Mindhunter's Edmund Kemper Killed His First Victim Because He Wanted To 'See What It Felt Like'

Emily Becker
Mindhunter's Edmund Kemper Killed His First Victim Because He Wanted To 'See What It Felt Like'
Photo credit: Bettmann - Getty Images

From Women's Health

The disturbingly gruesome story of the Co-Ed Killer is the kind they write horror movies—and Netflix TV shows—about. The serial murderer, whose real name is Edmund Kemper, was Holden Ford's first interview subject on Mindhunter and has played a key role in the hit true-crime show ever since.

While Mindhunter fans only met Kemper as an adult—and fully-fledged serial killer—the real story behind this fictional portrayal began with a troubling childhood. (In fact, his childhood is said to have inspired aspects of Buffalo Bill, the fictional serial killer in Silence of the Lambs.)

Kemper's adolescence culminated in the murder of his grandparents when Kemper was just 15 years old in order to, as he told police at the time, "see what it felt like."

After killing his grandparents, Kemper terrorized female hitchhikers in California when he began picking them up, killing them, and then bringing their bodies back to his apartment, where he would butcher and reportedly engage in sexual activity with them. In 1973, he was arrested after killing six college students this way, as well as his own mother and his mother’s best friend.

At that point, he'd become known as the "Co-Ed Killer."

Here's everything else you need to know about Edmund Kemper:

From a young age, Kemper displayed aggressive behavior.

The Co-Ed Killer was born on December 18, 1948, and he had a strained relationship with his mother, according to Biography. She was an alcoholic who blamed Kemper for her problems.

When he was 10, she even forced him to live in their house’s basement all by himself. Biography reports that, as a child, Kemper would cut the heads off his sisters’ dolls and killed both of the family’s cats. He was sent to live with his father for a while, and then to his grandparents’ farm in North Carolina.

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When he was 15, Kemper shot his grandparents after an argument.

Kemper said that his grandmother was also abusive, according to Psychology Today, and after one argument with her, he shot her in her kitchen. Afraid his grandfather became angry with him for killing his grandmother (which, uh, yeah), Kemper shot him, as well.

Afterward, he called his mother to confess, who told him to call the police. Instead of going to jail, Kemper was sent to Atascadero State Hospital for five years, Biography reported. His criminal record was expunged after he was released.

Kemper let the first female hitchhikers he picked up go.

Things seemed to be looking up for Kemper when he started working with the California Department of Transportation in 1961. That is, until he was hit by a car when he was out riding a motorcycle.

According to Biography, Kemper’s behavior turned dark again after his accident while he was unable to work. Using money from his settlement with the car’s driver, he bought a new car—as well as a gun, a knife, and handcuffs.

"At first I picked up girls just to talk to them, just to try to get acquainted with people my own age and try to strike up a friendship," Kemper told investigators at the time, Front Page Detective Magazine reported in 1974. He then told the magazine that he started having sexual fantasies about the girls he picked up but feared being caught and convicted as a rapist.

The head of Kemper’s first hitchhiking victim was found in the woods near Santa Cruz.

On May 7, 1972, Kemper picked up Fresno State college students Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Luchessa while the pair were hitchhiking in Berkeley, California, according to Front Page Detective.

The two never made it to their destination. Kemper stabbed them both, decapitated them, and then buried their bodies. The two were listed as missing persons until hikers found Pesce’s head three months later. To this day, Luchessa’s body has never been recovered.

Over the next five months, Kemper killed four more female college students.

Aiko Koo met Kemper when he picked her up on the way to her dance class; she was later found decapitated. Kemper hid the body of Cindy Schall in his room until he dismembered her body, throwing the parts into the ocean and burying her head in his mother’s backyard the following day, per Biography.

Kemper offered Rosaline Thorpe and Alice Liu a ride on February 5, 1973. Both were shot and later decapitated.

"What do you think, now, when you see a pretty girl walking down the street?" Kemper would later ask himself during his Front Page interview. "One side of me says, 'Wow, what an attractive chick. I'd like to talk to her, date her.' The other side of me says, 'I wonder how her head would look on a stick?'"

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The last two people Kemper killed were his mother and his mother’s best friend.

After a fight with his mom on Good Friday in 1973, Kemper attacked her with a hammer after she had gone to sleep. He decapitated her, cut off her hands, and in a particularly gruesome act, cut out her larynx and put it down the garbage disposal.

According to Biography, after hiding his mother’s body parts, he called her friend Sally Hallett and invited her over. He strangled her shortly after she arrived and hid her body in a closet.

Kemper turned himself into the police.

After killing his mother and Hallett, Kemper packed his car and took off. He had a change of heart when he hit Pueblo, Colorado, and ended up calling the Santa Cruz Police Department to confess that he was the Co-Ed Killer.

At first, the police didn’t believe Kemper—he was friendly with several officers. It wasn't until he divulged details from the crimes that only the killer would know that they realized it was, indeed, him.

After being convicted of all eight murders, Kemper was interviewed by the FBI.

Yep, just like in Mindhunter. After Kemper received the guilty verdict in November 1973, he was sent to the California Medical Facility. (Btw, when the judge asked Kemper what his punishment should be, he said that he should be tortured to death, per Biography.) There, he was interviewed by members of—you guessed it—the FBI’s behavioral science unit.

Bryanna Fox, a former FBI agent in the behavioral science unit, told A&E that Kemper offered the bureau a lot of insight into why serial killers commit their crimes and helped agents identify common characteristics among them. She said he knew that what he had done was wrong, but he also knew that if he was released back into society, he would likely murder again.

Edmund Kemper is still alive.

Now, the Co-Ed Killer is serving eight concurrent life sentences at California Medical Facility in Vacaville.

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