Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Manipulation

“I just wanted to touch her body… just out of curiosity.”

WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT

Early in September 1972, Ed Kemper’s urges start up again, the effect of his previous victims’ photos having faded. He gets back into hunt mode. On September 14, he is driving along University Avenue in Berkeley when he sees this eastern girl hitchhiking near a bus stop. Aiko Koo is just fifteen years old and she is heading to a dance class in San Francisco. She seems older than her fifteen years and is anxiously waiting for a bus that is not coming; she is afraid of being late for her class. For her, dancing is something very serious, a vocation. Her Lithuanian mother, who lives modestly, deprives herself in order to pay for lessons for her daughter, who has already performed professionally, both in classical ballet and in traditional Korean styles. Aiko never knew her Korean father who abandoned them before she was born. Her mother works at the University of California Library.

Aiko is not used to hitchhiking and she doesn’t hesitate for a second to board the Ford Galaxie and sit in the front seat, next to the imposing driver. As for Mary Anne Pesce and Anita Luchessa, Kemper takes advantage of the complicated system of highway interchanges to disorient his passenger, before heading south along the coastal highway. When she realizes Kemper’s maneuvers, Aiko starts to scream and beg. He takes out a new model of firearm, a .357 Magnum, which he borrowed again from a friend, and presses the barrel in the teenager’s ribs. Kemper, who is left-handed, drives with this hand and uses the other to threaten Aiko with his weapon. He tries to calm her by swearing that he doesn’t want to harm her; in fact, he explains, he wants to kill himself and he’s just looking for someone to talk to. He leaves the highway for small mountain roads that he knows very well and drives on Bonny Doon Road, near Santa Cruz. He somehow manages to convince her to be tied and gagged.

“I just want a quiet place where we can tie you up and then we’ll go to my place,” he says. He turns off on Smith Grade Road, going slowly until he finds a turnoff where he can get away behind a tree, sheltered from the road and any traffic. He shuts off the lights and then the engine. He shoves the gun back under the front seat.

“There’s a roll of medical tape in my glove compartment. Hand it to me,” he says. She complies, handing him the small cardboard box. His hands shake as he tries to find the end of the roll.

“Now who’s nervous?” she says, laughing. He tears off a big chunk and holds it up. “My mouth’s not that big,” she says, so he tears off part of it and throws it aside before placing a patch over her mouth. “Move your jaws. See if you can loosen it,” he says, noting that it did not come unstuck. He presses the tape again to make certain.

“Hop in the back seat,” he instructs. She flips her leg up and rolls over the back of the seat and sits awaiting his next command. He pulls the rest of the tape off his fingers and gets out of the car and walks around to the passenger side. The door is locked.

He remembers the gun still under the front seat. She has him locked out and that gun within easy reach. He is dead. He begins frantically fishing in his pocket for his keys. Damn. Where are they?

The girl peers out at him through the window, shakes her head knowingly and reaches up and unlocks the door for him. He smiles weakly and flips the seat back forward and sits on it a moment.

She starts to resist when Kemper throws himself on her with all his weight, covering her mouth and nose with his hand. Aiko struggles with the energy of desperation, she even manages to grab his testicles, but he is too strong. He ends up strangling her before releasing his grip. To his surprise, Aiko is not dead and continues to fight. This time, he makes sure that she loses consciousness completely. Kemper takes her out of the car to rape her: “It didn’t take more than fifteen or twenty seconds before I had an orgasm.” He strangles her again with a scarf. The body is wrapped in a sheet and then stored in the trunk. Further down on Bonny Doon Road, he spots a small bar where he stops to drink two or three beers. Before entering the bar, he opens the trunk to examine Aiko Koo. He does it again after leaving the bar: “Both to check that she was really dead and also to savor my triumph, to admire my work and her beauty, a little like a fisherman happy with his catch.”

“First, I try to suffocate Aiko Koo by pinching her nostrils, but she struggles violently. I think I’ve managed to do it when she regains consciousness and realizes what’s going on. She panics. Finally, I strangle her with her neck warmer. After the murder, I’m exhausted, I’m hot and very thirsty. I stop at a bar to drink a few beers, while the body is still in the trunk of my car. I almost got caught by neighbors when I carried the corpse to my apartment. Dismembering the body required a meticulous job with a knife and an ax. It took me about four hours of work. Slicing limbs, getting rid of the blood, completely washing the bathtub and the bathroom.”

“I kill her on a Thursday night. The next morning, I call in sick at work. I dismember her body. On Friday night, I get rid of the corpse, keeping the head and hands, which are easily identifiable. Saturday morning, I leave home taking them with me. I’m looking for a safe place to bury them. It’s not easy to get rid of these things.” (This statement is crucial. Kemper doesn’t even realize what he just said. “It’s not easy to get rid of these things.” He talks about human beings by depersonalizing them. For him, and for the vast majority of serial killers, the victim is only an object. He has no remorse. Killing, maiming, cutting up a woman is a “normal” thing for Kemper.) Many times, I came close to getting caught burying bodies, and if a corpse is discovered, the witnesses can remember a car parked nearby. Saturday morning, I visit my psychiatrist in Fresno, and in the afternoon, I see the other one. Saturday night, I’m with my fiancee and her family in Turlock, and Sunday night I return home.”

After leaving the bar where he quenched his thirst, Kemper visited his mother at her home in Aptos to test himself and to enjoy the feeling of power he felt: “I talked to her for half an hour of things and stuff, just to pass the time, and to tell her what I had done in San Francisco. I wanted to see if she suspected anything by my facial expressions, involuntary gestures or words that would have escaped me. She suspected nothing and didn’t ask me any questions.” When he left, Kemper looked for the third time at Aiko Koo’s body in the trunk of the Ford Galaxy. “It was around 9:30 pm and I knew she was dead. I just wanted to touch her body to see which parts were still warm, and also just out of curiosity.”

It is 11 pm when he arrives at his apartment in Alameda. He drops Aiko’s body on his bed and searches her bag to get an idea of the life to which he has just put an end. He is disturbed by the fact that Aiko Koo doesn’t belong to this caste of “rich and haughty” California girls, which he claims to be attacking. To make sure of this, some time later, he drives past her modest family home. His disappointment is mitigated when he learns with surprise that Aiko Koo belongs to a family that has ancestry in the nobility. A little later in the night, he dissects her corpse. As Kemper says in his statements, he later goes to two Fresno psychiatrists to try to have his criminal record cleared, if he succeeds in passing the tests. Along the way, he throws pieces of Aiko Koo’s corpse into the mountains of Santa Cruz and, a little further away, her hands disappear into the wild. But he keeps her head in the trunk of his car. It’s still there when he shows up to his appointments with the two psychiatrists. The very idea excites him a lot, to the point that he opens the trunk to look at her head just before his appointments.

“The media made a big case about the stories of chopped heads in the trunk of my car. This happened to me only once, and even if I wanted to, it wasn’t possible. You know why? It was almost forty degrees in the valley, a real furnace and my car is not air-conditioned. I won’t ride with a severed head that will stink. As soon as I park, all the dogs and cats from the neighborhood will come to sniff my trunk. That day I took it with me because the owner of my apartment is always looking for trouble. So, when I leave for two or three days to stay at my mother’s or a friend’s house, what can I do? I can’t help but think she’s going to show up at my place to see if I don’t have any hash hiding somewhere. She’s going to open the fridge to see what’s in this paper bag, and come face to face with this severed head! (Kemper laughs.) But she’s not going to think of poking behind this large armchair in one of the corners of the living room, where I hide it for two days. Of course, I would have preferred to store it in the fridge to avoid bad smells. The kraft paper bag is hermetically sealed. Nobody found anything. Sunday night, it (the head) is already ripe. That same evening, my former probation officer comes to pay me a visit and the head is just behind him. (He hesitates a long time before speaking.) I did eat part of my third victim. I had cut pieces of flesh that I put in the freezer. Twenty-four hours after having dissected it, I cooked the flesh in a pan of macaroni with onions and cheese, like a carrion. A vulture or a bear. You know black blood? It’s non-oxygenated blood, we see it for a moment before it comes into contact with the air. After, the blood turns red. When in the body, the blood is black like tar. I ate a piece of leg that I had soaked in black blood for almost a day. And why did I do that? Having hunted animals in Montana, I was just pursuing an experiment in cannibalism. When you were a child, I’m sure you asked yourself this question: how would I react on a desert island, with three other people and without any food? If one of us is sick? All these come from stories of the Second World War. I had heard about it from former Marines. And then, in a way, I own my victim once again by eating her.”

Sources: L’Ogre de Santa Cruz by Stéphane Bourgoin, 1998, and Sacrifice Unto Me by Don West, 1974 / Thanks to MIEP for the photo of Aiko Koo

1979 – Door’s still shut for Coed Killer

May 2, 1979 – Ed Kemper failed Tuesday in his half-hearted first attempt to win parole, admitting to a three-member panel of the board he doesn’t “see my release as feasible – as morally or legally feasible.”

Without emotion, panel chairman Ruth Rushen Tuesday detailed the eights murders, Kemper’s decapitation of his victims and his disposal of their bodies in various counties, but Kemper demanded the official record be changed to reflect the accurate “facts” and proceeded to recount each of the slayings again.

At the time he made statements to authorities in 1973, he said he was “suicidal” and “in my unwise immature judgment, I thought I was trying to build a psychiatric case against me. I needed help. I wanted help. And I made statements unsubstantiated by fact that are now being introduced as fact.”

“I was suicidal in my feelings at the time. I was trying to seal my fate.”

Officials, he went on Tuesday, were so anxious to convict him of the slayings “they left loopholes that I could use for an appeal, but I do not intend to take advantage of them.”

His actions “distressed me greatly” at the time, but “things still happen out there on the streets,” he added.

Kemper, who received an award two weeks ago for contributing 2 900 hours during the past two years tape recording books for the blind has sought court permission three times for psycho-surgery. He denied Tuesday the request was an attempt to gain his release or that he still felt an urge to kill.

“I felt I had one foot in a coffin and one on a banana peel” and his circumstances in the medical facility might result in violence, he suggested, “I didn’t like being controlled by my dislikes.”

Kemper, who also told the panel he has become a Christian while at Vacaville and has “learned to live with myself and God,” admitted the State of California has “more than enough reason to keep me locked up for the rest of my life. I have to say eight people are dead and I murdered them.”

After a half-hour deliberation, Rushen reconvened the hearing and said, “Mr. Kemper, you are not suitable for parole.”

She cited the “extreme violence and depravity” of his crimes and called Kemper “an unreasonable risk to society at this time.” His crimes, she went on, were premeditated and planned in meticulous detail, including bizarre conduct in “abusing, defiling and mutilating the victims’ bodies, which shows a total disregard for the worth of another human being.”

During a break in Edmund Kemper’s parole hearing at Vacaville Tuesday, Richard F. Verbrugge, inspector with the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office, said Kemper was questioned by Sonoma County authorities as a suspect in the murder of several hitchhiking girls here that began in 1972.

Verbrugge said he worked closely with sheriff’s homicide Detective Sgt. Butch Carlsted on the Sonoma County cases, but that Kemper was ruled out as a suspect.

“He was like a little boy, telling us everything and taking us everywhere,” the inspector said. Kemper was also given truth serum by officials during his initial examination. However, Verbrugge said Kemper did admit he picked up young girl hitchhikers in Sonoma County during his cruise through Bay Area counties seeking young girls that met “his criteria” for victims, but none of them apparently had the characteristics he sought.

The Press Democrat, May 2, 1979, by James E. Reid

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…!

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)

“I was tired of people walking away from me.”

I let more of my personality come out, and I was suicidal, huh, very disturbed. Grasping out at someone. I had abducted them and I wasn’t going to let them out of the car, because I was tired of people walking away from me. So, some of that was very true. But I manipulated that to allow them to help me to the point of resolving their behaviour until we got to a place where they could be killed. And I have… the biggest problem with that on a guilt basis because, obviously, that entailed unusual trust between the captor or the perpetrator and the victim of the crime. 

– Ed Kemper about his state of mind during the Pesce and Luchessa murders.