Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher

Prison Interviews

John Douglas
John Douglas
FBI Special Agents John Douglas and Robert R. Ressler became part of the Behavioral Science Unit at Quantico during its early years in the 1970s, and while they were on the road talking with local jurisdictions, they came up with the idea to visit prisons and interview notorious killers. They hoped to include this information in the data they were gathering about crimes being committed by those unknown suspects on whom they were offering profiles. A database about the traits and behaviors of known killers could offer a substantial backbone for their teachings. Douglas and Ressler both write about these visits in their books, and they were generally the team who did the prison interviews. "If you want to understand the artist," Douglas writes in Mindhunter, "look at his work."

Robert Ressler
Robert Ressler
They contacted different types of offenders, including mass murderers, assassins, and serial killers, and collected data on 118 victims, including some who had survived an attempted murder. The goal was to gather information about how the murders were planned and committed, what the killers did and thought about afterward, what kinds of fantasies they had, and what they did before the next incident. Edmund Kemper was among the 36 men who agreed to be interviewed, and Ressler had a hair-raising story about it. (Kemper has told private correspondents, who related it to this author, that he sneers at these tales and that a psychiatrist who visited him tells the same story in some attempt to make it seem as if these interviews were truly dangerous. On the other hand, he may well have done this with several people simply because he enjoyed playing this trick. Chenry relates a similar story about a female correspondent who may have reminded Kemper of Sara Hallett.)

Ressler, who includes a photo of himself posing with Kemper, says that at the end of his third interview at Vacaville Prison, Kemper made his move. In two previous visits, Ressler says that he was accompanied by someone else, but this time, he thought that he had achieved a rapport with Kemper, so he ventured in alone. They ended up in a small, locked cell near death row for four hours. Ressler finally used a button to summon a guard, but no one came. He continued to talk and press the button, and still no one came. He says that Kemper was sensitive to his psyche and he believed he must have appeared apprehensive, for he claimed that Kemper told him to relax and then said, "If I went 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."

Ressler mentally sparred with him, trying to buy time and hoping to give the impression that he had a way to defend himself. Eventually the guard came, and Kemper said that he had merely been kidding, but Ressler never again went alone to an interview with him.

Douglas , too, describes an encounter in Mindhunter, indicating that he and Ressler did several prison interviews over the years with Kemper, and he offers quite a bit of detailed information about Kemper, having found him to be among the brightest prison inmates he'd ever interviewed.



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