Edmund Kemper - perhaps better known as "The Co-Ed Killer " - took the lives of eight women between the years of 1972 and 1973, in addition to those of his grandparents years before. The consistent focus of numerous documentaries and television series, including the ever-popular Mindhunter, Kemper continues to be a subject of great curiosity among true crime fans.
The psychology behind what exactly motivates serial killers to select their victims and carry out acts of violence against them has lent itself to an entire field of study known as criminal psychology. Criminal psychologists dedicate their lives to answering the most pressing questions posed by police and members of the public, but where do these answers lead us?
With the assistance of criminal psychologist Adrienne Arno, we dived into the psyche of one of the US's most notorious serial killers. Arno, who previously worked with Lifetime Network and IDTV and holds degrees from Plattsburgh State University and Fordham University, helped us analyze one of the first interviews Kemper did after he turned himself in April 1973, following the murder of his mother and her friend.
Conducted for use in the documentary, Murder - No Apparent Motive, the interview Arno references is divided into two videos. Both are provided below and accompanied by timestamps for those who wish to listen in for themselves.
2:35: Kemper Explains Why He Hated His Mother But Wanted To Love Her
Antisocial Personality - Narcissism - social anxiety - organized lust killer. There's significant evidence from the fields of developmental psychology, neurobiology, and animal epigenetic studies that neglect, parental inconsistency, and a lack of love can lead to long-term mental health problems as well as to reduce overall potential and happiness. Kemper did receive mental health treatment later in life, but not in the first 7 years.
“Tragically we see this a lot in my line of work— a broken and/or abusive relationship with the mother creates an environment ripe to grow a serial killer… Ed Kemper's mother hated men, she bred this hate into her children — so Ed, being a male gendered, grew up in a world-paradigm where he believed he was ‘bad' and never had any intervention to challenge his mother's warped world view… Kemper was a ticking time bomb probably by the age of 7 or 8 — which is the age when we form the foundation of our personalities… It's in our primitive nature to want the love and acceptance of our mothers, both biological and neurologically speaking — but the more Ed tries to win her love the more he fails… The ultimate irony being that [in] his own actions to punish his toxic mother and rebel against her beliefs about men, he only proved her right. She force-fed child-Ed the paradigm men are terrible and in his efforts to break free of her prediction he fully becomes the monster she always said he was…"
3:50: Kemper Explains What Escalated Him To The Point Of Killing
Kemper’s killings were cycles within a cycle - he used all of his victims as practice for the one murder his 'fantastic passion' needed him to commit: the murder of his mother.
“Whether he wants to say it out loud or not, whether he even recognizes it or not, you don't just casually hide a loaded gun in your car unless you know you're going to have a need to use it... This is something I see a lot of in anti-social personalities that have been in treatment for awhile - they're okay with admitting to some of their culpability, but only take partial responsibility for their intentions. It gives the illusion of taking responsibility for their crimes, but it's a parlor trick of semantics particularly intelligent inmates in long-term treatment learn to use as a defense mechanism. He admits to building up to his first kill with a series trial runs - 'a daring kind of a thing' he called it - but a dare is something someone else put you up to or a risk presented you must be brave enough to take, it's external. But his 'fantastic passion' is described as an internal push - what he's really doing is testing boundaries, seeing how much he can get away with and how easily. Furthermore, he knows he shot his grandparents at the age of 15... now if you're someone who feels 'consumed' by rage, and you've committed two murders before with a gun and been through psychiatric treatment, why in the world would you seek out a gun in the first place? ...What he's describing is a process of planning. He reports knowing that if he took the gun out while in the car, he'd use it but in reality, the very act of putting the gun in the car in the first place was the point of no return. Kemper has always presented as incredibly self-aware by comparison to most anti-social personalities, no one can argue he possesses a complex intelligence. Given that we know how self-aware he is, we know there was a part of Kemper that knew, even if it was subconsciously, he was going to use that gun for a deviant purpose and it was just a matter of when. He wanted to be ready when the right circumstances presented itself. Putting that gun in his car was as good as putting College, Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa in their graves.”
5:10: Kemper Describes His First Two Co-Ed Killings And The Panic He Felt After
On May 7, 1972, he picked up two roommates from Fresno State College, Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa. He drove them to a secluded area, stabbed both young women to death, then took their bodies home to his mother’s house where he took Polaroid photos, dissected them, and played with various organs. Then he packed up what was left in plastic bags, buried the bodies in the Santa Cruz mountains, and tossed the heads into the deep ravine beside the road.
Article Image“…When he said ‘I just went through a horrible experience…’ (referring to how he had to stab Pesce while Luchessa was tied up in his car) and ‘was in shock because of that…’ [that’s] classic Narcissism. [He] made an active, planned choice to stab a teenage girl to death and was so traumatized by it. Really?… This comment strikes me as another very well concealed attempt to manipulate the listener - a low-key call for sympathy… Then he justifies his murder of Luchessa by telling himself ‘I have to do this…' (aka. I don't have a choice) ‘She's going to tell on me…' (justifying WHY he doesn't have a choice)... but he DID have a choice - a lot of them between even the first time he picked up the roommates (Pesce & Luchessa) in his car and the murders… So this whole ‘I didn't have a choice’ is another way to justify knowing it's wrong and doing it anyway.
“Why does [Kemper] ‘lie’ to Luchessa about what he did to her roommate? Simple. To make Luchessa easier to control than Pesce was. Remember, he just talked about how he ‘went through a horrible experience’ killing Pesce - he didn't want more of the same antics from her roommate. By telling the terrified Luchessa that there's blood on his hands because her roommate ‘got smart with me’… he’s making sure fear-addled Luchessa goes with him with less of a struggle and makes it easier FOR HIM to kill her. Victims in a life or death situation have only two choices: try to fight or try to escape. By making it clear to Luchessa that anyone who gets ‘smart’ with him is going to receive violence, he's sent a clear message to her that she can expect violence if she doesn't cooperate.
Also, the suppressed contempt in his voice when he says, ‘She's (referring to Luchessa) about to die, why does she need to know that?’ is apparent. His facial affect remains neutral, his choice of words reveals his self-centered state of mind. What he's actually saying is: Why does she even think what she wants to know matters? I'm going to kill her, this is about ME and what I want. It inconvenienced him to have to answer Luchessa's question - she interrupted his fantasy."
8:45: Kemper Explains That Women He Picked Up Who Talked To Him about The Killings Got Themselves A ‘Free Ride’
The only vulnerable person in that car was the woman who took the ride. And he knew it. But there's a sense of power in letting someone live when you know you could kill them just as much as there's power in killing. So if the ‘lovely’ lady in his car was able to feed into his ego and make him keep important (unknowingly) by talking about the murders, that was enough of an ego boost to warrant letting her live.
“This seems to me more like he appreciated the fame his killings brought him. There's a twisted kind of pride in his voice when he speaks about his crimes, it's low-key but it's there, which isn't entirely unheard of in an antisocial personality. Killing is the one thing that got Kemper what he so desperately wanted from the world: to be seen, to be recognized, to feel powerful. He felt powerless most of his life. I have little doubt that picking and choosing his victims gave him a rush, a chance to play God, there was a power-play involved. I don't believe vulnerability had anything to do with it, he already knew he could kill women efficiently, he was controlling most of the variables by the time the potential victim was getting in his car: he'd won her trust (or she wouldn't have gotten in the car at all), he had her isolated (in the car), he had a lethal weapon (the gun), and he'd gotten away with it before (so he knows he's capable). The deck was always stacked in his favor whether he knew it consciously or not."
9:15: Kemper Repetitively Describes Himself As Being Normal, Trusting
What I hear him saying here is: Look at what an incredible liar I am. I'm so good at what I do I fooled everyone. Classic Narcissist.
“Kemper’s interaction with the police was much like his interactions with mental health authorities - it helped him sustain the ‘high’ he experienced during the crime(s). It's a power trip to be so close to the investigation, it's exciting to know something he's done is getting so much attention, not to mention how much useful information sociopath's like Kemper can gather to help them continue to elude capture."
9:45: Kemper Describes How A Memory Of His Father May Have Inspired His Killings
“Here we see another emotional moment from Kemper. What he's describing is the classic reenactment of a childhood situation where the offender felt powerless as a helpless child and now seeks to take back the power he lost by repeating the violent behavior of HIS OWN offender (Kemper's father). You see this dynamic illustrated far too often in children who commit sex crimes. They're acting out the violation done to them as a way to psychologically distance themselves from feeling like a powerless victim. They achieve this by aligning themselves with the behavior of their own offender thus making someone else a victim in the same ritualistic way they were made to feel powerless - only now the victim has become the offender and the offender is the one with all the power. It's complex and yet it's a process that we see happening in children as young 4 or 5. And while it's absolutely heartbreaking - it's important not to forget that Kemper wasn't a 5-year-old who didn't know any better and his victims were not chickens, they were humans - he was a grown man almost begging to be caught the way his child-self likely wished someone would've interceded and [stopped] his father."
10:30: Kemper Explains His Sensation Of Living In Two Realities
Novelist Margret Atwood said it eloquently when she wrote: 'Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.'Article Image
“Let's look at this rationally. Kemper comes across as so non-threatening that all these women keep getting into his car, he had tons of opportunities to work on his social skills with women. He's alone, chatting with them over and over again. But rather than using those experiences as ways to work through his social anxieties, he made the choice over and over again to use them as victim-selection runs.
If Kemper had spent half the time he'd spent killing [instead] on building up his social skills, he could've gone on some dates - but it [would have taken him] more courage to risk possible rejection from a woman than it did to kill a woman."
11:50: Kemper Describes How He Believes That He ‘Didn’t Go Insane, Didn’t Get Lost’
Robert Kennedy wisely said: "Every society gets the kind of criminal it deserves." Kemper is a perfect example of that. Had the adults around him, and the institution he was committed to been healthier, more educated and more vigilant about protecting and aiding at-risk youths, we'd have less criminals and more importantly we'd have less victims.
“Kemper is uncommonly self-aware (which is what makes all of his distorted thinking that much more manipulative) - he's right. He didn't ‘go' insane - the lack of nurture and healthy relationships in his early childhood set the stage for his adulthood behaviors and then his teenage fantasies wrote the script he acted out. And it's tragic. But at the same time, he's also a man with a high IQ and self-aware enough to recognize he's not insane, which makes him, by the legal definition, sane. He was sane and he was doing all these things anyway. He wasn't insane, he was angry and fed-up, and taking his power back from a world that let him be mistreated as a child and then let him get away with murder (his grandparents) when he was in his teens. At heart, Kemper is a troubled, abused child who was throwing murderous tantrums as a way of crying out for help. Help he didn't get as a child and help that came much too late as an incarcerated serial killer to do him (or the victim's of his crimes) any good."
1:35: Kemper Describes How He Would Keep His Victims’ ‘Mementos’ In A Box Next To His Guns
Another great example of Kemper's advanced intelligence, and another warning to anyone listening to his words today to not be fooled by his calm, open demeanor. He's telling the interviewer and the world in the subtext of his words and the recollection of his actions that he's an apex predator.
“This is another example of what Kemper called ‘flaunting that invisibility’ (from Video 1 approx. 9:26). He was confident he could get away with it - it's further proof of how smart he felt he was and how good was at killing. This idea of being the master manipulator comes into play once again - like a skilled parlor magician he knew the diversion of his speech and the movement of his hands instinctively draw a person's eye - it's a survival instinct - but like a master magician he's controlling where the attention of the police officers is focused so they're not looking where he doesn't want them to."
3:30: Kemper Describes The Moment He Knew He Would Kill His Mother
When I dig deep [into] a case like this and end up finding the same avoidable psychological origin story for a criminal, I'm always a little heartbroken. Primarily for the victims and their families, and then for the loss the community experiences, and finally for the criminal themselves. So much loss, so much pain could've been avoided. Kemper's story of murder and neglect got the ending Kemper himself chose, but not the one that little boy he once was deserved.
“...Here's Kemper, he's built up his confidence and ego through his crimes and outwitting police from May of ’72 to April ’73 - a little less than a year. He's murdered and vented his frustrations on six [women] in that time (that's not counting his grandparent'sArticle Image in ’63) - and finally, he's got enough confidence to be conscious of what it was all for. It took the murder and defilement of six women… to make him feel man enough to finally cut the ‘puppet' strings he allowed his mother to continue to pull. Like Pinocchio, he finally felt like a real boy who could exercise deadly agency against his puppet master. But still he [wanted] to win - if not her love, at least her submission - he speaks of getting physical with his mother, throwing her on the bed to prove his point. All of these are warning to her, all cries for her to amend her behavior so he [wouldn't] have to kill her...
"Even as he draws closer to killing her, in the only language of power he's learned to speak, he's asking her to stop treating him so poorly. He's asking her to stop so he doesn't have to kill her. It's the mother-child bond, still there rooted deep in his brain even though his brain and its neural functions have been twisted and corrupted, hoping he can spare her - offering her a last chance to spare herself. Of course, she couldn't understand that, even if she could it's not likely she would've changed her habits and behaviors... He knew better the whole time - but to realize that in the end every choice he made..., to destroy his own life and the lives of so many people, was all done so he could give his mother the chance to redeem herself, really so he could give himself the chance to not have to have his mother's blood on his hands."
4:38: Kemper Reveals That He Knew He Was Going To Kill His Mother A Week Before
He says: "I knew a week before I was going to kill her—" then shakes head quickly leading into the rest of the sentence which is "she went out to a party, got sauced..." To me, the timing and the place of where the head shake comes in the sentence seems (we don't see Kemper finish the sentence unfortunately ) to be communicating specifically: I knew I realized SHE had to die and she went out and got drunk anyway. She should've known better, she made me do it.” As if his mother was able to read his mind and knew she was in more danger that week if she wasn't on her best behavior. Again, this is my suspicion based on what I'm hearing and seeing, but not what the evidence clearly indicates.
"We see a slight head NOD (indicating 'yes' or truth) and then we see that obvious and strong start of the head SHAKE 'no.' This isn't anything conclusive, but what it suggests to me, based on my experience, is conflict. He tells us he knew he had to kill his mother, but he was conflicted (is it yes or is it no? should I nod or should I shake?) and still feels conflicted internally about his revelation. To me, with the interrupted footage we have of this moment, I'd begin to wonder if at the time he honestly felt confident in his decision to finally kill his mother. Because some of his body language is indicating he didn't."
4:45: Kemper Again Describes ‘Knowing His Mother Has To Die'
“Notice his Adam's apple when he speaks about knowing his mother [has] to die. A hard swallow is noticeable (a lot of what we might be able to read around his mouth is obscured due to his facial hair). A hard swallow like this is a nonspecific anxiety indicator. Kemper feels very anxious when he recalls his actions the day he murdered his mother and does a very good job of hiding most of his anxiety - but again, the body will always show you the truth in these little moments if you're looking closely…
"[At 4:49], we see his anger evident in the lowering and pulling together of his eyebrows - as he recalls his mother ‘lying there reading a paperback…’ - something about the casualness of just coming home drunk and reading enraged Kemper at the time. In addition to anger, we see a layer of contempt in his face here as well. Note his mid-face tightening a little more on what, on camera, appears on the left side of his face (but would be his actual right side) resulting in the dilation of his left nostril, a subtly more defined furrow above the brow and a trace more elevation of his left upper lip on camera (his right in reality - this is super subtle and again his facial hair obscures it mostly). All of this is the face's way of broadcasting strong feelings of contempt.
"[Then, at approx. 4:51,] we see what’s called a ‘tight tongue jut’ - this is a micro expression we know reveals disdain, disgust, or repulsion of a person or thing. It's the equivalent of the body saying ‘you're so repulsive I want to spit you out.’
"...All of the microexpressions we see in this portion of the interview tracks as authentic- given the footage we have it appears he's being honest."
4:57: Kemper Continues Talking About His Mother, And Appears To Show Sincere Emotion
“There's a number of things I notice here: Freeze frame on 4:36 (video 2) - here I see what's called ‘evanescent cheek puff.' This microexpression is an indicator of anxiety - you see it most often in circumstances [when] the subject (in this case Kemper) is skilled at not revealing their true feelings. But unless someone is a true psychopath, the body doesn't lie.”
7:25: Kemper Describes Contemplating Turning Himself In
The play that his deviant fantasies had written is over and now it's time for him to leave the stage - he's smart, he knows it. Catharsis was achieved.
Article Image “He turned himself in when the story was over. He won ‘the game’ and he lost. He won in that he proved his power to his mother and he lost in that he knows he has a deeply held desire to win his mother's approval/love. It's what [has driven] him since he was a child and now what does he have?… Kemper lived so long fueled only by contradictory drives, the first being the drive to have his mother's approval and the other being the drive to punish his mother for withholding her approval. Without the ‘strings' or a puppeteer, Pinocchio's not sure [what to do when he’s] not performing - his entire world paradigm was built on either longing for or raging against his mother. Now that she's gone he doesn't know who he is or what to do.
"At first, he didn’t want to give up his freedom, but after killing his mother perhaps he realized the freedom he thought he had was an illusion, he'd always been and, now, always will be a prisoner of his mother's dysfunction. Whatever the reason, he turns himself in because he didn't have the will to keep going anymore now that he'd killed her.”
8:26: Kemper Considers Where He Might Be Had He Never Killed
…His downcast eyes seem to indicate he knows what he's saying is a fantasy. I do find it interesting that his fantasy future involved a happy family - even with all he's done and been through, that wish for a happy family life lingers… A happy family is what young Kemper wanted so badly. So badly that it turned to resentment, and that resentment evolved to murder. His fantasy led to a feeling, and the feeling led to the behaviors that [led] Ed Kemper [to become] one of the most-studied serial killers in modern history.
“What makes me say he knows it's a fantasy is the fact a number of other sociopath serial killers have had normal, mundane family lives as adult men… So it's not impossible to achieve, even with an antisocial personality,… it’s not impossible to achieve while still actively murdering people. Kemper's intelligent enough to have known he could have had it if he really wanted to - he'd proven to himself and the world he was a master manipulator capable of psychologically disarming woman even in high-risk circumstances. And yet, without the hope of repairing his relationship with his mother, he didn't see the point in even trying.”