Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods


The Usual Suspects — Kemper

A number of well-known serial killers have admitted to a necrophilic bent, among them:

Edmund Kemper
Edmund Kemper

Few killers have stopped killing on their own, but after eight murders, Edmund Kemper III, 25, had had enough. In 1973, he called the police in California and turned himself in. Then he confessed in detail to what he had done to his victims and it was evident that he was not only fond of post-mortem mutilation, but also that parts of bodies—particularly the heads—excited him into clandestine sexual acts.

He'd first murdered when he was 15, taking a rifle to both of his grandparents because he wanted to feel what it was like to kill someone. Up until that point, he'd only killed cats. Placed in an institution, he learned all he needed to know to impress the psychiatrists, and at the age of 21 he was released into his mother's care in Santa Cruz, California. However, he hated his mother. She verbally abused him and made him feel self-conscious about his six-foot-nine inch frame. He was socially inept and her belittling attitude made things worse. So by the time he was 24, he started picking up female hitchhikers.  

In Why: The Serial Killer in America, Margaret Cheney documents Kemper's revelations, along with a history of how he became the kind of person he was. For CourtTV's The System, Kemper himself spoke about his problems. He was clearly an intelligent man with provocative insights about his behavior.

Once he had his chosen victims in his car, he'd take them to a secluded spot and shoot or stab them to kill them quickly. Then he shoved them into the trunk of his car to take them home. While his mother slept, Kemper brought the bodies inside to behead and dismember them. He also had sex with them, sometimes with just the heads. From a few of the girls he cut off pieces of flesh to cook and consume. He murdered in this way six times, and on two occasions, he killed two girls at once and kept their bodies in his room. He buried one girl's head in the backyard, arranged to look at the house, because it thrilled him to know it was there. Even when he went for—and passed—a follow-up psychiatric examination, he had the head of one of his victims (a girl of 15) in the trunk of his car. That same day, the psychiatric team judged that he presented no threat to society.

The day before Easter in 1973, he finally turned his rage against its true target: his mother. She was in bed and he took a hammer and bashed her in the head until it was clear that she was dead. He removed her head and placed her larynx into the garbage disposal. Then he used the head for a dart game. Afterward he invited a friend of his mother's over for dinner and when she arrived, he killed her, too.

That was the end of the line. That's when he brought his killing spree to a close. When asked what should be his proper punishment, he said that he ought to be tortured to death. In prison, he gave several interviews to mental health professionals and FBI profilers, and they gained a wealth of information about his particular fetish with bodies.

About decapitating the girls, Kemper said that the idea came from a fantasy he'd had in childhood. "It was something I'd always wanted to do."  He described the rush from removing one girl's head. "There was actually a sexual thrill. And, in fact, there was almost a climax to it. It was kind of an exalted, triumphant thing."  In part it was the physical effort of killing them that brought on the physical titillation. With the woman who was hardest to kill, he actually achieved orgasm at the moment of her death. In his final analysis, when contemplating whether he'd have achieved the same pleasure from killing a man, he thought not: there was just a thrill about having a woman around, he said, dead or alive.  

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