund picked up girl after
girl, treating each as a sort of experiment, waiting for his moment. It took a while, more
than a year of picking up girls and letting them go, but on May 7, 1972, Edmunds
moment finally came.
Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchese were students at Fresno State College, and they were
hitchhiking to Stanford University after a couple of days in Berkeley. They never reached
their destination, and the families of both filed missing persons reports, though it was hard
to get the police to pursue such cases with gusto, what with so many runaways and
transients around the Bay Area. Girls disappeared all the time, only to turn up sooner or
later with this or that friend or boyfriend. Even if the police had sprung into immediate
action it wouldnt have done any good. Edmund had dispatched Mary Ann and Anita soon
after picking them up. After driving them around for a bit, he took his gun out from under
the seat and pulled off into a deserted area. He put Anita in the trunk of his car and turned
his attention toward Mary Ann. He handcuffed her, laid her across the backseat face
down, put a plastic bag over her head, then attempted to strangle her with a length of
terrycloth. But she bit a hole in the bag and the cloth snapped. Frustrated, Edmund pulled
out his knife and stabbed her repeatedly. Eventually, he slashed her throat. He removed
Anita from the trunk and, with a larger knife, he began to stab her. She fought and
screamed, but he eventually wore her down.
He drove around with the bodies in the car for a while, deciding what to do. Eventually he
brought Mary Anns body into his apartment, where he undressed and dissected her. He
also beheaded Anitas body. Mary Anns body was buried in the plastic bag hed used to
try to suffocate her, and later Edmund would lead police to this site. He kept both their
heads for a while, eventually disposing of them in a ravine. Mary Anns was found and
identified in August. Neither Anitas head nor her body was ever found.
No one suspected polite, clean-cut Edmund Kemper of anything untoward, so he
continued to prowl. On the evening of September 14, 1972, he picked up Aiko Koo, a
15-year-old dancer of Korean descent, who was on her way to a dance class. She had tired
of waiting for the bus and decided to hitchhike. Aiko caught onto his plan quickly and
panicked. He convinced her that he was planning to use the gun to kill himself, and that if
she didnt try to signal police or passersby she would not be harmed. He drove into the
mountains and turned off the main road, parking out of sight. He taped her mouth and
tried to suffocate her by putting his thumb and index finger in her nostrils. She fought, but
lost consciousness, only to awaken again moments later. Edmund began to suffocate her
again, this time continuing until she stopped breathing completely. He removed her from
the car, laid her on the ground, and raped her. With her own scarf, he strangled her, and
when he was absolutely sure she was dead, he put her body in the trunk and drove away
from the scene.
Shortly afterwards, he stopped at a local bar and had a couple of beers, and, after that, he
went to his mothers house. From time to time, he would open the trunk and gaze at his
conquest. Late that night he brought Aikos body into his apartment and placed it on his
bed. He dissected her just as he had Mary Ann and Anita, and he disposed of her head and
hands in a different location than the rest of her body. Very little of her ever turned up,
and her disappearance was not thought to be related to Mary Ann and Anita.
Four months passed. Other victims of other killers were found in the Bay Area and public
concern was aroused, but Edmund was under no suspicion for any of the killings. On
January 8, 1973 he bought a .22 caliber automatic pistol, even though he was forbidden to
own a firearm because of his prior crime. He had no trouble with the purchase in spite of
his record, but he feared that eventually the police might catch on to the fact that he was in
illegal possession of a handgun. He stepped up his cruising and killing activities beginning
that very day.
He picked up Cindy and drove her into the hills near Watsonville, where he forced her into
the trunk and shot her with his new gun. The bullet lodged in her skull. Edmund had
recently moved back in with his mother, so he brought the body to the duplex in Aptos
and into his room there, and when Clarnell left for work the next morning he had sex with
Cindys corpse. He dissected her in the bathtub, taking great care afterward to wash away
all traces of what hed done. He removed the bullet from her skull and buried the head in
his mothers back yard. Later he threw the body parts, which he put in plastic bags, off a
cliff. This time, however, the body was discovered within 24 hours. Edmund took notice,
but still wasnt really worried. Hed been extraordinarily careful. Within a month he was
ready to kill again.
On the night of February 5, 1973, Edmund and Clarnell had a monumental row, and
Edmund stormed out of the apartment, keyed up and ready to strike. He picked up
Rosalind first and engaged her in conversation. In a short while, he stopped for another
hitchhiker, Alice. She had no trepidation about getting in the car, what with Rosalind
already there and the UC Santa Cruz parking sticker (which Clarnell had procured)
prominently displayed. They rode for a while, and this time Edmund didnt even stop the
car to do his killing. He drew Rosalinds attention to a lovely view off to the passenger
side, and as she looked, he slowed down, drew his .22, and shot her in the head. Quickly,
he pointed the gun at Alice in the back seat and fired several times. Unlike Rosalind, she
didnt die immediately. He shot her again point blank once he got out of town, and that
finished her off. Pulling into a cul-de-sac, he quickly transferred the bodies to the trunk.
He stopped for gas, then went to his mothers duplex, which he quickly left again,
claiming to need cigarettes. Once outside the apartment, he pulled the car to the street,
opened the trunk, and beheaded the bodies. The next morning, he brought Alices headless
body inside and had sex with it in his room. He also brought in Rosalinds head so he
could remove the bullet that had lodged in it, as he had done before with Cindys. He
drove away from Santa Cruz to dispose of most of the body parts, then on to Pacifica to
get rid of the heads and hands.
Clarnell never seemed to suspect that Edmund was up to such depravity, and she
probably didnt imagine that shed become his victim. But on Easter weekend, roughly a
month after the killings of Rosalind and Alice, he decided the time had come to be rid of
her. He waited all night in his room while Clarnell slept peacefully, carefully considering
what he was about to do. At 5:15 a.m., he got a hammer from the kitchen and went to her
bedroom. He struck her once, very hard, and then slashed her throat. Within minutes, he
had killed and beheaded her, removing her larynx in the process. He tried to put her larynx
down the garbage disposal, but the machine spat it back out, which Edmund found darkly
appropriate and not at all surprising. He hid her body in a closet and cleaned up a bit, then
left the house.
That afternoon he pondered what to do, and decided that if someone else were found dead
with his mother, then suspicion might point away from him. Returning to the duplex, he
called Sara Hallett, a friend of Clarnells, to invite her dinner. He wasnt able to reach her
immediately, and he fretted about his plan until Sara called for Clarnell at around 5:00
p.m. He made the invitation, saying the dinner was a surprise for his mother. When Sara
arrived he strangled her, first manually, and finally, with the scarf he had obtained from
Aiko. He then removed Saras clothes and put her on his bed, and sometime that night
attempted to have sex with her corpse.
On Easter Sunday morning, he left town, driving east in Saras car. Fearing discovery, he
rented another car and dropped off Saras car at a gas station, telling the attendant it
needed repair. He drove for eighteen hours, stopping only for gas, sodas and No-Doz. He
was stopped in Colorado for speeding, but his seemingly staid, quiet appearance belied his
crimes. He paid his fine and moved on. Finally, exhausted, he stopped in Pueblo,
Colorado. He placed a call to the Santa Cruz Police Department, where he already knew
several of the officers, and he began his marathon confession.
The initial contact required several calls. First, he had to convince the Santa Cruz Police
he wasnt a crank caller. Then he had to help them find him. He was disoriented and
wasnt quite sure how to lead police to the Pueblo phone booth from which he was
placing his calls. When he was taken into custody, a party of investigators from Santa
Cruz headed for Pueblo, where they would question Edmund about the crimes for which
he claimed responsibility. As their tape recorder rolled, Edmund talked, giving incredibly
explicit and detailed confessions to all eight murders
Upon his return to Santa Cruz, Edmund led investigators to the various disposal sites he
had used and continued his seemingly endless confession. When he was finally finished,
hed been so thorough that he left his court-appointed public defender, James Jackson, no
avenue for defense except that of insanity.
A series of witnesses was brought in to try to establish that Edmund was not responsible
for his crimes, but the prosecutor undermined the testimony of each one. Prosecution
witness, Dr. Joel Fort, did the most damage to Edmunds insanity defense. He had spent
quite a bit of time reviewing Edmunds case, going all the way back to his diagnoses after
the killing of his grandparents and during his time at Atascadero. He had also interviewed
Edmund, eliciting previously unknown information about his sexual practices with the
bodies, and even cannibalism.
Edmund was not a paranoid schizophrenic, Fort said. He was obsessed with sex and
violence, and he craved attention, going so far as to slash his own wrists with a ball point
pen during the trial in an ostensible suicide attempt, but he was not insane. Furthermore,
Fort said, if he were ever released he would kill again, and he would kill the same sort of
victim. During the three weeks of the trial, no witness, not even Edmunds sister or his
doctors from Atascadero, was able to convince the jury that Edmund was insane. They
deliberated for only five hours, and they found Edmund guilty of first-degree murder on all
eight counts. After a short observation stint at Vacaville Medical Facility, he was sent to
the maximum-security prison at Folsom for the rest of his life.
Edmund Kemper remains behind bars. Since he was put away in 1973, countless other
serial killers, many just as brutal and depraved as he, have captured our attention.
Edmund, as if to maintain his place in our consciousness, remains eager to speak of his
crimes. He has done extensive interviews with Robert Ressler of the FBI, which were
aimed at building the FBIs nascent serial killer profiling program. In 1988, he
participated, along with the notorious John Wayne Gacy, in a satellite broadcast during
which each killer discussed his crimes. As always, he was loquacious and explicit, and he
seemed to have garnered quite a bit of psychological insight into the nature of his crimes.
In prison, he is well behaved and cooperative, and seems to take great pride in his status
as the "genius" serial killer who aided in his own capture and conviction. He knows, as we
know, that his release would lead to tragedy, and he is aware of and resigned to the fact
that he isnt going anywhere. Thats okay with him, and its certainly okay with us.