Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Edmund Kemper: fact and fiction

I just saw a movie about Edmund Kemper I found on Hulu. Considering that I found it online, I wasn't expecting much, but even so, I was severely disappointed by its inaccuracies. First of all, although Kemper committed his crimes in the 1970s, the movie featured contemporary accouterments like laptops and cell phones. Edmund Kemper was 6'9" and weighed 300 pounds, but the actor who played him was shorter than the actors playing the detectives. He looked more like Green River Killer Gary Ridgeway than Kemper. Even worse than the anachronism, it took dramatic license with the story to the point that it was barely recognizable. While Kemper spent time at a bar frequented by police officers and befriended a few of them, he did not have a detective as a close friend, much less help the detective solve other murders, as portrayed in the movie. When the detective learns, through a phone call from Kemper, that he is the killer the police have been tracking, the movie turns into a cat and mouse chase that never happened. In the process, it loses the already fascinating true story, and one of the most interesting aspects of the Kemper case is lost. Edmund Kemper is the only serial killer that I know of who turned himself in, and waited for the police to come get him.
While Kemper is not as well known as the likes of Bundy, Gacy and Dahmer, I've always considered him one of the most interesting serial killers. Like many other killers, he grew up in an abusive home. His mother, embittered by having been left by his father, and because her son looked so much like his father, hated Edmund and didn't try to hide it. Because of his size, and because she hated him, she assumed he would molest his sister, and made him sleep in the basement. She also, an aspect only hinted at in the movie, constantly belittled him, telling him, among other hateful things, that no woman would ever love him. At fourteen (not ten, as depicted in Kemper: The Coed Killer), Edmund's mother sent him to live with his father's parents, and, one day, he shot them, saying "I wanted to know how it felt to shoot Grandma." At a juvenile facility, he learned how to manipulate psychological tests. In his adult killing career (after, in an exceptionally stupid move, being released to his mother's custody), he once passed a psych test administered during a parole meeting, while the head of his latest victim was sitting in his car. A true cinematic moment, but it was left out of the film version of Kemper's life. As the psychologists who later interviewed Kemper realized, the young women he killed were a substitute for his mother, who he was metaphorically killing each time. But one night, he decided to actually kill the woman he hated most. In the film's one saving grace, it included what Kemper did to his mother's dismembered corpse, such as using her head as a dartboard. Also, in what I've heard described as one of the more symbolic gestures in criminal history, he shoved her larynx down the garbage disposal, which he considered appropriate, "seeing how she bitched at me over the years." Kemper then invited his mother's friend over, and, after she saw what he had done, killed her too. Then, either to gain attention for his crimes, or because, having killed his mother, his demons therefore fully exorcised, he drove to a pay phone, called the police and told them to come get him. He stayed until they came to arrest him. That would have been an excellent ending for a film.
While the close friendship Edmund Kemper had with a local detective never happened, FBI agents who later interviewed him admitted, uncomfortably, that they liked the killer. He was intelligent, articulate, and fully aware of the impact of his crimes but stopped short of true remorse. Former FBI profiler Robert Ressler recalled an interview with Kemper where the hulking serial killer told Ressler that he could "screw off his head." When Ressler pointed out that Kemper would get in trouble, the prisoner serving consecutive life sentences replied, "What will they do, cut off my TV privileges?" Thoroughly shaken, Ressler signaled for the guard. When he was about to leave, Kemper told him, "You know I was just kidding, right?"

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