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!