| The nylon stocking murder of nurse Marjorie Hipperson, one of the most sensational Los Angeles crimes of the 1950s, was taken out of its musty files and brought back to life last year for the prosecution of her slayer, an odd little man named Darryl Thomas Kemp who was paroled by the state of California in 1978 only to rape and kill again.The man sentenced to death last month in the 1978 killing of Armida Wiltsey bears little resemblance to the “pint-sized Canoga Park carpenter” of 23 who was arrested in 1959 on charges of kidnapping and raping a woman in Griffith Park while posing as a ranger. At 73, according to news reports, Kemp often dozes behind dark glasses and uses a wheelchair although some doctors say he is faking his mental and physical illnesses and is perfectly capable of walking.
Kemp’s story is a triumph of criminal forensics in which investigators working nearly 50 years apart used crime scene evidence to link him to two notorious unsolved killings. And for supporters of capital punishment, his life highlights the tragedy of failing to enforce the death penalty.
Deep veins of contradiction run through Kemp’s life. One of the women he raped in Griffith Park in 1959 said he pulled her out of her car by her hair and tore at her clothes like a wild man before choking her viciously. But to his family, he was just the opposite. “He was gentle,” his wife, Maria, said. “Sometimes he would be kind of strange, but he was never violent. He’s not very big or strong and I can’t believe he could commit any kind of violent attack on anyone.”
Born in 1936 in New Jersey, Kemp came to Los Angeles with his family in 1946 and his father got a job with a packing company. The second-oldest of four children, Kemp had a normal childhood, according to his parents, Thomas and Ida, and got good grades in school.
His parents said his behavior changed radically in 1951, at the age of 16, when he was knocked unconscious while playing football. Kemp became moody and “strange,” his father testified in 1959. A defense attorney in the 2008 murder trial said Kemp was dazed and disoriented for two weeks after the injury and didn’t undress before taking showers, according to the Contra Costa Times.
After the injury, Kemp was arrested for the first time, on charges of stripping a car, and his behavior problems evidently continued. Conflicting news accounts say he was seen by a psychiatrist either a month before — or after –Hipperson was killed.
“Darryl is a sick boy — much sicker than we ever realized,” his parents said after his arrest in 1959, “and we want to see to it that he has the psychiatric treatment he needs.”
On July 9, 1957, the night she was killed, Marjorie Lucille Hipperson, 24, had just come home from a wedding shower at Hollywood Presbyterian Hospital where she was a nurse and her fiance, Dr. Walter Deike, was an intern. He was on duty and called away from the party, so Hipperson wrote him a note before she left:
“Dear Walter: I hope you don’t have too tough a night. Get a lot of sleep.
I love you.
When she didn’t report for work the next day, Deike came by her apartment at 3737 Los Feliz Blvd. and found her strangled with a nylon and gagged with a washcloth held in place with another nylon. She had been tied at one point and obviously put up a fight with the killer.
The landlady said Dieke came out of the apartment in a state of shock. “She’s dead!” he shouted.
Investigators found that in the previous six months half a dozen women living in apartment houses in the neighborhood had reported intruders and peeping Toms. In fact one of Hipperson’s roommates reported that a young man had barged into the apartment and confronted her while she was lying on her bed. The roommate grabbed her purse off the nightstand and the man laughed and ran.
After that, the roommates had moved out. Hipperson was planning to leave at the end of the month and had already disconnected the phone. Although she had chained the door, the killer had entered through a kitchen window she had left unlatched, police said.
Investigators found numerous fingerprints and hand prints in the apartment, including two that were particularly interesting: One on the wall over the head of the bed and another near the kitchen window.
In the next two years, police fingerprinted 180,000 men in hopes of matching one of them to the prints found in Hipperson’s apartment, but none of them was the killer, The Times said. [That would be 246 men a day for two years, which doesn’t seem likely, but that’s what the paper said].
On July 17, 1959, an unidentified woman was driving along Mt. Hollywood near Vista del Valle Drive in Griffith Park when a man she assumed was a park ranger made her stop and told her: “Turn around, this road is closed.”
Suddenly, he jumped from his truck, pulled the woman out of her car by her hair and dragged her to some bushes, where he “tore at the woman’s clothing like a madman,” a detective said. He ripped off one of her silk stockings and tried to strangle her. When she fought back, he tried to tie her hands.
She later testified that he said: “I am going to murder you like I did the Hipperson woman.”
The woman passed out and awakened when the man opened her eyelids “as if to see if I was dead,” she said. The man rushed to his truck and tried to run her down but he was frightened away by another car.
Four hours later, he was arrested after a chase by two LAPD motorcycle officers who had gotten a description of his truck.
His prints matched one taken from wall over Hipperson’s bed. The killer was identified as Darryl Thomas Kemp.
From his first moment in court in July 1959, it was clear that Kemp was odd. The Times reported that he stood up four times during his arraignment and said; “I have to go home. My wife’s waiting for me.”
Kemp was sullen when he entered the courtroom but quickly became “a sobbing young man apparently near hysteria … staring … frightened.”
The Times said:
A thin quavering voice brought a shocked hush in Municipal Judge Louis Kaufman’s court yesterday. The speaker was Darryl Thomas Kemp, facing arraignment for the brutal murder of nurse Marjorie Hipperson.
“Will you let me go home?” he had asked with the direct simplicity of a child and almost in a child’s voice.
[Judge Louis Kaufmann] “addressed Kemp by name and the prisoner rose slowly to his feet to dumbfound the court with his request so completely out of step with the harsh reality of his presence in the courtroom.
“Do you know why you are here?” asked Judge Kaufman.
“Is she mad at me–my wife?” Kemp asked in the same querulous voice.
Suddenly the prisoner fainted and slumped to the floor.
On New Year’s Eve, Kemp was convicted of murdering Hipperson. The jury found him sane and gave him the death penalty. He was sentenced to death in February 1960 and also received two consecutive prison terms on two counts of rape and one count of kidnapping involving two women he raped in Griffith Park.
Once Kemp was in prison, his case unfolded in slow motion. In March 1960, while on death row, he slashed his wrists with a razor blade, requiring 30 stitches. A year later, the California Supreme Court affirmed his death sentence, set for June 21, 1961.
Two days before Kemp’s date with the gas chamber, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas granted a stay of execution and in September 1961, Kemp was found to be “presently insane,” a distinction meaning that he was sane at the time of the killing but insane at the present moment.
Kemp was sent to the California Medical Institution at Vacaville, where he was treated until December 1968, when he was transferred to Atascadero State Hospital. In February 1969, doctors said Kemp had regained his sanity, but before he could be returned to death row, the California Supreme Court was forced to reverse his sentence because of a 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision on improperly excusing prospective jurors over their views on the death penalty.
In May 1970, jury selection began to determine whether Kemp should once again be given the death penalty. By now, much of the evidence had been destroyed, several witnesses had died or disappeared and some of Kemp’s statements were no longer admissible because of the Miranda rights, which had been introduced after he was convicted.
Two months later, despite these challenges, Kemp, now 34, was again given the death penalty for killing Hipperson.
Kemp spent two more years on death row. Then in 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned California’s death penalty. Kemp was among 102 men on death row who became eligible for parole when their sentences were converted to life in prison. He was paroled to Pleasant Hill, Calif., in July 1978 and began a relationship with a woman who had been writing to him while he was behind bars as part of a program at Diablo Valley College.
Armida Wiltsey, who was killed by Darryl Thomas Kemp in November 1978 while jogging.
On Nov. 14, 1978, Armida Wiltsey, the 40-year-old wife of a Kaiser Steel executive, went jogging on a popular trail around the Lafayette Reservoir, off California 24 between Berkeley and Walnut Creek. A search for her began after she failed to pick up her 10-year-old son from school and a police dog found her body about 60 feet off the running path. She had been raped and strangled after putting up a terrific fight, judging by traces of the killer’s blood found under her fingernails.
According to the Contra Costa Times, investigators eventually decided that Wiltsey had probably been murdered by serial killer Phillip Hughes, a school janitor who was convicted in 1980 of killing three other women and is suspected in many other deaths. In 2000, as DNA testing became more sophisticated, the blood taken from beneath Wiltsey’s fingernails was compared to a sample from Hughes with stunning results: He wasn’t the killer.
In the meantime, Kemp had moved to Austin, Texas, and in 1983, he broke into the home of six university students and raped and choked them, drawing a life sentence.
With Hughes eliminated as a suspect by DNA testing, Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Detective Roxane Gruenheid took up the long-unsolved Wiltsey case. In reading the records, she noticed that investigators had interviewed Darryl Thomas Kemp, a paroled sex killer, two weeks after the Wiltsey murder following his arrest in Walnut Creek as a peeping Tom.
A girlfriend, his former prison pen pal, had provided an alibi for him at the time Wiltsey was killed, but as a precaution, investigators took samples of Kemp’s hair. Although the hair samples had been retained for more than 20 years, they had degraded too much for DNA testing. A Texas judge ordered Kemp to give a blood sample for testing.
Darryl Thomas Kemp in a 1978 booking photo.
In October 2008, five years after he was linked to the crime, Kemp went on trial in Contra Costa County in Wiltsey’s killing. He was now 72 years old and according to news reports, he wore dark glasses, used a hearing device and dozed in his wheelchair during most of the trial.
Psychiatrists were divided on Kemp’s mental evaluations. Defense experts said he had brain damage while conceding that other analysts said he was faking his mental and physical problems.
Several of Kemp’s victims testified, including one of the women he raped in Texas in 1983 and a woman he raped in Griffith Park in 1959. Prosecutor Mark Peterson told jurors of the Hipperson killing, but was not allowed to add that Kemp had been given the death penalty twice in that case.
During the trial, Kemp’s lawyers mounted a defense that skirted the charges. They said Kemp was guilty of sodomy rather than rape, that he choked Wiltsey to get control of her and didn’t mean to kill her, and that the distance she was found from the jogging path wasn’t enough to constitute kidnapping.
The jury quickly rejected the defense arguments and after two hours’ deliberations, convicted Kemp on Dec. 3, 2008, of first-degree murder. Later that month they gave him the death penalty and in June, at the age of 73, Darryl Thomas Kemp was sentenced to die — for the third time.
Without going too far into armchair psychology, it seems Kemp selected a particular kind of victim. Rather than preying on those engaged in high-risk behavior such as streetwalking or picking up men in bars, Kemp chose wholesome, middle-class women who did nothing more dangerous than leaving a window unlatched, like Hipperson , or venturing into rugged terrain like Griffith Park or Lafayette Reservoir. Based on fragmentary evidence in the public record, none of his victims was a woman who could be expected to come to a bad end.
And in one other tragic parallel, the deaths of Hipperson and Wiltsey were absolutely devastating to the men they left behind.
Deike, who found Hipperson’s body, married another woman, but he drowned in Mendocino Bay five years after the killing and many speculate that it was a suicide.
During Kemp’s sentencing, jurors wept as Wiltsey’s husband, Boyd, testified: “I was just devastated … and that stayed with me day and night for years,” according to the Contra Costa Times. “It made me realize how valuable the things you have are because when you lose them you really know — I really know how much I loved Armida. I probably didn’t show her enough and I regret that.”
After he was sentenced to death last month, Kemp raised his head and opened his eyes, having hunched down in his wheelchair during the trial, according to the Contra Costa Times.
He asked his attorneys: “Is that it?”
Epilogue: Kemp was questioned in 1959 about the killings of Ruth Goldsmith, Barbara Jepson and Esther Greenwald, but the results were never reported. Defense attorneys in his 2008 trial said he raped about 11 women.