It may sound morbid to say I have favorite serial killers, but I don’t mean it in the sense that I like the way they killed or that they exist at all. I just find them fascinating. We as humans have rules that we like to keep in order to feel safe, rules that respect the lives of the other people around us. When people decide they are above those rules or that those rules don’t apply to them we question their sanity. How did they get this way? Were they biologically destined to be different or did the environment they live in make them become unstable? There is a lot of discussion among psychologists and psychiatrists about these very questions.
Serial killers have been a subject of interest for decades. I’ve actually made a few friends thanks to my obsession with them. Over the next few months I’m going to discuss serial killers I find especially interesting and I thought I would start with the one I find the most fascinating: Edmund Kemper III. Also known as the “Co-Ed Killer”.
Note: There is discussion of murder and sexual assault that may make some readers uncomfortable. Please read at your own discretion.
Edmund Kemper III was born in December 1948 in Burbank California. His murders took place from 1964 to 1973. They were happening during the same time as two other serial killers were at large which caused the Los Angeles area to become known as the Murder Capitol of the world.
Ed’s parents did not have a happy marriage. Ed’s mother was verbally abusive towards his father and his father finally couldn’t take it anymore and left the family when Ed was only nine years old. Ed saw his father as a war hero and idolized him. He hated his mother. His mother, Clarnell, was also verbally abusive to Ed. She didn’t mistreat her daughters, just Ed. She would yell at him for any little thing and made him sleep in the basement because she was afraid he would harm his sisters.
When Ed was a kid he tortured and killed animals. He would play games with his sisters where he would roll them up in a rug and they would see who could escape the fastest. He got a kick out of watching his sisters struggle. His mother would belittle him. She would make fun of his size. At fifteen he was already 6 foot 4 inches tall. His mother’s hatred towards him caused him to entertain dark fantasies of hurting her and others.
At fifteen he decided he wanted to go live with his father so he ran away to be with him. When he got there he discovered his father was remarried and that he had a step brother. He didn’t like his stepbrother and his step mother had a bad feeling about Ed. She finally told her husband that Ed had to go. So Edmund II sent fifteen year old Ed to live with his paternal grandparents on their farm.
Immediately Ed realized that his grandmother was a lot like his mother. She was domineering and verbally abusive. Ed and his grandmother would get into arguments all the time. One day, while his grandfather was in town running errands, Ed and his grandmother were having a particularly bad argument. Ed grabbed his .22 rifle and shot her in the head. When his grandfather pulled up Ed decided it would be better if he killed his grandfather than to let him see his wife dead. So he met his grandfather outside and shot him in the head too.
He didn’t know what to do so he called his mother. She told him he needed to call the police and turn himself in, so he did. He was arrested and taken to Atascadero State Hospital after being deemed mentally incompetent. He stayed there until he was twenty one. When asked why he killed his grandparents he simply said, “I wanted know what it would be like to kill grandma.”
During his imprisonment he was evaluated by multiple psychiatrists. They did not believe that Ed suffered from paranoid schizophrenia, as he was originally diagnosed, but re-diagnosed him with Passive aggressive personality disorder. He was highly intelligent with an IQ of 140. He learned how his psychiatrists worked, and even helped evaluating other inmates, and used it to his advantage. At the age of 21 he had successfully convinced his doctors and social workers that he was no longer a danger to society so they released him. I’m sure to this day those who were involved in this decision are having a hard time living with it still.
Ed went back to live with his mother after his release. His mother had remarried and divorced and was working at a local community college. Ed started attending that same college. This is when it started getting bad. Ed and his mother were constantly fighting, he started dating a sixteen year old and he had gotten injured in an auto accident while on his motorcycle. His dark fantasies were still with him and they finally took over on May 7, 1972.
Ed had been picking up hitchhikers for months but on this particular day he decided he was going to kill the two girls he picked up. Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa were two eighteen year old college students who were looking for a ride to Stanford University. Ed picked them up and drove to a wooded area where he stabbed and strangled both women and stuffed them in his trunk. He then drove back to his apartment, took photos of the dead bodies, had sex with them and then dismembered them. Mary Ann’s remains were later found near Loma Prieta Mountain, Anita’s remains were never found.
He went on to kill four other women. Aiko Koo, a fifteen year old girl that he killed and left in his trunk while he went to have a beer at a local bar that his police friends frequented. Cindy Schall, who’s skull he kept for several days for sex and buried in his backyard, facing up at his mother’s bedroom window. Rosalind Thorpe and Allison Lui who he picked up, shot and beheaded in his car right in the street in front of his mother’s house. All of these women he kept for a few days to have sex with then dismembered and discarded their bodies.
He finally hit his target on April 20, 1973. His mother came home late from a party that night. He waited for her to fall asleep then he beat her to death with a claw hammer. He removed her head and had sex with it. He then used it as a dart board. He put her larynx in the garbage disposal in an effort to, “shut her up forever.” He finally stuffed her body in a closet.
He thought of how to get away with it, since her coworkers would notice when she didn’t show up for work. So he invited his mother’s best friend over for a surprise dinner. She arrived and Ed killed her, cut off her head and stuffed her in the closet. With the two of them missing, people would assume they went off on a weekend trip together and not worry. Ed took off.
He decided in the end it wasn’t worth the stress of being on the run. He turned himself in. His cop friends thought he was joking. They couldn’t believe that their friend, who had wanted to become a cop himself, was the one who had been responsible for the co-ed killings. He was charged for eight counts of first degree murders and sentenced to life in prison. He’s still in prison to this day.
The thing I find so fascinating about Ed Kemper is his ability to manipulate his doctors into thinking he was okay enough to be back in society. He used his intelligence to gain his freedom and then acted on his violent, dark thoughts. He hated his mother so much that it caused him to take it out on other women. I’m also fascinated with how much a mother can impact a child’s psyche. He justified killing and completely destroy those women because he was too afraid to kill his mother, who was the intended target. As a mother to boys it makes me worry about my own parenting. But if Ed had grown up in a stable home with a loving mother would he have been different? Or would he have still been a killer, just because of his brain chemistry?
What do you think?