Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Father Figure

“I just wanted to see what it felt like to shoot Grandma.”

Edmund Emil Kemper Sr. and his wife Maude Matilda Kemper were both murdered by their grandson, serial killer Edmund Kemper III, on August 27, 1964, at their ranch in North Fork, California. They were his first victims. 

Maude Matilda (nee Hughey) Kemper was born on November 19, 1897 in Topeka, Shawnee County, in Kansas. She was the sixth of seven children to her parents Henry McClellan Hughey and Violet Elizabeth (nee Dodge) Hughey. Her family moved to Los Angeles in 1910. 

That’s where she met Edmund Emil Kemper Sr. a few years later, and married him on June 7, 1914. She was 16 and he was 21. They had three sons: Edmund Emil Kemper Jr. (1919-1985); Robert (1921-2018); and a third son whose name might be Raymond.

Edmund Sr. was a farmer before enlisting in the Army in 1917, and serving during the First World War. He was the third of six sons to his parents Frederick Augustus Reinhardt Kemper and Bertha Anna Haas. After the war, he worked as an electrician for the California State Division of Highways.

Maude and Edmund Sr. lived on an isolated farm in North Fork, Madera County, California, in 1963, when their oldest son, Edmund Jr., visited them with his second wife and his son Edmund III during the Christmas holidays. After the celebrations, Edmund Jr. left his son with his parents. Edmund Jr. explained his decision in 1964:

“His personality had changed so much that I was worried about him being here with my present wife, who tried very hard to be a real friend to him. I saw him one day in a brooding mood and his eyes looked like a sleepwalker. In several talks I had with him toward the last he seemed fascinated by death and war. Tried to watch Weird Tales on TV which I suppressed.”

Of his father, Kemper said, “he didn’t want me around, because I upset his second wife. Before I went to Atascadero, my presence gave her migraine headaches; when I came out she was going to have a heart attack if I came around.” 

It was because of that, Kemper said, that he was “shipped off” to his paternal grandparents to live in “complete isolation” on a California mountain top with “my senile grandfather” and “my grandmother who thought she had more balls than any man and was constantly emasculating me and my grandfather to prove it. I couldn’t please her… It was like being in jail… I became a walking time bomb and I finally blew…” 

Edmund Sr. and Maude’s ranch in North Fork at the time of the murders

Kemper hated living on his grandparents’ farm, but he had great admiration for his grandfather. Some people who knew Kemper believed his grandfather was the only person he ever really loved: “Well, I’d heard stories about when he [his grandfather] was younger. He was a pretty fierce guy. He was an original cowboy. He carried a .45 on his hip. He was a tough guy wrangler, and my father had told me that he back-handed him clear across the kitchen one night when he got, I guess, smart with him.” 

As for his grandmother, she was a strong woman, who reminded Kemper of his own mother. She wouldn’t let him bring any friends home or get into any social activities in school. He couldn’t watch cartoons and she screened any TV shows he watched. Kemper said: “She had placed herself in the position of being, in essence, my warden. And she said if you ever want to go live with your father again, you had better do what I say.”

His grandfather bought in a .22 and taught him how to shoot it. Kemper spent hours in the bushes shooting at birds, gophers and other small animals to annoy his grandmother who didn’t want him killing animals. He disposed of the remains carefully. Edmund Sr. eventually took away the rifle at the behest of Maude, who didn’t see the point in killing things just for the sake of killing them. This punishment infuriated Kemper, as the weapon served as an outlet for his growing aggression. 

From David Jouvent and Thomas Mosdi’s Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer, 2020

Confined at home, Kemper’s anger started to simmer, and he began to transfer his hatred for his domineering mother to his domineering grandmother. 

Kemper laughed as he recalled an incident with his grandmother when she left him home alone one day but took his grandfather’s .45 automatic with her in her purse, because she was afraid he might “play” around with it in her absence. His grandparents were going to Fresno on a monthly shopping trip. He recalled: “I saw her big black pocketbook bulging as she went out the door and I said to myself, ‘Why that old bitch, she’s taking the gun with her, because she doesn’t trust me, even though I promised I wouldn’t touch it.’” He said he looked in his grandfather’s bureau drawer and “sure enough the gun was gone from its usual place… I toyed with the idea of calling the chief of police in Fresno and telling him ‘there’s a little old lady walking around town with a forty-five in her purse and she’s planning a holdup’ and then give him my grandmother’s description. How do you suppose she would have talked herself out of that?”

Maude began to fear the grandson she had inherited. Possibly because she was the object of Kemper’s deadly glares, she sensed he was plotting against her. 

Kemper’s mother, Clarnell Strandberg, reacted in 1964: “Pressure [on Kemper] must have been building. [Maude] wrote how happy he was with his gun and dog and ‘great authors and school’ and it wasn’t until the tragedy that I was told by the father that he was beginning to worry and frightened them with his moods. I wish I had known.”

On August 27, 1964, Kemper’s grandfather was running errands at the grocery store and the post office. His grandmother was working on a short story for Boy’s Life Magazine, “Fire in the Cannon,” in the kitchen. Kemper was sitting at the kitchen table with her. They started to argue after he stared at her with the horrifying expression she had observed before. Enraged, Kemper stormed off and retrieved the confiscated rifle that his grandfather had given him for hunting. He decided to go rabbit hunting and went outside to fetch is dog, Anka, on the porch. His grandmother uttered her last words: “Oh, you’d better not be shooting the birds again.” He stopped to look in through the screen window. He had fantasized about killing her before. She was facing away from him. He raised his rifle aimed at the back of her head, and fired through the screen. Maude slumped forward on the table where she’d been typing. He shot her twice in the head and once in the back. He then wrapped her head in a towel and dragged her body to the bedroom, went to get a knife and stabbed her three times so hard, the knife bent double: “I didn’t think she was dead and I didn’t want her to suffer any longer.” 

From David Jouvent and Thomas Mosdi’s Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer, 2020

His grandfather soon returned home and Kemper went outside to greet him. Edmund Sr. nodded, smiled and waved to his grandson as he began unloading food and supplies from the truck. Kemper returned the greeting and sneaked up closer to his grandfather: “When he turned, I placed the rifle about thirty inches from the back of his head and shot him. Kemper later explained that he didn’t want his grandfather to see what he had done to his wife of fifty years and that he would be angry with Kemper for what he’d done. 

Kemper dragged is grandfather’s body to the garage and washed the blood from his hands with a garden hose. He also tried to clean the blood near the truck. 

Edmund Sr.’s truck on the day of the murders

Back inside the house, Kemper had a passing thought about undressing his dead grandmother and exploring her body sexually to satisfy his carnal curiosity, but he shook it from his mind as being too perverted. 

He was unsure of what to do next, so he phoned his mother, who told him to sit tight while she called the Madera County Sheriff. Kemper also called the police to make sure they would come. When the police arrived, Kemper was sitting calmly on the front porch. The reason he gave for his actions: “I just wanted to see what it felt like to shoot Grandma.”

Sources: Ancestry / Front Page Detective Magazine, March 1974, by Marj von B / Murder Capitol of the world, 2021, by Emerson Murray / Ed Kemper’s 2017 parole hearing / Ed Kemper – Conversations with a killer, 2021, by Dary Matera / Ed Kemper – Dans la peau d’un serial killer, 2020, by David Jouvent and Thomas Mosdi

“It really sunk in that his dad didn’t want him…”

From a 1973 interview with Susan Swanson, Ed Kemper’s oldest sister, where she recalled his mood in 1964, after their father left him with his parents at their ranch in the mountains in North Fork, California:

“So, after that school year, while he was fifteen, he came home to Montana for summer vacations. I spent time with him, I was living back in Helena then, I was still married – in fact, I was three weeks away from having my third child. We spent a lot of time together. He seemed, oh, I don’t know, he was… He could have fun, he could laugh, he could play and be silly and visit and stuff like that, but deep down he seemed awfully hurt. Like you know, it really sunk in that his dad didn’t want him and this still intensified his love for his father. He just kept reaching and grabbing for him. So, we took him fishing and all kinds of things and then he went back down to Madera and it was just, oh, a matter of a couple of weeks later that he killed his grandparents.”

Source: Murder Capital of the World, by Emerson Murray, 2021 https://www.emersonmurray.com/murder-capital-of-the-world / Photo: Pete Amos

Today: Ed Kemper’s birthday

Born on December 18, 1948, serial killer Edmund Kemper turns 72 years old today. He is still incarcerated at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, where he has been living since his conviction in 1973. 

Edmund Emil Kemper III is the second of three children and the only son born to Edmund and Clarnell Kemper. Kemper bitterly recalls that his father was not around much when he was young and that his parents separated completely when he was 9, after which his mother moved the family from California to Montana. As a result of the move, Ed almost never saw his father. This greatly embittered him, and he blamed his mother entirely. As a child, Kemper was physically and socially awkward, always the largest boy in his class. He ultimately grew to 6 feet 9 inches and weighed 280 pounds. He was a loner who dwelled in the world of science-fiction and the occult for escape. His mother once wrote, “I was deeply worried during the years about the lack of a father relationship, and so I tried everything I could to compensate for that.” According to Ed, this meant she felt a need to punish and ridicule him in order to “make him a man.”

Source: Murder and Madness by Donald T. Lunde, 1976, San Francisco Book Company / Image taken from documentary The Killing of America by directors Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan (1981)

Ed Kemper’s father’s army discharge

This is the registration card confirming that Ed Kemper’s father, Edmund Emil Kemper Jr. (II), was discharged from the army after World War II in 1945.

Edmund Kemper II enlisted in the Army on June 21, 1939. He served in World War II during his enlistment. After the war he tested atomic bombs in the Pacific Proving Grounds before returning to California, where he found work as an electrician. 

Sources: Ancestry / Find a Grave

Ed Kemper and John Wayne

Edmund Kemper grew up like almost any other red-blooded American boy, which is to say, in a home where the parents quarrelled a great deal, separated, reunited, eventually were divorced, and where the mother wound up both caring for the children and working at a full-time job. He grew up worshipping Hollywood actor John Wayne, whose image intertwined and blurred in his mind with memories of the beloved father who had abandoned him.

On January 25, 1950, John Wayne “The Duke” put his footprints & fist print in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. The prints are still there.

Raised by a terrible mother, who didn’t hesitate to lock him in the cellar when he was a child, Edmund Kemper became very shy and isolated himself more and more. He dreamed of revenge, he thought of morbid games in which death and mutilation played an essential part. Aware of his inadequacy, he admired his absent father and actor John Wayne.

“John Wayne was very much like my father,” said Edmund Kemper, both physically and in his behavior. My father was a big guy who spoke loudly. Like John Wayne, he had very small feet. When I first went to Los Angeles, I immediately went to put my feet in the footprints of John Wayne, who are immortalized in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater. I was proud to see that my feet were bigger than his.”

Sources: The Co-Ed Killer, Margaret Cheney / Serial killers : Enquête mondiale sur les tueurs en série, Stéphane Bourgoin / Thanks to Catrin Elen Williams for the John Wayne pictures on Facebook

Did Ed Kemper’s father ever forgive him?

Did Ed Kemper’s father ever forgive him for killing his parents in 1964?

According to Kemper himself, his father forgave him during their 1971 reunion. In June 1971, Ed Kemper tries to get in touch with his father whom he has not seen since his imprisonment at Atascadero. He manages to find his address and telephone number through the electricians’ union directory in Los Angeles. His father refuses to receive him at home because he remembers his second wife’s reactions and migraines when his son came to live with them. He agrees to meet him at a restaurant where they spend several hours together drinking, chatting and pretending to argue over who will pay for the alcohol tab. Finally, Ed Jr pays the bill. “I knew he never had bread, but we took the opportunity to solve all our problems, about the grandparents, and he told me he had forgiven me.” This would be their last meeting.

But, according to David Weber, Ed Kemper’s half-brother through their father, said in an interview published in the Fall of 2017 in the Daily Mail UK, that his father was at a loss as to what to do with his unruly son until [his parents] offered to take him in and straighten him out. “It was a fatal mistake. My father never forgave himself for that and only on his deathbed forgave Guy [Ed Kemper’s nickname in his family] for what he did. Susan [Kemper’s older sister] arranged a phone call between Guy, my dad, and a minister while my dad was dying in the hospital,” Weber said. Kemper’s father died on January 19, 1985.

Source: L’Ogre de Santa Cruz (Stéphane Bourgoin) / Daily Mail UK

“Here, I want you to have it.”

During the period when Kemper had been transported to and from the San Mateo County Jail for trial, he had become acquainted with a slightly built Santa Cruz County sheriff’s deputy named Bruce Colomy, a man not much older than himself. Colomy had been kind to the gigantic defendant. Although no one would ever have confused the deputy with John Wayne, he nevertheless represented another father figure to Kemper. “He’s more like a father to me than anyone I have ever known,” he said. “He’s like the father I wish I had had.”

While imprisoned at Atascadero in the late 1960s, Kemper became a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees). During his trial, he wore his membership pin in his lapel, apparently with pride.

[Before being taken to state prison after his sentencing], slowly, Kemper removed the precious Junior Chamber of Commerce pin from the lapel of his buckskin jacket. Colomy described this episode, a scene that would have wrenched the heart of any B-grade movie fan. “Ed looked at it for a long time and tears came to his eyes. Then he handed it to me and said, ‘Here, I want you to have it.’”

From: Why: The Serial Killer In America by Margaret Cheney (1992, update of The Co-Ed Killer, 1976) / Pin is not the actual pin that belonged to Ed Kemper, but it is from the same time period.