Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Herbert Mullin

Interview with Emerson Murray

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. 

Photo credit: Pete Amos

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.

After 41 years in law enforcement, Aluffi retires

Michael Aluffi became homicide detective in 1972, just as the United States’ attention was about to fix on Santa Cruz, where three different serial killers, John Linley Frazier, Edmund Kemper and Herbert Mullin, would send the country into a panic.

As new detective, Aluffi had to manage the paperwork from registered firearm sales. One day, a record of sale landed on his desk for a .44 caliber magnum pistol bought by Kemper, who had a sealed juvenile record. Suspicious, Aluffi went to Kemper’s house with his partner Don Smythe to confiscate the gun until they could find out more about Kemper’s past.

“There was something about Kemper that made me uneasy when we visited his house,” Aluffi said about the 6-foot-9-inch behemoth of a man who would later be convicted of eight murders. “When he went to the trunk of his car to get the gun, Don and I instinctively put our hands on our guns and went to either side of the car. Kemper later told me that if we hadn’t been watching him so closely, he planned to kill us.”

Aluffi and Smythe’s visit to his house made Kemper nervous that the cops were closing in on him, and he killed and beheaded his mother and her best friend before fleeing. He made it to Pueblo, Colorado, before he decided to call Santa Cruz to confess. Aluffi, along with other law enforcement, was sent to Colorado to accompany the serial killer on the long ride back.

“After that I was more confident as an officer, absolutely,” Aluffi said. “I felt like there wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle at that point.”

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel, November 20, 2010

Murder Capital of the World

This photo and famous Kemper quote are from the upcoming book Murder Capital of the World by Emerson Murray, which will be released in May 2021. It covers the crimes of the three active serial killers in the Santa Cruz region in California in the early 1960s, that of Edmund Kemper, Herbert Mullin and John Linley Frazier. The stories are all told through direct quotes from the murderers themselves, people from their families and those who were involved in their respective cases.

I had the chance to read an advanced copy and this book is simply terrific. Many new information and details about the Kemper case. Direct quotes from his mother, his father and his older sister are quite revealing. Many new pictures of Kemper during the trial and a never-seen-before mugshot of young Kemper. Kemper researchers will be thrilled by this book as it enriches his story quite a lot. We will do an official review when the book comes out this Spring.

Upcoming book about the Santa Cruz murders in the early 1970s

A new book by author Emerson Murray is currently in the works. The book will be about the murders committed in the early 1970s by John Linley Frazier, Herbert Mullin and Ed Kemper. Here is the description that can be found on the book’s website:

The Santa Cruz community looks back at the Frazier, Mullin, and Kemper murder sprees of the early 1970’s

Over 25 people murdered in just over two and a half years. What was happening in the small coastal town of Santa Cruz between October 1970 and February 1973?

John Linley Frazier’s home invasion murders of the Ohta Family and Dorothy Cadwallader in 1970 and the serial murder sprees of Herbert Mullin and Edmund Kemper left an impact on Santa Cruz that can still be felt today.

Local law enforcement, victim’s families and friends, classmates and acquaintances of the killers, local historians, voices from the past and present, and the killers themselves all come together to tell the horrific stories and explain why Santa Cruz was dubbed THE MURDER CAPITAL OF THE WORLD in the early 1970’s.

The book will feature new material in the Kemper case, including interviews with Detective Terry Medina and Public Defender James L. Jackson. It will also feature interviews with relatives of some of the victims, and with coworkers at the UCSC of Clarnell Strandberg and Sally Hallett. It will also include new information about Kemper’s young fiancee.

Slain Torrance girl praised

A Torrance girl who wanted to change the world lies dead while Santa Cruz law officials wonder whether her killer is a man already charged with 10 murders [Herbert Mullin] or is still at large and unknown.

Alice Helen Liu, 21, had been reported missing Feb. 5. A week ago, authorities advised her parents that one of two bodies found at Santa Cruz might be that of their daughter. The possibility became stark fact Tuesday when Mr. and Mrs. James C. Liu were formally notified that dental X-rays and other evidence had confirmed the identification.

A car parked in the driveway of the Liu home at 22714 Fonthill St. still bears the UCI decal of Alice’s freshman year at the University of California at Irvine. Two years ago she had transferred to the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she was a junior.

“Originally she wanted to be a teacher but more recently she became interested in Oriental studies,” her father said Wednesday in a voice that fought to control his emotions.

James Liu never mentioned his daughter by name during the five-minute interview. The name would have caught in his throat.

Other names were avoided for another reason: to protect friends and relatives from prying reporters.

The records at Torrance High School, from which she graduated in 1969, show she was an active girl with wide-ranging interests. She was a member of the Future Teachers Club, served as treasurer of the California Scholarship Federation, was an officer in the Creative Writing Club, French Club and Interclub Council, and a member of the Tartar Ladies service organization.

Principal Harold Klonecky recalled her as a vibrant girl, who had appeared in the senior play and in modern dance recitals on behalf of the Youth for Nixon organization during the 1968 Presidential campaign.

“Alice was probably a sophomore when she was involved in the Indian project,” Klonecky said. “We brought a number of Papago Indian students here to Torrance High and she escorted them around. After they left she was active in collecting clothing and other items to send to them.”

In Alice’s high school file is this paragraph she wrote as part of a standard form for scholarship counselling:

“I want to change the world through government. I want to be involved with the core of people, and I can do both by being a political science teacher.”

Torrance City Councilman James Armstrong, a political science teacher at Torrance High, remembers her for those very reasons.

Armstrong said that the Torrance High political science teachers assign upper-classmen to become involved in the campaign of their choice as a class project during election years. He had these observations of her work in the 1968 campaign:

“She was interested in people, cared about all kinds of people. She understood about coming from a good home like hers and going to a good school and the difference it makes for those who don’t have the same advantages.”

“A death in these circumstances would be tragic enough with anyone,” he finished, “but with Alice you feel a real sense of loss and of waste.”

As a thousand University of California students listened in silence at UC’s open air amphitheater in Santa Cruz, Robert Edgar, provost of one of the colleges eulogized Miss Liu: “She was bright and lively. Like a bird, she was full of song. Struck down. I’m full of sorrow.”

Classes were canceled at Santa Cruz for the memorial convocation for Miss Liu and another coed found slain [Rosalind Thorpe].

Alice was last seen alive Feb. 5 in the college library. A week later her decapitated body and that of Rosalind Thorpe, 23, of Carmel were found near Castro Valley, a semirural area southeast of Oakland.

Santa Cruz authorities, continuing their marathon probe of the area’s 15 murders, are studying possible relationships between their deaths and those of two other coeds, Mary Anne Pesce, 19, and Cynthia Ann Schall, 19, and the disappearance of another girl, Anita Luchessa, 18. Pesce’s head was found on Loma Preita Mountain near Santa Cruz last August but her body has not been recovered. Parts of Miss Schall’s body were carried ashore by the tide near Santa Cruz and Monterey in January.

Miss Luchessa, a friend of the Pesce girl, has disappeared and is feared dead, but no traces of her have been found.

Meanwhile 10 murder indictments are being sought by Santa Cruz County District Attorney Peter Chang against Herbert W. Mullin, 25, of Felton. Mullin had already been arraigned on six counts and was in custody when four more bodies slain with the same two guns were discovered Saturday.

His fingerprints also were found in the confessional booth of a Catholic priest who was stabbed to death in Los Gatos, but no charges have been brought against him in that case.

Investigators have reported no links between Mullin and the four dead coeds, but are still examining that possibility.

Source: Slain Torrance girl praised; Santa Cruz probe continues, Independent, by Bob Andrew, Staff Writer, February 22, 1973

Police Say Three Coed Slayings Are Related

Interesting how police were initially looking into Herbert Mullin possibly being responsible for the deaths of Rosalind Thorpe and Alice Liu. Herbert Mullin was a serial killer active in Santa Cruz at the same time as Ed Kemper. Another interesting fact was that Ed Kemper was considered a possible suspect for the murder of Mary Guilfoyle. It was eventually determined that Mullin killed Guilfoyle.

Santa Cruz – Because of the “skillfulness” of the decapitations of the two UCSC coeds found near Castro Valley last week, Police Lt. Charles Scherer said today that they were probably slain by the same person or persons who killed Cindy Schall a month ago.

“From all appearances and from listening to the pathologist, it appears that all three of the girls were killed by the same person,” Scherer said.

The headless bodies found in Castro Valley last week were identified Tuesday afternoon as Alice Helen Liu, 20, and Rosalind Thorpe, 23. They were found in a canyon near Castro Valley, discarded over a cliff near a remote country road, authorities said.

Parts of the butchered body of Cindy Schall washed ashore in both Monterey and Santa Cruz counties in January.

Scherer said that there are no clues in the case, and there are no suspects.

No connection has been made at this time between the slayings of the coeds and the killing of Mary Guilfoyle, the Cabrillo College coed whose skeletal remains were found in the mountains near Bonny Doon Feb. 11. Sheriff’s investigators reported that there is no evidence to indicate that Miss Guilfoyle’s body had been dismembered. They said she was stabbed five times.

But autopsies of the three other slain coeds showed virtually identical cutting techniques and that extremely sharp instruments were used in all the cases, Scherer said.

In another development, Municipal Court Judge Donald O. May has revoked bail on Herbert Mullin, accused murderer of 10 people. Acting on the court’s own motion, May “reconsidered the question of bail in view of events occurring subsequent to the arraignment.” May had set bail at $300,000 at Mullin’s arraignment which charged him with six murders. At that time, May indicated that “there should be no bail at all.”

Since the arraignment, Mullin was charged with the murder of David Olicker, 18, Robert Michael Spector, 18, Brian Scott Card, 19, and Mark Johnson, about 19. Because of this development, May indicated that under state law, the court had the right to revoke bail.

Earlier this week, District Attorney Peter Chang said that he will ask for indictments charging Mullin with 10 murders.

Presently, Mullin is being held in custody at San Mateo County jail. Authorities said he is not being held at the Santa Cruz County jail because of the lack of facilities to keep him protected from the other inmates.

Sources: The La Crosse Tribune, Feb 22, 1973 / Santa Cruz Sentinel, February 22, 1973