Ed Kemper Was A Child Genius, But He Was A Serial Killer In Waiting

During 1972 and 1973, Edmund Kemper went on a murdering spree where he dismembered the bodies of six women, including his mother, and committed vile acts of necrophilia. What was Ed Kemper's life like that made him act out in such sick ways? On the surface, Kemper had a fairly normal life. He lived with his parents in Southern California until they separated, and he moved to Montana with his mother. But then, like many killers as kids, he began acting out in terrifying ways. He cut up cats, decapitated dolls, and he even got his first murders under his belt, all before the age of 18.

What happened to Ed Kemper when he was a kid to turn him into corpse-defiling maniac? There are a few catalysts in his childhood that seemed to spark the fuse of his desire to kill, and there were some early warning signs that he'd end up bury heads in his backyard. If you’ve ever wondered what serial killers were like as children, these facts about Ed Kemper will give you insight into his past.

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  • He Murdered His Grandparents

    Kemper lived with his grandparents in Northfork, California from ages 14 to 15. By all accounts, he hated the move. He felt that his grandfather was "senile," and he couldn't stand his grandmother. In one of his first post-arrest interviews he said that his grandmother "thought she had more balls than any man and was constantly emasculating [him] and [his] grandfather to prove it."

    Of his grandmother he later said, "I couldn't please her. It was like being in jail. I became a walking time bomb and I finally blew." Following an argument with her, he grabbed a .22 hunting rifle and shot his grandmother in the back of the head three times. He may have also stabbed her, but accounts vary. After killing his grandmother Ed waited until his grandfather arrived and met him at his car, where he murdered him as well. Ed's logic was that he was sparing his grandfather the pain of seeing his wife dead.

  • His First Victims Were Cats

    His First Victims Were Cats
    Photo: Eleven Eight / flickr / CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

    The similarities between Ed Kemper's crimes against young women and the ways that he killed his family's pets is eerie. When Kemper was 10, he buried one of his house cats alive. He waited a couple of weeks, dug it up, decapitated it, and put its head on a stick.

    Three years later Kemper killed another cat because he thought that it liked his sister more than it liked him. He took a knife to the animal, dismembering it and hiding the body parts in his closet. His mother eventually found the pieces.

  • His Mom Made Him Sleep In The Basement

    His Mom Made Him Sleep In The Basement
    Photo: bryankennedy / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    Kemper's mom thought he was a "real weirdo" and was so concerned that he’d sexually assault his sisters that she made him sleep in their basement, which locked from the outside. The only light was a bare bulb hanging from a wire.

    The only way he could get out was through a trap door underneath the family dinner table. Kemper says it was during his days and weeks living in the basement that he saw the devil's face for the first time. Kemper went on to murder his mother in one of his final acts as a free man.

  • Everyone Liked Ed At The Atascadero State Hospital

    Everyone Liked Ed At The Atascadero State Hospital
    Photo: Thomas Hawk / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    After he murdered his grandparents, Ed was sent to the Atascadero State Hospital, a maximum security facility where he was subjected to a variety of tests. It was at this hospital that doctors discovered he had a genius IQ and was a paranoid schizophrenic.

    Kemper was 15 when he went into the institution, and in the six years he spent there, he became one of the doctors' favorite patients; he was even allowed to assist doctors in conducting tests on other inmates. He was released to his mother in 1969 when they mistakenly decided that his behavior was "not typical of a sociopath."

  • The Household Barbies Didn't Stand A Chance

    The Household Barbies Didn't Stand A Chance
    Photo: arcticpenguin / flickr / CC-BY-NC 2.0

    When he wasn't torturing the family cats, Ed Kemper was taking his sister's dolls and performing funeral rites on them. He decapitated the dolls before dismembering them completely. The pastime offered a gruesome parallel to the manner in which he murdered six college girls years later.

    After his arrest he told police, “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 Creeped His Stepmother Out, And She Forced Him To Leave

    After Kemper's family divorced, he didn't hear from his father for years. That changed when Kemper turned 14 and ran away from Montana to Los Angeles to seek his dad. Kemper discovered that his father had remarried and adopted a stepson who was roughly his same age and probably much less creepy.

    Kemper lived with his father and stepfamily for a little while, but he was sent away to live with his grandparents before too long. He says he was kicked out because he gave his stepmother migraines, but his half-brother claims it was actually because he gave her the creeps. Kemper allegedly came to the house one day and began to follow his stepmother around while he shut the drapes and blinds behind her, claiming that "it was too bright." She was scared of him, and she told him that he had to leave.