Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Edmund Kemper: The Coed Butcher

Time Bomb

Murder and Madness
Murder and Madness
On August 27, 1964, 15-year-old Edmund Emil Kemper III was with his paternal grandparents on their 17-acre ranch in North Fork, California He'd gone there during the previous Christmas holidays, remaining for the rest of that school year before returning to his mother, and was now back. He wasn't happy about that. Already six-foot-four and socially awkward, he was an intimidating figure, and people tended to shunt him from one place to another. He'd grown frustrated and angry, and later described himself as a "walking time bomb." If only someone had known then how to defuse his rage. Instead, the people around him seemed to ensure that it would grow worse.

Kemper disliked how his mother treated him, and his grandmother was just as bad. They were always pushing him around and telling him what to do. According to his own statements, he harbored fantasies of killing and mutilating them. And not just them: As a child, writes psychiatrist Donald Lunde in Murder and Madness, Kemper wished that everyone else in the world would die, and he envisioned killing many of them himself. He had also indulged in tormenting cats. He'd buried one alive, then dug it up, cut off its head and stuck the head on a stick.

Edmund Kemper's grandmother as young woman
Edmund Kemper's grand-
mother as young woman
That August afternoon, he argued in the kitchen with his sixty-six-year-old grandmother, Maude. Lunde, who interviewed him at length years later, says that he had displaced his anger at his mother onto Maude, so it did not take much to make him react. Enraged, Kemper grabbed a rifle, and when she warned him not to shoot the birds, he turned and shot her instead. He hit her in the head, writes Margaret Cheney in Why? The Serial Killer in America, killing her, and then shot her twice in the back. (Lunde says that he also stabbed her repeatedly with a kitchen knife, and David K. Frazier writes in Murder Cases of the Twentieth Century that it was three times in the back.) So his first killing, if this account is correct, was impulsive, more a thoughtless act than a planned predatory incident. But then he had to do something to hide it from his grandfather. He was a big kid for his age, the product of a six-foot mother and a father who was six-foot-eight. So he did not have much difficulty dragging his grandmother's corpse into the bedroom.

Edmund Kemper's grandfather as young man
Edmund Kemper's grand-
father as young man
But then his grandfather, also named Edmund, drove up. The man was 72, and it was he who had given the boy the .22 caliber rifle the previous Christmas. Young Edmund heard his car outside. He went to the window and made the decision to finish the job he'd begun. As the elderly man got out of the car, Kemper raised the rifle and shot him as well. Cheney says that he then hid the body in the garage. "In his way," writes Lunde, "he had avenged the rejection of both his father and his mother."

Not knowing what else to do, he called his mother in Montana and told her what he had done. Clarnell urged him to call the police, and no doubt she was thinking of the dire warning that Cheney says she had given Edmund's biological father, whose parents were now dead. She had told him not to be surprised if the boy killed them one day.



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