Kemper and Me

The infamous serial killer in Mindhunter once sought to change his narrative.

Posted Mar 17, 2018

Public domain mug shot
Source: Public domain mug shot

Years ago, I wrote an article on Edmund Kemper for Court TVs Crime Library website. In addition, he was mentioned in my biography of Dean Koontz, because Koontz had used him as inspiration for Intensity. Since Kemper had translated this biography into Braille, he'd seen the depiction. He'd been unhappy.

Recently, Kemper has gained renewed notoriety from the fictionalized prison interview with him in the Netflix series, Mindhunter (played by Cameron Britton). He’d murdered his grandparents at age 15 and then killed six hitchhiking coeds in Santa Cruz before killing his mother and her friend. Having no resources, he’d turned himself in. With an IQ near genius and a height of 6-foot-9, the menacing, articulate Kemper stole the show.

I reviewed my own encounter with him over a decade ago. My descriptions of Kemper had derived largely from tapes of his interviews, so I figured that what he’d said was his preferred narrative. Apparently not.

One of his female correspondents contacted me on his behalf. She asked that I allow my readers to see Kemper’s new version. My editor agreed to the addition, but after I received his revisions, she changed her mind. So, I’ve been sitting on it, and now I can make it public.

Since it’s Kemper’s word against those who’ve interviewed him, as well a version that counters statements he’d made earlier, readers who know other accounts can decide for themselves. I add comments for context.

First, among the things Kemper wanted to set straight were the various tales from his interviewers about how he’d threatened them when they were locked in with him alone. (A scene like this dramatically plays out in Mindhunter.) He said this was just a joke. “I did it to several of them, just to see their reactions.”

Several articles contain interviews regarding Kemper being diagnosed as a sexual predator or necrophile. He said, “During the 1980s, I recanted those statements.” At the time of the killings, he said, he “didn't understand” why he was killing, except that “I had a desire to act out my fantasies.” He'd agreed to what the media and psychologists assumed was his motive and he'd claimed on tape that he’d sex with the dead victims. He felt that he “needed a reason for his horrible actions” and this “had sounded like a good excuse.” (In another letter, he’d said his confessions were to support an insanity defense.)

A statement Kemper had once made about wanting to kiss his teacher but having to kill her first was not from a sexual murder fantasy but from a reflection on his adolescent insecurity. “I thought that nobody would want to kiss me unless they were dead. That is, unless they didn't know about it.”

His living in the basement is more involved than interviewers describe. Kemper’s mother had first used this “dungeon” for her oldest child, Sue, who was getting rebellious and out of control. Once Sue moved back upstairs, Ed was next in line of the three siblings to be assigned to this area of the house. He was eight. It did scare him. "The ritual at the end of the day,” he said, “was when everyone else went to bed upstairs....and little guy had to go down the old wooden steps along that rough hewn granite wall...like a castle dungeon. My mother would tell me that I'd get used to the independence."

Down there, Ed had a twin bed, a hanging light and the fiery furnace in which he believed the devil lived. This is when the violent fantasies toward girls began to erupt. Despite claims by psychologists, Kemper says he did not masturbate to these fantasies. In fact, he said, he did not successfully masturbate until his first year in Atascadero "while viewing a sex offender doing it to a magazine."

As far as cutting off his sister's doll's heads, he said that Sue and he were fighting, "as sisters and brothers do." He had a Fab-5 cowboy belt that he played with all of the time. She was sewing cloths for her dolls and she got pissed at Ed and cut up his Fab-5 belt. In return, he cut up the dolls. It was retaliation, not the result of sexual fantasies.

In reference to his victims, he wrote (the upper case is his emphasis): "You ask me about the importance of all the young women. Of course they are distinct in my mind and every one of them hits me in different ways. I see a young woman performing martial arts in a film, and it's Alice Liu [who] comes driving back into my mind. Expressive and ethnic dancing, and it's Aiko Koo. A woman lawyer or political activist, and Mary Ann and Anita pop right back into focus. Roz Thorpe and Cyndi Schall come back every time I see moms hugging their kids or working with them in some kind of family setting. ANY OR ALL OF THEM COULD HAVE BEEN IN ANY OF THE SETTINGS THAT I WRITE TO YOU ABOUT EXCEPT FOR HAVING MET ME. THAT'S NO KIND OF PASSIVE THING AND IT SEEMS TO GROW MORE AND MORE WITH THE PASSAGE OF TIME BECAUSE I BECOME MORE SENSITIVE TO OTHERS’ INTERACTIONS AND HUMAN INTERACTION POTENTIAL...not less so. IT HAS TO HAPPEN IF I AM TO EVER HAVE AN UNDERSTANDING OF THE TERRIBLE IMPACTS I’VE HAD ON OTHERS BECAUSE OF THE NEGATIVE CONDITIONING I PUT MYSELF THROUGH AS A KID AND YOUNG ADULT VIA FANTASY CONSTRUCTION FOR ENTERTAINMENT AND GRATIFICATION."

In sum, despite claims he’d made on tape about necrophilia and cannibalism, he stated for my records that he had not been as depraved as some accounts about him have stated. He had not eaten any body parts. In addition, he's tried to redeem himself. “I’ve done good things in prison,” he states, such as “working in a hospice” and "reading books for the blind."

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