Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: John Douglas

“Decapitation is not butchering.”

From Charles Manson to the Yorkshire Ripper, Son of Sam to the Monster of Florence, John Douglas tests his wits against the best criminal minds of his generation.

Edmund Kemper is, by his own lights, a man of superior intellect and no small achievements. He boasts of once having been America’s youngest fully-fledged civic booster; a twenty-year-old Christian living what he calls a “Jesus-first” life. 

But that distinction is just an ironic footnote in Kemper’s vitae. He is a legend for far more weighty reasons, and he implores his visitor to please, just please, get the story right. 

“I did not butcher people,” Ed Kemper, now 41 years old, insists with the petty certitude of a grammarian arguing over nuance. “Decapitation is not butchering. The papers and the magazines had me butchering my victims. But I only dismembered two bodies. They were all decapitated; all but my mother’s friend. Why? Why didn’t I just pop some teeth out, or crunch some bones up? I was starting to branch out in my thoughts about how to do things and get away with it. The psychological trip was, the person is the head. For some reason, someone looks entirely different with no head. I noticed that.” 

I’m on an honesty thing the last five or six years; except when people get into my car. I didn’t tell ‘em I was gonna kill ‘em. I couldn’t quite handle that … Are you interested in what I was taking the heads off with? It wasn’t a saw, not even a hack saw: a buck knife.” 

“I got my high on the complication of the thing; the meticulous way I ironed out potential problems before they even started… Hatpins! Mace! The more weapons the girls had, the safer they felt, the more chances they’d take, the easier it was for me. Unless it’s a policewoman with a gun in her hand, aimed at me, I’ve got her exactly where I want her. The first two victims [Pesce and Luchessa] were convinced the FBI and the CIA and Interpol were going to come looking for ‘em two hours after they were missing. Both of ‘em had money. Ritzy families. Real important. ‘Boy, if I don’t call daddy, we’ll be missed.”

In an interview room at Vacaville prison in California, John Douglas, an energetic man not particularly suited to the sedentary, just sits there for a change and listens. There is little choice. Kemper talks fast, like someone trying to finish a long story before he runs out of the door. But Kemper is going nowhere. 

Kemper is a giant of a man, 6’9” and 302 pounds, and as the words spew out, his voice betrays macabre enthusiasm while an intermittent giggle gives away his self-consciousness. These are awful stories. Over a span of maybe half-a-dozen years, Kemper killed ten people: his grandparents, his mother, her best friend, and six hitchhiking students. He chopped their heads and hands off, ate parts of them, and, in his nagging mother’s case, propped up her severed head on the kitchen table, ranted and raved at it, ripped out the larynx and ground it up in the waste disposal. “Mom didn’t give a fuck. She was using us for her own little comforts.” Nice guy. 

Maybe it’s a stretch of the imagination to see Kemper as the pride of the Junior Chamber of Commerce chapter at the Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane, California. But then he was much younger and the shrinks thought there was still hope; at that time, he’d only hacked up his grandparents. 

As Douglas listens to this serial killer offhandedly describe the young women he stalked and murdered after his release from Atascadero, the word that comes to Douglas’s mind is nothing to be proud of, but at least he is being honest with himself. Douglas spells it out: “p-u-s-s-y”. A coward. The word refers to Edmund Kemper, not to those who are dead, although Douglas has called murdered girls by that cruel name, too, when he thought doing so would please a murderer enough to make him relive the thrill of the kill. 

Which is what Douglas wants. 

The dead cannot speak, but their killers can, and Douglas has probably talked to more of them than any other man alive.

Sources: Excerpts** from the article “In at the Kill”, by John A. Jenkins (as published in GQ (Britain), February 1991) / Image from 1989 closed-circuit interview for the FBI Academy

**The order of the excerpts has been modified for a better understanding of the content. 

“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

FBI Agent John Douglas

John Edward Douglas (born June 18, 1945) is a retired special agent and unit chief in the FBI. Douglas is a renowned expert on criminal and behavioral profiling, and is a prolific and best-selling author on the subject. Among his publications are Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit (1996) and The Cases that Haunt Us (2001). He continues to be in considerable international demand, both as a public speaker/lecturer and as an expert consultant to police departments, law enforcement agencies, and to prosecuting attorneys.

During his tenure with the FBI, Douglas earned a reputation as a widely known expert on criminal personality profiling. He has been touted as one of the pioneers of modern criminal investigative analysis, and is credited with conducting the first organized study in the United States regarding the methods and motivations of violent serial criminals. As part of that research project, he interviewed such notorious killers as James Earl Ray, Richard Speck, John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, Ed Gein, David Berkowitz, Edmund Kemper, Sirhan Sirhan, and Charles Manson.  

John Douglas describes the world of the criminal profiler as arduous, filled with lengthy periods of reading and studying case files, investigator’s notes, autopsy and crime scene reports, examining crime scene photographs, pouring over eyewitness statements, police reports, and, if possible, victim’s statements. When the perpetrator’s identity is unknown, these forensic scientists seek patterns in the evidence that suggest the offender’s behavior and character style. They use their composite information to develop a profile of the unknown subject (UNSUB) that may be used to narrow the search for possible suspects.

Over time, the Investigative Support Unit became known as “The Mind Hunters,” with John Douglas being the chief Mind Hunter. This elite FBI Unit was involved in some of the most notorious and high-profile serial and sadistic murder investigations in American history: the San Francisco Trailside Killer, the Atlanta Child Murderer, Robert Hansen (who hunted and killed prostitutes on his property in Alaska), the Tylenol Poisoner, and the Green River Killer. John Douglas has been described as a profiler who is adept at understanding the way criminals think, getting inside their minds, understanding the workings of both the predator and his prey (the vast majority of serial and sadistic killers are male). Douglas uses this information, along with examination of the crime scene, to create a profile of the perpetrator, and to attempt to predict his future behavior. Upon the criminal’s apprehension, Douglas’ profile could be used to aid in structuring the processes of interrogation and prosecution. John Douglas is both a pioneer and a legendary figure in the forensic science world of  criminal profiling.

Douglas has been the inspiration for several fictional characters in film and television series, such as:

Jack Crawford, a major character in the Thomas Harris novels Red Dragon, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal, Douglas claims was based on himself. (Robert Ressler, Douglas’ mentor at the FBI disputes this in his book Whoever Fights Monsters: “Some people still in the BSU have also taken to claiming that they were the models for the FBI characters in the book and movie The Silence of the Lambs, though Harris has stated that the characters are entirely his own and not based on any particular individuals.”) Harris himself has never definitively stated who Crawford is based on. In all likelihood, Crawford is at least an amalgamation of Ressler and Douglas, if not others.

In January 2015, creators of the TV show Criminal Minds confirmed that the characters of FBI profilers Jason Gideon and David Rossi were based on Douglas.

A screenplay adapted from the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit was picked up by Netflix. Mindhunter stars Jonathan Groff, who plays the character Special Agent Holden Ford, a lead character based on Douglas.

Source: Wikipedia / World of Forensic Science COPYRIGHT 2005 Thomson Gale