Born in Burbank, California, on December 18, 1948, Edmund Emil Kemper III was dubbed the “Co-ed Butcher” by the media because many of his victims were young female college students he picked up as hitchhikers near the University of California, Santa Cruz. While Kemper is best known for the murders he committed in the early 1970s, his childhood and teenage years were filled with shocking events that helped shape him into one America’s most notorious serial killers.
As a child, Kemper abused animals, and he even tortured and killed his family’s cat. He was so fixated with death as a boy, he actually played a game with his sister in which he pretended to die in the electric chair and a gas chamber.
When he was boy, Kemper’s sister teased him about having a crush on his teacher. The future serial killer reportedly replied, “If I kiss her, I would have to kill her first.”
Kemper’s own mother Clarnell was so afraid of him, she made him sleep in a locked basement at night when he was a child. Allegedly, Clarnell — who had separated from Kemper’s father when he was a boy — was an alcoholic who verbally and psychologically abused her son.
In addition to his strange behavior, Kemper’s mother was afraid of the future serial killer because he was well over six feet tall as a teenager. By the time he reached adulthood, Kemper was 6’9″ and weighed more than 300 pounds. Due to his size, Kemper was given the nickname “Big Ed.”
When he was 14, Kemper went to live with his paternal grandparents at their ranch in North Fork, California. The teenager didn’t get along well with his grandmother and grandfather, and on August 27, 1964, 15-year-old Kemper shot both of his grandparents to death. Following the murders, Kemper confessed the killings to his mother, and he was promptly arrested. After the teenager was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, he was sent to California’s Atascadero State Hospital for psychiatric treatment.
While Kemper was in the psychiatric facility, he underwent a battery of tests, including an examination to determine his IQ. The teenage killer was found to have an IQ of 136, which is considered near genius. As an adult, Kemper’s IQ was tested again, and he received a score of 145.
Kemper was released from the Atascadero State Hospital on December 18, 1969 — his 21st birthday — and he initially moved into his mother’s home in Aptos, California. Less than three years after Kemper was paroled from the psychiatric facility, he murdered Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Mary Luchessa on May 7, 1972, after picking up the 18-year-old college students when they were hitchhiking in Berkeley, California. After murdering both of the young women, he placed their corpses in the trunk of his vehicle. On his way back to his apartment — which he shared with a roommate — Kemper was stopped by a police officer because his car had a broken taillight. Sadly, the officer had no reason to look in Kemper’s trunk, allowing the killer to continue on his way with the bodies of two dead teenagers in his vehicle.
Approximately six months later on September 14, 1972, Kemper picked up Aiko Koo — a 15-year-old girl who was hitchhiking to dance class — and took the teenager to a remote area in order to rape and kill her. Once in the woods, Kemper locked himself out of his vehicle — leaving his gun inside — but somehow the intelligent killer managed to convinced Koo to let him back into the car. Sadly, after she unlocked the door, the Co-ed Butcher raped the 15-year-old and strangled her to death.
Less than five months after murdering Koo, Kemper killed Cynthia Ann Schall, 18, on January 7, 1973, shooting her to death in the woods and then taking the teenager’s lifeless body back to his mother’s house. The following morning, Kemper had sex with Schall’s dead body, and he even performed oral sex on himself with the 18-year-old’s severed head. This serial killer engaged in necrophilia with many of his victims, and Kemper particularly enjoyed having intercourse with a woman after decapitating her.
The following month on February 5, 1973, the Co-ed Butcher killed Alice Helen Liu, 20, and Rosalind Heather Thorpe, 23, after picking them up as hitchhikers on the UCSC campus where his mother Clarnell worked. Because he had a campus sticker on his vehicle, Kemper easily passed through a university security gate, despite having the bodies of two dead young women in his car.
On April 20, 1973, Kemper murdered his mother, Clarnell Elizabeth Strandberg, 52, by beating her to death with a hammer while she slept and then cutting her throat. After killing his mother, Kemper invited his mother’s best friend, Sara Taylor Hallett, 59, over to Clarnell’s home. When Hallett arrived at the house, Kemper strangled the middle-aged woman to death, cut off her head, and went to sleep next to her dead body.
After murdering his mother, Kemper had oral sex with her severed head, and then he raped her decapitated corpse. The Co-ed Butcher also threw darts at Clarnell’s severed head, and he cut out his mother’s larynx and tongue and forced them down the garbage disposal.
Following the murders of his mother and her best friend, Kemper stole Sally Hallett’s vehicle and headed east, eventually ending up in Pueblo, Colorado. Kemper — who had been listening to the radio for breaking news about the murders — called law enforcement in California and confessed to killing the two middle-aged women whose bodies hadn’t even been discovered yet.
Initially, the officers in California didn’t believe Kemper’s confession because he was a regular at a bar popular with law enforcement and was well-known and well-liked by the police in Santa Cruz. However, the serial killer eventually convinced California authorities he was telling the truth, and Kemper was arrested by local police.
Following his arrest for killing his mother and her best friend, the Co-ed Butcher confessed to murdering six young women, and on November 8, 1973, Kemper was convicted of eight murders and given seven years to life in prison for each count. The convicted California serial killer had his first parole hearing in 2007, but Kemper was denied parole. According to Kemper’s lawyer, the convicted killer is “happy going about his life in prison.” He is currently in the California Medical Facility where he is considered a model inmate.
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