Note: This article contains themes that some readers may find distressing.
Mindhunter is back for its second season and with it comes a new batch of serial killers whose minds we're about to unpick.
Ed Kemper, who was introduced in season one of the true-crime drama series (released in 2017), is one of the characters to return for the second instalment. While some of the disturbing details of his crimes were covered in the first run of episodes back in 2017, Kemper's true story is one that really defines what Mindhunter is all about.
In an exclusive interview with Digital Spy, John Douglas, the former FBI agent whose work inspired the television series (not to mention Silence of the Lambs and dozens of other movies and shows) told us what it was like to interact with the convicted killer in real life.
John Douglas was a Special Agent with the FBI and is known widely as the leading expert when it comes to criminal profiling. The Mindhunter series is based on his pioneering work, also detailed in the book of the same name which Douglas co-authored with Mark Olshaker.
When Holden Ford, the main character inspired by Douglas, comes face to face with Kemper for the very first time in episode two of the dramatised series, the pair shake hands and the prisoner says, "Edmund was my mom's idea, so you can call me Ed."
This sets the scene for Kemper's story; he paints a picture of a terrible childhood relationship with his mother, as well as his grandmother, that 'conditioned' his later depraved behaviour.
"The real Ed Kemper is even bigger than Cameron [Britton], who played an unbelievable job [sic]. Ed Kemper was 6 ft 9 and he was 300 pounds," Douglas says.
"Even though he was a big guy, his mother just demeaned him, degraded him, broke him down as a kid so when he went to school, being as big as he was, he was the one being bullied."
"[Kemper was an] extremely bright, personable guy," he tells us. "What he did is horrific but, what I'm thinking as I'm doing the interview [with him], is he's a result of this abusive early childhood by his mother. Had he been taken out of that environment, he could have made something or done something positive in his life but that was not the case."
Discussing the concept of nature versus nurture in Kemper's case, Douglas concludes that "it's definitely, with him, nurture."
It doesn't need to be said that while Kemper's mother may have been responsible for creating Ed Kemper, Ed Kemper is entirely responsible for his own actions: "It does not mean that everyone [who has this background] is going to grow up to be a predator," says Douglas.
"Kemper [had] a 145 IQ, a smart guy, when he finally killed his mother it was the last thing he did," Douglas adds. "It was over, it was the end of the story. He got very emotional, a lot of them do, they get very emotional, start talking about early childhood, their mothers, this love-hate kind of feeling towards the mother."
Touching on the argument that there could be some sort of genetic component involved in the tendency toward violence, Douglas says, "I don't believe there's a killer gene, or a violent gene, that will do this."
The former FBI agent also reveals that another sign is "animal cruelty, acting out or torturing", which can act as a "bridge from that to violence against their fellow mankind." According to written work around Ed Kemper, he killed and buried his family's pet cat at the age of 10.
Ed Kemper's true story: What did he do?
Kemper, sometimes known as the Co-ed Killer, was convicted in 1973 for a series of murders and is currently serving eight consecutive life sentences. He was 24 years old on conviction and had killed 10 people, including his grandmother, grandfather, his mother and her friend, as well as a number of young, female hitchhikers.
He was also known to decapitate his victims and engage in necrophilia.
At the age of 15 Ed ran away from home and ended up being sent to live with his grandparents in their farmhouse in central California. It was here that he killed his first victim, grandmother Maude Matilda Hughey Kemper, with a rifle. When his grandfather returned home, Kemper killed him too, reportedly because he 'didn't want him to see what he had done.'
In a press interview, published in Front Page Detective Magazine after his conviction, Kemper said of his grandmother: "[she] thought she had more balls than any man and was constantly emasculating me and my grandfather to prove it."
He called his mother after these murders and then the police afterwards to reveal what he had done. Kemper was subsequently tried in Juvenile Court and institutionalised in Atascadero State Hospital. He was 21 years old when he was released, having – astonishingly – convinced the authorities that he was fit to be let out.
In the early 1970s a number of young girls went missing, including Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa (aged 18), Aiko Koo (aged 15) and Cynthia Schall (aged 19). Remains of some of Kemper's victims were later found.
The killings were widely talked about in the Santa Cruz area at the time. Speculation about who might have done it was rife and there was growing fear for those who hitchhiked or went out alone.
Kemper was actually known to police officers at this time, but as 'Big Ed' the friendly guy they enjoyed a tipple with in one of the local bars. He had a desire to be an officer himself but was denied, whether due to his size (his story) or due to his previous psychiatric record, which had been sealed over the objections of a District Attorney. Instead he settled for socialising with them, and they were none the wiser about his true nature – until he literally gave himself up and confessed.
The Santa Cruz police department received a telephone call. "I killed my mother and her friend. And I killed those college girls. I killed six of them and I can show you where I hid the pieces of their bodies," the male voice said (via an archival Inside Detective article).
According to the arresting officers, who were despatched to the phone booth that had made the call, Kemper was detained without a struggle. Kemper confessed to the Northern California murders, offering details of how he had killed his victims as well as what he had done with their remains. The investigation's findings corroborated Kemper's accounts. According to reports, the burial and deposit sites of Kemper's victims were within a 20-mile radius of his mother's apartment.
During his trial, Ed Kemper testified about his crimes. Court-appointed psychiatrists, testifying for the prosecution, described Kemper as "having a personality disorder", but also said that he was not criminally insane by California's legal standards.
The jury found Kemper guilty and sane which, in the post-trial press interview, Kemper said he "really wasn't surprised" about.
Ed Kemper now: Is he still in prison?
Now aged 70, Kemper is still behind bars serving his eight consecutive life sentences.
In 1988 he claimed to authorities that he was fit for release but that society wasn't ready to accept him – "I can't fault them for that," he said (via AP News). Three members of the state Board of Prison Terms ruled unanimously against his parole request.
However, a parole board member did reportedly commend Kemper for his 'exemplary behaviour' in prison. The convicted killer is said to have been active with Bible study groups and is also part of a books-for-the-blind project.
Fast-forward to 2007 and Kemper's attorney Scott Currey told the parole board during an official hearing that his client was happy to stay behind bars.
"His feeling is – and this is his belief – no one's ever going to let him out and he's just happy, he's just as happy going about his life in prison," Currey said, according to the New York Post.
Mindhunter season two is now available to stream on Netflix, along with Mindhunter season one.
You Might Also Like