Are You Sure There Is Not An Ed Kemper Next To You?
Ed Kemper -a serial killer who operated in the United States during the ‘70s- has been sentenced to a lifetime in prison in California. He killed six girls, his mother and a friend of hers, and — a few years earlier — he had killed his grandmother and grandfather. This information — even without the shocking details that accompany them (some will be mentioned later) — bring up anger for him, sadness, and compassion for the victims and their families, to most people. But most of them stay there, not seeing the whole image and what we can do with it as a society. Ed Keber had a life before those murders, and he -once- was a child.
The mother’s behavior
When his parents divorced, his mother could not manage the new situation, which intensified her -already neurotic- inner character. She resorted to alcohol for consolation, she was critical, she was blaming Ed and men generally for her suffering, and she did not pay much attention to her children, especially to Ed (since she showed a little more interest to her daughters). Her behavior towards her son was inadmissible and her care was far from what one would expect from a mother. The eight-year-old Ed’s bedroom was the basement of the house — without light and heating — and he was sleeping in a mattress. In an interview about twenty years after his criminal actions, he said: “They were going to Paradise at night and I was down, to face the demons.”
At the age of 15, Ed killed his grandmother and grandfather and was confined to a psychiatric clinic until he was 21. His high IQ in the respective tests, his exemplary — according to the staff — attitude, the help he provided at work, and the imitation of behaviors he saw in other people’s tests (which were considered cured and were released) which he had access to by offering services at the clinic, led to his return to California society, having convinced doctors that he was capable of being a healthy member of it.
In the meantime, his mother had remarried and divorced again. She was working at the University of California, expressing daily her admiration for the female students she was meeting there, praising them and continuing to devalue her son (who, of course, had no sexual experience until then), emphasizing his incompetence and expressing her opinion that none of these beautiful girls would ever want to sleep with him.
Starting the criminal action
The usual hitchhiking of that time led some of these girls to his car, with him leaving them harmless to their destination. They didn’t know that Ed was observing his entire experience, preparing for his subsequent action. The next ones were his victims. He had sex with their dead bodies and decapitated them, often keeping their heads in his room, having them in his bed, and talking to them, as he said during later interviews. He buried the heads in the garden of the house, under his mother’s window, leaning against her room. “She has always wanted people to look up to her, to respect her,” he told police.
His mother had about the same fate, with Ed having sexual intercourse with her head, and at the end, he took out her vocal cords and threw them in the trash; a symbolic gesture for not listening to her voice anymore. At that point, he surrendered, as he was — as he later stated — disappointed by the fact that the authorities had not been able to link him to the killings for so long.
As stated to the mother’s behavior, my purpose is not to declare Ed Kember a hero or to present his actions as less serious than they are. These are heinous crimes that deprived so many people of a future and stigmatized families for a lifetime. However, as an observer of the events (of their narration, to be precise) and as a person interested in human behavior, I cannot ignore the catalytic role of that woman’s attitude in this story (as in many other cases of serial killers).
Kids are future adults
I do not claim that the role of the father is insignificant. The absence of the paternal figure (he looked for his father to live with him but he rejected him, sending him to his grandmother and grandfather) also affected this case, as it affects a person in general. This has nothing to do with whether the parents are divorced, but with whether they have real contact and they are really “present”, responsible and conscious, during the shaping of their kid’s personality. However, in this case, a different maternal attitude (since mom was the parent he lived with) would lead to different results.
When a 10-year-old child buries the house cat alive and then digs it out and keeps it in his room after it has been dismembered, obviously this has to “tell” you something(something you need to watch and do)! When a man goes through his adolescence locked up in a clinic and has not developed any sexual behavior (other than the one with himself), he has not flirted, he has not experienced his trials in contact with the opposite sex, and with his release, you continue to devalue him verbally and non verbally (because of your own bad choices during your experience with men), telling him that there is no way he will ever charm any of the beautiful girls you meet, this is going to have some consequences! If we include the fact that his self-esteem, is in the nadir (since he has only received underestimation and neglect), we realize what kind of psychological situation he has formed.
Neuroscience has dealt extensively with whether a serial killer is “born” or shaped. Many studies show that there is biological evidence that predisposes to aggression/violence and factors associated with low levels of empathy. Also, when children are separated from their parents before the age of three or their mothers are indifferent and their fathers are not involved in their upbringing, they are more likely to show signs of a psychopathic personality.
This does not mean, of course, that every child who is neglected will become a serial killer. However, this will certainly affect the configuration of his self-esteem and the way he relates to other people. Also, the opposite pole, over-protection, and not allowing a child to learn to take responsibility for his/her actions and to deal with the consequences, is equally abusive. The extent to which the child’s environment affects his/her later life is great.
A brain dysfunction or a genetic element that shows a predisposition to aggression can actually — depending on upbringing — create a sociopath, but it can also create a completely functional and creative personality that will choose to channel his/her inner energy into positive orientations and not into harming others. Passive, indifferent, “absent”, abusive, or extremely protective parents can make a genetic predisposition develop into a mental disorder, which -with different handling- would probably have led to a completely different path.
Such environments do not necessarily “give birth” to murderers. It is equally clear, however, that they are forming insecure children who will be insecure adults, unsatisfied children who will be unsatisfied adults, reactionary children who will most likely be reactionary adults, and so on. Therefore, let’s not see the connection between the “before” and “after” elements as excessive. Such a child can be growing up in our neighborhood or even in our home at the moment.
Anthi Psomiadou — CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International : Credit must be given to the creator/ Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted/ No derivatives