Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher


Edmund Kemper
Edmund Kemper
Kemper called the police and they came to the ranch to take him into custody. He was waiting calmly on the porch for them. They placed him with the California Youth Authority, and in an interview, the police later reported, he said he had shot Grandma to see what it felt like. That comment would become the quote most often associated with him, used to show how cold-blooded he was at such a young age. Yet another reading of it indicates that he was merely stating the end result of his frustration with the woman. He explained that he'd killed his grandfather to spare him having to find Maude dead, murdered by her grandson.

At the time, it seemed incomprehensible to the California system that a child could do such a thing. He was sent for psychiatric testing and diagnosed as having paranoid schizophrenia. He was also found to have a near-genius IQ. Instead of staying at a facility operated by the Youth Authority, he ended up at the secure Atascadero State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, and because he was so intelligent and astute he was allowed access to some of the assessment devices - even to administer them at times, according to John Douglas in Mindhunter. Frazier says that while in the hospital, Kemper actually memorized the responses to 28 different assessment instruments, providing himself with the proper tools to convince those doctors who evaluated him that he would be safe to release upon his 21st birthday. With his mother's help, he achieved this.

The most comprehensive sources on Kemper's case come from people who wrote during the 1970s, immediately after his trial, including psychiatrist Donald Lunde and authors Ward Damio and Margaret Cheney (who had access to transcripts of what she called his "compulsive confessing"). Kemper also did an interview in 1978, which ended up on Court TV's Mugshots program. Others included former FBI profilers Robert R. Ressler and John Douglas, who interviewed him at length and discussed their encounters with him in their respective books.

While self-report is generally suspect, what Kemper has to say about himself and his background is revealing. Accounts of him generally emphasize his huge size - six-foot-nine and nearly three hundred pounds - but the manner in which he thinks and speaks is more interesting. Kemper's string of crimes was the third for San Jose , California , since 1970, so it's instructive to look at the first two briefly to understand the climate of fear that hovered over the area upon his arrest.

Just after he came out of Atascadero , the town that would become his new home made national headlines.