This is part three of a three-part series on the trio of serial killers who stalked Santa Cruz in the early 1970s. Click here for part two.
The Santa Cruz cops who drowned their sorrows at a pe bar called the Jury Room always like Edmund Kemper III. He may have been a little odd, but he was no hippie freak. He kept his brown hair and mustache neatly trimmed just like the policemen themselves did.
Standing at 6’9” and weighing over 280 pounds, the cops gave Kemper the obvious nickname of “Big Ed.” Kemper flattered his cop friends at the bar by telling them he would’ve joined the force himself if his extreme height wasn’t over the limit for police work.
What the off-duty officers at the Jury Room didn’t know about Big Ed was that he had murdered his grandparents in 1964 when he was 15 years old. Kemper was sent to live with his paternal grandparents, Ed and Maud Kemper, at their ranch in the Sierra foothills, when he was 13. Two years later, he shot his grandmother and stabbed her repeatedly for good measure. When his grandfather returned home, Kemper shot him, too.
Rejected by the California Youth Authority because of the unusual nature of his crimes, Kemper was sent to the Atascadero State Mental Hospital. Kemper was kept in the maximum-security facility until 1970, but received only minimum treatment while there. One can only wonder if so many future horrors could’ve been prevented with more attentive care.
As a child, Kemper made a game out of staging his own execution in the gas chamber by writhing around in a chair as his younger’s sister pulled an imaginary lever. When Kemper’s sister accused him of having a crush on his schoolteacher, Kemper said, “If I kiss her, I would have to kill her first.”
When the family cat turned up butchered into pieces in a garbage can, Ed denied killing the pet just as he had done when someone had cut the head and hands off of his sister’s new doll. Growing up with an authoritarian mother who shamed him at the slightest provocation made Kemper very good at deflecting blame.
After being released from Atascadero, Kemper moved into his hated mother’s apartment in Aptos just outside of Santa Cruz. She worked at the still-new University of California campus there. She even got Ed a university parking sticker so he could park on campus, giving him easy access to a large pool of young, female victims.
Kemper began his killing spree on May 7, 1972 when he picked up Mary Ann Pesce and Anita Mary Luchessa, a pair of Fresno State students he found hitchhiking in Berkeley. He drove them to a secluded part of Alameda, decapitated them, and had sex with their corpses. He loaded the bodies in the trunk of his car and dumped them much closer to home, on Loma Prieta Mountain in Santa Cruz County.
When women started disappearing from UC Santa Cruz and nearby Cabrillo College, UCSC warned its students to only get into cars displaying an official campus sticker like the one Kemper’s mom had gotten for him. Kemper killed, mutilated, and even ate parts of four more female students by Feb. 5, 1973 when he shot Rosalind Thorpe and Allison Liu on campus. Because of that sticker, he was waved through a security gate with the dead women in the car.
On April 21, 1973, the day before Easter Sunday, Kemper bludgeoned his mother to death in their apartment. He then cut off her head and removed her larynx, throwing it down the garbage disposal.
”This seemed appropriate,” he said, “as much as she’d bitched and screamed and yelled at me over the years.”
After killing his mother, he called her coworker, Sara Taylor Hallett, and told her to come over. He strangled Hallett when she walked through the door so he could plant the alibi that the two women had gone on a trip for the holiday weekend. He left a note to taunt police, took the cash and credit cards from the two women’s purses and took off in his car with several loaded guns.
When he made it to Pueblo, Colo. he pulled over to a payphone and called the Santa Cruz police to confess his crimes. He had to call three times before he could convince an officer that he was responsible for the grisly, unsolved murders of eight women including his own mother.
Kemper was arrested by Pueblo police on April 23, 1973 and sent back to California where he was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
”It was more or less making a doll out of a human being, and carrying out my fantasies with a doll, a living human doll,” Kemper later explained.
Kemper is eligible for parole in 2017, but has told his attorney that “he’s just as happy going about his life in prison.”