CRIME CULTURE: With the second season of the critically acclaimed Netflix series Mindhunter now airing, Teagan Hjort takes a look at the infamous real story behind the dramatisation of ‘Co-Ed Killer’ Edmund Kemper.
Played by Cameron Britton, the fictionalised killer provides a psychological profile of himself to assist the FBI’s newly established Behavioural Science Unit, headed by FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Tench.
The series is based on a true crime book of the same name, authored by retired FBI agent John Douglas, which details the criminal profiles of the killers subsequently featured in the series.
A central figure in the first season, season two shows the brief return of Britton’s Kemper, again offering the protagonists a disturbing insight into the mind of a serial killer.
The most forthcoming of the killers from the shows first season, Cameron Britton’s likeness bore a striking resemblance to the Co-Ed killer himself.
Born in 1948, Edmund Emil Kemper struck a remarkable figure at six feet, nine inches tall and weighing over 130kgs.
A highly intelligent and equally disturbed man, Kemper was responsible for the death of ten people, including three family members. His violent crimes included decapitation, dismemberment, necrophilia and possible cannibalism – a confession he would later recant.
In 1969, five years after fatally shooting his grandparents at age 15 – because he ‘wondered how it would feel to shoot Grandma’ – Kemper was released from the Atascadero State Mental Hospital for the criminally insane.
Doctors at the time recommended he not return to his mother’s care as they believed her to be the source of his violent temper. Despite her open mockery of his appearance and behaviour, Kemper returned to live with his mother.
As Mindhunter aptly depicted in the first season, this would prove to be a fatal mistake.
After customising his car to deadlock the passenger side, Kemper committed his first co-ed murders in 1972, stabbing, assaulting and decapitating the bodies of two 18-year-old students, Mary Pesce and Anita Luchessa.
Four months later, he murdered 15-year-old, Aiko Koo. At a parole meeting with court psychiatrists the following day, Kemper was declared officially ‘safe’. Outside, Koo’s decapitated head was in the trunk of his car.
In the following twelve months, Kemper raped, murdered and dissected another three students. Ultimately his madness culminated in the murder of his mother Clarnell, and her best friend, Sara “Sally” Hallett.
Kemper would later recount that his mother’s death was intended to spare her the embarrassment of finding out about his crimes. However, the violent murder and his subsequent treatment of her corpse suggested otherwise. While Hallett was murdered in a sub-par attempt to cover up his mother’s murder, Clarnell’s death was particularly personal and especially violent.
“I cut off her head, and I humiliated her corpse,” Kemper would later recall.
Over the Easter weekend of 1973, Kemper murdered and desecrated his mother. After being awoken by her returning from a night of drinking, he waited for his mother to fall asleep. He then proceeded to bludgeon her to death with a claw hammer, slit her throat with a knife and orally rape her corpse.
As with his previous murders, he then decapitated her, this time unleashing an obscene fury that he would later claim stemmed from her poor treatment of him – ‘She was dead, because of the way she raised her son.’ Placing her head on a mantel, Kemper screamed at his deceased mother for over an hour, before punching her and throwing darts at her face.
He attempted to dispose of her tongue and larynx in his waste disposal unit, which, understandably, proved insufficient to break down human vocal cord. Kemper would later remark of the twisted irony he saw in the moment; “as she had bitched and screamed at me over so many years”.
Serial killer and necrophiliac Ed Kemper and as he appears in ‘Mindhunter’ (Image: Wiki Commons / Netflix)
It has been theorised by many true-crime aficionados – myself included – that Kemper’s murderous hatred of women was a misplaced, deeply-rooted rage at his mother. In Douglas’ analysis of the killer, depicted in part in Mindhunter and echoed by other experts on the case, he surmises that Kemper’s victims were merely practice before unleashing his rage at it’s true target.
Such a view is seemingly confirmed by Kemper’s timely confession. After carefully disposing of six bodies, Kemper was surprisingly quick to turn himself in to authorities following his mother’s murder. He would later agree with the theorists: the “original purpose was gone; it was just a pure waste of time” to continue.
Though overly zealous in his descriptions of his crimes, Kemper always showed little emotion regarding the murders prior to Clarnell. As depicted by Cameron Britton’s convincing performance, Kemper was a calm and highly articulate interviewee … until conversation turned to his mother.
In his now infamous 1984 interview, Kemper is visibly upset when discussing his mother’s murder, reduced to tears in a break from his usually factual and almost eloquent persona. In the same interview, he reasoned that his killing of co-ed students was related to his mother’s association with college work and her outspoken contempt towards men. Kemper later admitted to Douglas that he would watch his mother sleeping before committing a murder, envisioning hitting her with a hammer – a self-fulfilling prophecy of his penultimate crime.
Dr Donald Lunde, author of Murder and Madness and a psychiatrist in the Kemper case, speculated that Clarnell was merely part of a deeper sociopathy. Citing memories recounted by Kemper’s younger sister, Lunde surmised that Kemper’s childhood anger and violent fantasies went beyond a deeply disturbed relationship with his mother.
He mutilated his sister’s dolls, playing strange sex games with them and pretending to murder them. Kemper later killed two of the family cats, burying one alive before digging it up, decapitating it and mounting its head on a stick in his bedroom. He encouraged his sister to roleplay with him in a dark childhood game, insisting she play executioner as he feigned dying in a gas chamber or an electric chair.
When asked of an appropriate punishment for his crimes, Kemper reportedly suggested “death by torture”.
Lunde argued that the ambivalent relationship between Kemper and his mother was not unusual for sexual sadists. As the pinnacle of womanhood – and particularly female authority – in a boy’s life, the maternal figure is likely to become inextricably linked to any extreme fantasies involving women.
Lunde suggested that there is likely a certain age during pubescent development at which violent and sexual fantasies become interwoven. For Kemper, this would result in the culmination of a simultaneous sexual attraction toward and hatred for women, paired with his preoccupation with death and dismemberment. Given the nature of his later crimes, such an explanation is not unlikely.
Whether Kemper was a disturbed victim of a vicious desire for revenge or a sociopathic embodiment of evil, his disturbing revelations offer a twisted, yet informative, insight into the mind of a serial killer.
Perhaps most telling of his twisted psyche is Kemper’s infamous answer to the question, ‘What do you think when you see a pretty girl walking down the street?’ “One side of me says 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?”
Ed Kemper is currently serving eight consecutive life sentences in California, where he is considered a model prisoner. Season two of ‘Mindhunter’ premiered on Netflix on August 16.