Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Joey Tranchina

Ed Kemper’s ceramic art work

Imperfect criminal justice systems execute the innocent along with the guilty — Kemper’s case does not fit that rubric. However, Kemper’s execution would have done nothing to change the unpardonable acts of his past, while it would have precluded every decent, useful and beautiful that he has done in prison. Considering the lives of his victims, Kemper’s execution could not fairly have been called an injustice, but considering the life he has led in prison, it would have been a mistake. However, it is Kemper’s remarkable art work that, ultimately, confirmed my faith in the futility of the death penalty.

Because of powerful forces beyond his control, Edmund Kemper is too high-risk to be on the street, but in 41 years of incarceration, he has been a model prison-citizen, an effective functionary and a very interesting artist, whose ceramic designs have amazed me and astonished my friends for almost 35 years. The cup Kemp mailed to me, almost 35 years ago, continues to delight me every day.

NOTE: Above is my photograph of an amazingly intricately-glazed, slip cast cup. It was made on the dock near my home in the South of France. Below it is my photograph of Ed Kemper making that cup, in his house in California State Correctional Facility — Vacaville.

Photographer Joey Tranchina who visited ed kemper at the cmf in vacaville in the fall of 1979

Source: Excerpt from My Life Tumbled – Photographer Joey Tranchina’s Blog on Tumblr – July 12, 2014

Reluctant Edmund Kemper Denied Parole

The following article was published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel, on May 2, 1979. Due to a decision by the state Parole Board, only one reporter from this area was allowed to be present at Edmund Kemper’s parole hearing Tuesday. That reporter was Marj Von B of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian, who filed this report.

Kemper first became eligible for parole in 1979. He was denied parole that year, as well as at parole hearings in 1980, 1981, and 1982.

Coed killer Ed Kemper, imprisoned in 1973 on eight first-degree murder counts, will not be freed next year, a state prison parole board decided Tuesday. Kemper, 30, was found to be “unsuitable for release at this time,” but the board’s decision did not seem to dismay him.

He told the three-member board at the conclusion of a three-hour hearing at the Vacaville State Medical Facility, “I’d have refused to be considered for parole, but I didn’t want to be provocative.”

Earlier, he had stated to the board he felt his release on parole was not “feasible, legal or moral,” saying he had been sentenced to prison by Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Harry F. Brauer “for the rest of your natural life.”

In addition, Kemper said, “I don’t want to set a precedent of being a person two-times released after multiple murders. I don’t want to ever hurt anybody again.”

Kemper killed his grandmother and grandfather when he was 15, and was sent to Atascadero State Mental Hospital and then to the California Youth Authority, where he was paroled in 1970.

But during the hearing, in which he was represented by a lawyer, Steve Bedient of Sacramento, Kemper seemed bent on personally straightening out the state’s recorded version of his crimes.

Part of the hearing procedure was the reading of a summary of his criminal history into the record by the chairman, Ruth Rushen.

It was a recitation of brutality, sexual depravity and violence, detailing the killing of six young women, Kemper’s mother and one of her best friends.

According to a confession made to police alter his surrender, Kemper said he had sexually assaulted the coeds after killing them, and then had dismembered their bodies, disposing of them in sites in Santa Cruz and other adjacent counties.

As Mrs. Rushen read on, in a strange contrast, birds chirped in a tree outside the windows of the second story prison conference room.

Then Santa Cruz District Attorney Art Danner was asked to add his comments for the record, and he noted that the material related by Mrs. Rushen did not reflect the fact that “parts” of one of the bodies of Kemper’s victims had been cannibalized by the defendant.”

Nor, Danner said, did it reflect that Kemper had “mutilated” parts of his mother’s body “by putting it into the garbage disposal.”

Kemper refuted the confession, saying that in telling the police the lurid details, “In my unwise and immature judgment, I thought I was building a case supporting my psychiatric plea (of not guilty by reason of insanity).”

“I disclaim any sexual misconduct during any of my crimes,” he said emphatically. “I made those statements when it was understood that I was to be the only witness at my trial.”

And he added, “I am not a cannibal. That’s unsubstantiated and only claimed by me.”

“As every hunter knows, I could get physically ill or die from eating an animal or person in that state,” Kemper argued.

In his account of the murders, Kemper said, he had been trying to “go to Atascadero” instead of state prison. “I was trying to get myself locked up for good.”

“I was trying to seal my fate, and the state in presenting its case botched it… I have ample opportunity now to save myself in the courts.” Kemper said.

But then he continued, “I’m not going to avail myself of them.”

Kemper also denied that he recently sought court permission to have psychosurgery to help him get out of prison later. Kemper said, “I asked for multi-target neurosurgery in the hope of gaining relief from any kind of homicidal tendencies whatsoever.”

The court denied his request.

Asked if he was “still having urges to kill people,” Kemper said, “No.”

But he explained, “I felt as if I had one foot in the coffin and one on a banana peel.”

He said he was afraid that “if some time I had a bad day and a prison officer or technician had a bad day and was provocative or insultive, I might smack his head up against the wall, and I would die in CDC (California Department of Corrections).”

Kemper referred to a state law which demands the death penalty for the murder of a prison guard or official.

But then he said mildly, “I am not known for a very short temper. I am a passive aggressive.”

And in a sort of aside to himself, Kemper, who works as a clerk in a prison psychotherapy ward, said, “I’ve had nine diagnoses in my time, I wonder how many of them are valid?”

Kemper also appeared offended at a statement in a psychiatric report that he had shown no remorse for all the killings.

“I feel very strongly about what I’ve done,” he said. “I do feel remorse in what I’ve done.”

But when pressed for a reason behind his killings, Kemper always seemed to return to his relationship with his mother.

“I hate her — guts,” he said in a rare explosive moment during the hearing.

He, said he had turned to killing the six women because he was “feeling persecuted and destroyed by my mother.”

And it was his childhood hatred of his mother that led him to kill his grandparents, too, he revealed.

But he explained, “I’m not blaming my mother, I’m saying I hate my mother.”

After the coed murders, Kemper said he was “sick of killing,” but murdered his mother knowing that would “blow the whistle.”

He said, “If she died they (the police) were going to get me, and if they got me for her, they would get me for the others.”

Kemper denied he killed his mother’s friend to make persons think the two women were away together for a weekend and give him time to flee before an investigation of their disappearance.

Incongruously he said, “I killed her because she had hurt my mother very grievously.”

The board members also talked with Kemper about his adjustment to prison life.

According to prison reports he is “doing an outstanding job” as a therapy clerk, has no disciplinary problems and “gets along with the staff and his peers.”

He was asked by board member Craig Brown why he got along well in Vacaville and other institutions “and in the community you become violent?”

“Because when I am in a structured situation, I can get help when I need it,” Kemper replied. But on the streets, I felt rather forgotten and sometimes I felt abandoned.”

The loquacious Kemper later expounded on his life in prison saying, “I was convinced when I came here, I would soon be dead.”

“But the last six months have been the best of my life. I’ve learned to live with myself and with God. I believe I have an obligation to myself and the people around me.”

He also spoke with pride of his work in recording books on tape for the blind and the handicapped, which recently won him a public service award.

However, Danner warned the board not to be complacent about Kemper.

“It’s the kind of complacency he wants,” Danner said, “the kind that was seen at Atascadero where he was released to kill again.”

The district attorney said, “Mr. Kemper poses such an unreasonable risk and danger to society, he is now unsuitable for release and probably will remain so for the rest of his life.”

After a 30-minute deliberation in private, the board called Kemper, the lawyers and the press back into the room and announced its decision.

Chairman Rushen outlined the reasons for denying the parole.

First, she said, Kemper’s crimes “contained elements of such extraordinary violence that it was incomprehensible to think that he should be released at this time.”

Also:

– He had a previous record of violence, and although his juvenile record was sealed, “he stated several times during the hearing that he had killed his grandparents.”

– His violent and bizarre conduct after the crimes, which included mutilation and defiling of the corpses of the victims, showed a total disregard for the dignity and worth of a fellow human being… and this included the victims and their families.”

– The psychology reports do not support suitability for release.

Mrs. Rushen noted that the latest report on Kemper, dated in March of this year diagnosed him as paranoid schizophrenic in a state of “good remission.” But she added the report said that there was no way to predict the possibility of his violence in the future if he is released.

Kemper greeted the decision with a smile and thanked the board.

Referring to an initial outburst and his demand that the press and one reporter in particular, be barred from the hearing, Kemper said, “I would like to apologize for my untoward and abusive behavior, although it’s probably better than some you’ve had in here,” he added with a chuckle.

Then with a wave of his hand, the six-foot, nine-inch inmate, known as “Big Ed,” ambled down the long hall and was admitted into the locked area of the prison building.

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.

Ed Kemper’s friendship with writer Leonard Wolf

Wolf was a professor at San Francisco State University and a regular visitor of Kemper’s in the late 1970s. They befriended one another, and with Wolf’s backing, Kemper was planning on getting a PhD. But Wolf left to go to New York and couldn’t sponsor Kemper anymore. So the PhD never happened.

“…[Leonard] spoke about the psychological perversity of Kemper’s childhood, and about his life in virtual isolation — never as a way to attempt to excuse Kemper’s inexcusable acts rather as a way to attempt to understand them. This was bridging a chasm.”

“…After all, [Leonard] had spent hundreds of hours with Kemper. At this point Leonard knew Kemper, probably, better than anyone ever had, including the psychiatrist who told the parole board that Kemper represented “no threat to society” and could be safely released, after he had killed only two of his 10 eventual victims.”

Excerpts from photographer Joey Tranchina’s blog My life Tumbled – “A day with Ed Kemper” – Parts 1 & 2 – Fall 1979

Who is Leonard Wolf:

Leonard Wolf is a poet, author, teacher, and the father of writer Naomi Wolf. He is known for his authoritative annotated editions of classic gothic horror novels, including DraculaFrankensteinThe Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde and The Phantom of the Opera, and critical works on the topic.

 

“All that would be mine.”

“I imagine myself committing mass murders, where I gather a large number of pre-selected women in one place, killing them before passionately making love to them. Taking their life, possessing everything that belongs to them. All that would be mine. Absolutely everything.”

-Ed Kemper

Source : L’Ogre de Santa Cruz (Stéphane Bourgoin, 1998) / Photo ©Joey Tranchina

“One thing I learned at Atascadero was you don’t get far if you regret anything.”

In August 1974, a UCSC symposium entitled “Minds on trial” took place with 5 experts on the criminal mind: John Monahan, assistant professor on social ecology at the University of California at Irvine; District Attorney Peter Chang; Joel Fort, MD specialist in crime and violence and author of the “Pleasure Seekers”; Jerome Neu, assistant professor of humanities at UCSC; and David Marlowe, expert witness in numerous murder trials.

Moving into the Ed Kemper murders, the panel explored the possible motives behind the eight killings and discussed Kemper’s childhood and personality. “I don’t think we’ll ever know why he did what he did,” said Marlowe. “He wasn’t particularly different from many people. He wasn’t crazy. The question is ‘What accounts for his loss of control?’ Many others with similar fantasies and upbringings never commit a violent act.”

While author Fort said sexual repression, large physical size, a need to be near his father and his lack of friends were all contributing motives to the killings, Kemper could not pinpoint which special event led to his need to murder.

“To him and other mass murderers, killing is as acceptable as eating a meal or brushing your teeth. This type of behaviour didn’t bother him in the least.” District Attorney Chang added other dimensions to Kemper’s personality. “One side of him really had a conscience. I think he really wanted to confess.” However, Chang also said “Ed never showed remorse or guilt. He told me ‘One thing I learned at Atascadero was you don’t get far if you regret anything.’”

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, Sunday, August 18, 1974