Ed Kemper and his older sister Susan Swanson discussed the Santa Cruz murders and Herbert Mullin in April 1973 before Kemper’s arrest: “Guy [Kemper’s nickname] and I discussed them one day when mom and I went to the university to borrow a movie projector so I could show a movie I had brought from home [in Montana]. There was something said about Mullin firing his attorney because he had long hair, and I asked Guy if he thought Mullin had done the co-ed slayings too. He said he didn’t because none of them were similar in any way to how his victims had been shot–then the subject was dropped. The first weekend I was there, Guy went to Turlock and picked up [Kemper’s fiancée] and brought her to mom’s. We went to San Francisco that weekend Mom, I, [Kemper’s fiancée], and Guy, and along the road he mentioned that down there, pointing to the right, was where they had found two girls propped up against something I don’t remember the exact area. We drove along the coast highway, but this was a hilly section inland, just a bit. I believe it was just south of San Jose. Another time, I commented on the girls hitchhiking and mentioned they weren’t too bright, considering what happened and the particular ones I mentioned were really dressed shabby. He said it was strange because some of the co-eds killed were very attractive girls, not hippie looking at all. I think this was mentioned at the same time the conversation about Mullin was discussed on the way to the university. The subject changed. He didn’t say or do anything strange or comment any more than anyone might comment because of what had been happening.”
“One day when we were driving from Aptos along the beach toward Santa Cruz, just sightseeing, [Kemper] pointed off toward the beach and mentioned that a girl’s head was washed up along there -no more was said, and he brought it up.”
“Several times while we were riding around while I was there he would notice a girl and really stare, not just look or glance, and I teased him that he’d better get out of that habit when he gets married or [Kemper’s fiancée] would sure get jealous. He said she’s used to it or something along that line and most of these girls were dark skinned, possibly Mexican heritage, with black hair and medium build, tending toward heavy. He also commented that he sure likes those big butts- again I just passed it off and went on to other talk.”
Source: Book “Murder Capital of the World” by Emerson Murray, 2021 / Photo: Yearbook, University of Southern California, 1964
When Ed Kemper was arrested in August 1964 after murdering his grandparents, his mother, Clarnell Strandberg, and his older sister, Susan Swanson, were interviewed by doctors and social workers from the Atascadero State Hospital where Kemper was imprisoned for the next five years.
Clarnell Strandberg: “She [Kemper’s older sister, Susan] was always responsible for and protective of Guy [Kemper’s nickname] while I worked. Sometimes protected him from my discipline out of misguided love. He and Sue were close until she began to mature and then Allyn, my fourteen-year-old daughter and he had a close relationship-however his needs were building and hers were normal and gregarious and outgoing and she had friends he resented.”
Susan Swanson: “As far back as I can remember, Guy has wanted to be by himself, he has seemed to be happier when there was only family. He never seemed too interested in participating in activities with other children. We seemed fairly close at times, but if something didn’t go Guy’s way he would get awfully mad, not as if he were spoiled and throwing a tantrum but mad at everyone… All kinds of things would bother him, like the way my kids would cry or when my little girl would be drooling or spitting I would never hear the end of it from Guy. Sounds of a constant coughing or crying or heavy breathing would really upset him.”
Source (text and photo): Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, 2021
Some time in March 1973, Ed [Guy] Kemper and his mother went off-roading in a jeep and Clarnell injured her shoulder. Kemper’s sister, Susan Swanson, came and stayed with Kemper and his mother on April 1:
“A little vacation and also it would be a good time to go down and help mom with her stuff that she couldn’t handle with her broken shoulder. So, it was kind of a two-way visit. So, I went down the first of April and I came home on the 19th. In fact, I missed all this by forty hours, which was very shattering to me. It was a beautiful nineteen days. [Kemper killed his mother on April 21st]. During the days, Guy would sleep an awful lot, he would get up maybe at noon or two o’clock. Either that, or I understood him to be going off with friends during the day, like target practicing or something. He might leave oh, around noon or something and come back around dinner time or whatever. Some days, he’d just kind of hang around the house or be gone for a couple of hours and then he and I would do things during the day. I would take mom to school to work and then I’d come back and kind of clean up the apartment while Guy was asleep and then when he’d wake up we’d either go do something or he’d go do something and I would just, you know, drive around or sightsee, or whatever. In the evening, I would pick mom up from school and Guy most always was gone in the evening. He would go to the Jury Room a lot or go to the show, or… as far as the accuracy, whether he was really there or not, I don’t know; but he was gone in the evenings a lot, and would get home quite late- two or three in the morning. And he drank quite a bit, of beer. For breakfast, he had two large cans of beer and he seemed to be able to hold beer quite well. I mean, it would take quite a bit before you would notice any signs that he had been drinking. I never saw him drunk. I never saw him staggering. I never saw him slurring his speech or anything.
“I’ve never taken lessons in judo or karate, but I have picked up a few little things, I’m fascinated with the tournaments, watching the art. I wanted to show [Kemper] this new throw that I had just picked up on television. Well, being 6’9″, or whatever, I’m 6’1″, or 6’1/2” myself, and not any weakling, and I was going to show him how the throw goes and I couldn’t even waver him on his feet and he says, he’s standing there with his hands on his hips saying, “What are you doing? What are you trying to do?”
“I said, “Oh, I’m going to throw you.” You know. We clowned around and made little fake karate chops and say, if I came around a corner or something and he was coming around at the same time, kind of like a surprise, not to surprise each other, but just bumping into each other coming around the corner, we’d go POW POW, and a few little phony karate things and the most scary thing right now is he would make a motion like he, with his hands in a karate chop, had lapped off my head and then held his hands out like he caught it. And laughed. And I would laugh. Because it seemed so funny, you know, this karate business, ho ho, and we were just playing around with it all the time. And this motion especially now, just this WHAP, and make his hands like he’s catching my head–and I’d laugh. I can’t believe this now.”
Source: Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, 2021 / Photo: Ancestry, Yearbook, University of Southern California, 1963
Ed Kemper: “I wouldn’t blame [Mullin], I was in a jail cell right next to him for months and I was in prison up in the hole here, in the lockup unit, for going on three years with him. About two-and-a-half years, and at one point, I got him a job in the kitchen. I was already on the kitchen crew and the sergeant pulled me aside and asked me to talk to the guys about him coming on the crew, because he’d alienated a lot of the guys and they were afraid there’d be violence. So, I talked to them and there was no problem, so they brought him out to the crew. He worked a few months and he goes to the main line. I’m still sitting in the hole saying, “Geez, what happened here?”
“You know; I knew Herbie. I don’t call him “Herbert Mullin.” And of course, I don’t call myself Edmund Emil Kemper III either… I never heard that in my life until I was locked up for murder, right? But little Herbie was, when I met him in Redwood City Jail, okay? Our first meeting was I bumped him out of the priority cell, where they could look from the office and see through the steel door, the glass in the door and see him, physically. Or they could watch the monitor and watch him. He got bumped next door. There was a shower in the priority cell. You never had to leave the cell. For him to shower from the other cell, he had to go out in the main area, they had to lock everybody in one of the … uh, I guess you call them “tanks.” They moved 15 guys, 30 guys, out of the tank into the activity area. They’d walk him around into their tank. He’d shower. He’d come back out and all the way over there and all the way back there. They’re cat-calling him. They’re calling him names. They’re yelling, because he caused them great interruption in their day. Right? He resented that. He got bumped out of the priority cell into a non-shower cell. I got the shower cell. Right?
“So, he wasn’t too friendly at first. I’d say, “Excuse me, Mr. Mullin.” I say, “Do you have a bar of soap? There’s no soap over here.” He took it all with him. He had no need for it, but he took it with him. He’d say, “yes” and l’d say, “Well, can I use a bar of it?” He said, “No.” I‘d say “Oh, I got one of these little shits here…” and what it is, that he’s a little wimpy guy that hates big guys because he always feels intimidated by them. Right? And that’s how we started out.
“So, I started thinking about that and I went back to my old relationships in therapy and group therapy in Atascadero and Youth Authority and stuff and I’m saying, “Okay, well we can deal with this. “So, I started. I said, “Well, I have to be kind to him.” So, I found out something he liked. He loved Planter’s Peanuts. Little bags of peanuts. Shelled peanuts. So, I bought 20-30 bags of them. I didn’t care for them myself. I offered him some one day. We were both on camera 24 hours a day. So, I said, “Herbie, would you like some peanuts?” And he’d say, “Yeah!” And I said, “Oh, I got to him, right down to the inner core there.” “Yeah!” This little childhood thing comes out and it says, “Oh, here!” And he was fascinated by this thought of “Gee! He’s just giving me some peanuts and I didn’t do anything for them. I don’t know him. I’m not being nice to him. Why would he be giving me some peanuts?” So, he comes over to the bars. We can’t even see each other, and I reach out with these peanuts around the side, and I see this little hand come out and I thought of it almost as a little monkey paw. It’s what it seemed like. So innocent. This little hand comes out, starts to reach for the peanuts, and then he hesitated. He pulls back and I thought, ‘Oh, geez, he’s defensive. He’s thinking I’m gonna grab his hand and rip his arm off or something. I’m this great big guy, right?
“So, without saying anything, I just reached around and I laid them on the bars and then pulled my hand away: He took them and he enjoyed them and all of that and I’d say later, I’d say, “Gee, uh, Herbie, did you eat all those peanuts?”
“He’d say, “Oh, no, I still got some left.”
“I said, “Well, I got plenty more, go ahead and enjoy them.” So, what I did, I started giving him bags of peanuts, and he had this horrible habit. There’s guys back in the tank, and he and I are in these cells facing them through three bars. Three sets of bars. I can’t see him and he can’t see me. I don’t know where on the set of bars he is. The set of bars (stretches out his arms wide) is nine feet wide and eight or nine feet high. When he would get to acting up, he’d sit there hours writing and writing at this little desk and the other guys were ignoring him, so that night they’re watching Saturday Night Live, you know, with all of this rock music playing and stuff and they’re enjoying it. He’d get up and make this real loud speech about how bad television is for you and why you shouldn’t watch it. All the things it’ll do to you. And they’re having fits. They’re trying to throw things at him and they can’t get at him. They’re raging. They’re mad, because he’s destroying the one thing they really enjoy and he’s just having a ball doing this. He’ll sit for hours all day writing this two-hour speech, exactly as long as it takes to watch the show.
“So, he’d also sit over there and sing these horrible songs. He couldn’t sing a lick at all. He’s singing these horrible songs and one time I was in the car coming back to Redwood City and the cop go so upset at this singing he’s doing at the back of the station wagon, he turns around with his can of mace and says, “I had it, get out of the way, Kemper. I’m saying. “Hey, wait a minute! You’re going to get me with that stuff.” They’re just trying to mace the guy in the back of the car because he won’t shut up! He’s trying to get him to shut up, and the guy just ignored him. He had this way of really getting on people’s nerves. So, he’d pull these little stunts, these horrible songs and the speeches and things and I say, “Herbie, why do you do stuff like that?” He says, “I have a right to do what I want to do, too.” And then “Yeah, okay, right.”
“So, I started this, they call just real basic behavior modification therapy, okay? I had a little bit of psychology study. I worked in the psych testing area in Atascadero. I knew some of these things. So, I set up a very basic and very essential-just bare minimum-behaviour mod experiment.
“Behaviour modification, right? You reward them when they’re good. You punish them when they’re bad, and if you’re absolutely accurate in when you do these things, quick punishment when they do bad and quick reward when they do good, supposedly this is supposed to attack you at a subliminal level. A subconscious level. And you don’t have a lot of control over your reactions. That would improve your behaviour, essentially and then have these great elaborate experiments, like in Youth Authority when I went through where they try these things. So, what I did was when he was bad, I’d get a cup full of water in a Styrofoam cup and I’d reach around and throw it on him. It’s embarrassing and it also gets his papers wet, and, you know… so we got this cat and mouse game. When he was good, I’d give him peanuts and I tried gas him when he was bad. It’s called “gassing.” You throw this water on him, and he’d duck all over the house. I couldn’t figure out where he was at, so I kept missing him.
“So, what I did is I waited one day till I knew he was asleep or I suspected he was. I called one of the guys over to the bars from the place in the back, the tank and I went like this (Kemper pretends he is sleeping with his folded hands beneath his face for a pillow]. I says (he holds his hands out in a mime-gesture to ask ‘what is he doing?’) He reads it and says (nods yes]. I says, “Sshh.” I called him over to the bars and I said, “Hey, I want to work something out where I can get Herbie with these cups of water and he can’t figure out how I’m doing it.” I said, “I just thought of a way.” He says, “What’s that?” And I said, “I want you to set up a grid on the bars where you’re at, put a little piece of string, or a little piece of plastic, or a little something he won’t notice. Count over how many bars there are on his cell, on his cell front, and from the wall go over that far on you’re set and set up boundaries. Then, when I give you a signal, that will be a hand signal, very casually walk over, don’t look at me, just casually walk over and drape yourself on the bars where he’s at so I’ll know. If he’s back away from the bars, go back that far and position yourself so it’s a grid. It’s a targeting grid. So, he would do this, and Herbie would hear me turn the water on or maybe I’d have some already set up, and I would reach through the bars and I blasted him. I got him every time.
“He couldn’t figure out how all of a sudden, I got so accurate. It was without fail. I’d get him with that water. Wham! You know, it’s embarrassing and everybody’s laughing back there and “Good shot, Ed!” And all that stuff, and then I’d ask him if he’d do something, or “Hey, can we do this” or whatever, you know, and he’d participate in something with me. I’d give him peanuts. When he’s bad, he gets blasted with water. This went on for two or three weeks.
“He actually got away from the bad behaviour when he said, “Hey! I want to sing!”I says, “Well, hey guys in the back, do you mind if he sings?”
“Oh, we don’t want to hear that shit, man!”
“I said, “Hey you want to hear it now or do you want to hear it tonight when you’re watching the show?”
“So, go ahead, Herbie, sing.”
“He’d sing for 30-40 seconds, and then get bored and say, “Gee, | don’t want to do this anymore.” You know? Because the fun was gone out of it. But the point is, I got a handle on his behaviour, and the cops are watching this. The deputies are on camera watching me. I mean, they’re on the monitors watching every move I’m making. Right? And they’re fascinated. They’re watching this thing go back and forth with me and Herbie. They’re not involving themselves. They’re just watching it, and after a while, one of them come in and said, “Herbie is completely cooperative now. He’s not messing around.” Because, I’ve been … as we’re talking, these little frictions out between he and I, I’m showing him some insights into why people don’t like him, and showing some insights into what his behaviour is causing in them and he had realized by that point that it was just he’s reacting to how people are reacting to him. It’s just a self-perpetuating thing, and it was the only way he could get out his negative feelings. I said, “Well, why don’t you pose on the positive. Focus on the positive instead and the negative will go away.” I don’t think anybody ever did that with him before, because he responded real well to it, and later when we were up here in the hole together, and we weren’t even supposed to be together, they didn’t want us together. But we were up in the hole together. I was the only guy be could talk to.”
Source: 1991 Interview with Ed Kemper by Stéphane Bourgoin / Book Kemper on Kemper, by Peter Scott Jr., 2020
Ed Kemper: “I would pose little comments or questions aimed at [Herbert Mullin] as we’re sitting up there on the tier, on the concrete floor, sitting against the wall talking to one another [at the CMF in Vacaville]. I would say, “How did you feel, you know, when you bought that little Saturday Night Special. 22? Did you ever go out shooting with that? You know, just target shooting?”
[Mullin] says, “Well, not much.”
“I say, “Well, try this on. You loaded it up, you went out. You set up bottles, you set up cans. You set them around in little areas right around close and practice shooting them real fast.” And he looks at me all shocked, he says, “How do you know that?” I said, “Because that’s what I used to do. Those were people, those weren’t cans and bottles and you never told anybody.” So, he got all fascinated about how I was able to read his mind and stuff. I wasn’t. I saw a kindred spirit there, somebody who was doing something very similar to what I was doing as a child. He went to mental institutions and he went through these processes where these doctors told him what was wrong with him, and these doctors treated things that they decided were wrong with him and he just sat back very passively and went through these treatments and they had almost no effect on him because he didn’t dare say what was really going on in his head.
“Because, they would cast him off somewhere. He’d be totally separated from the human race and there were certain things he and certain things I enjoyed in being in the human race and being part of the human race we weren’t willing to let go of. So, that was that little desperate hanging on. So, here comes these professionals saying, “Oh this is what’s wrong with you little lad and this is what’s wrong with you and we’re gonna fix this up,” and “Okay, okay I’m well and yeah.” He goes out and buys a gun and starts killing people, and I talk about what happened when he killed those people.”
“Oh, they fell dead.”
“No, they did this, they did that, they gurgled and that some of them kept moving like you hadn’t even shot them and you shot them again.”
He says, “How did you know this? You weren’t there!”
I says, “I know.”
“I never told anybody that!”
“I know. I was there on my own trip. I know what happened.”
Source: 1991 Interview with Ed Kemper by Stéphane Bourgoin / Book Kemper on Kemper, by Peter Scott Jr., 2020
Released in 2021, the book Ed Kemper, Conversations With a Killer is an entertaining and detailed telling of Kemper’s life and crimes. We asked author Dary Matera a few questions about the process of writing the book:
EKS: How did you come about writing the book Ed Kemper, Conversations With a Killer?
DM: The publisher, Barnes & Noble/Sterling, recently republished my 1998 book Taming The Beast about Charles Manson’s wild life in prison post Helter Skelter. It’s part of their Conversations With a Killer series. They liked it so much they contracted me to write a totally new one about Ed Kemper, considering that it covered a similar era in California. I went into the project totally blind as I only had a passing knowledge of Ed’s rampage in the early 1970s. I was living in the Philippines back then as an overseas brat. This enabled to me to take on the project with a fresh objective perspective.
EKS: What was your research process? Was it easy to access people and documents?
DM: Documents yes, thanks to the Internet and remarkable web pages like yours, Christine. Ed was covered widely then and now. That was before the prison system outlawed interviews with incarcerated criminals, and Ed was very loquacious and gave many before the shutdown. Some of the best complimentary research material, oddly enough, came from long forgotten foreign publications in France, Germany, Australia, Ireland and Great Britain that I found on E-Bay. Those countries appear to be fascinated with American serial killers. As for witnesses, that was far more difficult as this happened a half century ago. I was fortunate that my Taming the Beast co-author, Ed George, was an administrator at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville where both Ed and Manson were housed. Ed George knew Kemper up close and personal for more than a decade.
EKS: What new information about the Kemper case did you learn that marked you?
DM: As mentioned, all the information on Ed was new to me, so that’s a difficult question to answer. As with Taming the Beast, I believe following Ed’s long incarceration after his killing spree was mostly new. Virtually all previously available stories about Ed, then, through the years, and now focus on his inhuman crimes in the early 1970s. My book, Ed Kemper, Conversations With a Killer, of course covered that in detail, but it also takes readers from his turbulent childhood up until today.
EKS: Which deceased person involved in the Kemper case would you have liked to talk to, and why?
DM: I would have loved to have channeled the person I felt was Ed most tragic victim, Aiko Koo. She was his youngest, only 15, and was already a nationally known exotic Asian dancer, along with being a brilliant student with an eye toward a potential future in politics. I envision her possibly ascending to Congress or the Senate. Her interaction with Ed, if reports are to be believed, was courageous and even humorous at times. She didn’t believe she was in danger until Ed suddenly transformed into killer mode and became the monster he was. Aiko tragically is the one who Ed accidently locked inside the car, with his gun on the floorboard and the keys inside. She was home free at that point – if she could drive or shoot. But Ed simply motioned for her to unlock the door, and she complied. That gives me the chills.
EKS: Your book covers extensively all the important events in the Kemper case. Is there any part of his story that remains a mystery to you? If so, what?
DM: Yes. Despite Ed’s wealth of ever-changing interviews, there are many mysteries. I was never able to lock down where he spent his first three years in prison. Some reports say he was doing hard time in isolation in a harsh prison like San Quentin, Folsom, or Pelican Bay. Others say he was at the much easier “Cuckoo’s Nest” at Vacaville since day one. Ed George, the Vacaville administrator, recalls that Kemper arrived there at least three years after his conviction in 1973. Ed himself wrote and spoke of his horrible first three years in isolation – in the “hole” in prison speak – with spiders, vermin, stifling loneliness and bad food. but he didn’t reveal where that was. His life was much easier subsequently at Vacaville, either from being transferred there, or released from the Vacaville hole and allowed to roam around in population.
As a former police reporter and true crime author, I can attest that this prison secrecy wasn’t unusual. Thanks mostly to Charles Manson and his devoted family, wardens don’t like to broadcast that they are housing a “celebrity” prisoner. They want to avoid followers like the Manson family camping out at their gates, harassing corrections officers and other employees, and flooding the facility with phone calls.
I was also never able to lock down why Ed, due to his massive size and strength, didn’t become a high school, college, or professional athlete. As mentioned in Ed Kemper – Conversations with a Killer, he was taller and stronger than 90 percent of the highly paid NBA players of his time. If he wasn’t athletic, he still could have used his size and strength to become a blocking offensive guard in football, possibly channeling his internal rage and making it all the way to the NFL. He could have lived a happy, lucrative celebrity life. Instead, he chose to hack up young women. Boggles.
EKS: You have also written a book about Charles Manson. Are there any similarities in their cases that you find interesting?
DM: What was interesting about Manson and Kemper, who were incarcerated at the Vacaville Medical Facility at the same time for many years, is that they basically detested each other. One a giant. The other a shrimp. No Of Mice and Men type relationship developed. Manson, despite prevailing beliefs, wasn’t a hands-on killer. He never actually murdered anyone. Manson was convicted and notoriously despised for being the leader of a drugged up hippy cult that acted out the brutal slaughters. Manson either ordered the murders, or didn’t stop them from happening. Manson also tried to clean up the scenes afterwards, making himself legally complicit in the homicides. Ed, in turn, was a lone wolf who was very hands on when it came to murder, post death rape, and horrific mutilation.
In addition, Manson recruited young California women into his family and didn’t physically harm them. They were his bread and butter, his beloved family and lovers. Ed, in contrast, kidnapped and ripped those near identical victims apart. So, the pair not only had very little in common, they had a strong reason to be enemies at odds.
Ed sometimes pointed out the difference between himself and Manson due to their physical size and strength and how they dealt with their troubled childhoods and incarcerations. Small and weak, Manson was sexually abused in juvenile facilities. Large and strong from his youth, Ed was spared that fate despite being incarcerated as a teenager in an adult psychiatric facility with nearly 1,000 sex offenders. It pays to be the biggest and strongest monster in the jungle!
After he was arrested in 1973 for the murder of eight women, Ed Kemper was asked by police to provide a handwriting sample by copying the note he left at his mother’s and her friend Sally Hallett’s murder scene. The document is signed by Kemper, detective Terry Medina and inspector with the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office, Richard F. Verbrugge.
Source: Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, 2021
Edward George, former administrator at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, recalled his many interactions with Ed Kemper:
“Big Ed and I used to chat occasionally about his life on the street. I discovered that he actually lived in Alameda in an apartment two blocks from where I lived. Scary. He worked at a gas station where I used to buy gas. Very scary. One day I asked him, tongue in cheek, what did he consider his greatest contribution to society. He didn’t miss a beat. With a gleeful smile, he cracked ‘I taught women not to hitchhike.’”
Source: Ed Kemper – Conversations with a killer, by Dary Matera, Sterling Publishing, 2021/ Photo: Pete Amos, Murder Capital of the World, by Emerson Murray, 2021
“I was very grateful when I bore Guy, to have been given a son – always felt strongly about it. The father never wanted any of them [the three Kemper children] in a planned sense. He always felt we couldn’t afford it and here they are today and he still can’t afford it, and love is actually quite inexpensive.”
clarnell strandberg in 1964 during an interview with specialists at atascadero when ed kemper was arrested for murdering his grandparents
Source: Murder Capital of the World, by Emerson Murray, 2021