Emerson Murray has written the book “Murder Capital of the world”, which tells the story of the three serial killers who were active in Santa Cruz in the late 1960s and early 1970s: John Linley Frazier, Herbert Mullin and Edmund Kemper. As the book is about to be released, we asked Emerson a few questions:
EKS: How did you get the idea to write the book “Murder Capital of the world”, and why was it important for you to write it?
EM: I had been collecting information and pictures for thirty years. I am from Santa Cruz and Herbert Mullin murdered one of my dad’s friends, Jim Gianera. My dad had a picture of the two of them hiking on his wall for years and we just always knew what had happened to Jim. As kids, we knew Mullin was in jail, but he became a sort of boogie man to us. He had killed women and kids and even a priest and he was kind of like Michael Myers from Halloween, just killing indiscriminately. As I said, we knew he was in prison, but just talking about the crimes would freak us out. When the Night Stalker came along, he sort of erased our fear of Mullin. My grandmother worked at the post office and swiped a wanted poster for us. I was around 12, but I remember being out under the streetlight with the neighbors and the Night Stalker had killed people in Los Angeles before and he had just struck in San Francisco, so by our computations there was a 99.99% chance that our block in Ben Lomond was going to be next!
More recently, there were a few triggers to turn my interest into action. In the early 2000’s, the BBC had done three episodes of a series called Born to Kill on the Santa Cruz killers. Well, they did one episode each with no interest in discussing how the three crossed over and what local law enforcement and the community went through. That got the idea really started as a project. Years later, a friend and I started talking about how someone needed to make a movie about this time period in Santa Cruz history, something like David Fincher’s Zodiac. It was a dream bigger than us. Finally, my wife and I went to see Mickey Aluffi speak about the crimes in 2019. Mickey was a detective at the time with the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office. Well, once the talk got started, I looked around and most of the audience was in their 70’s and 80’s. I got pretty scared that these stories would be disappearing in the not too distant future. The next day at work, I just decided I had to do it and made my first call that night.
EKS: What is the concept behind the book?
EM: “Murder Capital of the world” is part true crime and part local history. It tells the impact of the John Linley Frazier, Herbert Mullin, and Edmund Kemper crimes on our community and local law enforcement. The community was already pretty tense. The Manson Family crimes had occurred recently and the older folks were seeing the hippies as a real threat. UCSC opened in 1965 adding to these tensions. There were changes in welfare laws and there were communes in the San Lorenzo Valley. The Zodiac murders didn’t help. The Zodiac killer wrote that he was going to attack a school bus and shoot the kids as they exited. So, local law enforcement was following school buses. It was just a hot time period in this area. In the midst of all this, John Linley Frazier murdered four members of the Ohta Family and Dorothy Cadwallader. That was the beginning.
The story is told through quotes. I fill in the gaps as a sort of narrator. I have a previously published book, a biography of the professional wrestler Bruiser Brody, for which I used this style to tell the story. I find it a fantastic tool for getting across stories with multiple points of view as well as stories where there were few eyewitnesses. Authors who tell you what happened when a killer and victim were alone are pulling from sources. I’d rather read the original sources themselves.
EKS: What was your research process? Was it easy to access people and documents?
EM: I think most researchers start with the internet; finding what is already out there. After I scoured online resources, I started to formulate my questions and see where the gaps were. With this book, I talked to my parents and their friends who gave me names and phone numbers. I’m a firm believer in letters and phone calls. Sure, it’s old fashioned but a lot of the people I talked to are older and not online. Additionally, in the interest of sensitivity, I wanted to send letters to people if the subject I wanted to talk about was personally related. I felt more comfortable calling someone directly if the person was retired law enforcement or attached to the crimes in an official capacity.
As the letters went out and phone calls started coming back, it was interesting who was willing to talk and who was not. Everyone has a different sensitivity to these horrible incidents and I really tried to be respectful. I would write two of the exact same letters and one person was happy, sometimes excited, to talk to me and another was hurt that I would even bring up the subject. We live in a time where language is very powerful and this subject matter is as dark as it gets. I really tried to tip-toe very carefully.
At every point of contact, I asked for documents and pictures. Many had been “borrowed” and never returned by authors and filmmakers before me. Stolen. However, I did manage to find a lot.
I must say that I am extremely thankful to the people who spent their time talking with me and sharing documents and pictures with me.
EKS: What new information about the Kemper case have you learned that marked you?
EM: Page 186. The eyeball.
EKS: Which deceased person involved in the Kemper case would you have liked to talk to, and why?
EM: Without a doubt, his mother. The public has always had only one real source of information on Kemper’s mother: Kemper! Consequently, it is a venomous, loving, hateful, confused portrait that we are left with. I talked with her co-workers, read and listened to interviews with her friends and Kemper’s sisters. I even found quotes from Clarnell herself from after Kemper had killed his grandparents. Consequently, I feel like a more developed, nuanced, picture of her emerges in the book. But she would have been an awfully interesting person to talk with.
EKS: Your book sheds new light on many of the events in the Kemper case. Is there any part of his story that remains mysterious to you? If so, what?
EM: “Mysterious” is a great word. I feel like I understand the events and have a pretty good picture of Kemper’s life, but after he was arrested and started to talk with law enforcement, his attorneys, and mental health professionals, his stories started changing. I feel like it was a result of his insanity plea. He admitted necrophilia immediately, but somewhere along the way stories about cannibalism started. They were detailed and explicit, but the stakes were high during that time period and he had a lot to gain by embellishing stories. So, the absolute truth regarding the nights he was alone with the bodies of his victims, is what remains mysterious and out of reach for all of us.
You can buy the book on Emerson Murray’s website.