Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher

The Call

On April 23, 1973, the Santa Cruz police received a call that they could not quite believe. It was from a phone booth in Pueblo, Colorado, from a twenty-four-year-old man who had eaten with them, drank with them, and talked with them for hours: Big Ed, or Edmund Kemper. And now he was telling them that he had committed murder — in fact, a double homicide four days earlier, and then some. He had killed his mother, Clarnell Strandberg, on Good Friday. Then he'd gone drinking with his cop buddies. He'd returned and invited his mother's friend, Sara "Sally" Hallett, over for dinner and a movie. She was delighted. When she arrived, he'd killed her, too, and removed her head. Both bodies were stuffed into closets in his mother's duplex on Ord Drive.

Human Monsters
Human Monsters
Kemper explained that after leaving the house, he had driven for several days, had dropped off one car and rented a green Chevy Impala, and had finally decided to turn himself in. He'd been taking No-Doz for three days and felt half crazy. He listed half a dozen other murders that they had yet to solve, referring over and over to "the coeds." He wanted someone to come and pick him up. He had 200 rounds of ammo and three guns in the car that scared him, and he was turning himself in.

But the officer who took the first call believed it was a prank, says David Everitt in Human Monsters. He suggested the young man call again later. Kemper did so, but once again had a difficult time convincing the person at the other end of the line to take him seriously. Those who knew him believed it was all some practical joke. He continued to place calls until he was able to persuade an officer to go check out his mother's house. He said that an officer, Sergeant Aluffi, had been there not long before to confiscate the .44-caliber revolver he had purchased. Alluffi would know.

DA Peter Chang
DA Peter Chang
Sergeant Aluffi did indeed know, and went to the home himself. As he entered, he smelled the putrid odor of decomposition. When he opened a closet and saw blood and hair, he secured the scene and called in the coroner and detectives. To their amazement, they found the two bodies, just as Kemper had described. Both had been decapitated, and Clarnell had been battered and apparently used for dart practice. Her tongue and larynx, Kemper had said, were chopped up, having been placed in the garbage disposal, which had spit them back out.

Investigators now realized why the "Coed Butcher" had eluded them for so long. As John Douglas put it upon hearing how Kemper had been privy at the jury room and the investigation details, "He was analyzing what he was doing and learning to perfect his technique." He had discovered their strategies and plans for trapping him, and he was able to out-think and elude them. But he also had not come across as a killer. He had learned how to make people feel safe around him, and that was probably how he had found ways to get girls into his cars, despite warnings issued to students throughout the area.

Edmund Kemper in custody
Edmund Kemper in custody
DA Peter Chang and a party of detectives traveled across three states to pick Kemper up from detention, where local police had placed him, and they found him waiting calmly for him. He seemed to know that he was dangerous and unable to control himself, and understood that he needed to be locked up. He was willing to talk and twice waived his right to an attorney (though he would later say that he'd asked for a lawyer).

The story that unfolded was as bizarre as any they had yet heard. He went on for hours, confessing everything that he had done to the six coeds, his mother and her friend. Adding these to the murders of his grandparents years earlier, he had committed ten murders in all. To prove his tale, he took detectives to areas where he had buried or tossed parts of his victims that had not yet been found. He described having sex with the heads of his victims and said that he'd loved the feeling of totally possessing them and their property.

The stories would grow worse during the trial, thanks to psychiatric probing, and both sides set about finding out what they could do about this disturbing young man.



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