11 Facts About Ed Kemper — The Real Serial Killer From The Netflix Series 'Mindhunter'

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11 Facts About The Ed Kemper — The Real Co-Ed Killer In Netflix Series 'Mindhunter'
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The Co-Ed Killer is real, and he's still very much alive.

When we first met serial killer Edmund Kemper (played by Cameron Britton) in David Fincher's Netflix original series Mindhunter, he is already behind bars. We are aware that he is a particularly vile sort of serial killer, but at first glance, he appears harmless, perhaps almost cartoonish in his desire to attract and maintain the attention of FBI agents Holden Ford (played by Jonathan Groff) and Bill Tench (played by Holt McCallany), who decide to interview him in the hopes of learning to better understand the minds of the men who commit such heinous crimes.

This isn't to say that Kemper's presence isn't important (not gonna spoil it here but man, that last episode!).

It's his conversations with Kemper that motivate Ford to study criminal profiling more seriously, and his relationship with Kemper provides the framework for the strange connection between Ford and his other criminal subjects throughout the season episodes. But Kemper is really just a footnote in this series. He's that supporting character who, largely due to Britton's standout performance, constantly grabs back your attention.


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And the fact of the matter is, the stories behind the real Kemper's true crimes are riveting enough to be the basis for an entire series in their own right. Some of the dialogue spoken by Britton on the show was even lifted directly from a series of interviews with the real-life Co-Ed Killer himself, which were recorded between 1984-1991.

To fill in the remaining (and horrific) blanks in the story of Ed Kemper's past, here are 11 facts about the real Ed Kemper that were left out of Mindhunter.

1. His fascination with death began at a young age.

Edmund Emil Kemper III, born on December 18, 1948, had a contentious relationship with his alcoholic mother, Clarnell Strandberg, who moved him and his two sisters from Burbank, CA to Montana after she divorced his father in 1957. He showed signs of severe mental disturbance from an early age, when he would "cut off the heads of his sisters' dolls and even coerced the girls into playing a game he called 'gas chamber,' in which he had them blindfold him and lead him to a chair, where he pretended to writhe in agony until he 'died.' At ten he buried [one of the family cats] alive," and at 13, he killed another with a knife.

2. He killed his own grandparents when he was a teenager.

After sending him to live with his father briefly in the hopes this would cure his behavior, his mother tried passing him on to live with his paternal grandparents in North Fork, CA, hoping they could be of more help to him. Unfortunately, she couldn't have been more wrong.

After a fight with his grandmother in 1964, then 15-year-old Kemper shot and killed her in the kitchen, and when his grandfather returned to the house, he shot and killed him, too. He later explained to authorities that he killed his grandmother "to see what it felt like" and that he killed his grandfather so he wouldn't have to grieve the loss of his wife.

3. He fooled several of the mental health care professionals who treated him.

Following the murder of his grandparents, a variety of tests led to his being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and sent to Atascadero State Mental Hospital, a maximum security facility for mentally ill convicts. When he was released at the age of 21, the professionals at the hospital declared him to be a perfect example of the benefits of rehabilitating youthful offenders.

This statement, written by his probation officer upon completion of this program, makes that painfully clear:

"If I were to see this patient without having any history available or getting any history from him, I would think that we're dealing with a very well adjusted young man who had initiative, intelligence and who was free of any psychiatric illnesses... It is my opinion that he has made a very excellent response to the years of treatment and rehabilitation and I would see no psychiatric reason to consider him to be of any danger to himself or to any member of society... [and] since it may allow him more freedom as an adult to develop his potential, I would consider it reasonable to have a permanent expunction of his juvenile records."

4. He worked with other patients at Atascadero State Mental Hospital.

During his time in the care of the mental hospital, Kemper had a pretty unusual job. Under the guidance of the psychiatrists working the hospital, Kemper was allowed to administrate psychological evaluations of other patients. Kemper later said that the skills he learned during this period of his life helped him fool doctors and encouraged him to kill. He learned from rapists in the hospital that it is "smarter" to kill women after you attack them, so there are no witnesses, a practice which Kemper did, indeed, adopt.

5. At one point he wanted to be a State Trooper.

in 1969, at the of 21, Kemper was released from Atascadero State Mental Hospital where he had been committed following the murder of his grandparents. He attended community college in the hopes of bettering himself, all the while still living with his mother. He desperately wanted to be a State Trooper, however, he was not accepted to train. Oddly enough, this wasn't because he had been hospitalized following the murder of his grandparents, but because, at 6'9", he was too tall!

In fact, following his release and after some urging from his mother, Kemper's juvenile record was erased, leaving the Troopers with no idea of his previous crimes.


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6. He engaged in necrophilia, cannibalism, and dismemberment of his victims.

Between May of 1972 and February of 1973, Kemper murdered at least six female hitchhikers.

According to Murderpedia, after arguing his mother he would go on the hunt of a victim, at which time:

"He would stab, shoot or smother the victims and afterwards take the bodies back to his apartment where he would have sex with them and then dissect them. He would often dump the bodies in ravines or bury them in fields, although on one occasion he buried the severed head of a 15-year-old girl in his mother's garden as a kind of sick joke, later remarking that his mother 'always wanted people to look up to her.'"

Because of his size, these young women never stood a chance.

7. His turbulent relationship with his mother ended with her murder.

Kemper has claimed that his mother was an alcoholic suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder who verbally and emotionally abused him throughout his entire life, saying she often mocked him for his size, she refused to be physically affectionate with him because she believed it would "turn him gay," and she would make him sleep in the basement with the door locked out of fear that he might molest his two sisters.

Although their relationship was a volatile one, when Kemper was released from Atascadero State Mental Hospital, he moved back in with her against many of his doctors' orders. Her work as an administrative assistant at a local college meant that there were many young students in her life, and Kemper has stated that his envy of her relationships with them and their relationships with each other was a motivating factor behind his murder spree.

Murderpedia continues the story of his murder spree with the story of her death and Kemper's surrender to the police:

"In April 1973, Kemper battered his mother to death with a pick hammer while she slept. He decapitated her, raped her headless body and used her head as a dartboard, after putting her vocal cords in the garbage disposal, but the machine could not break the tough tissue down and regurgitated it back into the sink. 'That seemed appropriate,' Ed said after his arrest, 'as much as she'd bitched and screamed and yelled at me over so many years.'"

"His murderous urges not yet satiated, he then invited his mother's best friend over and killed her too, by strangulation. He then drove eastward, but when no word of his crimes hit the radio airwaves he became discouraged, stopped the car, called the police and confessed to being the Co-ed Killer."

At his trial, Kemper was found guilty of the murders of his mother, her best friend, Sally Hallet, as well as Mary Ann Pesce, Anita LuchessaAiko Koo, Cindy Schall, Rosalind Thorpe, and Allison Liu. Although he requested "death by torture," he was sentenced to life in prison and was denied parole four times in a row, before giving up. He now claims that he "isn't fit to return to society."

8. He didn't fit what was then considered the mold of a 'traditional' psychopath.

The mask that Kemper wore before figures of authority was so good that it has been nearly impossible to pin down a psychiatric diagnosis on the man. With an IQ of 145, Kemper's intelligence and mimicry of the "normal" made him particularly dangerous.

When he was sentenced to serve out his time for the murder of his grandparents, the courts deemed him a paranoid schizophrenic. However, when he got to the hospital the doctor's believed this was incorrect and labeled him a sociopath. That said, his behavior was outside of the mold just enough to make yet another new doctor question the diagnosis again.

This doctor noted in his files that Kemper "was a very good worker and this is not typical of a sociopath. He really took pride in his work."

9. He doesn't think highly of his fellow serial killers.

When he was imprisoned in the California Medical Facility, Kemper was kept on the same block as similarly infamous serial killers Herbert Mullin and Charles Manson. Mullin's murders were all committed in Santa Cruz during the 1970s, the same period of time as and in close proximity to Kemper when he was also active. Mullin claimed that the 13 people he murdered were sacrificed to prevent earthquakes, which he believed would also help end the war in Vietnam.

Kemper didn't think much of Mullin and related the following about the way he chose to deal with him:

"just a cold-blooded killer... killing everybody he saw for no good reason. Mullin a habit of singing and bothering people when somebody tried to watch TV, so I threw water on him to shut him up. Then, when he was a good boy, I'd give him peanuts. Herbie liked peanuts. That was effective, because pretty soon he asked permission to sing. That's called behavior modification treatment."

Whether or not Kemper ever tried his brand of "behavior modification treatment" on Manson remains unknown.

10. Mindhunters isn't the first nod to him in the world of entertainment.

Kemper reportedly served as the inspiration behind big screen killers Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs and Edgler Vess from Dean Koontz's Intensity. He is also quoted by Christian Bale's character, Patrick Bateman, in the film American Psycho, although his words are attributed to "serial killer Ed Gein."

"When I see a pretty girl walking down the street I think two things. One part of me wants to take her out and talk to her, be real nice and sweet and treat her right...," Patrick Bateman says.

"And what'd the other part of him think?" his lunch companion asks. The answer?

"What her head would look like on a stick!" [laughs]

11. Today he is known as a model prisoner.

At the present time, Kemper remains behind bars at California Medical Facility, where he is considered a thoroughly admirable and model prisoner. One of the jobs he holds in prison is to help schedule other inmate's appointments with the prison psychiatrists, and in his spare time, Kemper delights in making ceramic cups, as well as recording what is now more than 7,000 books on tape for the blind.

So the next time your Nonna asks you to pick up her audio book for the blind, you might want to check out who the reader is. And if it's Kemper, maybe don't tell Nonna.


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Rebecca Jane Stokes is a sex, humor and lifestyle writer living in Brooklyn, New York with her cat, Batman. She hosts the sex, love, and dating advice show, Becca After Dark on YourTango's Facebook Page every Tuesday and Thursday at 10:15 pm Eastern. For more of her work, check out her Tumblr.

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