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Crime News Kemper on Kemper: Inside The Mind of a Serial Killer

'The Co-Ed Killer' Ed Kemper: Then And Now

Between 1964 and 1973, serial killer Ed Kemper murdered 10 people, including his mother and grandparents.

By Benjamin H. Smith

Between 1964 and 1973, Ed Kemper killed 10 people, including his mother and grandparents, and put the town of Santa Cruz, California, on edge as “The Co-Ed Killer.” Like his more prolific contemporary Ted Bundy, he embodied many of the attributes we typically think when discussing serial killers. He had an unhappy childhood, suffered abuse and rejection and exhibited both high intelligence and social awkwardness.

As a boy, Kemper killed animals and played with their remains before eventually murdering women and having sex with their corpses. His body count began with the murder of his grandparents when he was just 15 years old and climaxed with the back-to-back murders of his mother and her best friend in April 1973.

The most striking aspect of Ed Kemper is his enormous size — he stands at 6 foot 9 inches tall and clocks in at well over 250 pounds. His intimidating physical presence, however, masked a supposedly genius level IQ, capable of insightful self-analysis and, some say, dastardly acts of psychological manipulation.

Since turning himself in to police in the wake of his mother’s murder, Kemper has sat down with a number of interviewers and spoken frankly about his crimes.

Early Life

Edmund Emil Kemper III was born in Burbank, California, on December 18, 1948, the middle child and only son of Clarnell Elizabeth Kemper and Edmund Emil Kemper II, a World War II Veteran and electrician. His parents’ marriage was an unhappy one, and the couple divorced in 1957, after which Clarnell moved the family to Montana. She was allegedly an alcoholic and would often lock Ed in the basement for fear that he might harm his sisters.

Kemper was unusually large even at a young age, which his mother constantly teased him about.

“Anytime he tried to talk to her about girls, she would say something about girls never wanting to date someone as ugly as him,” his half-brother David Weber told the UK’s Daily Mail in 2017.

He soon began acting out, cutting the heads and hands off his older sister’s dolls, killing two of the family’s pet cats and performing grisly rituals with their dead bodies.

Teenage Years

When Ed Kemper was 15 years old, he ran away from home and ended up at his father’s house in Southern California. Now remarried with another son, his father wasn’t happy about the visit from his large awkward teenager.

Kemper would later tell Front Page Detective Magazine, “He didn't want me around, because I upset his second wife.”

As a result, he was “shipped off” to live with his paternal grandparents in rural North Fork, California. There, Kemper frequently butted heads with his domineering grandmother.

“I became a walking time bomb and I finally blew,” he told the magazine.

On August 27, 1964, Kemper fatally shot his grandmother as she sat at the kitchen table, then killed his grandfather when he returned from the grocery store. Then, he called his mother and patiently waited for police to arrive.

After being taken into custody, Kemper was committed to Atascadero State Hospital, an all-male, maximum security facility that houses California’s criminally insane. While there, he was given an IQ test and tested at a genius level. He was considered a model prisoner and often helped the hospital’s psychiatric staff administer tests.


In 1969, on his 21st birthday, Ed Kemper was granted parole and released into the care of his mother, who now went by the name Clarnell Strandberg. He moved into her duplex apartment in Aptos, California, which was near her job at the University of California Santa Cruz.

In accordance with his parole terms, Ed attended community college. He wanted to become a police officer, however, his enormous size made him ineligible. Instead, he spent his free time at The Jury Room, a bar across the street from the Santa Cruz Courthouse, which was a popular hangout for off-duty cops. There, he picked their brains about police work, making mental notes for his future crime spree. The cops liked him so much they even nicknamed him “Big Ed.” He later got a job with the State of California Highway Department.

In May 1972, Kemper was no longer able to suppress his violent, misogynistic urges and murdered hitchhikers Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Mary Luchessa. Afterwards, he brought their dead bodies back to his apartment and had sex with them, as well as with their severed heads. He then fully dismembered them and disposed of their remains.  

Over the following year, Ed Kemper would kill another four women, all of whom were pretty young college students, leading to his moniker, “The Co-Ed Killer.” In all four cases, he picked women up while they were hitchhiking, murdered them and took their bodies to another site, where he had sex with them. Later, he would dismember them and dispose of their remains.  

Kemper’s final murders occurred on Easter weekend 1973, when he killed his mother in her sleep, then mutilated her corpse and had sex with it. The next day, he invited his mother’s best friend over for dinner, strangled and beheaded her and performed sex acts with her remains.

Kemper fled Santa Cruz and drove to Pueblo, Colorado, where, on April 24, 1973, he called an officer he knew on the Santa Cruz Police force and turned himself in. He was found guilty on eight counts of murder and sentenced to life in prison on November 9, 1973.

Prison Life

Edmund Kemper is currently incarcerated at California Medical Facility state prison in Vacaville, California. The prison has also housed Charles Manson, Manson Family killer Bobby Beausoleil and fellow serial killer Juan Corona at various points over the years. He is among the general population of the prison, and, much like his incarceration at Atascadero, he is considered a model inmate.

At CMF, Kemper participated in what was known as “The Blind Project,” where inmates created books on tape for the blind. According to a 1987 article in the Los Angeles Times, Kemper ran the program, and has readings of several hundred books to his credit. A recording of him reading from the 1979 gothic horror pulp novel "Flowers In The Attic" went viral last year. He also enjoys making ceramic mugs, some of which have come to market. Now 69 years old, Kemper has since 1985 waived his right to a parole hearing.  

According to attorney Scott Currey, “He’s just as happy going about his life in prison.”

Since his incarceration, Kemper has sat down for interviews with a number of psychiatrists and members of law enforcement and spoken candidly about his crimes. His interviews with FBI Special Agent John E. Douglas were featured prominently in the book "Mindhunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit."

To learn more about "The Co-Ed Killer," watch "Kemper on Kemper: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer" on Saturday, October 20 at 8/7c.

[Photo: Getty Images]