Criminology: Edmund Kemper

Edmund Kemper was a notorious serial killer in California in the seventies. He was born in 1948 and was a feared sociopath in Santa Cruz, California where he was born. His first criminal activity was murdering his grandparents when he was still a teenager. Interviews done on Edmund quoted him as having killed out of the curiosity of knowing how it would be, killing his grandmother and grandfather (Kemper, 2010).

Some of his notable criminal acts were the dismembering of six female victims he killed in the Santa Cruz area. Edmund was a merciless killer though he submitted himself to the police after killing his mother and one of her friends. He goes in the record of criminal history as one of the most dangerous American killers of his time

Early Life

Edmund Kemper was a bright child; he however started exhibiting symptoms of sociopathic criminal behavior at a young age. He is documented to have killed two cats and played with their organs when he was still a young boy. However, this behavior was first exhibited after his parents divorced. He was also documented to be playing ritual games with his sister when he was still a young boy. The ritual games symbolized death.

Considering his peculiar behavior, his mother took him to live with his father on a distant farm but he managed to come back almost immediately. Staying at home, he started exhibiting behaviors of hostility to his sister (Kemper, 2010). The mother, therefore, used to lock him in the basement fearing that he would rape his sister. The mother is however documented to have been suffering from a borderline personality disorder because her behavior did not perfectly depict that of a caring mother. On occasions, she used to scoff at Edmund and when she couldn’t take Edmund’s behavior anymore, she shipped him off to stay with her grandparents. Some criminal and psychology critics blame Edmunds’s behavior on this poor parenting, especially from the mother.

His father was equally bad; anything but a good parent because as Edmund went to seek him in 1963, he found out the father wanted nothing to do with him having remarried and starting a new family. Nonetheless, Edmund shared a good relationship with his father when he was young until his parents divorced. His relationship with the mother was however bad because Edmund referred to her as a “bitch” who never cared about his well-being. It is purported that Edmund’s resentment toward his mother greatly fuelled his hate for women as was evidenced by his killing of female hitchhikers (Kemper, 2010).

After being shipped to stay with the grandparents, Edmund grew lonelier, agitated, and homesick. This prompted him to commit his first crime which was killing his grandmother. Edmund shot her, point blank and later stabbed her severally for restraining him to go to the farm with his grandfather. The level of agitation, Edmond went through before he committed this crime is partially blamed for the onset of Edmund’s criminal activities. Serial killers are always noted to come from a background of agitation, coupled with loneliness which was Edmund’s primary state as he stayed with his grandparents. Wary of the fact that his grandfather couldn’t take what he had done (killing his grandmother), Edmund shot his grandfather too. He was fifteen then. These actions sent Edmund to a mental hospital.

Adult life

While in hospital, Edmund showed tremendous ability to act normally. He never exhibited tendencies of sociopathic behavior while in hospital and even managed to impress the nurses. He even acted as an assistant to one of the nurses while at the hospital and upon further analysis of his IQ, it was established that he was in perfect mental health (Kemper, 2010). He managed to convince the doctors he was in stable condition to be set free. The doctors heed to this and even expunged his juvenile record. Nevertheless, some doctors were against this because it is a known fact that normalcy among sociopathic criminals was not a sign of the proper mental state.

Edmund was however set free into the care of his mother. He later got a job at the Highway authority as a truck driver, after being declined a working position at the local police force (Kemper, 2010). Edmund fulfills the observed tendency of most sociopathic criminals to seek a job at the police. It is however not clear why many criminals seek jobs in positions that would give them authority but the debate is still open in psychology and criminal circles.

While working at the highway authority, Edmund embarked on a killing spree that eventually gave him the name “Cod-Ed” killer. He developed a trend of picking up female hitchhikers in Santa Cruz and stabbing them to death. All his victims were female, a common criminal target because of the vulnerability of the victims. Edmund is quoted to have said that he was fascinated by the ability of young campus girls to freely accept rides.

Most of his killings were done in the periods of 1972-1973. He killed his victims and brought them home to his mother where he cut them up after raping their corpses. Edmund’s execution-style was majorly cutting off the head of his victims after which he would have sex with their headless bodies. This was some form of the psychological disorder where he gained satisfaction cutting the heads of his victims (Kemper, 2010).

Interviews are done after his arrest quoted him as a killer who was fascinated by mutilating most of his victims by cutting their heads off. It’s quoted that he used to wonder how the heads of pretty, young campus girls would look on a stick (Kemper, 2010). This was some form of chronic sociopathic behavior that fueled his quest to kill and turned it into an addiction. Quite often, he brought his victims to his mother’s house; which reinforces the fact that his criminal acts were somehow associated with his mother. Moreover, it reinforces the fact that most sociopathic criminals stem their behavior from hatred or poor parenting of one of the parents or both. In one interesting murder, a fifteen-year-old girl was murdered by this serial killer. The man thereafter buried the head of the girl in her mother’s compound. Later interviews quote Edmond as having committed this act because her mother liked it when people looked up to her. He later buried the remainder of the body in her mother’s garden. It can therefore be noted that in Edmund’s case, his poor relationship with his mother played a role in the acquisition of sociopathic behaviors. After chopping his victims, he packed their body parts in plastic bags and tossed them off at cliffs (Kemper, 2010).

Edmund’s hatred for his mother reached its peak when he beat his mother with a claw hammer till she died. He later took her body and dissected it after raping her corpse too. This seemed to be the hallmark of Edmund’s killing spree because, after this, he surrendered to the police. However, before he did that, he removed the mother’s larynx and fed it to the rubbish pile. This demonstrated that Edmund’s criminal activities directly originated from his hatred for the mother which can be attested by the way he treated his mother quite differently from his other victims. Though he used to feed the mother’s corpse, sometimes the food never went down the larynx and he would make remarks saying that his mother was still bitching at him even in her death (Kemper, 2010).

Later, Edmund phoned the police and admitted to killing his mother after realizing none of the national broadcasting media houses ever attributed the murder to him. He did this while driving down a road after which he stopped at a telephone booth and admitted to the police that he was the “Cod-Ed” killer (Kemper, 2010). He was later picked up by the police. This trail of events depicts Edmund as a man on a mission because after killing the mother, he gained some sort of satisfaction in his quest to kill. This reinforces the fact that he was primarily motivated to kill because of the hatred he had for his mother. In addition, he wanted recognition for it. This conforms to criminology theories that describe some serial killers as cravers of attention (Sorensen and Pilgrim, 2002). This is evidenced because, after the discovery of his mother’s remains, Edmund was angry that the world never mentioned him about the murder. He surrendered after the mother’s murder probably in fulfillment of his mission.

When asked what punishment he deserved, Edmund responded that he was better off tortured and killed. This was a culmination of his mission because he saw no point in living anymore. This is a common sociopathic tendency where victims, take their problems and make them their reason for living. This then turns into an obsession where they make it their primary purpose for living (Carrabine, 2009). Now that Edmund had attained his ultimate goal of killing his mother, he saw no point in living anymore hence the acclamation that he ought to be tortured and killed. He was however charged with eight accounts of murder but escaped death because capital punishment was not allowed at the time.


Edmund Kemper was a sociopath whose study is a classic example of criminology. The analysis of his case can be used to better understand criminals who exhibit the same tendencies. His life and times bring to fore certain important elements to his growth and adult life that probably led to the development of his sociopathic behavior. Even though criminology is open to interpretation, Edmund is observed to have undergone psychological trauma in his young life especially when he was young. Poor parenting from his mother who also had a borderline personality disorder may have contributed to his love to kill. An absent father never did anything to remedy the situation either. An analysis of his killing spree also exposes certain criminology trends exhibited through the killing of his victims, like the systematic way of execution. The case of Edmund Kemper, therefore, remains an important case study in the analysis of criminology activities (Carrabine, 2009).


Carrabine, E. (2009). Criminology: A Sociological Introduction. London: Taylor & Francis.

Kemper, E. (2010). Interview with Ed Kemper. Web.

Sorensen, J., & Pilgrim, R. (2002). Criminology. Journal of Criminal Justice, 30:11-18.

Find out your order's cost