Ed Kemper: Conversations with a Killer; The Shocking True Story of the Co-Ed Butcher

Sterling. (Conversations with a Killer). Jul. 2021. 288p. ISBN 9781454943150. pap. $17.95. CRIME
Targeting young women hitchhikers, Edmund Kemper, aka the Co-ed Killer, terrorized California in the early 1970s. His crimes extended beyond kidnapping and murder to mutilation, necrophilia, and possibly cannibalism, though the details may never be fully known. Matera (Charles Manson: Conversations with a Killer) begins this account of the Co-Ed Killings with a disclaimer that Kemper (who’s still incarcerated in California) varies his narrative depending on whether he is speaking with sensation-seeking journalists, criminal profilers, or parole boards. Matera says that further complicating matters are Kemper’s extreme intelligence, his questionable sanity, and the cunning he developed as a teenager when he was institutionalized (and released) after murdering his grandparents. In spite of the book’s title, this isn’t a Silence of the Lambs–style sit-down with a serial killer. Instead, Matera presents a retelling of Kemper’s criminal career and subsequent imprisonment; any “conversations” are pulled from previously published material. Matera’s original contributions to the narrative are often intrusive and speculative.
VERDICT Recent Netflix programming has sparked renewed interest in the Co-Ed Killings, and Matera provides a modern update on Kemper, who’s now in declining health and likely unaware of his internet presence. However, the book’s tone often feels more indulgent than instructive.
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