Serial killing began in North Fork

February 5, 2020

Madera County Historical Society

Edmund Kemper III in a prison mug shot.

The grandmother sat at her writing desk in the living room of her North Fork home. She was working on a story for Boys’ Life Magazine, “Fire in the Cannon.” 

 

Outside on the porch sat a very troubled young man, her grandson, Edmund Emil Kemper III. The 15-year-old boy had been sent to live with his grandparents after stints with both of his divorced parents failed. His mother had abused him, and his father was too busy with his new family to care for him, so he wound up in North Fork with his grandparents, Edmund Kemper Sr. and his wife Maude.

 

It was a peaceful August afternoon in 1964, but there was turmoil in the lad’s soul. He was disturbed, disillusioned, mad at the world, and for some reason he decided to take it out on his grandmother. He picked up his loaded .22 rifle and went to the open window.

 

Slowly he lifted the rifle to the window sill, took aim and fired. The bullet struck Maude in the back of the head. Before she could fall, he fired twice more. Both shots struck his grandmother in the back.

Dropping the rifle, he went to the kitchen and grabbed a butcher knife. Then he dragged her into a bedroom where he stabbed her several times. Now he was certain she was dead.

 

Edmund left the bloody scene and returned to the porch to await his grandfather’s return from the post office. He had decided that he didn’t want Edmund Sr. to see what he had done, and there was only one way to make sure he didn’t. The grandson would have to kill the grandfather.

 

Shortly he heard the truck coming up the hill to the house. Grandfather stopped in the driveway and got out. Edmund sat on the porch with the rifle and waited until his grandfather turned his back to him. The boy shot the 72-year-old man in the head, killing him instantly. He dragged his body into the garage and then called the sheriff’s office. Resident deputy Harry J. Haring responded and found the bodies. He arrested the grandson.

 

Edmund was tried as a juvenile and sent to Atascadero State Hospital as a “criminally insane juvenile.” On December 18, 1969, his 21st birthday, Kemper was released on parole from Atascadero. The last report from his probation psychiatrists read: “If I were to see this patient without having any history … I would think that we’re dealing with a very well-adjusted young man who had initiative, intelligence, and who was free of any psychiatric illnesses.” Little did he know that the North Fork murders were just the first in Edmund Kemper’s killing spree.

 

Edmund enrolled in community college and worked a series of menial jobs before securing employment with the State Highway Department.

 

That same year Kemper was hit by a car while he was riding a motorcycle that he had recently purchased. His arm was badly injured in the crash, and he received a $15,000 settlement and bought a car. One day as he was driving around, he noticed a large number of young women hitchhiking, so he began picking some of them up. At first he simply let them go, but then his homicidal urges hit him, and he began to act on them. 

 

Between May 1972 and April 1973, Kemper killed six young women. He would pick up female students who were hitchhiking and take them to isolated areas where he would shoot, stab, smother or strangle them. He would then take their bodies back to his home where he would dismember them. During this 11-month murder spree, he killed five college students and one high school student. The papers called him the Co-ed Butcher.

 

By April 1973, Kemper had had enough. He called the police and confessed to the murders, but the police did not take his call seriously and told him to call back. Several hours later, Kemper called again, asking to speak to an officer he personally knew. He confessed to that officer of the killings and waited for the police to arrive and take him into custody. When asked in a later interview why he turned himself in, Kemper said, “ I started feeling the folly of the whole damn thing, and I just said to hell with it and called it all off.”

 

On November 8, 1973, a six-man, six-woman jury deliberated for five hours before declaring Kemper sane and guilty on all counts. He asked for the death penalty, but with a moratorium placed on capital punishment by the Supreme Court, he instead received seven years to life for each count, with these terms to be served concurrently. He was sentenced to the California Medical Facility in Vacaville, and that is where he is today.

 

Kemper was first eligible for parole in 1979. He was denied parole that year and in 1980, 1981, and 1982 as well. He subsequently waived his right to a hearing in 1985 and was denied parole at his 1988 hearing. He was denied parole again in 1991 and in 1994. He then waived his right to hearings in 1997, 2002, and in 2017.  Kemper is next eligible in 2024.

 

So peace has returned to the Kemper place on Road 224 in North Fork, and Edmund Sr. and Maude lie in the North Fork Cemetery awaiting their ultimate fate. In the meantime, their killer — their own grandson — does the same, all 6 feet, 9 inches, 300 pounds of him. I wonder where they will bury him?

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