Edmund Emil Kemper III (born December 18, 1948), also known as The Co-ed Killer, is an American serial killer who was active in the early 1970s.

He started his criminal life as a teenager by shooting both his grandparents while staying on their 17-acre ranch in North Fork, California, a crime for which he was incarcerated.

Kemper later killed and dismembered six female hitchhikers in the Santa Cruz, California, area. He then murdered his mother and one of her friends before turning himself in to the authorities.

Early life

Kemper was born in Burbank, California, to Clarnell Stage and Edmund Emil Kemper Jr. He was very intelligent with an IQ of 136, however, he displayed sociopathic behavior from a young age: he tortured and killed animals, acted out bizarre sexual rituals with his sisters’ dolls and once said that, in order to kiss a teacher he had a crush on, he would have to kill her. Worsening the situation was Kemper’s mother, who constantly berated and humiliated her son and often made him sleep in a locked basement due to a fear that he would molest his sisters. Kemper’s mother Clarnell apparently suffered from Borderline Personality Disorder which resulted in her rages and abuse against her son.

On August 27, 1964, Kemper shot his grandmother while she sat at the kitchen table putting the finishing touches on her latest children’s book. When his grandfather came home from grocery shopping, Kemper shot him as well. Then he called his mother, who urged him to call the police. When questioned, he said that he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma”, and that he killed his grandfather because he knew he would be angry at him for what he had done to his grandmother. Kemper was just 15 at the time.

Kemper was committed to Atascadero State Hospital where he befriended his psychologist and even became his assistant. He was intelligent enough to gain the trust of the doctor to the extent of being allowed access to prisoners’ tests. With the knowledge he gained from his “apprenticeship” he eventually was able to impress his doctor at the hospital enough to let him go.

He was released into his mother’s care in Santa Cruz, California, against the wishes of several doctors at the hospital. Kemper later demonstrated further to the psychologists that he was well—and not only managed to convince the doctors he was reformed, but to have his juvenile records sealed forever as well.

Murder campaign

Kemper worked a series of odd jobs before securing work with the State of California’s Department of Public Works/Division of Highways in District 4 (now known as Department of Transportation or Caltrans). By that time, his height had reached 6 feet, 9 inches, and he weighed more than 300 pounds (136 kg).

Between May 1972 and February 1973, Kemper embarked on a spree of murders, picking up female students hitchhiking, taking them to isolated rural areas and killing them. He would stab, shoot or smother the victims and afterwards take the bodies back to his apartment where he would have sex with them and then dissect them.

He would often dump the bodies in ravines or bury them in fields, although on one occasion he buried the severed head of a 15-year-old girl in his mother’s garden as a kind of sick joke, later remarking that his mother “always wanted people to look up to her.”

He killed six college girls (including two students from UC Santa Cruz, where his mother worked, and one from Cabrillo College). He would often go hunting for victims after arguing with his mother.

In April 1973, Kemper battered his mother to death with a pick hammer while she slept. He decapitated her, raped her headless body and used her head as a dartboard, after putting her vocal cords in the garbage disposal, but the machine could not break the tough tissue down and regurgitated it back into the sink. “That seemed appropriate,” Ed said after his arrest, “as much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years.”

His murderous urges not yet satiated, he then invited his mother’s best friend over and killed her too, by strangulation. He then drove eastward, but when no word of his crimes hit the radio airwaves he became discouraged, stopped the car, called the police and confessed to being the Co-ed Killer.

He told them what he had done and waited for them to pick him up, seemingly unashamed as he confessed to necrophilia and cannibalism. At his trial he pleaded insanity, but he was found guilty of eight counts of murder. He asked for the death penalty, but with capital punishment suspended at that time, he instead received life imprisonment.

At the time of Kemper’s murder spree in Santa Cruz, another serial killer named Herbert Mullin was also active, earning the small California town the title of “Murder Capital Of The World.” And, adding to the college town’s infamy was the fact that these multiple murders were preceded three years earlier by multiple murders committed by John Linley Frazier.

In a manner similar to the Charles Manson murders, Frazier murdered a Santa Cruz family of five, eye surgeon Victor Ohta and family. A reference was made to this in the film “The Lost Boys”, which was shot in Santa Cruz, but called Santa Carla, where they repeatedly call the town the “Murder Capital of the World.” Kemper and Mullin were briefly held in adjoining cells, with the former angrily accusing the latter of stealing his body-dumping sites.

Edmund Kemper remains among the general prison population and is incarcerated at Vacaville State Prison.

Victims of Ed Kemper

Maude Kemper August 27, 1964

Ed Emil Kemper August 27, 1964

Mary Anne Pisce May 5, 1972

Anita Luchese May 5, 1972

Aiko Koo September 14, 1972

Cindy Schall January 8, 1973

Rosalind Thorpe February 5, 1973

Alice Lui February 5, 1973

Clarnell Strandberg April 21, 1973

Sally Hallett April 21, 1973

Popular culture

The Berzerker’s song “Forever” from the self titled album contains samples from Ed Kemper’s testament, including “As I’m sitting there with a severed head in my hand, talking to it, or looking at it, and I’m about to go crazy, literally I’m about to go completely… Flywheel loose and just fall apart”. It also contains samples such as “At the age of 24, he murdered his mother, then called police and confessed to having dismembered college co-eds for two years, as well as cannibalizing and raping their headless bodies” and “put her vocal cords in a garbage disposal, then threw darts at her severed head”. These are all references to Kemper’s murders

Church of Misery’s song “Killfornia” contains a long testament by Kemper, also featuring the line “As I’m sitting there with a severed head in my hand…”

Optimum Wound Profile also use long segments of Kemper’s testimony on the song “Crave”, once more including the “severed head” line.

American death-grind metal band Macabre wrote a song about Edmund Kemper on their 1993 album Sinister Slaughter entitled “Edmund Kemper Had a Horrible Temper.”

He was once quoted in an interview: “What do you think, now, when you see a pretty girl walking down the street?” and answering himself: “One side of me says, ‘Wow, what an attractive chick. I’d like to talk to her, date her.’ The other side of me says, ‘I wonder how her head would look on a stick.'” In Bret Easton Ellis’ book American Psycho, main character Patrick Bateman, himself a serial killer, paraphrases this quote when asked about women, although he mistakenly attributes it to Ed Gein.

Author Thomas Harris based the character of Buffalo Bill in his book The Silence of the Lambs in part upon Kemper. In the book, Buffalo Bill was a serial killer who, like Kemper, had begun his “career” by impulsively killing his grandparents as a teenager.

The Ed Kemper Trio took their name from the killer. The band formed in the late nineties in Montgomery, Alabama, releasing three albums on Pinebox Records.

System of a Down’s song “Forever” (aka “Fortress” or “Outer Space”) from the leaked album “Toxicity II” contains lyrics referencing Kemper including “Edmund Kemper solved it all, He fooled the shrinks.” The song was later dropped from the released “Steal This Album!”

Pioneering industrial act Throbbing Gristle’s song “Urge to Kill”, performed only once at a 1978 concert, details Kemper’s crimes.

Dr Octagon – The Instrumentalyst album has Kemper interview excerpts in the song “I’m Destructive.”

The Discovery Times show Most Evil featured Edmund Kemper in their episode on “Masterminds”.

The intro of the song “The Glorious Dead”, by Dutch death metal group Gorefest, features Edmund Kemper speaking “I am an human being and I kill human beings, and I did it in my society”.

Kemper is described as an “exotic” serial killer compared to Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and Jeffrey Dahmer in the novel Black House, by Stephen King and Peter Straub.

SuicideGirls model Kemper took her name from the serial killer.

The 2003 movie Cradle of Fear features a convicted serial killer named Kemper.


Cheney, Margaret, Why: The Serial Killer in America. R& E Publishers:Saratoga, CA (1992). (Reprinting of the author’s The Co-Ed Killer. Walker and Company:New York, NY (1976). ISBN 0-8027-0514-6.)

Damio, Ward, Urge to Kill. Pinnacle Books:New York, NY (1974). ISBN 0-523-00380-3. (Discusses Kemper plus two contemporary Santa Cruz killers: John Linley Frazer and Herbert W. Mullin)

Leyton, Elliott, Hunting Humans: The Rise Of The Modern Multiple Murderer. McClelland & Stewart (2005). ISBN 0-7710-5025-9. (Full chapter on Kemper)

Ressler, Robert K., Whoever Fights Monsters: My Twenty Years Tracking Serial Killers for The FBI. (approx. 20 pages on Kemper).

West, Don, Sacrifice Unto Me. Pinnacle Books:New York, NY (1974). ISBN 0-515-03335-9. (Story of Kemper and Herbert W. Mullin)

Douglas, John, Mind Hunter. Pocket Books:New York, NY (1995). ISBN 0-671-52890-4.

Lawson, Christine Ann (2002). Understanding the Borderline Mother — Helping Her Children Transcend the Intense, Unpredictable, and Volatile Relationship. Jason Aronson, 129-131,136,139,141,144,278. ISBN 0765703319.

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