Edmund Emil Kemper III, is the slick, elusive sociopath with a genius IQ. Like Ted Bundy after him, he was the best of liars and the most brutal of killers.
Born in 1948, Kemper's parents divorced when he was still a child. His mother, Clarnell, worked at a college near their home in Santa Cruz, California. Her coworkers remember her as a kind, generous, hard worker. At home she was a harsh disciplinarian, doling out verbal and emotional abuse.
Clarnell Kemper's only son showed signs of the killer he would eventually become early in life. One of his favorite childhood games was to pretend he was being gassed in a gas chamber, writhing and gasping as if in death. While still very young, Edmund turned his violence on the family's pets, skinning his mother's cat and hiding the dismembered remains in his closet. (Such cruelty to animals is part of what experts refer to as the 'homicidal triad' - see The Criminal Mind.) His mother even described him to friends and family as a 'real weirdo'.
For Ed, familial love and nuturing were nonexistent. When the boy reached puberty and began to tower over his sisters, Clarnell moved all of her son's belongings into the basement, fearing that her son would sexually assault his sisters. Still not yet a teenager, Ed went on to spend many nights locked inside his subterranean bedroom.
Soon after being forced to move into the basement, Edmund was sent to live with his grandparents as the situation at home worsened. In August of 1963, he approached his grandmother from behind as the woman sat at her desk: she was shot execution-style and stabbed. His grandfather, Edmund explained, was killed because he knew that "Grandpa would be mad". Barely fifteen years old, Edmund was sent to a maximum security mental hospital. His explanation for the murders was that he had only wanted to see how it would feel to "shoot Grandma".
Six years later, at the age of 21, he was declared sane and no longer a threat to society or himself. Ordered to pay follow-up visits with a team of psychiatrists, Edmund was sent back to live with his mother. In the intervening years he had grown to six feet, nine inches and three hundred pounds of pent-up rage and sexual frustration. For Edmund, sex and violence were inextricably linked. He would later explain in FBI interviews, "I am sorry to sound so cold about this, but what I needed was to have a particular experience with a person, to possess them in the way I wanted to; I had to evict them from their bodies."
For two years his fantasies progressed, while Ed diligently kept up his psychiatric evaluations and honed his skills at picking up hitch hikers. Before the killings began he tried many tactics, including different ways of approaching and talking to the women he picked up, in order to choose the role that put his passenger the most at ease.
Edmund eventually began picking up young, hitchhiking college girls, a modus operandi which earned him the name 'Co-Ed Killer'. He would put them at ease intially, and when he felt that circumstances were right, would strangle or stab them, then decapitate their bodies. That done, he would take them home and rape their headless bodies as well as the severed heads themselves. In a few instances he cut open the abdominal cavity of his victims and masturbate into the wound. Kemper was vicious, but he also incredibly bold, decapitating one victim who lay in the trunk of his car - which was parked in front of his mother's home. Kemper was also skilled at disposing of his victims' remains, scattering some in the woods and burying others, often using multiple dump sites for the remains of the victims he dismembered. (In at least one instance, Kemper buried the head of a victim just outside his mothers's bedroom window. He would later tell investigators that his mother always wanted people to look up to her, and now they were.) All the while, Kemper was still attending regular meetings with a group of trained pyschologists. On the day the doctors declared Edmund fully rehabilitated and no longer a threat to society, he had the severed head of a fifteen year old girl in the trunk of his car.
While committing these heinous acts, Ed was also busy befriending the police working on his case: like most serial killers, he enjoyed reliving the gory details of his crimes while acting the part of a shocked, concerned citizen. The police were also stymied by the fact that at approximately the same time, two serial murderers were operating in close proximity. The number of victims was enormous and the list was clearly not getting any smaller.
Finally, on Easter weekend of 1973, Ed committed his last two crimes. He attacked his sleeping mother with a hammer, raped her body, and then used her severed head for a dartboard. He then cut out her larnyx and shoved it down the garbage disposal, but the machine could not break the tought tissue down and regurgitated it back into the sink. "That seemed appropriate," Ed said after his arrest, "as much as she'd bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years." He then telephoned his mother's best friend and invited her over for dinner. She was met at the door by Edmund, who beat her to death with a brick and then committed necrophilia with her body.
After murdering his mother and her friend, Kemper took to the highways, his hunting grounds. He made it as far as Colorado before he found a payphone and called his friends on the Santa Cruz police department to confess. Amazingly enough, the police did not believe him at first, although Kemper was insistent. He waited patiently in the phone booth until officers arrived to take him into custody.
Kemper was convicted of eight murders, and during the sentencing phase of his trial the judge asked Kemper what a suitable punishment would be. Ed replied, "Death by torture."
Instead, Kemper is spending the rest of his life in Vacaville, California's home for the criminally insane. While he is eligible for parole, by his own admission Edmund says he should never be released.
Kemper is one of the most deadly dangerous - and fascinating - serial killers of modern times in that he is extremely intelligent, articulate, and insightful, and is therefore able to offer investigators great insight into his own mind. He is, in fact, so ingratiating and pleasant that at times even those who should be the least vulnerable to his charms fall prey to them. In the late 1970's, FBI criminal profiler Robert Ressler interviewed Kemper several times as part of the Criminal Personality Research Project. Ressler became comfortable enough with Kemper that an interview was conducted one-on-one, with no other federal agent or law enforcement officer present. Upon concluding their discussion, Ressler, who was locked in a room with Kemper, pressed a buzzer to alert the guards that he was ready to leave. When no one came to unlock the door, Ressler pressed the buzzer again. After three attempts at summoning a guard Kemper spoke up. The following quotations are verbatim from Ressler's book, Whoever Fights Monsters. "Relax. They're changing the shift, feeding the guys in the secure areas. Might be fifteen, twenty minutes before they come and get you."
Kemper was playing the part of the master manipulator. He wasn't letting up either.
"If I went in apeshit in here, you'd be in a lot of trouble, wouldn't you? I could screw your head off and place it on the table to greet the guard."
According to Ressler, he tried to reason with Kemper, assuring that there would be trouble if anything untoward happened. Kemper replied, "What would they do - cut off my TV privileges?"
Kemper, Ressler knew, was exactly right. While killing Ressler might earn his extra time added to his sentence or a stint in solitary confinement, there wasn't much that could be done to Kemper that would be any worse than spending the rest of his life in prison. Not to mention killing a federal agent would undoubtedly give him great respect and notoriety in the prison population.
Ressler began hinting that he might be armed, telling Kemper that FBI men might be given special privileges for carrying weapons into a prison. When asked what the weapon might be, Ressler hedged, saying, "I'm not going to give away what I might have or where I might have it on me." Kemper pressed the issue, and finally asked, "[Is it] martial arts then? Karate? Got your black belt? Think you can take me?" The mood had shifted, and Ressler took this as an opportunity to begin a conversation about martial arts.
Finally, a guard appeared to allow Ressler to leave and return Kemper to his cell. As he was exiting the room, Kemper touched Ressler's shoulder and said, "You know I was just kidding, don't you?"
Robert Ressler has never again conducted an interview alone with a serial killer.
Edmund Kemper remains among the general population at Vacaville prison.