Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Intelligence

“I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I liked Ed.”

John Douglas (left) and Ed Kemper (right)

FBI criminal profiler John Douglas talks about his first meeting with Ed Kemper in his book Mindhunter:

“The first thing that struck me when they brought him in was how huge this guy was. I’d known that he was tall and had been considered a social outcast in school and in the neighborhood because of his size, but up close, he was enormous. He could easily have broken any of us in two. He had longish dark hair and a full mustache, and wore an open work shirt and white T-shirt that prominently displayed a massive gut.

It was also apparent before long that Kemper was a bright guy. Prison records listed his IQ as 145, and at times during the many hours we spent with him, Bob [Robert Ressler] and I worried he was a lot brighter than we were. He’d had a long time to sit and think about his life and crimes, and once he understood that we had carefully researched his files and would know if he was bullshitting us, he opened up and talked about himself for hours.

His attitude was neither cocky and arrogant nor remorseful and contrite. Rather, he was cool and soft-spoken, analytical and somewhat removed. In fact, as the interview went on, it was often difficult to break in and ask a question. The only times he got weepy was in recalling his treatment at the hands of his mother. (…)

We ended up doing several lengthy interviews with Kemper over the years, each one informative, each one harrowing in its detail. Here was a man who had coldly butchered intelligent young women in the prime of their lives. Yet I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I liked Ed. He was friendly, open, sensitive, and had a good sense of humor. As much as you can say such a thing in this setting, I enjoyed being around him. I don’t want him out walking the streets, and in his most lucid moments, neither does he. But my personal feelings about him then, which I still hold, do point up an important consideration for anyone dealing with repeat violent offenders. Many of these guys are quite charming, highly articulate, and glib. (…)

Quite clearly, some types of killers are much more likely to repeat their crimes than others. But for the violent, sexually based serial killers, I find myself agreeing with Dr. Park Dietz that “it’s hard to imagine any circumstance under which they should be released to the public again.” Ed Kemper, who’s a lot brighter and has a lot more in the way of personal insight than most of the other killers I’ve talked to, acknowledges candidly that he shouldn’t be let out.”

Source: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (1996) by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker / Photo: Getty Images

“If I went apeshit in here, you’d be in a lot of trouble, wouldn’t you?”

Left to right: Robert K. Ressler, Ed Kemper and John Douglas

Supervisory Special Agent and Criminologist Robert K. Ressler, from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit, famously told the story of his third meeting with Ed Kemper:

Twice before, I had ventured in the Vacaville prison in California to see and talk with him, the first time accompanied by John Conway, the second time by Conway and by my Quantico associate John Douglas, whom I was breaking in. During those sessions, we had gone quite deeply into his past, his motivations for murder, and the fantasies that were intertwined with those crimes. (…) I was so pleased at the rapport I had reached with Kemper that I was emboldened to attempt a third session with him alone. It took place in a cell just off death row, the sort of place used for giving a last benediction to a man about to die in the gas chamber. (…)

After conversing with Kemper in this claustrophobic locked cell for four hours, dealing with matters that entail behavior at the extreme edge of depravity, I felt that we had reached the end of what there was to discuss, and I pushed the buzzer to summon the guard to come and let me out of the cell. No guard immediately appeared, so I continued on with the conversation. (…)

After another few minutes had passed, I pressed the buzzer a second time, but still got no response. Fifteen minutes after my first call, I made a third buzz, yet no guard came.

Robert K. Ressler

A look of apprehension must have come over my face despite my attempts to keep calm and cool, and Kemper, keenly sensitive to other people’s psyches, picked up on this.

“Relax, they’re changing the shift, feeding the guys in the secure area.” He smiled and got up from his chair, making more apparent his huge size. “Might be fifteen, twenty minutes before they come and get you,” he said to me. (…)

Though I felt I maintained a cool and collected posture, I’m sure I reacted to this information with somewhat more overt indications of panic, and Kemper responded to these.

“If I went apeshit in here, you’d be in a lot of trouble, wouldn’t you? I could screw your head off and place it on the table to greet the guard.”

Ed Kemper during the FBI interviews

My mind raced. I envisioned him reaching for me with his large arms, pinning me to a wall in a stranglehold, and then jerking my head around until my neck was broken. It wouldn’t take long, and the size difference between us would almost certainly ensure that I wouldn’t be able to fight him off very long before succumbing. He was correct: He could kill me before I or anyone else could stop him. So, I told Kemper that if he messed with me, he’d be in deep trouble himself.

“What could they do– cut off my TV privileges?” he scoffed.

I retorted that he would certainly end up “in the hole” – solitary confinement – for an extremely long period of time.

Both he and I knew that many inmates put in the hole are forced by such isolation into at least temporary insanity.

Ed shrugged this off by telling me that he was an old hand at being in prisons, that he could withstand the pain of solitary and that it wouldn’t last forever. Eventually, he would be returned to a more normal confinement status, and his “trouble” would pale before the prestige he would have gained among the other prisoners by “offing” an FBI agent.

My pulse did the hundred-yard dash as I tried to think of something to say or do to prevent Kemper from killing me. I was fairly sure that he wouldn’t do it but I couldn’t be completely certain, for this was an extremely violent and dangerous man with, as he implied, very little left to lose. How had I been dumb enough to come in here alone?

Suddenly, I knew how I had embroiled myself in such a situation. Of all people who should have known better, I had succumbed to what students of hostage-taking events know as “Stockholm syndrome”- I had identified with my captor and transferred my trust to him. Although I had been the chief instructor in hostage negotiation techniques for the FBI, I had forgotten this essential fact! Next time, I wouldn’t be so arrogant about the rapport I believed I had achieved with a murderer. Next time.

“Ed,” I said, “surely you don’t think I’d come in here without some method of defending myself, do you?”

“Don’t shit me, Ressler. They wouldn’t let you up here with any weapons on you.”

Kemper’s observation, of course, was quite true, because inside a prison, visitors are not allowed to carry weapons, lest these be seized by inmates and used to threaten the guards or otherwise aid an escape. I nevertheless indicated that FBI agents were accorded special privileges that ordinary guards, police, or other people who entered a prison did not share.

What’ve you got then?”

“I’m not going to give away what I might have or where I might have it on me.”

“Come on, come on; what is it – a poison pen?”

“Maybe, but those aren’t the only weapons one could have.”

“Martial arts, then,” Kemper mused. “Karate? Got your black belt? Think you can take me?” 

With this, I felt the tide had shifted a bit, if not turned. There was a hint of kidding in his voice – I hoped. But I wasn’t sure, and he understood that I wasn’t sure, and he decided that he’d continue to try and rattle me. By this time, however, I had regained some composure, and thought back to my hostage negotiation techniques, the most fundamental of which is to keep talking and talking and talking, because stalling always seems to defuse the situation. We discussed martial arts, which many inmates studied as a way to defend themselves in the very tough place that is prison, until, at last, a guard appeared and unlocked the cell door. (…)

As Kemper got ready to walk off down the hall with the guard, he put his hand on my shoulder.

“You know I was just kidding, don’t you?”

“Sure,” I said, and let out a deep breath.

I resolved never to put myself or any other FBI interviewer in a similar position again. From then on, it became our policy never to interview a convicted killer or rapist or child molester alone; we’d do that in pairs.

Source: Whoever Fights Monsters – My twenty years tracking serial killers for the FBI, by Robert K. Ressler and Tom Shachtman, 1992

Kemper’s friendship with police

Drawing from David Jouvent for his upcoming graphic novel about Ed Kemper

“My relations with the police were much exaggerated at the time of my crimes. I knew two or three agents. The bar I went to wasn’t in front of the police station, it was more than sixteen hundred feet away, in front of the courthouse. The Jury Room, Joe Mandela’s Jury Room. ‘Come in and give us your verdict’, that’s the slogan under the sign. The establishment is rather quiet and a number of police officers frequent it. At the time I was committing my crimes, I used the friendship bonds that I’d woven with these policemen to learn more about the progress of the investigation.

Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I had read it when I was younger. “(Kemper smiles.) With this criminal who feels the pressure building up inside: Are they following me? And he ends up cracking and confessing. This is a novel. I want to avoid all of that. I had no problem getting information out of these officers. Why? Because of the very structure of the police hierarchy, whose elite is represented by the criminal brigade. They see themselves as the cream of the crop and they like to brag about their exploits in front of other cops. So, there is a certain jealousy and friction between the different services.

As for me, I was doing a little dragging around these simple cops. I didn’t care about being their friend. I had already been in prison. I didn’t like the police. But they were talking to each other about what they’d heard about the case. I was on the periphery. They snubbed me, as they were snubbed by the ‘supercops’ of the Criminal. But I wasn’t bothered by their presence, I didn’t act weirdly in front of them and that’s something they must have felt.

Usually, any citizen who speaks to a police officer in uniform is clumsy, as if he’s guilty of something, even if he’s clean. And I think cops are sensitive to that kind of thing; as soon as they put on a uniform, they know right away that they’re no longer like the others. Relationships are skewed. It’s something that must hurt them somehow. But if I don’t act that way, if I don’t treat them like an insect under the microscope, then I’ve slipped a foot in the crack of the door. Little by little, you learn to pay for beers and get to know each other: ‘How’s it going, Big Ed’, ‘Great, and you, Andy, etc. And a year later, I phone them to tell them, ‘I’m the Co-Ed Killer. I want to surrender. ‘

Source: L’Ogre de Santa Cruz (Stéphane Bourgoin, 1998, Éditions Méréal)

1972 probation psychiatric report on Kemper

On September 14, 1972, Kemper picked up fifteen-year-old Aiko Koo hitchhiking to a dance class in San Francisco. He took her to a remote area, choked her into unconsciousness, raped her, and then finished killing her. He placed her body in the trunk of his car and on his way home stopped off for a beer. He took the corpse back to his apartment, dissected it, had sex with it, and cut off the head.

The next day Ed Kemper had a scheduled appointment with his probation psychiatrists. In the morning before heading out to the appointment, Kemper buried Koo’s body at one location and her hands at another, but kept her head. He then drove to the psychiatrists’ office with the head locked in the trunk of his car. Leaving his car in the parking lot, he went in for his interview.

The psychiatric report resulting from that day’s visit reads:

“If I were seeing this patient without having any history available or without getting the history from him, I would think that we’re dealing with a very well adjusted young man who had initiative, intelligence and who was free of any psychiatric illness . . . In effect, we are dealing with two different people when we talk of the 15 year old boy who committed the murders and of the 23 year old man we see before us now . . . It is my opinion that he has made a very excellent response to the years of treatment and rehabilitation and I would see no psychiatric reason to consider him to be of any danger to himself or to any member of society.”

The second psychiatrist cheerfully added:

“He appears to have made a good recovery from such a tragic and violent split within himself. He appears to be functioning in one piece now directing his feelings towards verbalization, work, sports and not allowing neurotic buildup with himself. Since it may allow him more freedom as an adult to develop his potential, I would consider it reasonable to have a permanent expunction of his juvenile records. I am glad he had recently “expunged” his motorcycle and I would hope that he would do that (“seal it”) permanently since this seemed more a threat to his life and health than any threat he is presently to anyone else.”

One can only wonder what the psychiatrists’ diagnoses would have been if either of them had looked into the trunk of Kemper’s car that morning.

On November 29, 1972, Kemper’s juvenile record was permanently sealed so that he could go on with his life. In the meantime, he had moved back home with his domineering mother.

Excerpt from “Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters” by Peter Vronsky (2004, Berkley Books)

Kemper’s High IQ

Photo: Joey Tranchina

“Ironically, I have a high IQ. I didn’t know that until I was locked up the first time for murder. I always thought I was little missin’ up here, a little short, because I was always called stupid, called slow.”

ed kemper (from his 1991 interview with Stéphane Bourgoin)

At Atascadero, California Youth Authority psychiatrists recorded that Kemper had an IQ of 136 when he first was imprisoned there in 1964 following the murder of his grandparents. Later on in his time at Atascadero, Kemper tested higher at an IQ of 145.

In an interview published in the Fall of 2017 in the Daily Mail UK, after the release of the Mindhunter series on Netflix, Ed Kemper’s half-brother, David Weber, had this to say about Kemper’s IQ: ”Susan [Kemper’s older sister] told me once that Guy’s IQ [Guy is Ed Kemper’s nickname in his family] is far higher than the reported 146, more like 180 plus. He faked his IQ tests so it would always come out showing he had an IQ in the upper 140s. He’s a demented super-genius of a sociopath. He is incapable of caring regardless of what he says or shows. He makes OJ Simpson look like a rank amateur at best.”

During his 2017 parole hearing, Kemper seems to take pride in the fact that he has a high IQ and that it somehow makes him better than other people, as in this excerpt where Presiding Commissioner Fritz and Kemper discuss this topic:

Presiding Commissioner (PC) Fritz: Do you think you’re better than other people?

Kemper: Well, some people, I am. I don’t know how…

PC Fritz: You do think you’re better than other people?

Kemper: No, there are some people that – I have a high IQ, they don’t.

PC Fritz: So?

Kemper: Uh, well, I’m saying.

PC Fritz: I mean, so what. Lot – Tons of people in this room have high IQs. That doesn’t make us better than anybody, right?

Kemper: Not in…

PC Fritz: Does it make you feel good about yourself to say oh I have a high IQ so I’m better than other people?

Kemper: No.

PC Fritz: Okay so then what do you mean by you are better than other people besides having a high IQ?

Kemper: Some people, some of my acquaintances, uh, speak in, uh, a fashion that, uh, tells me they’re happy with much simpler accomplishments moment to moment, day to day, and I might put a lot more energy into that; a lot more effort into that than to so simply speak up to something. In that sense.

PC Fritz: Okay, all right. So you can’t empathize or be happy with the accomplishments they have cause you think they’re simple accomplishments versus your accomplishments.