The Disturbing Truth About Ed Kemper

If you look up the victims of the so-called "Co-Ed Killer," Ed Kemper, you'll likely find that the facts are scant in most cases. The site Find A Grave lists their names: Edmund Emil Kemper, Sr and Maude Matilda Kemper (Ed's grandparents), Aiko Koo, Alice Helen "Allison" Liu, Anita Mary Luchessa, Mary Anne Pesce, Cynthia Anne "Cindy" Schall, Sarah T. "Sally" Hallett, Rosalind Heather Thorpe, and Kemper's mother, Clarnell Elizabeth Strandberg. With the unsettling exception of Kemper's mother, who abused him when he was a boy, these lives are almost entirely remembered for the horrific ways in which they ended.

By stark contrast, Kemper's life and crimes have been revisited for decades in gruesome detail, with many of the details coming from interviews with Kemper. For instance, during a 1984 interview, via Oxygen, he recalled decapitating his mother, "humiliating" her corpse carnally, screaming at her severed head for an hour, and then throwing darts at it. Much like Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer, and other notorious serial killers, Kemper gained a perverse quasi-celebrity status for doing the unthinkable. However, if you were to interview Kemper now, he might claim not to have done all the things people think.

Kemper's attempt to rewrite history

Writing for Psychology Today, DeSales University professor of forensic psychology Dr. Katherine Ramsland says that years before Netflix rekindled public interest in Ed Kemper with the series Mindhunter, the killer grabbed her attention with a gripe: One of his female correspondents contacted Ramsland to complain about an article she wrote about him for Court TV's Crime Library. So, Ramsland agreed to publish Kemper's suggested revisions.

Kemper claimed to have recanted aspects of his interviews, alleging that he "didn't understand" his motivation for murdering people, which he had previously characterized as "a desire to act out my fantasies." He claimed he only told psychologists what he thought they wanted to hear and exaggerated the grotesqueness of his actions. However, one of Kemper's revisions contained a contradiction: He alleged to have told psychologists "what sounded like a good excuse" for his crimes, but also that he invented savage details, in order to mount an insanity defense in court. The killer described the times he threatened interviewers as him just joking and insisted, "I've done good things in prison," including "working at a hospice" and "reading books for the blind." 

Of course, if he actually was driven to kill by fantasies in the past, perhaps this new version of himself is yet another fantasy that he hopes will catch on, so that when his story is retold for an umpteenth time, he again gets to determine how he and his victims are remembered.