Burbank, California, Edmund Kemper would commit his first murders by the young
age of 16. However, his deviant behavior began long before that. The bulk of
his murders follow a specific modus operandi: young, female hitchhikers who he
would strangle. While he murdered others in different ways, he is widely known
as ‘The Co-Ed Killer’, a nickname derived from the murders of the female
students he would strangle. Kemper’s primary classification would be hedonistic,
but more specifically, a lust killer. After murdering his victims, he would
dissect the bodies, often performing various sexual acts afterwards.
This sexually deviant behavior
began when he was a child, where – according to Serial Killers and Psychopaths written by Charlotte Greig and John
Marlowe – “he began to torture and kill animals, and used his sisters’ dolls in
acting out aberrant sexual fantasies and situations” (177). It would later manifest itself in more gruesome,
malicious ways when his victims progressed from dolls to young women. According
to the same book, “Ed Kemper was once asked what he thought when he saw a young
girl in the street, and replied, ‘One side of me says I’d like to talk to her
and date her. The other side of me says I wonder how her head would look on a
stick?'” (182). To my knowledge, he never carried out this specific fantasy,
but he did place his mother’s decapitated head on the ledge of a fireplace before
proceeding to use it as a dartboard.
Though the murders he’s most
infamous for were completed by means of strangulation, this was not his only
method. His first murders, the murder of his paternal grandparents, took place
with a shotgun. The murder of his grandmother could have been a crime of passion,
as it’s unsure whether or not his motivations were premediated or whether the
murder happened because of the argument that transpired just moments prior to
her death. His grandfather was not there at the time, but was shot as he was
exiting his vehicle upon his arrival home. His mother was murdered through the
use of a pick hammer.
The fact that Kemper desired
attention from his murders could leave some to question whether he could be
described as a thrill killer, or those who kill and/or taunt the police to
experience some sort of rush. While he does fit that specific criteria, lust
killer would be a more appropriate classification for him because of the sexually
deviant behavior that took place after the murders. He even went as far as to
take several photographs for keepsakes during the dissection process.
For the murder of his grandparents,
Kemper was part of the 1% who received a plea of insanity. He spent years in a
a psychiatric facility, but was released at a fairly young age. Part of his
parole stipulation was to be reviewed regularly by two psychiatrists. A day
after the rape and murder of 15-year-old Aiko Koo, the psychiatrists expressed
that “he was no longer a danger” to society (Psychopaths and Serial Killers, pg. 180). For the crimes committed
later in his life, his attempt at the same plea as before was denied.
Because of this killer’s
similarities to Ted Bundy, a killer who also preyed upon young co-eds and partook
in the act of necrophilia, it’s fair to assume that his profile matches that of
common serial killer myths and stereotypes. One stereotype or myth that we can associate
Kemper with is the idea that serial killers, on some level, all want to receive
the notoriety spawned from their murders, and therefore have a desire to be
captured. This is true in Kemper’s case, proved when he turned himself in – not
once, but twice. Additionally, it can be argued that – like Bundy – Kemper was
fairly intelligent. While I’m unsure of his numerical IQ, he attended college
after being released from the psychiatric institution he was confined to after
his first murders, where he earned above average grades. At this point in time,
he even aspired to become a police officer himself.
While I’m unsure as to whether or
not we discussed the stereotype or myth of serial killers wanting to keep mementos
from their victims, it’s one I’ve seen perpetrated by the media often. For
example, Normal Bates in the television adaption Bates Motel, kept artifacts
from those he murdered. Arguably, one could say that Kemper fit this myth as
well due to the photographs he took, but the majority of the time, there’s no
evidence to suggest this is a fact among all serial killers.
In conclusion, Edmund Kemper was a
notorious lust killer. He killed both family members and strangers alike, with
sexual activity present perimortem and postmortem. His crimes were similar to
Ted Bundy’s, both killers primarily preying on young students and engaging in necrophilia.
After being charged for the first-degree murders of eight people and being
denied for the death penalty, Kemper is still serving his life sentence as a
Medical Corrections Facility in California.