Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Sergeant Michael Aluffi

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.

“I’d love to take credit for more [victims]”

Aluffi (left), Kemper (right)

The following is from a taped interview between suspect Edmund Emil Kemper III and investigator Michael Aluffi, held at the Santa Cruz Jail on April 28, 1973. 

Aluffi: Ed, you’ve admitted to the deaths of six coeds, your mother and Mrs. Hallett, are there any other homicides that you’ve committed other than your grandmother and your grandfather?

Kemper: No.

Aluffi: None whatsoever?

Kemper: None whatsoever.

Aluffi: What about in Santa Rosa?

Kemper: No. There almost was a victim there, but I guess pretty much for the same reason I didn’t kill so many others, it was a surprise pickup and quite a lovely young lady, and I just psychologically was not prepared for it. But when I was psychologically in the mood for it and everything worked out right, the person didn’t have a chance, when I knew ahead of time. 

Aluffi: But you did pick up a hitchhiker in Santa Rosa?

Kemper: Yes, the deposited her safely. She was probably 16 or 17 years old.

Aluffi: What about Los Angeles?

Kemper: No, I picked up people up and down there for the same reason, only on one occasion, two girls, and I released them at their destination and picked up one girl in Santa Barbara that was headed for Santa Cruz. But at that time, all I had was my knife and I didn’t really see an opportunity to use it. 

Aluffi: Did you ever pick up any hitchhikers in Las Vegas?

Kemper: No.

Aluffi: Have you ever been to Las Vegas?

Kemper: Yes, long, long ago and only by bus.

Aluffi: So in essence, the killings that you have admitted, those are the only ones that you’ve ever completed. 

Kemper: I’d love to take credit for more, not because I’m looking for a big score, but that I wouldn’t take credit for any that I didn’t do because, well, there’s partially the guilt factor involved and there also is the uh, well I didn’t do it, so I didn’t get any pleasure out of it or any guilt out of it and why take somebody else off the hook who did do it. Obviously, whoever did these other crimes that haven’t been solved doesn’t have too many clues against him. I’m not trying to pat anybody on the back or help anybody else get away with anything, but I figure I can’t even cop out to these crimes because they’re gonna find out that I didn’t do them and I wouldn’t be able to give you any details, not even under a lie detector test. 

Aluffi: Would you be willing to submit to a lie detector test?

Kemper: Sure, as long as it only pertained to any cases that I didn’t involve myself in. You know, there’s always questions people don’t like to sit there and have a lie detector test on concerning other parts in their lives. 

Aluffi: But you would be willing to submit to a lie detector test in reference to…

Kemper: Any unsolved murders that you might think I had something to do with, or to verify certain statements I have made concerning the crimes I did commit. 

Aluffi: You would submit to the subjects of these coeds deaths?

Kemper: Certainly.

Aluffi: Do you think you could remember anything else that might be of any consequence in these investigations?

Kemper: Not at this time I don’t.

Aluffi: Would you be willing to talk to me at a later time if you did remember something like that?

Kemper: Yes.

Sources: Ed Kemper’s official jailhouse confessions in April 1973 / Photos are from the Santa Cruz Sentinel (for Aluffi) and another unknown newspaper (for Kemper) / Kemper photo by W. H. Hawkins found on Reddit and first published by the Facebook Ed Kemper Discussion page

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

Kemper’s sexual achievement

Inv. Michael Aluffi:   Did you ever have any kind of a sexual achievement while you were killing them [his victims]?

KemperYes, I’m sure it’s happened before, but the only time I actually noticed an ejaculation was as I was killing Mrs. Hallett on Saturday night, as she was dying, it was a great physical effort on my part, very restraining, very difficult, much less difficult that I made it, I went into a full complete physical spasm let’s say. I just completely put myself out on it and as she died, I felt myself reaching orgasm. In the other cases, the physical effort was less. I think with the Koo girl, in the case of a suffocation, the same thing happened. But I didn’t really notice it, because I did have sex with her right after causing her to be unconscious. 

Source: Excerpt from Ed Kemper’s official jailhouse confessions in Santa Cruz on April 28, 1973 (after his arrest in Pueblo, Colorado), pages 27 and 28 / Video of confessions from the Oxygen documentary Kemper on Kemper (2018)

Police looking for a gun

A few weeks before Ed Kemper murdered his mother in April 1973, Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Sergeant Michael Aluffi was instructed to confiscate a gun illegally in the possession of an Aptos man. His name was Edmund Emil Kemper III and the address was 609A Ord Drive.

The instructions had resulted from a routine bulletin from the California Department of Criminal Investigation and Identification, which said that Kemper had purchased a .44 magnum revolver in Watsonville and falsely sworn that he had never been in prison.

The notice did not give any details of Kemper’s first two murders [of his paternal grandparents], listing only court disposition of the case and his prison record.

Aluffi drove to the apartment, but found no one at home. As he was walking away from the apartment door, a yellow Ford pulled into the parking space beside his unmarked vehicle. A large, brown-haired young man and a small young blonde girl were in it. It was Kemper and his fiance.

Kemper discussed the event in his 1984 interview for the documentary “Murder – No Apparent Motive”:

Journalist: Some police department actually came to your house to pick up a handgun. 

Kemper: The sheriff’s representatives, one of the detectives was upset because he heard I had a .44 magnum pistol and was a convicted mental patient and killed. He came to take the gun away. They were staking out the wrong house across the street and I’m playing around with a car, standing next to the gun in the trunk. They come over and asked, “Excuse me, sir. Do you know who lives in this house across the street?” Well, that house was 609 Harriet. He crossed back over to this side, 609 Ord, and they were looking for me and didn’t even know that was me. Bad news. Well, at any rate, we walk in the house and have them ask my mother about this other house, and I’m saying, “Hey, which 609 are you looking for?” They said, “Are you Ed Kemper?” “Yes,” and it goes on and I needed to find out what they were looking for, the murder weapon, the .22 automatic or the .44 magnum, and I don’t want to advertise that I’ve got a whole bunch of guns. So, I made a comment just to divide between the two and I suggest, “quite a little gun, isn’t it?”

He reported, “.44 magnum, I hope so.” Okay, because that loaded .22 was under the front seat and guarantee me an arrest right on the spot and the .44 was in the trunk. I forgot that. I took them in the house. We went into my bedroom and the closet doors open and I have a high-powered rifle with a scope on it with some other stuff in the house.

You had some other stuff in the house, yes?

Yeah, I had the personal effects of the last two coeds that had been murdered about two months before, right next to the guns in the closet in a box.

Could he have seen it?

No, but when he arrested me for having all those guns and went through the closet looking to see if there were any pistols or anything else, he wouldn’t have… couldn’t have helped notice a purse, a book bag and coed ID inside of those belonging to their two latest murder victims. I back up and I say, “Oh, excuse me. I just remembered something,” and instantly he responds to what I’m saying. My hand moves, back we go outside, and he’s still thinking, “Boy, this is a really nice and helpful guy here.”

Sources: Excerpt from book “Sacrifice Unto Me” by Don West, 1974, Pyramid Publishing / Excerpt from the interview from “Murder – No Apparent Motive” (1984)