Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Montana

Shortly before the murders

Here is a never-before-seen photo of 15-year-old Ed Kemper having a meal with his stepfather, Harold Strandberg, his mother’s third husband, in Helena, Montana, in August 1964. Shortly after, Kemper returned to his grandparents’ ranch in North Fork, and murdered them.

Source: thisisedkemper.com

“It really sunk in that his dad didn’t want him…”

From a 1973 interview with Susan Swanson, Ed Kemper’s oldest sister, where she recalled his mood in 1964, after their father left him with his parents at their ranch in the mountains in North Fork, California:

“So, after that school year, while he was fifteen, he came home to Montana for summer vacations. I spent time with him, I was living back in Helena then, I was still married – in fact, I was three weeks away from having my third child. We spent a lot of time together. He seemed, oh, I don’t know, he was… He could have fun, he could laugh, he could play and be silly and visit and stuff like that, but deep down he seemed awfully hurt. Like you know, it really sunk in that his dad didn’t want him and this still intensified his love for his father. He just kept reaching and grabbing for him. So, we took him fishing and all kinds of things and then he went back down to Madera and it was just, oh, a matter of a couple of weeks later that he killed his grandparents.”

Source: Murder Capital of the World, by Emerson Murray, 2021 https://www.emersonmurray.com/murder-capital-of-the-world / Photo: Pete Amos

Clarnell Strandberg’s husbands

Edmund Emil Kemper Jr (Ed Kemper’s father)

“You know, wooing and dating, you’re one thing, but after you’re married you let it all hang out. She was just too powerful. She would drive them (the men in her life) away, attack them verbally, attack their manhood.”

Ed Kemper about his mother

Ed Kemper’s mother, Clarnell Strandberg née Stage, according to her son, apparently was a real man-hater. Whatever the truth may have been on that front, she was persevering and married three times. She told the social workers that she kept trying to find a suitable husband “because the boy needed a father”-a motivation that they cynically tended to discount.

1. Edmund Emil Kemper Jr

Her first husband was Kemper’s father, Edmund Kemper Jr. It was also his first marriage. Edmund Emil Kemper Jr was born to Edmund Emil Kemper Sr and Maude Matilda Hughey Kemper in Los Angeles, California, on April 27, 1919. 

Edmund Jr enlisted in the Army on June 21, 1939. He served in World War II during his enlistment. After the war, he tested atomic bombs in the Pacific Proving Grounds before returning to California, where he found work as an electrician. He married Clarnell Elizabeth Stage on November 26, 1942 in Great Falls, Montana. His wife constantly complained about his “menial” job as an electrician. Edmund Jr later stated that “suicide missions in wartime and the later atomic bomb testings were nothing compared to living with [Clarnell]” and that she affected him “as a grown man more than three hundred and ninety-six days and nights of fighting on the front did.” He said, “I became confused and was not certain of anything for quite a time.”

Edmund Jr and Clarnell had three children, Susan, Edmund III, and Allyn. Due to constant fighting, the couple separated in 1957 and Clarnell took the children back to Montana and continued to raise them there as a single parent. She found a job as a secretary at the First National Bank. Kemper, who had a close relationship with his father, was devastated by the separation. In 1962, when Kemper turned 14, he ran away from home to reunite with his father, who was living in Van Nuys, California at the time. Upon arriving at his father’s house. Kemper discovered that his father had remarried and now had a step-son. Edmund Jr allowed his son to stay until he planned for him to live in North Fork, California with his parents, Edmund Sr and Maude Kemper, whom Kemper would eventually murder in 1964. 

Kemper was the second of three children of Edmund Jr, a six-foot-eight-inch electrician and his six-foot wife Clarnell. Both parents were heavily built and loud spoken. In good times, there were rowdiness and joking around the dinner table, and these were the moments that Kemper later cherished. 

Susan, the oldest child, was six years of age when Kemper was born. The parents called him Guy. And when Guy was two and one-half years of age, and huge for a toddler-bright, curious, and into everything-his sister Allyn was born. 

The wrangling and shouting between the two parents found a new focus in the way in which Kemper was being reared. When he was four, his father went away for two years, taking a job in an atomic bomb testing program in the Pacific. “The war never ceased,” Clarnell said bitterly. “Upon his [the father’s] return he tried college under the G.I. Bill, couldn’t get back into studying, argued like a staff sergeant with the instructors, dropped out, and worked rapidly into the electrical business.”

They argued over money and over the father’s lack of attention to the children. Clarnell Kemper claimed that her husband was “stern to the girls and overprotective to Ed,” saying, “He never spanked the children and they never had any respect for him. All he ever gave Kemper was his medals and war stories.”

When Kemper was nine years of age, his father again left home. By this time, it was charged that Clarnell had developed a drinking habit. 

In 1958, when the father briefly returned to the family, he claimed he found that Clarnell was mistreating Kemper, having made him sleep in the basement for about eight months. “He was terrified of this place. There was only one way out. Someone had to move the kitchen table and lift the trapdoor. I put a stop to it and threatened her with the law.”

He also said that when Kemper was eight or nine years of age, the mother forced him to sell newspapers on the street, and that on one occasion the father went out looking for his son after the mother told the boy not to return until he had sold all his newspapers. 

The way Kemper remembered those years, “Very early, my natural parents were always loud and arguing, which terrified me emotionally of anything very loud and very pushy. As I was growing up, I shied away from loud noises and arguments.”

“My mother was very strong and she wanted a man who was strong. My father was very big and very loud, but he was very weak and she wanted the opposite.”

Clarnell and Edmund Jr divorced on September 28, 1961 in Montana, on legal grounds of mental cruelty. 

Two months later, Edmund Jr remarried, this time to Elfriede Weber, a German immigrant with a son two years older than Kemper. For the latter, this apparent usurpation of his father’s affections by an older and, no doubt in Kemper’s mind, worthier son must have come as the ultimate rejection.

Edmund Jr and Elfriede Weber remained married until his death in Los Angeles on January 19, 1985. He was buried at sea.

2. Norman Vincent Turnquist

On February 17, 1962, Clarnell married for the second time, with Norman Turnquist, in Helena, Montana. It was his third marriage. Born on March 18, 1917 in Horte, Missoula, Montana, Turnquist was in the US Marine Corps until he was wounded. He was discharged on August 8, 1945. After his military service, he worked for the city of Wallace in Montana. When he met Clarnell, he was working as a plumber. Kemper was 13 when they married. 

Norman Turnquist, Kemper’s first stepfather, helped him for a time to overcome his death fantasies, taking him on fishing expeditions and teaching him to hunt. Yet even so, there was a day at Hauser Dam near their home when the boy picked up an iron bar and stood behind Turnquist for quite a long time. His plan, after bashing him over the head, was to steal his car and drive to Southern California for a reunion with his natural father. In these years, he thought continually of being allowed to live once more with his father, and made several attempts to do so. But he could not bring himself to lower the cudgel on his stepfather’s head. Usually, it was fear of reprisal by an older male that deterred him in such circumstances. All his life he would be a fearful giant who vastly preferred to strike weaker victims of the female gender. 

When his father left and remarried, Kemper has fantasies of protecting his mother. But a year later, she had married Turnquist.

“I found out,” Kemper recalled, “that she didn’t need any protection at all. She used always to tell me how much I reminded her of my father, whom she dearly hated, of course.”

Clarnell and Turnquist divorced in Montana on June 20, 1963, just over a year after they married, on legal grounds of extreme cruelty. 

Norman Turnquist died a few years later at the age of 48 of cardiac arrest, on August 18, 1965. At the time, his was working as a meat cutter for a meat packing company. 

3. Harold Magnus Strandberg

Less than a year after her divorce from Turnquist, Clarnell wed Harold Magnus Strandberg on May 17, 1964. It was his first marriage, it was her third. They were both 43 years old. They were married in Wallace in Shoshone County in the State of Idaho. When he met Clarnell, Strandberg was working as a plumber.

Not much is known about Mr. Strandberg. He was born on December 8, 1921, in Helena Montana. He was drafted in the US Army some time in 1942 during the WWII conscription. He was working at the Helena Related Trade School at the time.  

Clarnell and Strandberg married just a few months before Kemper murdered his paternal grandparents at their farm in August 1964 in North Fork, California. Kemper had been living with them since Christmas 1963. It is unclear if Kemper and Strandberg ever met or spoke. Kemper never mentioned Strandberg in any interview. 

Clarnell and Strandberg divorced some time before 1969, the year he remarried, to Nona Laurence Buckland. Clarnell kept his surname as her own even after the divorce. 

Strandberg died in an accident on August 8, 1986 in Montana. He was operating his small outboard motor boat on Holter Lake when a high wind capsized his boat. He did not have a life vest on. He suffered from hypothermia and drowned.

Source: The Co-ed Killer by Margaret Cheney, 1976 / Ancestry  

Young Clarnell Stage

Ed Kemper’s mother, Clarnell Elizabeth Stage, was born on March 17, 1921 in Winnett, Petroleum County in Montana. She attended Great Falls High School in Montana. These pictures are from her high school yearbook from 1938. She was 17 years old and aspiring to become a secretary. She was also part of the Young Authors’ Club.

Source: Ancestry

Today: Ed Kemper’s birthday

Born on December 18, 1948, serial killer Edmund Kemper turns 72 years old today. He is still incarcerated at the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, where he has been living since his conviction in 1973. 

Edmund Emil Kemper III is the second of three children and the only son born to Edmund and Clarnell Kemper. Kemper bitterly recalls that his father was not around much when he was young and that his parents separated completely when he was 9, after which his mother moved the family from California to Montana. As a result of the move, Ed almost never saw his father. This greatly embittered him, and he blamed his mother entirely. As a child, Kemper was physically and socially awkward, always the largest boy in his class. He ultimately grew to 6 feet 9 inches and weighed 280 pounds. He was a loner who dwelled in the world of science-fiction and the occult for escape. His mother once wrote, “I was deeply worried during the years about the lack of a father relationship, and so I tried everything I could to compensate for that.” According to Ed, this meant she felt a need to punish and ridicule him in order to “make him a man.”

Source: Murder and Madness by Donald T. Lunde, 1976, San Francisco Book Company / Image taken from documentary The Killing of America by directors Leonard Schrader and Sheldon Renan (1981)

Kemper scared his father’s new wife

Elfriede Weber

In the Fall of 1963, Ed Kemper, now 14 years-old, was allowed to go to Los Angeles to the home which his father, Edmund Emil Kemper Jr. II, shared with his new wife, Elfriede Weber, and her son from a previous marriage, Gilbert Otto Brechtefeld, who was two years older than Kemper.

The second Mrs. Kemper quickly began to feel extremely ill-at-ease with her dour and hulking stepson, now more than six feet tall, hanging around the house and staring at her until she became upset. She began to get migraine headaches. Once the boy happened to catch a glimpse of her nude, in the bedroom. Later, Kemper recalled that he had felt sexually excited by this episode. And still later it would be reinterpreted, perhaps at his instigation, but at least by the journalists, as a sexual overture on the woman’s part: “…the woman had appeared naked before him, using her sexuality to take his father away from him.”

Kemper was in Los Angeles for only a few weeks when at his stepmother’s urging, his father sent him back to Montana to live with his mother and sisters. E. E. Kemper Jr. II told his son that he was financially unable to keep him.

A few months later, around Thanksgiving, Kemper ran away from home in Montana and returned to Los Angeles to see his father. Another incident had Kemper following his pregnant stepmother around the house, shutting all the drapes and blinds claiming it was too bright. Afraid, she opened them up again and told Kemper he needed to leave. Her son Gilbert happened to arrive home at that moment. He saw how scared his mother was and how creepy Kemper was acting. He grabbed a hammer and chased Kemper away. This incident was apparently the reason why Kemper was sent to live with his paternal grandparents in late 1963. His father brought him to North Fork in California for Christmas and left him there once the holidays were over.

Gilbert Otto Brechtefeld

Kemper’s father and Elfriede Weber had a son together. He is known as David Weber but it’s not his real name. He keeps his real name private for security reasons. He was born in 1963 or 1964. As for Elfriede’s first son Gilbert, he died in 1975 at the age of 28. We were unable to find the cause of death. Elfriede passed away in 2009 at the age of 89.

Sources: The Co-ed Killer by Margaret Cheney / Sacrifice Unto Me by Don West /  https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5168247/Brother-Edmund-Kempner-speaks-time.html

Ed Kemper’s sister testifies at trial

Testifying as the first defense witness in Ed Kemper’s trial, Allyn Kemper, 22, revealed under cross examination that both she and her mother thought Kemper might have been involved in the death of Cynthia Schall.

Allyn Kemper testified that she asked her brother directly whether he had anything to do with the killing – one of eight of which he is accused.

“No,” she quoted him in response, “but I was afraid you might be suspicious because of that cat thing. My mother has already asked me about it, and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring it up again because it will just stir things up.”

The “cat thing” Miss Kemper explained, involved an incident when the family lived in Montana and her brother decapitated the family cat with a bayonet.

Under questioning by District Attorney Peter Chang, she also related that she herself was almost killed by Kemper.

That, too, happened in Montana. Kemper, she explained, had always had an interest in guns, and one day as she walked through the living room she heard a click.

As she turned, she said, a bullet from Kemper’s .22 rifle whizzed by her ear and buried itself in a bookcase.

“Oops!” she quoted her brother. “I thought it was empty.”

Sources: “Kemper tapes relate grisly details”, The San Francisco Examiner, October 31, 1973, by Don West / Photo of Allyn Kemper (17 years old) from the Soquel High School yearbook, 1968