In the event that watching Mindhunter has propelled you into a serial-killer Google spiral, it’s cool. It’s not like you’re ever sleeping again, anyway! And that’s largely because Jonathan Groff’s dreamy face has introduced us to all the colors of the murder-y rainbow, including good ol’ Edmund Kemper.
When Holden and Tench visit Kemper to get insight into the mind of a murderer, he proves himself to be creepily amenable. And if you watch the interviews with the man himself below, you’ll see that play out IRL. But don’t be fooled: Kemper’s crimes are vast and completely awful. Buckle up.
Note: This article contains disturbing details about Kemper’s criminal history, including descriptions of violence against women. Proceed with caution.
His Childhood Was…Rough
Kemper was born in California, and began exhibiting concerning behavior at a young age. Take, for instance, the way he treated animals. He buried his pet cat alive, only to exhume it and mount its head on a spike. He also did really weird sh*t to his sister’s collection of dolls (like, uh, removing their heads and extremities) which was—unfortunately—a sign of things to come.
On top of that mess, Kemper’s childhood games weren’t at all normal. He played “Electric Chair” and “Gas Chamber” while everyone else was playing tag and Red Rover. Sure, kids can have super active imaginations, but yikes. It’s pretty clear why Kemper was such an interesting study for criminal psychologists like John E. Douglas, aka the real-life Holden Ford!
Unfortunately, Kemper was abused by his mother, Clarnell, who raised him alone after she divorced his dad. Not only did Clarnell force her son to sleep in a locked basement, but she demeaned him constantly, which couldn’t have done great things for his emotional development.
Not shockingly, Kemper ran away to live with his dad when he was a teen, but ended up being sent to live at his grandparents’ house. And that’s when things took a real turn.
He Murdered His Grandparents
When Kemper was 15, he got into an argument with his grandma, grabbed a rifle, and shot her to death. He then shot his grandfather. Because Kemper was a literal child, he didn’t know what to do in this situation and called his mom, who told him to call the police. Kemper later explained his behavior by saying he “just wanted to see what it felt like to kill Grandma,” which is a truly c-h-i-l-l-i-n-g admission. Kemper was soon diagnosed as a criminally insane paranoid schizophrenic, and was imprisoned in a hospital.
Around this time, Kemper took an IQ test and scored quite high. He was released from the hospital on his 21st birthday, which, yes, turned out to be a terrible idea.
The Reason Ed Kemper Is Called “the Co-Ed Killer”
Kemper began experiencing homicidal urges while picking up women hitchhikers, and ended up going on a “murder spree” in 1972. The case-by-case details are just too violent to re-hash here, but suffice to say that he picked up female students and killed them. He then took their bodies home, decapitated and dismembered them, and then had sex with their corpses. So. Awful.
As far as the authorities know, Kemper killed five college students and one high school student during this time, often after getting into fights with his mother.
He Murdered His Mom
…and her best friend. Kemper killed Clarnell while she was sleeping, bludgeoning her with a hammer and slitting her throat. Beyond those already horrifying facts, additional details of what he did to her body are just too disturbing to recount, but it was sexual in nature.
After this, Kemper invited Clarnell’s best friend to dinner and then strangled her, spending the night with her body before turning himself into the police. “The original purpose was gone,” he explained when asked why he called the cops. “It wasn’t serving any physical or real or emotional purpose. It was just a pure waste of time … Emotionally, I couldn’t handle it much longer. Toward the end there, I started feeling the folly of the whole damn thing, and at the point of near exhaustion, near collapse, I just said to hell with it and called it all off.”
Note: He asked for the death penalty during his trial.
So, Where Is Kemper Now?
In jail and happy as a clam, apparently. Now 70, he’s waived his right to parole multiple times, is considered a star inmate, and has willingly talked to psychologists like John E. Douglas. In the documentary Murder: No Apparent Motive, he even implied that he wants other potential killers to get help. But obviously, none of this makes up for the fact that he violated and murdered women.