Documenting the Co-Ed Killer case

Category: Susan Swanson

“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  

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.