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
“[Reporter Marj von B] gave me a pen that day, it was a cast aluminum ballpoint pen, and I took it back to my high-security jail cell up in Redwood City. I was really slammed down tight: a two-man cell by myself. They have a camera on me 24-hours a day. The lights are on-two sets of these four-footers-it’s bright as day 24-hours a day, and I was there for five months, and I get strip shook leaving the cell and strip shook coming back in. I brought the pen in with my legal papers, and a few months later in the middle of the trial, I smashed the pen on the floor with my boot, sharpened it-got a sharp edge on the metal-and slashed my wrist. I was bleeding all over the place. It was very messy and very exciting, and everybody was dragging me off to the hospital and I got sewed up. I got shot up with industrial strength mace. They had about a quart of it and they just gassed me with that whole thing and dragged me off to the hospital.” […]
“At one point I could see every aspect of my life, my crimes, who I was, how I really felt about things without any defensive or protective accoutrements. It was fascinating to me: I was semi-conscious-actually, I was conscious, I just couldn’t get up and move around a lot, and at the end of the two hours, I didn’t want to stop. I wanted to keep on with this. I hadn’t gotten to the crimes themselves, I was kind of oriented around other things related to my life. I asked to continue on, and the doctor didn’t want to, so I insisted. They were using an IV and shot me up with another two-hour batch of this stuff, and as soon as he was done with what he wanted to do, he got up and left.”
“He had an appointment and it had gone longer than he had planned on it so he had to leave and my lawyer had to go. So, I’m stuck with these two deputies and a registered nurse watching me until I come down off of this stuff. Well, when the doctor left, he decided to give me a shot of medicine to snap me out of this, and I asked him what it was, and he said it was Methedrine-hospital-grade speed. I’ve asked doctors since then, both medical doctors and psychiatrists, if that was an appropriate action, and they said absolutely not. They should have left me sleep it off. It is suggested that the doctor knew full well it would put me through hell. It amplified everything I was feeling, it got me really down, and for two days after that they were trying to scrape me off the ceiling-they couldn’t even talk to me. I was raving and ranting. They had to put me in a strip cell because I refused to go back to my regular cell. There was television available there. I had canteen. I had some food items, but I wouldn’t accept it.” […]
“Under the influence of those drugs, I was seeing what I did through other people’s eyes, not through mine; as someone else would view it-pure horror-how someone with nothing to do with violence in their life would see it. It was an awful experience. Within hours of coming down off that stuff two days later, I wasn’t making comments like that, [my] defenses were back in place-they were a bit ruffled. It had been an eye-opening experience because it gave me some perspectives on my case that I would never forget-some anxieties on my case that I would never forget-and all I can give you to gauge it by is that when I went into that hospital, the nurse came out-she was the typical battle-axe, professional nurse, been on the job for twenty years… great woman… with the wheelchair, severe stern face, and she’s looking at me with razor blades.”
“I’m in the chair and she wheels me inside. Five hours later when I come out of there, she’s wheeling me out and as I’m getting into the car, I’ve got this tortured look on my face. I’ve been crying and tearing at myself. She looks at me with this very compassionate look, and she says, “Good luck.” She got a good look at what was really inside. She was already aware of the evil I was capable of and the horror that happened in the case, and then she saw a lot of my real feelings. With her knowledge of chemicals and medicine and treatments, she knew I wasn’t faking. So, from her I got good luck and she was serious. I’ve never seen her since, but ironically, the deputies that were stuck with me that day, they figured ‘he’s so outraged right now, let’s just keep him here until he calms down a bit, then we’ll take him back to jail.’”
“But I didn’t calm down. I just kept going on and on, and at one point I asked the deputies to handcuff me to the rails of the bed because I was afraid I would rip my eyes out. I was really acting up, and he had known me for a few months and he didn’t want to do that. He said, “Oh, come on Ed, that’s not really necessary.” I said, “Man, you better put them on, or I’m going to tear that goddamn gun belt off and blast you, and I might beat you to death with it.” So, he comes over with the cuffs. He was a little offended by that… so he came over with the cuffs and started putting them on my wrists and I just went through some incredible convulsion and I just yanked him clear across the bed. He had the other hand cuffed already. Zing! Off he goes, he’s hanging onto this handcuff and at that point he cuffed me up real quick and finished and I already had my leg irons at the foot of the bed and I was just yanking those rails up and down with my wrists. That was very painful with handcuffs on. We went like that for a few hours and finally they said, “We got to get him back to jail, he’s not going to change in the near future.”
Sources: Interview with Stéphane Bourgoin, from “Serial Killers” (1991) / Kemper on Kemper by Peter Scott Jr. / Photo from Getty Images
November 1, 1973 – Kemper broke down shortly before 4 p.m. as he was being questioned by his attorney Jim Jackson about his suicide attempt Sunday morning in his San Mateo jail cell. Kemper’s cell is under constant surveillance by jailers by means of a television camera. But Kemper told how he avoided signalling his suicidal actions by simply turning his back to the camera and slashing his wrist with the flattened and sharpened casing of a ballpoint pen.
He said he had cut an artery, which was spurting blood, and a vein, which also was bleeding. Jackson interrupted him to ask why had he not, if he wanted to die, stuck himself in the throat. Kemper looked up blandly at the question and replied quietly, “I would have died too fast that way.” He explained that he could have cut an artery in his throat but he wanted to think about things as he bled.
“What were you thinking about, Ed?” asked Jackson.
Kemper looked down at his hands and began to reply slowly, “I was thinking about the girls who died… their fathers…” At this point, his voice broke and tears came to his eyes, which he brushed away.
Two fathers of his coed victims testified in court during the first week of the trial and Kemper had been unable or unwilling to look at them while they were on the stand.
Momentarily, Kemper recovered his composure and said, “Sorry,” and then continued “… their mothers, and I thought about what I did…” At this point, the young giant buried his face in his hands, apparently unable to continue.
Judge Harry F. Brauer immediately adjourned the court for the day, and Kemper jumped up from the witness chair and hastily headed for the back door of the courtroom, catching sheriff’s deputies across the room momentarily off guard.
Bailiff Don Chapman was the first to reach Kemper, and he patted him consolingly on the back as he led him into the jury room adjacent to the courtroom, where Kemper remained until Jackson went in to see him before he was taken back to San Mateo County jail.