Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher

Death Capital

Map: Santa Cruz, California
Map: Santa Cruz, California

The beach town of Santa Cruz lies south of San Francisco on the Pacific Coast . Surrounded by mountains, ocean, and towering redwood trees, it's a tourist Mecca and an upscale place to own a home or rent an apartment. During the early 1970s, when the murders began, townspeople were already torn over the "hippies" moving in, thanks in part to the University of California opening a new campus there. Young people flooded in, and not all of them were what residents called "desirable."

At the time, Damio writes, 95 percent of murders that occurred in America were primarily situational—inspired by tense domestic incidents or the result of some kind of altercation among acquaintances. But the murders during the 1970s in Santa Cruz defied this pattern, and while one killer was quickly captured after his crime, for several months no arrests were made or suspects identified for the other cases. By 1973, people were purchasing guns to protect themselves, because clearly these offenders were boldly entering the homes of ordinary citizens.

John Linley Frazier
John Linley Frazier
Near the end of 1970, John Linley Frazier murdered five people—the Ohta family and Dr. Ohta's secretary—to stop what he viewed as the spread of progress that was ruining the natural environment. An extremist in the hippie lifestyle, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia but nevertheless was found sane and convicted. His trial became a circus, in part because he wanted to appear to be pretending to be insane so the jury would believe he was malingering. But there was also an air of suspicion against "hippies," because over the span of two nights during the previous year Charles Manson and his gang had massacred seven people down in Los Angeles . Like Manson, Frazier had invaded a home and brutally killed the occupants (including two children) for some bizarre drug-inspired vision.

Herbert Mullin
Herbert Mullin
Then in late 1972 and early '73, across a terrifying period of four months, another series of murders occurred around Santa Cruz . Among the victims were four campers, a priest, a man digging in his garden, a young girl, and a mother and her two children. The police finally stopped the killer, Herbert Mullin, 25. Although he had been institutionalized and evaluated as a danger to others, he'd nevertheless become an outpatient, which allowed him to roam freely. He'd stopped taking his antipsychotic medication and "heard" a voice that urged him to kill. It was his mission, Mullin believed, to save the people of California from a super-earthquake that would send it into the ocean. Thus, he decided that he had to "sing the die song," which he believed would persuade thirteen people to either kill themselves or allow themselves to become human sacrifices (which he said they conveyed to him telepathically). Using a knife, gun, or baseball bat to slay those he selected, he killed until police picked him up. Also diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he was nevertheless considered legally sane and was convicted on ten counts of murder.

But even before that, in May 1972, female hitchhikers began to disappear. To subdue public panic, the authorities tried linking these disappearances to Mullin so they could assure the community that the spate of murders was at an end, but it soon turned out to be another person altogether—someone who surprised them.

Eventually the Santa Cruz Sentinel, the local newspaper, would put together a magazine that reviewed important events in the area across the decades and featured these three killers. "It felt like the actions of a world gone crazy," recalled reporter Tom Honig. The 1970s was an age of violence, and along with Frazier and Mullin, they would add Edmund Kemper, now a young man. Altogether the three killed 28 people, and represented the three basic types of multiple murderers: Frazier killed all his victims at once, Mullin in a spree (accounting for his projected goal of thirteen), and Kemper as a serial killer.


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