Known the world over as the Co-Ed Killer, Edmund Kemper committed his first murders at the tender age of fifteen. Over the course of nine years, he killed ten people, using acutely tailored manipulation techniques to convince people to trust him.
Young Edmund Kemper
Edmund Jr was an intelligent boy, but obsessed with death from a young age. Some of his favourite games to play with his sisters were called ‘Gas Chamber’ and ‘Electric Chair’. In both of them, he would have his sisters restrain him and then he would pretend to die.
He also came close to dying in his childhood twice, both times at the hand of his older sister, Susan. She once tried unsuccessfully to push him into front of a train. On another occasion, she managed to push him into the deep end of a swimming pool, where he almost drowned.
Young Edmund was ostracised as a child. This was partially because of his abnormal appearance – having been born at a whopping thirteen pounds, he was much larger than his peers for almost his entire life. But it was also because of his antisocial and psychopathic behaviour. In fact, Kemper’s murderous inclinations emerged at an extremely young age. He performed unusual rituals with his sister’s dolls that included removing their heads and hands. He once confessed to his older sister that he wanted to kiss his teacher. When Susan asked why he didn’t do it, he replied that he would have to kill her first. Though he never did harm his teacher, he was known to sneak out of his house at night with his grandfather’s bayonet and watch her through the windows of her house.
The Murder Years
Unlike many children, Kemper did not leave his dark fantasies behind with his childhood. He killed for the first time at a chillingly young age. At just ten years old, Kemper buried the family cat alive. He left it underground until he was sure it was dead, then dug it up again and took it to his bedroom his play with. He mutilated it and mounted its decapitated head on a spike. He lied to his family about what had happened to the cat. In later interviews, he claimed that he enjoyed lying to his family about it.
At the age of thirteen, he killed another family cat because he thought that it liked his little sister Allyn more than it liked him. Again, he butchered it and kept the pieces. This time, his mother found them. Afraid that he might hurt his sisters, Kemper’s mother moved him out of his bedroom and into the basement, where he lived for almost a year.
This was not the only way that Kemper’s mother belittled him. She was known as an angry and even violent alcoholic, who humiliated her son often, including about his abnormally large size, about which he was particularly sensitive. She was verbally abusive and, much like the cat that Kemper had sought the ultimate revenge upon, openly favoured his sisters. Clarnell Elizabeth Kemper justified her abusive behaviour by saying that she didn’t want to coddle her son because she was afraid it would “turn him gay”.
When he was fourteen, Kemper ran away from his mother’s home. He sought out his father, who had remarried and was living with his new wife and son in Van Nuys, California. Jealous of and hostile towards his father’s new family, Kemper was not there for long before he shunted into the home of his paternal grandparents.
Maude and Edmund Kemper I
Edmund Kemper committed his first murders at just fifteen years old. His victims were his grandparents.
On August 27th 1964, the teenaged Kemper had an argument with his grandmother Maude. He stormed out of the kitchen where they were sitting and grabbed the .22 caliber hunting rifle his grandfather had given him. His grandmother’s famous last words were a plea that he not go out killing birds, a habit of his that had got him in trouble before. Instead, Kemper shot her once in the head and twice in the back. Some accounts also claim that, fuelled by rage, Kemper took a kitchen knife and stabbed his grandmother repeatedly after she was dead.
Edmund Kemper’s grandparents: Edmund Kemper I (left), Maude Kemper (right)
He then waited until he grandfather Edmund I got home from shopping and shot him in the driveway of his own home. Kemper said that he killed his grandfather to spare him the pain of finding out that his wife was dead.
Unsure what to do next, Kemper called his mother and told her what she had done. On her advice, he called the police and confessed to the murder of his paternal grandparents. He waited patiently on the front porch for them to come and arrest him. When questioned, he told them that he “just wanted to see what it felt like to killed Grandma”.
Kemper was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to the criminally insane unit of Atascadero State Hospital. During his time at Atascadero, Kemper was a model inmate. He was intelligent and well-behaved and responded well to the system. He even volunteered to help the psychiatrists there work with his fellow inmates, which he took pride in performing well. There, he learned a lot, both from psychiatrists and from inmates. The doctors introduced him to the ways in which psychiatric tests work. The inmates gave him advice about how to cover his tracks after committing crimes.
Kemper was released on December 18th 1969, on his 21st birthday.
Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa
Kemper initially moved back in with his mother. Although he later moved out, his time with her was toxic and did nothing to dispel his murderous urges. They argued constantly over insignificant things. Later, Kemper would say that their fights were so vicious that they would have turned violent if he could stand the thought of raising his hands to his mother.
Eventually, while working for the Highway Department, Kemper moved out of his mother’s house. But he struggled to escape her influence. At first, she would surprise him with visits to his home and call him unexpectedly. Later on, he struggled to make rent and ended up moving back in with her.
Clarnell worked at the local university. When her son asked her to introduce him to her students, she would tell him that he did not deserve to get to know them.
Edmund Kemper’s mother: Carnell Strandberg
By this time, Kemper had made something of a hobby of driving around and offering lifts to hitchhikers in the busy college town. He was a calm, charming man, who people trusted easily and quickly, despite his own paranoia about not being able to talk to women. He struck up and maintained a strong relationship with the local police, drinking in many of the same bars as they did in the community.
Kemper has spoken often in interviews about the manipulation tips he developed while doing so, convincing people through his body language from the first moment he spotted them that he could be trusted and that they could feel safe getting into his car. For example, he would mime checking his watch irritably, as if trying to decide whether he had time for hitchhikers.
Although he kept tools in his car for a long time, including knives, blankets and handcuffs, Kemper claims to have picked up around 150 hitchhikers before he began to act on his homicidal sexual impulses – which he affectionately called his “little zapples”.
On May 7th 1972, Kemper picked up two 18-year-old students called Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Mary Luchessa. They were his first victims. Instead of taking them to Stanford University, he drove to a secluded wooded area near Alameda with the intention of raping them. As he had learned from his conversations with convicted rapists during his time incarcerated, Kemper had no intention of leaving any witnesses to his crime. He handcuffed Mary Ann Pesce, even apologising for accidentally brushing against her chest as he did so. He locked Anita Mark Luchessa in the boot of his car. Both women were stabbed and strangled.
Victims: Mary Ann Pesce (left), Anita Luchessa (right)
He kept both corpses in the boot of his car and drove home. He was even stopped on the way by a police officer who had noticed a broken taillight, but Kemper managed to charm his way out of any further searches.
He took the bodies into his apartment, where he took naked photographs of them both and raped them. He dismembered the corpses and continued to molest the severed heads. He then distributed all the pieces into plastic bags, which he later dumped near Loma Prieta Mountain.
Four months later, Mary Ann Pesce’s skull was found on the Mountain. The rest of her body nor any trace of Anita Mary Luchessa was ever found.
On September 14th 1972, 15-year-old Aiko Koo missed the bus to her dance class and decided to hitchhike instead. Ed Kemper picked her up.
His exchange with Aiko Koo shows just how accomplished Kemper was in his ability to manipulate people into trusting him, even when he was planning their imminent murder. As he drove off to a remote area instead of the class where Aiko was expected, he brandished his gun at her. Reports say that he panicked, apologising and explaining that there was something he needed to do.
Victim: Aiko Koo
When he reached his destination, he left the car to get his tools from the boot and accidentally locked himself, and his gun, out. Despite all the warning signs that Kemper was dangerous, Aiko was manipulated into unlocking the door and letting her abductor back into the car.
Kemper strangled Aiko until she lost consciousness. He put her body into the boot of his car and drove home, stopping off to drink at a bar on the way home. On his way out of the bar, he opened his boot to admire the corpse, with what he described as the pride of a fisherman admiring a prize catch.
As he had with his previous two victims, Kemper took the corpse back to his home, where he continued to rape it before dismembering and disposing of the pieces in separate bin bags.
By 1973, Kemper was back living with his mother. His financial insecurity meant that he could not continue living in his own apartment. They continued to have heated, spiteful arguments that drove Kemper into ever more violent rages.
On January 7th, Kemper picked up a 19-year-old student called Cynthia Ann Schall, known as Cindy to her friends, who was hitchhiking around the Cabrillo College campus. He drove her to a sequestered space in the woods where he shot her with a .22 calibre pistol. He put her body in the boot of his car and took it home to his mother’s house.
Victim: Cindy Schall
He hid Cindy’s body in the closet in his bedroom overnight until his mother left for work the next morning. When he was sure he was alone, Kemper raped the body. He took great pains to remove the bullet before butchering Cindy’s corpse in his mother’s bathtub and decapitating her with a power saw. He discarded most of her remains by throwing them off a cliff. The pieces were discovered one by one over the course of a few weeks. Her right hand was never found. Kemper kept her head.
For several days, Kemper sexually abused the head. He finally buried it in his own back garden, facing upwards towards his mother’s bedroom because, he later explained, she “always wanted people to look up to her”.
Rosalind Thorpe and Allison Liu
By this time, warnings had been released about the dangers of hitchhiking in the area and there was strong suspicions that there was a serial killer preying on people out alone. It was advised that students only accept rides in cars with University stickers on them. Because his mother worked at UCSC, Kemper had such a sticker.
Victims: Rosalind Thorpe (right), Allison Liu (left)
On February 5th, Kemper offered a lift to two students on the UCSC campus, 23-year-old Rosalind Heather Thorpe and 20-year-old Alice Helen Liu, known affectively as Allison. At first, Allison was hesitant to accept due to the frequent warnings, but Rosalind convinced her that they would be fine.
Kemper shot them both with his pistol, wrapped the bodies in blankets and beheaded them in his car. He drove them back to his mother’s house, where he raped the bodies. He removed the bullets from the corpses so they couldn’t be matched to his gun. He dismembered them both and scattered the remains across Eden Canyon and surrounding highways.
Clarnell Strandberg and Sally Hallett
Kemper’s attacks had increased in frequency and violence since moving back in with his mother. He attributed many of his violent rages to his arguments with her and the way she belittled and humiliated him during their fights.
On April 20th, Kemper fell asleep while his mother was at a party and was woken up when she got home. When he went to her room to greet her, Clarnell Strandberg was irritated by her son’s attention, saying “I suppose you’re going to wait to sit up all night and talk now.” Kemper turned and left the room, replying with nothing but “No, good night”.
Victim: Carnell Strandberg
He returned after she had fallen asleep. He bludgeoned her to death with a claw hammer and slit her throat with a knife. He then decapitated her and raped the head before put it on a shelf and continuing to abuse it both verbally and physically. He screamed at it “for an hour”, then used it as a dart board and finally beat it with his fists. He cut out her tongue and larynx and threw them in the garbage disposal, but they were ejected back into the sink.
“That seemed appropriate,” Kemper said in interviews many years later, “as much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years.”
He raped his mother’s corpse and hid it in a closet before leaving the house to drink in a bar. When he returned home, he called his mother’s friend Sara Taylor “Sally” Hallett and invited her over for dinner and a movie. He embraced her when she arrived as if in greeting, wrapping his arms around her neck and strangling her to death. Again, he decapitated her and spent the night with her corpse. He dumped the body in a closet the next morning and tidied up the house to remove evidence of the two murders.
He left a note to the police in the house. It read:
Appx. 5:15 A.M. Saturday. No need for her to suffer any more at the hands of this horrible “murderous Butcher”. It was quick – asleep – the way I wanted it. Not sloppy and incomplete, gents. Just a “lack of time”. I got things to do!!!
Kemper left California in Sally’s car. He drove east through Nevada and Utah until he reached Pueblo, Colorado.
When he heard nothing on the radio about the deaths of his mother and her friend, he called the police station in his home town and confessed to their murders. At first, the police didn’t believe him. Knowing him as a gentle giant who got along with almost everyone in town, they did not take him seriously and hung up.
He called back many hours later and asked to speak to an officer that he knew personally. He refused to get off the line until they accepted his confession, then waited patiently for them to arrive and arrest him. In custody, he confessed to the murders of the six students as well.
Kemper explained to the police why he had turned himself in:
“The original purpose was gone … It wasn’t serving any physical or real or emotional purpose. It was just a pure waste of time … Emotionally, I couldn’t handle it much longer. Toward the end there, I started feeling the folly of the whole damn thing, and at the point of near exhaustion, near collapse, I just said to hell with it and called it all off.”
On May 7th 1973, Kemper was indicted on eight counts of first degree murder. He gave an extremely detailed confession and plead not guilty by reason of insanity. His trial was on October 23rd, by which time he had attempted to kill himself twice while in custody. Three separate psychiatrists appointed by the court found him to be legally sane. It was reasoned that Kemper knew, even at the time of his crimes.The jury convened for five hours before declaring Kemper both sane and guilty on all counts.
Kemper requested the death penalty – even going so far as to ask to be tortured. But the state no longer used capital punishment, so he was instead sentenced to seven years to life for each count of murder, to be served concurrently. He was incarcerated in the California Medical Facility, in the same prison block as the likes of Herbert Mullin and Charles Manson.
He remains in prison to this day, having been considered a model prisoner since he was first locked away. Similarly to his time incarcerated following the murder of his grandparents, he helps with general administrative tasks, such as scheduling psychiatric appointments for other inmates. He has developed a skill for crafting ceramic cups and had spent thousands of hours narrating audio books for the blind. He has taken part in a number of interviews exploring his life and his crimes.
After being denied at four hearing, Kemper has waived his right to parole hearings at every opportunity since 1985. He has said that he does not believe that he is fit to return to society. He is next eligible for parole in 2024.