I can't even estimate how many stories I've covered since moving to Santa Cruz in 1971, but there's little doubt that the most memorable happened in the first year after going to work for the Santa Cruz Sentinel.
That would be the serial killers -- Herbert Mullin and Edmund Kemper -- although back then in the early '70s the term "serial killer" wasn't even being used. Now comes along the latest documentary, airing this Friday, as described in Tuesday's Sentinel. It's entitled "The Co-Ed Butcher" -- a nice little understated title if there ever was one.
Several of those involved with the case were interviewed by the British filmmaker: former deputies Mickey Aluffi and Terry Medina, Kemper lawyer Jim Jackson and his wife, Cameron, who was a clinical psychologist on the case. I'm rather casually mentioned in Tuesday's paper as the unnamed Sentinel reporter who covered the case (ah, how soon we're forgotten).
I've now had a chance to see it. The documentary does a good job of detailing how the case unfolded, the shock of the community -- and does what some of these films fails to do, and that's focus on the victims.
Dr. Joel Fort, who testified on behalf of the prosecution n the case, makes a good point when he points out that media coverage often fails to explain the full impact on the victims and their families.
Of course, part of that is a reluctance on the part of reporters to intrude too much into the private lives and pain of the family left behind. I cringe sometimes when I see cameras stuck in the face of the victims' families. And all those years ago, there were a lot fewer media outlets. The reporters that followed the case -- mostly Marj Von B of the Watsonville Register-Pajaronian and me -- were reluctant to make their personal pain worse. Today's reporters are much more aggressive in that way.
I've never been sure why the Kemper case stirs such interest all these years later. It really was a horrible time in Santa Cruz -- three major murder cases (Mullin, Kemper and prior to that, John Linley Frazier, which pre-dated my time here).
It was a time of great change in Santa Cruz. UCSC had opened a few years earlier, and what was once known as the Undesirable Transient Element started being noticed around town. To some, the influx of hippie types seemed to go hand-in-glove with the sudden onset of major crime. To others, here in Santa Cruz to enjoy the fruits of easy living in the Age of Aquarius, the crime wave just seemed bizarre.
In retrospect, the police work and the criminal justice system handled the challenge well. The documentary demonstrates that well -- particularly in interviews with former sheriff's deputies Aluffi and Medina. It took awhile for Mullin and Kemper to be brought to justice, but they ultimately were caught, given a fair trial and then taken off the streets.
For those of us who have been around here a long time, this look back at the Kemper case will stir up memories. They did for me when the producers were interviewing me.
Yes, memories. But they're really not good ones.