Co-Ed Killer, Edmund Kemper: A Case Study in Abuse

Co-Ed Killer Documentary

Of all the serial killers in American history, The Co-Ed Killer, Edmund Kemper, may have been the one that stood no chance of ever being anything else. The nature vs. nurture argument will always be debated among criminologists and psychologists. When it comes to Edmund Kemper, it may be said that he was genetically prone towards violent behavior, but his upbringing assured that his murderous nature would emerge and determine the entire course of his life.

Co-ed Killer Edmund Kemper
Co-ed Killer Edmund Kemper

On December 18, 1948, Kemper was born to Clarnell Elizabeth Kemper (1921–1973) and Edmund Emil Kemper Jr. (1917–1985). Although Edmund, Jr., showed love to his son when he could, he simply could not continue to live with Clarnell, who was an abusive woman in regards to both her husband and her son. Kemper’s father was a World War II veteran who parlayed his military experience into a career as an electrician, following his tour of duty. When Edmund Jr. left Clarnell, he indicated that living with her was far worse than being on the front lines in the military or any of the nuclear arms testing he did in his immediate post-war career. Clarnell did not like being married to a simplistic electrician and emasculated her husband on a regular basis. Edmund III, (our serial killer, referred to as “Ed” from here on), saw the way his mother treated his dad and also received various levels of emasculation from his mother. She was known to lock him in the basement, knowing full well that he was terrified of the dark. After his father left, Ed was relegated to sleeping in the basement, while his mother and sister slept upstairs. Ed would later attribute the development of his psychosis to this treatment by his mother, noting that he eventually came to see the basement as his virtual “hell” which he contrasted with the upstairs, or “heaven,” where his mother and sister slept. Ed feared the dark but his mother would beat him if he slept with the basement light on. He was figuratively damned to hell in his own mind.

Although Ed was exceptionally intelligent (he would later be tested at an I.Q. of 140), his mother constantly told him how stupid he was and belittled him as a “freak” for his unusual size. He was 13 lbs. at birth and a head taller than his classmates by the age of four. By the time he was an adult, he stood 6’9″. As the stress piled on him, Ed began to have the first of his dark fantasies and by the age of 10 he had killed the family cat and buried it where the family couldn’t find it. He later took pleasure in the fact that he was able to kill the cat and successfully lie to his family about it. It was only when his mother fiend pieces of the cat in his closet that she began to see that there was something really wrong with Ed. Rather than find him help, she doubled down on the abuse. Ed also maintained a tenuous relationship with his sister, who was favored by his mother. On occasion, he would steal her dolls and sever their heads, placing them on a stick. It was a foreshadowing of things to come. On a couple of occasions his sister may have tried to kill him, onc by pushing him in front of a moving train and another time by pushing him into the deep end of a pool where he nearly drowned.

Ed’s parents separated in 1957, leaving him devastated because he had actually maintained a decent relationship with his father. Ed was nine when his father moved away to California, leaving him behind with his mother and sister in Montana. Over the next couple of years, Ed’s relationship with his mother worsened, prompting him to run away and find his father in Van Nuys. The relationship dynamic between Ed and his father changed from what it had previously been, though, because his father had remarried and now had a stepson, who he seemed to favor over his own son. It was only a short time before Ed’s father had made the decision to send Ed away. Ed would go to live with his father’s parents in North Fork, California, but this would not be the opportunity Ed needed to soothe his soul. Instead, Ed found that his grandmother was as equally abusive as his mother had been. It seems that Kemper men were drawn to strong, abusive, emasculating women. Ed’s grandfather was nearly senile, so his grandmother turned her abusive intent towards Ed. By this time, Ed’s psychosis was nearing full development.

At the age of 15, in 1964, Ed shot his his grandmother in the head with a shotgun, following an argument that had enraged him when he was no doubt abused by her. Ed’s grandmother was shot twice in the head and once in the back for good measure. Some reports have indicated additional stab wounds as well. Not knowing of his wife’s death, Ed’s grandfather returned home from getting groceries only to find Ed meeting him in the driveway with his shotgun. Ed later said that he killed his grandfather, not out of rage, but because he didn’t want his grandfather to live out the rest of his life with the knowledge of what Ed had done to his wife. Not knowing what to do next, Ed called his mother and told her what had happened. Following her admonition, Ed called the police and confessed to his crimes. Ed was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to a maximum security state mental hospital. Law enforcement and the courts could not bring themselves to believe that he was anything but mentally ill to have completed these crimes at such a young age.

Ed proved to be a model patient and was soon assisting the psychiatrists in the facility with the administration of psychological tests. It was here that he was tested and found to have an I.Q. of 145. Because of this and his good behavior he was deemed as a non-threat to the staff and other patients; this elevated him to his role as an assistant. It was during this time that Ed learned from other mental patients how to manipulate the results of psychological tests to fool the system. It was also here that he learned from sex offenders that it was best to murder a woman after raping her so as to avoid detection by the police. Ed was learning and he would soon be set free where he would put his education to use.

When Ed turned 21, he was released back into society, but not just anywhere. He placed back in the custody of him mom while he was on his probationary period. He made some positive strides towards integrating back into society. He attended community college and had a strong desire to become a policeman. However, restrictions on the height of officers prevented Ed from ever applying to serve on the police force as we was a full 6’9″ by this time. He did, however, befriend the local police officers in Santa Cruz, where his mother now lived. Known affectionately as “Big Ed” by the local police, Ed would fly under the police radar when he began to act out again; local officers simply couldn’t believe that “Big Ed” committed any of the crimes that they were now investigating.

Little did the police know, Ed’s relationship with his mother was now back in full psychotic bloom. Ed had managed to hold down a job for a while with the Department of Transportation, allowing him to save enough money to move away. Ed eventually moved to Alameda, CA, to escape his mother, but she would continue to belittle him over the phone and come to see him on surprise visits. Ed was briefly engaged during this time to a high school friend who he became reacquainted with in Alameda. The engagement would eventually be broken off when Ed was arrested in 1973 for eight murders.

Between 1972 and 1973, Ed began picking up hitchhikers when he noticed a large number of women hitching rides in the area. Over several months he picked up and released over 150 women during his “warming up” period. It was during this time that his homicidal urges began to grow and overtake him. Ed would gather plastic bags, handcuffs and other tools needed to act out on and carry out his urges. From May 1982 to April 1973, Ed would eventually pick up and kill six college co-eds, earning him the name of the Co-Ed Killer. These were no ordinary abduction murders, though, as Ed would take his victims to an isolated place where he would either stab, shoot or strangle them. After that, he would take the corpse home, sever the head, have oral sex with the head and then later with the decapitated corpse before dismembering and disposing of the bodies.

All of this was ramping up to the culmination of Ed’s activities. Each woman served as a surrogate for his mother who he really wished to direct his rage towards. Once he had desensitized himself to the killing process, he would turn his attention to his mother. After a night of partying with her friend Sally Hallett, Clarnell would return home one night in a loud drunken stupor that awakened Ed. Ed promptly waited for his mother to fall asleep and then proceeded to beat her with a claw hammer and slit her throat. He then repeated his decapitation and oral sex process on her before placing her head on a shelf in his room where he would use it for a dart board up until the time of his arrest. In one last attempt to finally stop his mother’s bitching, Ed removed her tongue, larynx and vocal cords, placing them in the garbage disposal.

The next day, Ed calmly called her friend Sally and invited her over for dinner with him and his mother. She accepted, not knowing what fate was awaiting her. Ed strangled her in an attempt to create a cover story that she and his mom had left on a trip, thus accounting for Clarnell’s absence. Ed placed Sally in an upstairs closet and left a note attached to her body for the police to find. He then fled to Pueblo, Colorado, before stopping at a phone booth to call and confess what he had done. It was during that 1000 mile or so trip that Ed came to grips with what he had done and realized the folly of it all. He therefore turned himself in and was arrested without a fight, although he had originally fled with a car full of ammo, anticipating an manhunt and a battle to follow. Exhausted, Ed Kemper was done killing. He had killed for one purpose, to remove his abusive mother from his life once and for all.

Ed was deemed sane to stand trial. His detailed confession and the inability of three court-appointed psychiatrists to find him insane would lead to his trial and subsequent imprisonment. During the trial, Ed tried to play the insanity card, but the jury simply did not buy it and Kemper was found guilty on all charges. He was sentenced to seven concurrent life sentences, but was eligible for parole as early as 1979. He was denied parole several years in a row and eventually waived his own parole hearing in 1985. He has repeated this several times over the last two decades. He will next be eligible for parole in 2024.


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Coming soon:

Co-Ed Killer in popular culture

Co-Ed Killer Ed Kemper legacy

Co-Ed Killer Edmund Kemper ranking

Edmund Kemper, Co-Ed Killer in Mind Hunter



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