Clinic Stories

Serial Killer

If you haven't been told, hitchhiking carries some risks. In 1972 and not owning a car, walking, biking and hitchhiking were my means of transportation. That May I was hiking and made a side trip across the US from Pennsylvania to California. It was shocking how many drivers, at least those who pick up hitchhikers, drink or smoke dope. Several asked me to roll a joint. I politely declined each request and will assuredly leave this world without that experience. It's good to have my education to fall back on.

A Wyoming State trooper stopped to inform me that their law stated "It is illegal to stand on a highway to solicit a ride." There seemed to be a message in his delivery so I sat on my backpack and quickly got a ride. "I see you know the law in Wyoming", the driver said as I climbed in. It was only illegal to stand while hitchhiking, not to sit.

It is a big country and I was often left off in remote areas after dark. This meant sleeping in atypical spaces – along highways, in the median of an Interstate, in a cemetery, cattle pastures, under bridges. Along the way I had the worst night's sleep of my life.

In Big Sur, along the Pacific south of San Francisco, I met some other hikers who were returning to Lake Tahoe a few days later where they worked on the ski slopes. I went along with them and we hitchhiked to one their girlfriend's parents home near Alameda. The family was hospitable but we were not invited to spend the night. She drove us along a dirt road that ended in an area hemmed in by cliffs. Before she left, she told us that this had been a popular area for transients, but two people were murdered there a few weeks earlier so it had fallen from favor. Her boyfriend said she was not one to kid so we uneasily made camp. It is impossible to say how much sleep I got but I was awake most of the night, the side of my sleeping bag opened and a knife at my side. Besides a sleepless night with scattered violent dreams, nothing happened.

The next day she drove us to Lake Tahoe and I eventually made it back East. About a year later the killer, Edmund Kemper, was arrested. Imposing at 6'9" and 280 pounds, he killed his grandparents when he was 15. As an adult he killed eight more people over a period of a year, all women.

Almost universally people say that the girlfriend should not have mentioned the murders when she dropped us off. Better still, she could have picked a less notorious site. I still occasionally hitchhike, mostly but not always without incident.

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