The Chilling Case of Ed Kemper

The Chilling Case of Ed Kemper - Mug shot of Kemper on November 9, 1973
The Chilling Case of Ed Kemper – Mug shot November 9, 1973


Delving into the chilling saga of Ed Kemper reveals a disturbing narrative of a teenage murderer whose crimes shook California in the 1960s. At just 15 years old, Kemper confessed to the unthinkable—brutally killing both of his grandparents.

This article unveils the shocking details of Kemper’s descent into darkness, examining the motivations behind his heinous acts and the subsequent legal proceedings that followed. From his psychiatric evaluation to his release and the horrifying murders that followed, the story of Ed Kemper is a haunting exploration into the mind of a serial killer that continues to intrigue and terrify to this day.

Ed Kemper: The 15-year-old Murderer

August 27, 1964, marked a chilling turn of events in California. A seemingly unassuming 15-year-old boy, Ed Kemper, made a shocking phone call to the police, confessing to the brutal murder of his own grandparents. As law enforcement arrived at the scene, they were met with an eerie calmness as Kemper awaited arrest.

The question on everyone’s mind was the motive behind such a heinous act. When asked, Kemper’s response left investigators bewildered: “I killed them because I was angry with the world and because I wanted to know what it feels like to take a life,” he admitted chillingly.

I killed them because I was angry with the world and because I wanted to know what it feels like to take a life

Ed Kemper

Kemper proceeded to recount the harrowing events that had unfolded. The tragedy began with a confrontation between him and his grandmother. Refusing to surrender the firearm gifted to him by his grandfather, Kemper’s frustration reached a breaking point. In a shocking turn, he shot his grandmother, ending the dispute in a violent and irreversible manner. But his rampage didn’t stop there; he fired additional shots into her chest, ensuring her demise.

After leaving his grandmother’s lifeless body behind, Kemper positioned himself outside the house, clutching his rifle. His grandfather’s return marked the next victim in his horrifying spree. Without hesitation, Kemper ended his grandfather’s life with a single shot.

Young Edmund Emil Kemper III
Young Edmund Emil Kemper III -who would become the California Serial Killer

Minutes later, Kemper made a fateful call to the police, confessing to both murders. His justification for the second killing was equally disturbing: he claimed he wanted to prevent his grandfather from discovering his wife’s death. This chilling admission only deepened the enigma surrounding this young murderer.

Ed Kemper's Grandmother - First Victim
Ed Kemper’s Grandmother – First Victim
Ed Kemper's Grandfather - Second Victim
Ed Kemper’s Grandfather – Second Victim

Are Psychopaths Born or Made?

The question of whether psychopaths are born or made takes center stage. Despite his age, Kemper’s case was transferred to the adult court due to its severity. A psychiatric evaluation in September 1964 diagnosed him as a paranoid schizophrenic, leading to a surprising decision. Recognizing the gravity of his crimes, the court sentenced Kemper to a maximum-security psychiatric hospital—a departure from the typical approach for minors.

Inside the hospital, Kemper’s unique presence drew attention. Standing tall for his age, his politeness and exceptional intelligence captured the fascination of those around him. Remarkably, his IQ tested at a genius level of 136, leading FBI agent John Douglas, author of “Mindhunter,” to laud his aptitude for analyzing evidence. This expertise granted Kemper a degree of freedom, allowing him to assist in testing and evaluations.

Article Clipping - Edmund Emill Kemper III
Article Clipping – Edmund Emil Kemper III – California Serial Killer

Ed took several intelligence tests resulting in a genius-level with an IQ of 136 The FBI agent John Douglas who wrote the famous book Mindhunter (a book that became a series) said that Ed was so good with the evidence that they even let him see the evidence and pass it on to his colleagues in the hospital.

Such freedom and information about tests and evaluations would make Ed take the most information to help himself. Meanwhile, doctors and psychologists began to question the diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia. Kemper was tested again but this time he knew what to say and what the doctors wanted to hear. When it was time to talk to the parole board, Ed gave them a speech about rehabilitation that finally convinced the board, setting him free. In those years, justice gave more importance to rehabilitation than to punishment itself.

Reflecting on his initial incarceration, Kemper shared his insights. He highlighted the incongruity of being a minor in a hospital for hardened criminals and how the experience hastened his maturity. By 1969, at age 21, the doctors were convinced of his rehabilitation, leading to his release.

I think I was the only murderer to leave Atascadero with a clean record – in fact, the psychiatrists did not want to release me – they were about to transfer me to Agnew State Hospital, where I would have been released after many years, and then closely monitored. Remember that I was not yet twenty-one, without any love or sexual experience, and that I had never worked in my life.

Ed Kemper. Source:

At Atascadero, I found myself, a minor, in a psychiatric hospital for hardened criminals. In 1964, the average age of prisoners was thirty-six. According to the law, I should have been sent to Napa State Hospital, an institution with minimal security, but the judge was so outraged by my crimes that he declared ‘not wanting to send this young man to Disneyland.’ That’s why I ended up in Atascadero, with people on average twenty years older than me. Believe me, I grew up very quickly.

Ed Kemper. Source:

When Ed turned 21 in 1969, the doctors were so impressed with his progress that they are practically convinced of his rehabilitation.

‘Big Ed’

Ed was released from the psychiatric hospital and moved with his mother to Santa Cruz, California, a small college town with many academic options, only 180 miles from where he killed his grandparents. Ed’s mother worked for the university, and Kemper enrolled to study with a Community College course, but soon gave it up. He decided to become a state trooper instead.

From the outside everything seemed to be going well, it even made one think that he had really been rehabilitated.

They rejected Ed Kemper’s state trooper application. However, the most surprising part, is that the rejection was not because of his criminal record (which they did not know about or we assume that they had not come to review it) but because of his impressive height. Kemper was 2.6 meters tall and exceeded the height limit that was in the regulations.

Although he received a rejection from the state police, Ed took it well and ended up making good friends with the police since they always coincided at the same bar. The cops end up being such friends with Ed that they end up giving him the nickname ‘Big Ed’ (the giant Ed).

Ed Kemper - 'Big Ed' - with Police Officers
Ed Kemper – ‘Big Ed’ – with Police Officers towering over them

Kemper got a job fixing roads for the California Department of Transportation. The life that Ed was leading made everybody think more and more that rehabilitation has worked. Even his psychiatrist wrote a recommendation letter assuring that Ed did not have any mental problems and that he was 100% rehabilitated.

Murder Capital of the World

The story takes a disturbing turn in the fall of 1972, when a series of gruesome murders cast a dark shadow over Santa Cruz. Kemper’s reign of terror escalated, with victims bearing the hallmarks of his twisted modus operandi. His chilling confessions unveiled a depth of depravity that sent shockwaves through the community.

It all started in August when they came across a skull in the Santa Cruz Mountains.  The police used the dental reports to discover the identity of the remains.

The victim was Mary Ann, a 19-year-old student who disappeared near Berkley with her friend Anita. Finding only Mary Ann’s skull and no trace of Anita, police assumed the worst was over.

Kemper would later explain to the police that he stabbed and strangled Mary Ann before also stabbing Anita. After the murders, he took the bodies to his apartment and removed their heads and hands. Kemper also reportedly had sexual relations with the corpses.

Anita - Ed Kemper's Victim - Of her friend Mary Ann, only the skull was found
Anita – Ed Kemper’s Victim – Of her friend Mary Ann, only the skull was found

In the middle of September, a 15-year-old student named Aiko disappeared on her way to catch the bus while going to her ballet class. Ed would pick up Aiko in his car when she decided to hitchhike instead of taking the bus. Ed would use the same modus operandi that he used for the Mary Ann and Anita murders.

More and more murders appear until the press started calling Santa Cruz the “Murder Capital of the World”. It must be clarified that at the same time that Kemper was carrying out his murders there were two other serial killers in the area, John Linley Frazier and Herbert Mullins, who were also perpetuating their own crimes in the same area of ​​Santa Cruz.

Aiko-Ed Kemper's Victim
Aiko-Ed Kemper’s Victim – Santa Cruz Murders

With each revelation, Santa Cruz earned the grim moniker “Murder Capital of the World.” It’s crucial to note that Kemper wasn’t the sole serial killer in the area; two others were simultaneously perpetrating their own atrocities.

In January 1973 a woman’s body is found. Victim Cindy hitchhiked when Kemper picked her up and shot her. While Ed’s mother was away from home, Kemper took Cindy’s lifeless body to her room, dismembered her and dumped the parts into the ocean. He buried her head in his mother’s backyard. Several parts were later discovered when they washed ashore.

Cindy-Ed Kemper's Victim
Cindy-Ed Kemper’s Victim -Santa Cruz Murders

In February 1973, Kemper used his mother’s parking pass to enter the university parking lot. There he would meet two hitchhiking girls, Rosalind and Alice. A few minutes after Kemper picked them up he would shoot them. After the murders, Kemper decapitated his two victims and continued to dismember the bodies, extracting the bullets from their heads and disposing of their parts in different places.

In March, some of Rosalind and Alice’s remains were discovered by hikers near Highway 1 in San Mateo County.

Alice - Ed Kemper's Victim
Alice – Ed Kemper’s Victim -Santa Cruz Murders

In April 1973 Ed Kemper would commit his last two murders. Ed had a heated argument with his mother and when she was about to go to sleep, Kemper attacked her, first hitting her on the head with a hammer and then cutting her throat with a knife. He continued with his modus operandi, decapitated her and cut off her hands, but also removed her larynx and put it in the garbage disposal.

 After hiding his mother’s body parts, Kemper called his mother’s friend Sally. He invited her to come to the house. As soon as he arrived, he killed her and hid her body in the closet.

Ed Kemper's Mother
Ed Kemper’s Mother -Santa Cruz Murders

The darkness finally caught up with Kemper in 1973. His gruesome spree reached its zenith, ending with the murder of his mother and her friend. Kemper’s swift confession to the authorities showcased a disturbing lack of remorse.

The Confession

The next day Ed fled the Pueblo area of ​​Colorado. On April 23 he made a call to the Santa Cruz police to confess his crimes. At first, they didn’t believe that the guy they knew as “Big Ed” was a murderer, but later during their interviews, they found out that Ed was to blame for all the disappearances in the last few months.

In November 1973, Kemper was sentenced to eight concurrent life sentences, effectively ending his reign of terror. To this day, he serves his time in the California Medical Center, a haunting reminder of the complexities of human psychology and the chilling potential that lies within even the most unexpected individuals.

Ed Kemper - 2011
Ed Kemper – 2011 – The California Serial Killer

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