From May 1972 to April 1973, six young women, ages 15 to 23, went missing in Santa Cruz, California. Anita Mary Luchessa and Mary Ann Pesce, both 18-year-old students at Fresno State, went missing on May 7, 1972. Aiko Koo,15, disappeared after heading out to an evening dance class on September 14, 1972. Carrillo College student Cynthia Schall, 18, disappeared on January 7, 1973. Rosalind Thorpe, 23, and Alice Liu, 20, both students at the University of California, Santa Cruz, vanished on February 5, 1973.
All of these young women hitched a ride with Edmund Kemper, a 24-year-old Department of Transportation employee with a history of violence.
According to many sources, Kemper was known to local police—but not for being violent. Kemper was known as “Big Ed,” a friendly regular at The Jury Room, a bar across from the Santa Cruz Sheriff’s Office. Big Ed often bought drinks for the officers and chatted with them. Kemper had always wanted to be a police officer but was turned down because, at 6’9,” he was considered too large. On April 20, 1973, Kemper called the police to turn himself in for the murders. The officer he spoke to knew him and didn’t believe him. Kemper didn’t give up. He called back until the police took him seriously.
He confessed to killing the missing hitchhikers plus his mother, Clarnell Kemper, and her friend, Sally Hallett. Police recovered the remains of both women from the home that Kemper shared with his mother.
After his arrest and conviction, Kemper spoke at length about his crimes. He picked each victim up hitchhiking and drove them to secluded areas. He killed them by stabbing and strangulation. Afterward, he took the bodies home with him, had sex with them, and usually decapitated them.
According to Gabe in his 2021 All That’s Interesting article, “The Disturbing Crimes Of Ed Kemper, The 6’9″ Serial Killer Who Saved His Grisliest Murder For His Own Mom,” Kemper put his victims’ body parts in plastic bags which he disposed of in a ravine near Loma Prieta Mountain.
Kemper started picking up hitchhikers as a way to socialize. Kemper said that he picked up about 100 young women, but violence was at the back of his mind. When Kemper was with a woman he was attracted to, quotes Kemper as saying, “One side of me says, ‘Wow, what an attractive chick. I’d like to talk to her, date her.’ The other side of me says, ‘I wonder how her head would look on a stick?’”
Kemper’s violent tendencies go back to his childhood. He came from a dysfunctional family. His mother, Clarnell, is described as a verbally abusive alcoholic. She reportedly belittled his father to the point that he left.
After his father left home, Kemper suffered at the hands of his mother. She was verbally abusive and belittled him constantly. She also forced him to sleep in a rat-infested basement.
Kemper’s violent tendencies surfaced when he was younger. He abused animals and killed both of his family’s cats. Kemper had two sisters and said that he enjoyed decapitating their dolls, which is a chilling foreshadowing of his later crimes. quotes Kemper as saying, “I remember there was actually a sexual thrill—you hear that little pop and pull their heads off and hold [them] up by the hair […] Whipping their heads off, their body sitting there. That’d get me off.”
He also played ‘electric chair’ and ‘gas chamber,’ where his sisters played along as the executioners and marched him to his death. He stalked his second-grade teacher. When his sister teased him about it, he said, “If I kiss her, I’d have to kill her first.”
Having enough of his mother’s abuse, Kemper ran away from home at age 14. He went to live with his father. His father had remarried and wouldn’t take him in. He sent Kemper to live with his grandparents, Edmund Emil and Maude Kemper.
Life with his grandparents turned out to be no different. Maude was very much like Clarnell. writes that Kemper described his grandfather as “senile” and his grandmother as “emasculating.” quotes Kemper as saying that his grandmother “thought she had more balls than any man and was constantly emasculating me and my grandfather to prove it.”
On August 27, 1964, Kemper reached a breaking point with Maude. However, this time, he went to horrific extremes. Kemper shot and killed both of his grandparents with a .22 caliber rifle. He killed his grandmother first after one of many blow-out arguments. His grandfather was out buying groceries. When his grandfather arrived home, Kemper decided to kill him before he saw his wife dead. Kemper turned himself in and was committed to Atascadero State Hospital’s criminally insane unit.
While at Atascadero, Kemper scored impressively high on an IQ test and was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He was released in 1969 on his 21st birthday.
According to Biography‘s 2020 Edmund Kemper article, hospital staff advised against releasing Kemper to live with his mother because of their toxic relationship. They advised that he be released to a halfway house instead. This advice was ignored for some reason, and Kemper ended up living with his mother.
Kemper analyzed his crimes and himself in his interviews. He’s basically what some expect a serial killer to be—an abused child who acts out with violence. Kemper started with violence towards animals among other strange and disturbing behavior that for whatever reason went unnoticed.
So, Kemper was incarcerated at age 14, after killing his grandparents. At age 21, he was released to the mother that abused him. It sounds as if the staff wanted to keep him there or release him but not to his mother. Kemper’s release to his mother is baffling and disturbing as Kemper would be released into a toxic environment. Kemper would become what society fears most—a rage-filled adult with a seething hatred for his abusive mother who then vents his rage on innocent young women.
Many other serial killers had behavior in their past that set up huge red flags. According to a 2020 Biography article, “Inside Ted Bundy’s Troubled and Disturbing Childhood,” Ted Bundy placed knives in a circle around his aunt while she slept. In high school, Jeffrey Dahmer went to class drunk and took up the hobby of dissecting roadkill. In a 2018 interview with The Independent, “‘There was always a darkness about him’: My Friend Dahmer author John Backderf on growing up with a serial killer,” Dahmer’s former classmate, Derf Backderf wonders, “Where were the adults?” Convicted serial killer Richard Chase was released from a mental institution despite killing birds and other small animals in his room. After his release, he graduated to killing people and became known as the Vampire of Sacramento. Unfortunately, there are probably many more names that can be added to this list. The question is—why is mental illness ignored or not taken seriously?
Kemper got a job at the local Department of Transportation. His mother worked as an administrative assistant at the University of California at Santa Cruz. As a result, Kemper’s car had a university bumper sticker, which may have played a part in young student hitchhikers letting their guard down.
He and his mother picked up where they left off. quotes Kemper: “My mother and I started right in on horrendous battles, just horrible battles, violent and vicious.”
Kemper connected the murders to his relationship with his mother. quotes Kemper as saying, “[My victims] represented not what my mother was, but what she liked, what she coveted, what was important to her, and I was destroying it.”
Kemper said that he decided that, in order for the murders to stop, he had to kill his mother. By all accounts, on April 20, 1973, Kemper bludgeoned Clarnell to death with a claw hammer while she slept. Like all of his other victims, he decapitated her. Kemper admitted to yelling at her head while throwing darts at it and having sex with it. He also cut out her vocal cords and tongue and tried putting them down the garbage disposal. In a 2021 ID Crimefeed article, “Edmund Kemper: The ‘Co-Ed Butcher’ Of Hitchhiking Students,” writer Mike McPadden quotes Kemper as saying “That seemed appropriate […] as much as she’d bitched and yelled and screamed at me over so many years.”
Kemper then invited Clarnell’s close friend, Sally Hallett, 59, over. He strangled and decapitated her. According to McPadden, Kemper left a note which read:
“Appx. 5:15 A.M. Saturday. No need for her to suffer any more at the hands of this horrible ‘murderous Butcher.’ It was quick—asleep—the way I wanted it. Not sloppy and incomplete, gents. Just a ‘lack of time.’ I got things to do!!!”
Kemper then drove to Pueblo, Colorado, where he called police.
Kemper was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. According to multiple sources, Kemper is considered a “model inmate.” At one point, he participated in a program recording books on tape. Kemper has been denied parole many times since being incarcerated in 1973. He’s reportedly happy behind bars. Apparently, even he feels that he belongs there.