Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher

Creating a Killer

Born in Burbank California on December 18, 1948, Edmund E. Kemper III was the second child for E. E. (Edmund Jr.) and Clarnell Kemper. He had a sister six years older and a sister two and a half years younger. Ed was close to his father, but E.E. divorced Clarnell in 1957 when Edmund was nine and she moved with the children to Montana. It was a difficult separation for Edmund, nicknamed Guy, and he claimed that to toughen him up, his mother locked him in the basement. (He would eventually provide several different motives for this behavior, depending on who was interviewing him.) He believed that he must have been a constant prickly reminder to his mother. He hated her but often spoke as if he understood her motives and behavior. In many different interviews, he described his fear and anger growing up, along with the things he envisioned doing.

He said that when he killed the family cat, placing its head on an altar, he had felt empowered after persuasively lying about it. He honed this ability to present a public façade that people trusted while his private world contained much darker ideas. Everitt indicates that by the time he was ten, he was already thinking about females in sexual terms. He was also developing a violent inner world.

"When I was in school," Kemper said in a taped interview, "I was called a chronic daydreamer and I saw a counselor twice during junior high and high school, and that was very routine. They didn't ask me a lot of questions about myself and that was probably the most violent fantasy time I was off into."

Stories from his sisters involved disconcerting memories. One goaded him to kiss a teacher, says Frazier, and he apparently said that if he did, he'd then have to kill her. His younger sister recalled that he often cut the heads off her dolls. His mother apparently relegated him to the basement to keep him away from the girls because she did not trust him. Her instincts were apparently right; Kemper has said, "I lived as an ordinary person most of my life, even though I was living a parallel and increasingly violent other life."

When he was thirteen, Kemper slaughtered his own pet cat with a machete and stuffed the remains in his closet (which his mother found). Cheney offers gruesome details of this episode from Kemper's descriptions. Kemper also ran away from home that year to go live with his father. He was certain it would be a better life for him, but after he arrived, he eventually learned that his father, who had remarried and had another son, was not quite as happy to see him as he'd hoped. E. E. welcomed him for a while, but then sent him back to Montana. But Clarnell, too, was unwilling to have him, because she was planning to marry her third husband, and this overgrown adolescent was a handful. Her solution was to pack Ed up and send him to his father's parents' ranch in California. (On Mugshots, Kemper says that his father actually sent him there, and Frazier indicates that Kemper ran away twice, and the second time he ended up with his grandparents.) "I went to live with Dad," he said, "and he sends me up to Grandma. Now she's going to undo all the terrible things that my mother did to me. I'm going to be a showpiece. She's going to show the world that my mother was a lousy parent. I'm going to be a pawn in this little game."

The experience was unpleasant for him. Ultimately, it was here with Maude and Edmund Kemper Sr. that Edmund began his career in murder. Once he got out of the psychiatric hospital, he set his sights on becoming a police officer. (Lunde points out that there were no psychologists or psychiatrists on the parole board that released him, and no follow-up psychiatric care.) He was disappointed and unable to find appropriate alternative employment. Although he shared an apartment with a friend, he was afraid he might end up living with his mother. In fact, he did, and that proved the undoing of them both.



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