Edmund Kemper: The 'Co-Ed Butcher' Of Hitchhiking Students

Between May 1972 and April 1973, Kemper murdered five female college students, one high school girl, his own mother, and her closest friend.

September 23, 2021

Photo by: Mug shots of Edmund Kemper [Santa Cruz Police Department]

Mug shots of Edmund Kemper [Santa Cruz Police Department]

By: Mike McPadden

On August 27, 1964, Edmund Emil Kemper III shot his grandparents to death in their North Fork, California, home. After calling the police to turn himself in, Kemper explained, “I just wanted to see what it felt like to kill grandma.” He was 15 years old and just getting started.

He was released into his mother's care in 1969 despite doctors being against the decision

Immediately after killing his grandparents, court doctors declared Kemper to be “psychotic” and a “paranoid schizophrenic” and he was sentenced to the criminally insane unit of the Atascadero State Hospital. While there, he regularly registered genius-level numbers on IQ tests and charmed authorities as a model inmate.

In 1969, Doctors declared Kemper to be rehabilitated and released him on parole. Once out, Kemper lived in Santa Cruz, California, where he regularly argued on an epic scale with his mother, Clarnell Kemper Strandberg. She’d always regarded her son as “a real weirdo.”

Kemper also socialized in Santa Cruz with local law enforcement, got a job with the Highway Department, and hoped to become a state trooper. His past crimes didn’t stand in his way, as his juvenile record was expunged in 1972. Standing six-foot-nine and weighing almost 300 pounds, Kemper’s size alone dashed any hope of joining the force, though, as six-foot-eight is the limit. Coincidentally or not, that same year Kemper gave in to sadistic impulses he called "little zapples”.

Listen to the 'Mind of a Monster: Ed Kemper "The Co-Ed Killer" vs Herbert Mullin' podcast by ID on Apple Podcasts.

Kemper kicked off his notorious slaughter spree in 1972, picking up female students, taking them to isolated areas and murdering them.

Between May 1972 and April 1973, Kemper murdered five female college students, one high school girl, his own mother, and her closest friend. What he did to many of those dead bodies would ultimately earn Kemper the nickname “The Co-Ed Butcher” — and it was worse than even that suggests.

On May 7, 1972, Kemper picked up hitchhiking 18-year-old Fresno State students Anita Mary Luchessa and Mary Ann Pesce. In short order, he murdered both women in a wooded area, then loaded their bodies into the trunk of his Ford Galaxie.

Back at his apartment, Kemper photographed the naked corpses and had sex with them, then chopped them into pieces that he disposed off in the woods. Before tossing the women’s decapitated heads into a ravine, he sexually violated them once more.

Kemper’s booking photo

Photo by: Santa Cruz Police Department

Santa Cruz Police Department

Kemper’s booking photo

Similar fates befell Aiko Koo, 15, on her way to dance class; Cabrillo College student Cindy Schall, 18; and University of California at Santa Cruz friends Allison Liu, 20; and Rosalind Heather Thorpe; 23.

All were hitchhikers. Kemper murdered each one in a secluded area, then drove their remains back to his residence, and dismembered them. He always had sex with their severed heads. Kemper even buried Schall’s head in the garden at his mother’s house, facing up toward her bedroom window. He later joked that Clarnell “always wanted people to look up to her.”

Kemper eventually gave his reasons for the senseless killings

Explaining this ghastly sexual practice later on, Kemper said, “The head trip fantasies were a bit like a trophy. You know, the head is where everything is at, the brain, eyes, mouth. That’s the person.”

Finally, on April 20, 1973 — Good Friday — Kemper fatally bludgeoned Clarnell, then 52, with a claw hammer while she was asleep. He subsequently cut his mother’s head off and said he “put it on a shelf, threw darts at it, and screamed at it for an hour.” He also had sex with it. In addition, Kemper stuffed Clarnell’s tongue and larynx in the garbage disposal, but the machine wouldn’t work. “That seemed appropriate,” he quipped, “as much as she’d bitched and yelled and screamed at me over so many years.”

Later that day, after going out for drinks with his cop buddies, he invited Clarnell’s dearest friend, Sally Hallet, 59, to come over. He strangled her to death, cut off her head, and left a note for the police reading:

“Appx. 5:15 A.M. Saturday. No need for her to suffer any more at the hands of this horrible ‘murderous Butcher.’ It was quick — asleep — the way I wanted it. Not sloppy and incomplete, gents. Just a ‘lack of time.’ I got things to do!!!”

Kemper drove from there to Pueblo, Colorado, where he called a police officer he knew personally and confessed to all the crimes. His cop friends didn’t believe him at first, and he had to call several times before they took his confession seriously. He has been behind bars since November 1973, where he is reported to be a model prisoner who reads books on tape for the blind. Kemper was up for parole in 2007 and 2012, and told authorities both times to just keep him locked up. He says he’s “happy” in jail.

When asked during a prison interview about how he feels now when he sees an attractive woman, Kemper revealed: “One side of me says, ‘I’d like to talk to her, date her.’ The other side says, ‘I wonder how her head would look on a stick.’”

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