Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher


Douglas offers a detailed impression of Kemper. Indeed, he was surprised that Kemper had even agreed to talk with them. Douglas thought he was merely curious about them and their agenda. His first impression was that the killer was enormous. "He could easily have broken any of us in two." But it was also clear that Kemper was well above average in intelligence, with a high degree of self-awareness. He apparently also liked to talk; Douglas indicates that Kemper talked with them for several hours. Because they had researched his file in detail and knew about his crimes, he soon realized that they were aware when he was attempting to deceive them. Ultimately, he relaxed and talked openly.

Edmund Kemper, chained
Edmund Kemper, chained
Kemper seemed distant and analytical to Douglas , and wasn't emotionally moved except when he referred to his mother's treatment of him. He believed that because he looked like his father, she hated him and used him as a target for her frustrations. He claimed that his mother made him sleep in a windowless basement because she was afraid he would molest his sister. In this dark place, he said, he allowed his hatred of women to fester and grow. His mother made him feel dangerous and shameful, so he had killed the two family cats. As he grew up, his feelings only intensified, although he continued to live with his mother - the person he most hated. Because he had learned about psychological assessment in such detail, he knew how to describe himself in the proper psychiatric jargon. "He knew all the buzzwords," writes Douglas .

What interested Douglas and Ressler most was the way in which Kemper saw what he was doing to people as a game. He figured out the best ways to put girls at ease and to make them believe they were safe. "This type of information," Douglas writes, "would start suggesting something important: the normal common-sense assumptions, verbal cues, body language, and so on that we use to size up another people...often don't apply to sociopaths." Listening to Kemper, Douglas summed up his approach and his ultimate goals: "manipulation, domination, control."

Douglas also pointed out the central role of violent fantasies for the sexual predator. Kemper had developed fantasies early in his life, which had given him a chance to rehearse for years the relationship between sex and death. To possess another person meant to take his or her life. Kemper's confession confirmed this, as he stated that he wanted his victims to belong to him completely. It was his way of getting back at kids who had shunned him throughout his childhood. Ultimately, however, his "overriding fantasy" was to be rid of his mother. He told Douglas that before he started killing anyone, he would go quietly into his mother's bedroom while she was asleep and envision hitting her with a hammer. Given what Kemper has said about her, Douglas felt that Clarnell had helped to make him into a serial killer who was in fact practicing on others before aiming his frustration at his true target.

Even so, Douglas admitted that he had liked Ed. "He was friendly, open, sensitive, and had a good sense of humor." He believed that Kemper's enjoyment of dismemberment was fetishistic rather than sadistic, but Dr. Donald Lunde offered a different view in Murder and Madness.