Edmund Kemper, who would later be nicknamed the “Co-ed Butcher,” was arrested for the second time in 1973. By then, he had already killed 10 people, including his paternal grandparents and his own mother. It was his brutal crimes against hitchhiking young women that earned him his moniker, however, and his hulking stature and unusually high IQ that led him to be immortalized in the annals of American serial killers—and featured in the hit Netflix series Mindhunter.
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Turbulent Early Life
Kemper was born in Burbank, California in 1948. He was close with his father but had a toxic, combative relationship with his mother, with whom he was sent to live after his parents separated when he was just nine years old. Even then, Kemper already had a strange and morbid streak. His favorite games as a child included playing “Gas Chamber” or “Electric Chair,” in which he would pretend to be a prisoner being executed.
The young Kemper also exhibited early cruelty to animals, including slaying two family cats—one by burying it alive. Another he cut up and kept parts of its corpse in his closet until his mother discovered them.
Never a small child, by the time he ran away from home to reunite with his father at the age of 14, Kemper was nearly 6’4”. As an adult, he would top out at a whopping 6’9”. Before then, however, he had already committed his first murders.
When Kemper ran away to be with his father, the two lived together for only a short time before Kemper was sent to stay with his paternal grandparents on a ranch in the mountains near North Fork, California. Kemper described his grandmother as “constantly emasculating me and my grandfather” and in 1964, he’d had enough.
Following an argument, Kemper got a rifle and shot his grandmother once in the head and twice in the back. According to some reports, her body also showed signs of repeated postmortem stab wounds from a kitchen knife. Then, when Kemper’s grandfather returned from grocery shopping, his grandson met him in the driveway and shot him, too. He was 15 years old at the time.
When Kemper turned himself in, he told authorities that he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma.” He was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to Atascadero State Hospital, where he spent the next 6 years.
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By all accounts, Kemper was a model inmate at Atascadero, and by his 21st birthday, he was considered cured and was released on probation into the care of his mother. “If I were to see this patient without having any history available or getting any history from him,” his probation psychiatrist wrote, “I would think that we’re dealing with a very well adjusted young man who had initiative, intelligence and who was free of any psychiatric illnesses.”
Initiative, Kemper certainly had to spare. Released in 1969, by 1972 Kemper had committed the first in a series of murders that would land him back in prison and in the annals of American serial killers. His victims were primarily young women whom he picked up hitchhiking. Yet, before he slew his first, he picked up as many as 150 other hitchhikers before letting them out safely at their destination.
All during this time, he was driving around with plastic bags, handcuffs, blankets, and knives stored in his 1969 Ford Galaxie. Then, in May of 1972, he felt the first of what he called his “little zapples”—homicidal sexual urges.
He picked up two young women who were hitchhiking on the way to Stanford University. Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa were to become the first of Kemper’s new string of victims. He handcuffed one while locking the other in the trunk, before murdering them both, taking their bodies back to his apartment, photographing, dismembering, and sexually assaulting their corpses.
Pesce and Luchessa were the first, but not the last. Four months later, Kemper picked up 15-year-old Aiko Koo, a dance student who had missed her bus. He drove her to a remote area and pulled a gun on her before choking her unconscious then raping and killing her.
In the first two months of 1973, Kemper slew three more victims, always decapitating them and engaging in necrophiliac intercourse with the bodies. It was not until April of that year that Kemper’s killing spree reached its inevitable crescendo, however. On April 20, 1973, Edmund Kemper was living with his mother, in whose home he had disposed of the bodies of several women.
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Edmund Kemper's Mother
That night, Edmund Kemper came into his mother’s house while she slept and bludgeoned her with a claw hammer before slitting her throat. He decapitated her body, sexually assaulted her severed head, and then placed it on a shelf and “screamed at it for an hour.” Kemper threw darts at his mother's head, cut out her tongue and vocal cords and attempted to put them down the garbage disposal, and ultimately “smashed her face in.”
After putting Kemper's mother’s corpse in a closet and going out for a drink at a bar, he returned home and invited over his mother’s best friend, 59-year-old Sally Hallett. Upon her arrival, he strangled Sally to death, then he fled the scene. He left behind a note for the police which read, “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!!!”
Where is Edmund Kemper now?
Kemper drove non-stop to Pueblo, Colorado, expecting to be the subject of a nationwide manhunt. When no such pursuit was forthcoming, he phoned the police and turned himself in. “The original purpose was gone,” Kemper said, when asked why he gave himself up. “It was just a pure waste of time.”
By November of 1973, Kemper had been found guilty of the eight murders he had committed since his release just four years earlier. Upon hearing the verdict, Kemper requested the death penalty, asking for “death by torture,” but the State of California had no such penalty at the time, and so he was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences.
While serving his sentences, Edmund Kemper engaged in numerous interviews which he said were meant to save others like himself from indulging their murderous impulses. His interviews with FBI profiler John E. Douglas informed the modern understanding of serial killer pathologies—and found their way into the Netflix series Mindhunter. Kemper’s interviews have also been sampled in numerous songs, including “Fortress” by System of a Down.
Now, Edmund Kemper is still alive, currently incarcerated in the California Medical Facility.