Kemper spent five years at Atascadero after he murdered his grandparents in 1964 at the age of 15. He recalled with pride the job he’d held there as head of the psychological testing lab at the age of 19 and working directly under the hospital’s chief psychologist. He said:
“I felt I definitely could have done a lot of good there, helping people return to the streets … I could have fit in there quicker than anybody else…
“After all,” he explained, “I grew up there. That used to be like my home.
“Basically, I was born there, you know. I have a lot of fond memories of the place … And I don’t know anybody else who has,” he added with a rueful laugh.
It was there that he became a member of the Junior Chamber of Commerce. During his trial, he wore his membership pin in his lapel, apparently with pride.
Because of his intelligence and ability, he apparently was a valuable aide in psychological testing and research. “I helped to develop some new tests and some new scales on MMPI… You’ve probably heard of it … the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory,” he said with a chuckle. “I helped to develop a new scale on that, the ‘Overt Hostility Scale’… How’s that for a…” He groped for a word.
“Ironic?” I suggested.
“Ironic note,” he agreed. “There we go, it was an ironic note that I helped to develop that scale and then look what happened to me when I got back out on the streets.”
Source: Excerpt from an interview by reporter Marj von Beroldingen for Front Page Detective Magazine, March 1974 / Photo: Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, 2021
This is a transcript of a Staff Summary written by Mercedes Tileston, a Senior Social Worker at Atascadero State Hospital, in October 1964, a few months after Kemper was arrested for killing Edmund Sr. and Maude Kemper, his paternal grandparents. The Staff diagnosed him as schizophrenic paranoid:
This youth (Kemper) has committed a double murder, that of his paternal grandparents. For several years prior to the killing there were numerous indications that this youth was extremely disturbed, had self-destructive impulses and acted out homicidal impulses against two cats over a period of a year. He is overwhelmed with feelings of worthlessness, guilt, parental rejection and has great fears that he will suffer a psychotic episode. [Kemper] has thought long and hard about suicide and has attempted it repeatedly over a number of years. Upon admission at NKCC, he was in a particularly unstable state and gave the impression of being on the verge of committing suicide. As a result, a suicide watch was posted. At present he has stabilized to some small extent. He is on tranquilizers.
In spite of the tranquilizers, though, [Kemper] continues to be extremely agitated, anxious, distraught and preoccupied. He has a tremendous need to talk about himself, has done this with the psychologist and his social worker and to some extent with the psychiatrist. He should be encouraged to channel all this talk about himself to his therapist. [Kemper] is fearful that peers might learn of his commitment offense. In this respect, he is in very good touch with reality, he is sensitive and very much aware of the unacceptable nature of the killings. Studying the record and all of [Kemper]’s verbalizations reveals that there were suggestions that he would act out violently. It is a tragedy that attention was not paid to these suggestions and that he was not placed in treatment and helped to avert this terrible tragedy of killing both the paternal grandparents. Staff is in accord that this youth could best be treated in a mental hospital at this time and perhaps with some preparation and at a later date be prepared for placement in a treatment program in a Youth Authority institution.
Medical Report: Physically fit for full activity.
Diagnosis: Schizophrenia, paranoid
Placement recommendation: Department of Mental Hygiene
Source photo: Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, 2021
As Ed Kemper celebrates his 73rd birthday today (he was born on December 18, 1948), we revisit his 1973 trial for the murder of six coeds, his mother and her best friend, during his cross examination by District Attorney Peter Chang, where Kemper reflected on his psychiatric diagnosis:
Peter Chang: How would you diagnose yourself, Mr. Kemper?
Ed Kemper: I believe very dearly and honestly there are two people inside of me and at times one of them takes over.
Peter Chang: You disagree with the court-appointed psychiatrist who diagnosed you as a sex maniac?
Ed Kemper: I don’t believe I am.
Peter Chang: Why do you tend to blame others for what you have done?
Ed Kemper: I feel there are others involved. I don’t believe I was born to be this way.
Peter Chang: Do you think society thinks what you’ve done is grossly evil?
Ed Kemper: Right now, yes.
Peter Chang: Horrendous?
Ed Kemper: Yes, but there are times those things don’t even enter my mind.
Source photo and text: Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, 2021 / Photo by Pete Amos
[During his time at Atascadero from 1964 to 1969, Kemper,] the ever popular study subject with an always friendly, totally unthreatening countenance, had consciously or subconsciously convinced his array of doctors that he was “healed” and, clearly, no longer a threat to society. Much of that belief was based on the collective egos of his doctors, nurses, and other dedicated staff members, who desperately wanted to believe in their life’s work, to believe that people, especially juveniles like Ed Kemper, could in fact be cured, rehabilitated, and go on to live happy, productive, violence-free lives. They needed that gold star on their resumes, the reassurance that all their work and study had not been wasted. [Kemper] had astutely psycho-analyzed his own doctors, sensing their overwhelming need to heal, feel self-empowered, and pigeonhole him in the box of their prior schooling. They played right into his hands.
Showing his true feelings toward his shrinks, [Kemper] once colorfully described them as charlatans who “…put on their feathers, put on their paint, they get their rattles, they hop around and go into the witch doctor routine. That I resent.”
– A parole date was denied on June 15, 1988 for serial killer Edmund Kemper,
even though a prison psychiatric evaluation termed Kemper suitable for release.
40, is serving a life sentence at the California Medical Facility for murdering
eight women, including his mother, in 1972-73. The law at the time provided for
the possibility of parole on life sentences.
three-member panel from the Board of Prison Terms rejected the psychiatric
evaluation by Dr. Jack Fleming. Board member David Brown said Kemper poses an
unreasonable risk to society.
told Kemper his crimes “shock the public conscience.”
an almost three-hour hearing, Kemper told the panel he did not practice
cannibalism or perform sex acts on his victims when they were dead or dying. He
said he made those confessions to police when he was tired and confused.
did acknowledge that he beheaded seven of his victims, including his mother,
Clarnell Strandberg, because of a childhood fascination with decapitation. And,
he put his mother’s head on a mantle and threw darts at it.
buried the head of one of his young victims in the backyard of the house he
shared with his mother in Seacliff. He pointed the face toward his bedroom,
according to testimony at his trial in 1973.
appeared surprised during the hearing by a letter written by a cousin, Patricia
Kemper, urging the panel deny Kemper a parole date. Kemper said he had not
known of such a letter.
the letter, the woman said that as a child, Kemper mutilated the family cat.
And, she said she watched him one day wait for hours with a rifle over a
squirrel’s hole to blow its head off when it peeked out. He went on to kill his
grandparents and then the seven women and his mother, she wrote.
said Kemper was and still is a deeply disturbed person who will kill again if
he’s ever released.
Attorney Art Danner said he was shocked, but not surprised by the latest
psychiatric evaluation of Kemper. Danner said Fleming’s report “flies in the
face of everything known about Kemper.”
told the parole board Kemper’s greatest danger is that he may some day con his
way back out on the street.
pointed out that Kemper had led psychiatrists and psychologists to believe he
was no threat after a five-year commitment for killing his grandparents.
Kemper testified that he was shocked in the 1970s when two doctors would rule
him sane and no danger to society, even after he had begun killing again.
explained that he was sent to be interviewed by two doctors in Merced County in
1972 when he was seeking to have his conviction for killing his grandparents
sealed from public view.
meeting with the first psychiatrist, Kemper said, he went out and got drunk. “He
thought I was Mr. Wonderful or something,” Kemper said. He knew after the first
interview that he would be judged sane.
said he went to the second interview, later in the day, “blasted off my tail on
beer,” but the doctor didn’t notice.
two psychiatrists wrote that Kemper posed no danger to himself or others.
hadn’t told them he had already begun killing again, just two days before and
had driven to his interviews with a woman’s head in the trunk of the car.
told the parole board he picked up more than 1,000 hitchhikers during his
year-long murder spree. He did not say why he selected the victims he did,
other than say the selection was random.
said he only murdered the women hitchhikers because the women in his life,
especially his mother, had caused his only grief.
talked at length about his mother and drunken fights he said they had after his
release from custody after killing his grandparents.
said he returned from the California Youth Authority at age 20 with great hope
for the future. He said his mother fought him every step of the way. “She was 6
feet tall and 220 pounds at the time of her death,” Kemper said, adding, “she
was not intimidated by anybody.”
said he can’t simply explain why he murdered his mother to spare her from
finding out that he was responsible for all the co-ed killings in Santa Cruz.
was love and there was hate,” Kemper said of his relationship with his mother.
didn’t want to put her through what I created,” he said. And even though he
said she helped create what he was, “she was a victim and not a perpetrator.”
fled Santa Cruz County after killing his mother. He said he drove for four days,
listening to the radio for news that police had a break in the case.
said he had three guns and a knife in the car. “When I heard on the news there
was a break in the case it would mean in a few hours I’d be dead,” Kemper
said he planned to stop the car as soon as he heard the bulletin. “I was going
to get my weapons and go to high ground and attack authorities when they came
for me,” Kemper said.
said he believed at the time that he would have to be killed or he would keep
it turns out, a showdown never happened. The bodies of his mother and her
friend had not been found, and a panicked Kemper finally telephoned Santa Cruz
police from Pueblo, Colorado, and confessed. Police there arrested him at a
last appearance before the parole board was in 1982. At the time, he had lost weight
and looked noticeably different that at the time of his trial.
he appeared to look more like the 6-foot-9, 280-pound giant of a man Santa Cruz
1985, Kemper waived his right for a hearing, saying he was unsuitable for
release. He did not say that this time, but did concede he does not expect to be
released from prison anytime soon.
His next parole consideration will be in 1991.
Source: “Kemper parole denied – Psychiatrist says killer suitable for release”, by Mark Bergstrom, Santa Cruz Sentinel, June 16, 1988