Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Jury Room bar

“A man would be a fool to marry a woman smarter than himself”

To one of his drinking companions, Ed Kemper confided that he’d become engaged and he commented that a ‘man would be a fool to marry a woman smarter than himself.’ Kemper did not marry the girl. In fact, she was seldom seen in the area and little was known of her except that she came from a Central Valley town, was small, blonde, young and immature. Later, he told an investigator that he worshipped her in an ‘almost religious’ way and that they had never engaged in a sexual relationship.

In fact, he claimed that he had had normal sexual intercourse only once and this with a woman who rejected him when he approached her a second time. But he also said on other occasions that he had never had normal relations with a woman; and again, that he had frequently attempted intercourse with a woman but had never reached a climax.

Source: The Coed-Killer by Margaret Cheney, p. 38-39 / Image: textless frame from David Jouvent’s upcoming graphic novel about Kemper

“Every time I had a little zapple, they would die.”

February 5, 1973, less than a month after the murder of Cindy Schall, was again a perfect day to kill: hard rain was coming down. And Ed Kemper was mad with rage. “My mother and I had a terrible argument. I told her I was going to the movies and I immediately drove my car to the [University] campus because it was still early.” Luck was with him despite the late hour: the campus was buzzing with activity because of a conference that was taking place that evening. He was afraid to stand out as he passed the guards’ gate at the university entrance, because his rear light and bumper were tinkered and were easily identifiable. But there were many cars and the guard was just managing the flow of vehicles. Kemper was spoiled, as there were many hitchhikers in the rainy weather.

Rosalind Thorpe, twenty-three, a student of linguistics and psychology, shared an apartment in Santa Cruz with a friend; she usually went to campus by bicycle, but the bad weather had made her change her mind. “I noticed that she took a look at the sticker which allowed me to park on campus. She took me for another student and settled down next to me without any hesitation. She started talking immediately. I let her do it, she was very open, very friendly. And I wondered how to act. After a while, I decided that it was good, that she would be mine, without any doubt. Besides, I had what I call one of those little zapples! which crossed my body. Every time I had one, they would die; it never happened to me to have a zapple! at another time. It’s the moment when everything falls into place, when the circumstances are ideal. No one around, the guard hadn’t noticed anything, no problem leaving campus and Thorpe suspected nothing. And, of course, she was also someone I didn’t know at all. It was one of my rules of conduct from which I didn’t deviate. I had also decided never to hunt around Santa Cruz, because I lived there, especially with my criminal record. I could be considered a potential suspect. But, as my crimes went on, I became more and more ill and I took fewer and fewer precautions, both in my approach, during and after, which seemed obvious to me given the growing amount of evidence that was discovered, in one form or another.”

As he is about to leave campus, Kemper sees this young Chinese girl hitchhiking. Alice Liu, twenty-one, is the daughter of an aeronautical engineer from Los Angeles and is in her final year of studies at the University of California. Like Rosalind Thorpe, she lived in Santa Cruz in a studio that she shared with a friend. He stops the vehicle and she hops inside, sitting in the back seat. “Okay, here we are chatting, it’s actually Rosalind who is leading the conversation and that suits me. I notice Alice who sees us and gives us her most beautiful smile, thumb raised. A gesture of great beauty, she does it very naturally, with a lot of grace. I think she must have been an experienced hitchhiker. She is superb, with everything you need where you need it, intelligent, dressed in a conservative way, not with these fashionable clothes in bright colors that we saw everywhere at that time. I admit that I was relieved that the two girls didn’t know each other. We pass in front of the entrance gate. I look at the guard insistently, so he doesn’t think to take a look at the back of the car. I’m sure he didn’t see Alice because it was dark, she was small and wore dark clothes. A few hundred feet away, we are alone on the road. The view is superb: below, we see Santa Cruz which is illuminated. I ask them if they have any objection to me slowing down to observe the landscape. Rosalind nods, enthusiastic, but I feel like a reluctance coming from Alice. I have the very clear impression that I disgust her, that she’s too good for a poor guy like me. The car is running. I take out my weapon which is hidden under my leg, a black pistol, it’s dark and Rosalind doesn’t notice anything. We continue to chat and I point my gun. I hesitate for a second, but not more, because the girl in the back seat will see me act. I didn’t stop the car voluntarily, so that the warnings wouldn’t light up, in case we came across another car.”

“Thorpe had a very broad forehead and I was trying to imagine what her brain looked like, inside her skull. I wanted my bullet to hit her right in the middle of the brain. A second before she’s still moving, and the next, she’s dead. A noise, then silence, absolute silence. Liu, who was sitting in the back seat, covered her face with her hands. I turned around and shot her twice, through her hands. I missed her. The third time worked, right in the middle of her temple. We passed the campus gate and I could hear Liu dying in the back seat. Once out of the city, I slowed down as much as possible, before turning her head to the side, and shooting her at point blank range. I know it’s a big risk to take a student directly on campus, so you can imagine taking two multiplies that risk all the more, but I knew I could do it.

Once, in broad daylight, I took three hitchhikers on University Avenue, in Berkeley, and almost killed them. I could have, without any problem, because of the din of the highway which would have covered the shots. I drank more and more. I had to stop because I was losing all self-control. The cops knew me as a heavy drinker in the bar where we hung out, and that may be one of the reasons they didn’t suspect me. In public, I was almost always drunk, wine or beer, or under the influence of various barbiturates, but I remained sober to commit my crimes. Why? When I was drunk I could no longer act. That’s why I drank constantly: I wanted to stop this madness. But it was hard to stay drunk all the time. I drank between six and eight gallons of wine a week, twice as much as my mother. “

In a path away from the road, Kemper put the two bodies in the trunk. He went to fill up at a gas station and to the toilet to clean the blood stains that dot the plaster on his arm and his black jeans. Back home, he parked on the street and told his mother that he fell asleep while watching a movie at the cinema. He leaves her in front of the television and indicates that he is going to buy cigarettes. It is between ten and eleven o’clock in the evening. There is no one on the street and he takes the opportunity to open the trunk and behead the two women with his hunting knife.

The next morning, after his mother leaves for work, Kemper brings the two heads back to his room, cleans them in the bathroom and takes out the bullets. Then, he takes Alice’s corpse, lays her on his bed to rape her and even thinks of washing her body to remove all traces of sperm, before putting her back in the trunk where she joins Rosalind’s headless body. Without really knowing why, Kemper cuts Alice’s hands. This time, he doesn’t bother to dissect the corpses. It’s no longer something that excites him like the first time. It has now become routine. He wants to get rid of all compromising evidence as quickly as possible. Ed heads north on the road to San Francisco. He’s thinking of depositing the corpses there to make the investigators believe that the murderer is from that city.

The media and the police were on their teeth. Macabre disappearances and discoveries were increasing. The body of Cynthia Schall was identified on January 24, 1973, that of Mary Guilfoyle (a victim of Herbert Mullin), on February 11. On February 8, the newspapers announced on their frontpage the disappearances of Rosalind Thorpe and Alice Liu. By a curious coincidence, two of Kemper’s work colleagues found the beheaded corpses of the two girls on February 14; they were identified a week later. The medical examiner indicated to the investigators that the assassin (s) probably had medical knowledge or acted according to a strange ritual, because Cindy’s Achilles tendons had been cut. Kemper did it to satisfy his necrophilic desires, to prevent cadaverous rigidity and to keep the body “warm”.

He then visits a friend, takes the time to dine and go to the movies, before driving up to Eden Canyon Road around two in the morning, where he throws the beheaded bodies. He then continues to the town of Pacifica, at Devil’s Slide, where he throws the heads and hands of the two young girls. Worried, he regretted not having buried the two heads and returned on the scene two weeks later, at four in the morning.

Source: L’Ogre de Santa Cruz by Stéphane Bourgoin

Buried head in garden

Police officers carefully rake through the back garden of Clarnell Kemper’s Aptos home, while forensic experts photograph the scene. It was here that Ed Kemper dismembered Cindy Schall, and it wasn’t long before her severed head was found buried by the garden fence.

***Warning: graphic content***

Cindy Schall was killed by a single shot in the head from Ed Kemper’s .22-calibre pistol. He kept her body in a cupboard overnight, waiting for his mother to go to work. As soon as she left, he brought out the corpse and decapitated it. His years of hanging out at the Jury Room left him with a wary respect of forensic ballistics – so he cut the bullet fragments out of the skull, which he then kept for a while as a trophy.

He then dismembered the body and took a drive along the coast to dispose of it. But when a couple of weeks later Kemper learned that the police had already recovered Cindy’s remains, he panicked and buried her head in his back garden.

Representatives from the Santa Cruz sheriff’s office, city police and the district attorney’s office looked on as detectives dug a 16-inch deep hole and found the decaying head. Because authorities pinpointed the head’s location, it is speculated they were acting on information from Pueblo, Colorado, where Kemper was arrested and has reportedly been giving detailed information on not only the slaying of his mother Clarnell Strandberg, 52, and her friend Sara Taylor Hallett, 59, but also the slaying of six young women.

The head found today had been buried about four feet from the rear of Kemper’s house. For the last several months, Kemper and his mother lived in the duplex apartment.

While the skull was being removed from the hole, the upstairs neighbors glanced down at the yard through a window.

People living next door to the duplex were visibly shaken as they occasionally looked over to where the detectives located the head.

“To think we’ve been living here so peacefully with that laying on the ground,” said one woman, pointing to Kemper’s backyard. A young woman next to her, wearing a Cabrillo College T-Shirt, nodded silently.

Kemper said he buried Cynthia Schall’s head in the backyard of his mother’s apartment house facing the window of the bedroom where he was staying and “talked to it (the head) many times, saying affectionate things… like you would say to a girlfriend or a wife.”

Kemper has also said that he buried Schall’s head in his mother’s yard, facing up toward his mother’s bedroom window, because his mother always wanted people to “look up to her.”

Sources: “Serial Killers: The Method and Madness of Monsters”, by Peter Vronsky / “Kemper explains why he murdered coeds”, Register-Pajaronian, November 1, 1973 / “Head found in Aptos”, Santa Cruz Sentinel, April 26, 1973

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)

The Jury Room bar in Santa Cruz

In 2018, we went to Santa Cruz on vacation and visited some of the places that were important in Ed Kemper’s story. First stop was the Jury Room, a bar where he hung out and drank beer with policemen, while having conversations about the co-ed murders, which were being investigated at the time. The police did not suspect him and found him friendly. 

On one of the walls, there’s a sign acknowledging that Kemper was at one time a regular patron. We don’t know to what ‘colorful history’ they are referring to, as nobody suspected him of the crimes and few people knew that he had killed his grandparents years before…

We went a couple of times and enjoyed a few drinks. On one of our visits, a dog kindly lent us his seat…!