From Charles Manson to the Yorkshire Ripper, Son of Sam to the Monster of Florence, John Douglas tests his wits against the best criminal minds of his generation.
Edmund Kemper is, by his own lights, a man of superior intellect and no small achievements. He boasts of once having been America’s youngest fully-fledged civic booster; a twenty-year-old Christian living what he calls a “Jesus-first” life.
But that distinction is just an ironic footnote in Kemper’s vitae. He is a legend for far more weighty reasons, and he implores his visitor to please, just please, get the story right.
“I did not butcher people,” Ed Kemper, now 41 years old, insists with the petty certitude of a grammarian arguing over nuance. “Decapitation is not butchering. The papers and the magazines had me butchering my victims. But I only dismembered two bodies. They were all decapitated; all but my mother’s friend. Why? Why didn’t I just pop some teeth out, or crunch some bones up? I was starting to branch out in my thoughts about how to do things and get away with it. The psychological trip was, the person is the head. For some reason, someone looks entirely different with no head. I noticed that.”
“I’m on an honesty thing the last five or six years; except when people get into my car. I didn’t tell ‘em I was gonna kill ‘em. I couldn’t quite handle that … Are you interested in what I was taking the heads off with? It wasn’t a saw, not even a hack saw: a buck knife.”
“I got my high on the complication of the thing; the meticulous way I ironed out potential problems before they even started… Hatpins! Mace! The more weapons the girls had, the safer they felt, the more chances they’d take, the easier it was for me. Unless it’s a policewoman with a gun in her hand, aimed at me, I’ve got her exactly where I want her. The first two victims [Pesce and Luchessa] were convinced the FBI and the CIA and Interpol were going to come looking for ‘em two hours after they were missing. Both of ‘em had money. Ritzy families. Real important. ‘Boy, if I don’t call daddy, we’ll be missed.”
In an interview room at Vacaville prison in California, John Douglas, an energetic man not particularly suited to the sedentary, just sits there for a change and listens. There is little choice. Kemper talks fast, like someone trying to finish a long story before he runs out of the door. But Kemper is going nowhere.
Kemper is a giant of a man, 6’9” and 302 pounds, and as the words spew out, his voice betrays macabre enthusiasm while an intermittent giggle gives away his self-consciousness. These are awful stories. Over a span of maybe half-a-dozen years, Kemper killed ten people: his grandparents, his mother, her best friend, and six hitchhiking students. He chopped their heads and hands off, ate parts of them, and, in his nagging mother’s case, propped up her severed head on the kitchen table, ranted and raved at it, ripped out the larynx and ground it up in the waste disposal. “Mom didn’t give a fuck. She was using us for her own little comforts.” Nice guy.
Maybe it’s a stretch of the imagination to see Kemper as the pride of the Junior Chamber of Commerce chapter at the Atascadero State Hospital for the criminally insane, California. But then he was much younger and the shrinks thought there was still hope; at that time, he’d only hacked up his grandparents.
As Douglas listens to this serial killer offhandedly describe the young women he stalked and murdered after his release from Atascadero, the word that comes to Douglas’s mind is nothing to be proud of, but at least he is being honest with himself. Douglas spells it out: “p-u-s-s-y”. A coward. The word refers to Edmund Kemper, not to those who are dead, although Douglas has called murdered girls by that cruel name, too, when he thought doing so would please a murderer enough to make him relive the thrill of the kill.
Which is what Douglas wants.
The dead cannot speak, but their killers can, and Douglas has probably talked to more of them than any other man alive.
Sources: Excerpts** from the article “In at the Kill”, by John A. Jenkins (as published in GQ (Britain), February 1991) / Image from 1989 closed-circuit interview for the FBI Academy
**The order of the excerpts has been modified for a better understanding of the content.