To a regular person, Charles Manson, Ed Gein, Henry Lee Lucas, David Berkowitz, Michael Ross, Andre Crawford, Carrol Cole and Richard Chase are some of the most notorious serial killers to walk the earth. However, to a true crime buff, these names have more in common beyond being a group of people who reigned terror in their lifetime and took the lives of women, men, and young children, some indiscriminately, while others targeted specific groups of the population. To a keen eye, these are the names of notorious serial killers who had strained relationships with their mothers and blamed their mothers for their murderous tendencies. An even keener true crime wizard will tell you that one name is missing conspicuously from the list, that of Ed Kemper, whose hatred for his mother led him to kill her and violate her body, before killing her friend to add two bodies to the already high pile of bodies he had left behind, including his grandparents, and six students, earning him the infamous title of “The Co-Ed Killer.” Why did Ed Kemper hate his mother so much, and what did he do to her?
Serial killer Ed Kemper sat down with reporter Marj Von Beroldingen for a chilling interview published in Front Page Detective Magazine (1974)
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Edmund Elim Kemper was born on 18 December 1948 to Edmund Emil Kemper II., and mother Clarnell Stage. He lived with his parents and siblings in Burbank, California – he had two sisters, Allyn and Susan to whom he was close enough in age to play with before he ran away to live with his grandparents. His childhood was far from idyllic. His father, a veteran who fought for his country in World War II summarized the reason for Ed Kemper’s troubled childhood in his statement that nothing could compare to living with Clarnell, not even the suicide missions he completed during the war or the threat of atomic bombs. The patriarch made the statement after years of being berated by his wife for having a low-paying job. Ed’s father only understood the torture of living with his wife, but Ed experienced it firsthand. It is alleged that Clarnell had a borderline personality disorder and an alcohol abuse problem. Combined, both behavioral and psychological issues manifested through the rage, mistreatment and abuse she directed toward Ed. Clarnell’s behavior eventually drove Ed Kemper II away when Ed was nine, leaving him and his siblings to live with their mother.
Ed showed some disturbing behavior as a child, foreshadowing his future as a sexual deviant and murderer. For instance, he decapitated and snapped the hands of his sisters’ dolls. When asked why he destroyed their dolls, Ed confessed that he enjoyed hearing the pop sound they made when he popped their heads from their bodies or pulled their hands off their sockets. His favorite games, besides pretend-killing dolls, were two games he invented and called “Electric Chair” and “Gas Chamber.” As their names suggest, Ed was essentially cosplaying execution. He would ask one of his sisters to tie him up, after which he would sit in a chair and ask her to pretend to flip a switch. When the switch was pressed, Ed would move his limbs uncontrollably, tumble onto the ground, and writhe as if he was being electrocuted, before lying motionless on the floor. He begged his sisters to play “Gas Chamber” with him just as often.
His fantasies of death and execution extended beyond dolls to human beings. One time, his sister Susan caught him spying on and stalking one of his teachers. In typical child banter, Susan teased Ed about kissing his teacher, but he responded that for him to kiss her, he would have to kill her. Unknown to both Ted and Susan at the time, Ed’s words were a self-fulfilling prophecy since, in the future, he would kill women, including their mother, before assaulting them sexually.
Eventually, Clarnell caught on to Ed’s disturbing games and questionable fantasies, and attempted to separate him from his sisters by locking him away. However, she only worsened his disturbing behavior by isolating him, and which escalated from dolls to animals. He started by killing his family’s cat by burying it alive, but didn’t stop at killing it – he exhumed its body, ripped off its head, and stuck it on a spike as a trophy. A while later, Kemper killed a second cat for liking Allyn more than him. This time, he didn’t bury it, but instead kept its remains in his closet as a trophy, until his mother found them.
Nurturer or Torturer?
Ed’s childhood was egregious from the beginning, but he enjoyed some relatively calm years while his parents were still married. Things took a turn for the worst when they divorced and his father moved out of their house. Before, Ed’s father would protect him and show him love, but with him gone, the role of nurturing Ed and his sisters fell on Clarnell, who never once played the universal mother’s nurturing role where Ed was concerned. Rather, she tortured him, psychologically from the beginning by denying him a mother’s love, and later by isolating him from his family. Clarnell denied Ed Kemper any form of affection, claiming that affection and coddling would turn her son gay. She took her beliefs against spoiling him too far, and dehumanized him constantly by referring to him as a weirdo.
When Clarnell found out about the games that Ed begged his sisters to play with him, she was worried that he would hurt them. Her worries grew when she found the remains of the family’s dead cat in Ed’s closet, prompting her to take the drastic measure of locking Ed up in the basement every night to prevent him from molesting his sisters.
Psychologists and criminologists often claim that living down in the basement triggered Ed’s dark thoughts. However, Dary Matera, an author who talked to Ed for his book “Ed Kemper: Conversations with a Killer,” clarified that Ed Kemper wasn’t banished to a dark basement as popular theories claim; rather, the basement was a nice place for Ed. Besides, converting a basement into a bedroom is common in the United States. Kemper spoke up later, refuted Matera’s conclusion, and confirmed that the basement was a dark and windowless room, and his stay there fueled his hatred for his mother and induced dark thoughts. Ultimately, Clarnell’s erratic behavior, which was likely induced by alcohol and her borderline personality disorder, nudged Ed into acting on his fantasies about molesting and murdering women.
Maude and Edmund
When Ed was 15 years old, he was fed up with his mother’s abuse and mistreatment. He ran off to his father’s house, but Edmund Kemper II had remarried and started another family, and had a stepson who was about the same age as Ed, who quickly realized that he was unwanted – his father was devoted to his new family, and had no time for him. His father sent him back to his mother but, as she had demonstrated for years, she didn’t care for him either. With nowhere else to go, Ed turned to his paternal grandparents for the love and affection that had been denied to him for most of his life. As Ed spent more time with Edmund, his grandfather and Maude his grandmother, in California, he discovered an uncanny similarity between his grandparents’ relationship and the dynamic he had witnessed growing up between his father and mother. According to Kemper, Maude mirrored Clarnell’s behavior of undermining his father by emasculating Edmund. Kemper further accused her grandmother of emasculating him as well, to prove that she had more balls than any man. The only difference was that Edmund, Ed’s grandfather, had remained married to Maude while Ed’s father chose to leave and find happiness elsewhere.
On 28 August 1964, the Madera Tribune ran a chilling headline about a 15-year-old who had killed his grandparents. The previous day, Ed Kemper had snapped – while Edmund was out, Ed shot and killed his grandmother, and his grandfather met a similar fate when he returned home with the groceries he’d gone out to buy. According to the Madera Tribune, Ed gave two conflicting stories of the incident. In his first account, Ed stated that he killed the two people who had taken him in when his parents rejected him because he was angry at the world. Ed confessed that after shooting Maude and Edmund dead, he had called his mother, informed her of what he’d done, and then called the police and reported that he had shot at his grandmother by accident, but shot at his grandfather deliberately to prevent him from finding his dead wife’s body. During interrogation, Kemper changed his story, and made the chilling admission that his grandmother was in the house writing when he shot her thrice through the window, deliberately. He then stabbed her thrice to make sure that she was dead. When his grandfather came home, he was in a jovial mood and was smiling at Ed. Kemper panicked, walked behind his grandfather, and shot him to prevent the 72-year-old from discovering what his grandson had done.
Since Ed was a minor when he committed double homicide, his sentence was relatively lenient, the extraneous circumstances surrounding the case and his actions notwithstanding. He was sent to the Atascadero State Hospital, and committed to its unit for the criminally insane. Six years later, he was set free from the institution. Ed Kemper had three traits that helped him get out of the psychiatric facility, avoid suspicion, and succeed in luring his victims. First, he was a certified genius with an IQ of 145, although his half-brother, David, and sister, Susan, claimed that it was closer to the 180s, but Ed faked tests to show a lower IQ. Second, although he was huge in size, standing at 6ft 9ins, he had cultivated a persona of a gentle giant, even earning himself the nickname “Big Ed,” who didn’t raise any alarm bells among his neighbors, the people he interacted with, and his potential victims. Third, Ed was likable, a trait that made his childhood sympathetic, fooled his psychiatrists and case workers into releasing him when he turned 21, and even had the police officers who looked into his case doubting his involvement in the murders he was accused of, even after he confessed. Therefore, it didn’t take much for Ed to identify potential victims and lure them to their deaths.
For a long time, Ed fought the urge to hurt women. He confessed that he picked up more than 150 hitchhikers and dropped them off safely before he succumbed to the bloodlust. On 7 May 1972, Kemper picked up his third and fourth victims Mary Anne Pesce and Anita Luchesa. The two were friends who sought a ride to Stanford University, and didn’t hesitate to hitch a ride with Ed, who naturally appeared non-threatening due to his gentle and chivalrous demeanor. Once in his car, the gentle giant turned on the two girls – he drove them into a secluded forest, killed them, stuffed their bodies in his trunk, and drove home, where he used them to enact the sick and depraved fantasies of necrophilia he harbored since childhood, decapitated them, stuffed them in plastic bags, and disposed them of. Mary’s severed skull was found in 2017 but Anita’s remains were never found.
When the thrill of these kills wore off, Ed was back on the roads again, prowling for his next victim. This time, the unlucky hitchhiker was a 15-year-old girl, Alice Koo, who was on her way to a dance class when Kemper offered her a ride. Inside the vehicle, Alice was no match for the burly man; he subdued her and drove away. When she regained consciousness, he threatened her with a gun before blocking her airways again, killing her this time, before stuffing her body in the trunk and taking her home with him, where he used her body to satisfy his fantasies of necrophilia, dismembered it, and dumped it.
The following morning, a calm Kemper appeared before a group of psychiatrists for an evaluation. Once again, he fooled them into believing that he didn’t pose a danger to the public. The panel declared him fully rehabilitated and recommended that his juvenile records be sealed to give him a chance at a normal life. Unknown to the psychiatrists in the panel, their decision had condemned Ed Kemper’s next victims Cindy Shall, Allison Liu, Rosalind Thorpe and Sandy Hallett to death.
Ed’s time as a free man came full circle when he killed the woman he blamed for his murderous tendencies on 20 April 1973. That night, Clarnell came home from a party to find her son waiting for him. Initially, she thought that he wanted to stay up and talk but he quickly said his good nights and went to bed; only, he didn’t go to sleep. Instead, he waited and just as sleep overcame her, beat her to death with a claw hammer. Ed took out all the pent-up frustrations and anger he had accumulated towards his mother for years on her body. He slit her throat, chopped her head off, and had sex with it. He then tore out her larynx and tongue and tried to flush them down the sink, but they did not go down the garbage disposal. He would later tell the authorities where to find them. Ed then placed Clarnell’s head on a shelf like a trophy, and popped darts at it while screaming at it for over an hour. The heartless and depraved things he did to his mother indicate a deep-seated hatred for the woman, but Kemper confessed that his actions were driven by his concern that Clarnell would be ridiculed and embarrassed once people found out that her son was the “Co-Ed Killer.” When he was done, Ed called his mother’s best friend and killed her too, admittedly to avoid suspicion, before taking his mother’s car and driving to Colorado, having concluded his killing spree just as he had started it; with a double homicide.
Alive in California
Kemper turned himself in after his gruesome murder of his mother and her friend. He almost got away with the crime, since the police didn’t believe him at first. However, he was insistent. He directed the police to his mother’s house and described what he had done in detail, even telling them where to find the bodies and the parts of her mother’s corpse that he had ripped out. He then directed the police to his location and went with them willingly when they showed up.
Unlike other notorious serial killers such as the infamous Ted Bundy, who told conflicting stories and hid some details about his victims from the police, Kemper was forthcoming with information regarding his victims, and where he disposed of their remains. Ironically, he pleaded not guilty and claimed insanity, a plea the jury denied while finding him guilty of eight counts of murder. Since California had suspended the death penalty at the time of his trial and sentencing, Kemper received a life sentence to be served at a maximum-security facility. He is serving his sentence at the California Medical Facility, Vacaville, and is eligible for parole on 2024.