On November 3, 2016, a 45-year-old realtor named Todd Kohlhepp was arrested when law enforcement discovered Kala Brown chained to a metal storage container’s interior wall on his Spartanburg County property. The arrest marked the end of an unidentified serial killer’s seemingly quiet, decades-long reign of terror.
Three months earlier, Brown and her boyfriend, Charles David Carver, went missing from Spartanburg County. Investigators tracked the missing woman down by tracing the couple’s last known cellphone signals to Kohlhepp’s property at 213 Windsong Way, where they heard banging noises coming from inside the container.
In a gut-wrenching video of the rescue later released by law enforcement, Brown—still chained by the neck to the metal container—told authorities with incredible clarity that she had witnessed her captor shoot Carver:
“Todd Kohlhepp shot Charlie Carver three times in the chest, wrapped him in a blue tarp, put him in the bucket of the tractor, locked me down here. I’ve never seen him again. He says he’s dead and buried. He says there are several bodies dead and buried out here.”
Carver remains were discovered in a shallow grave nearby, as was the 2002 Pontiac in which the couple was last seen. Spartanburg investigators learned that the pair were lured to Kohlhepp’s home by promises of a job.
Kohlhepp’s known victim count soon rose to seven.
Police soon discovered the bodies of John and Meagan Coxie—a local married couple missing since December 2015–on the property. Spartanburg coroner Rusty Clavenger said that he believed the victims had been buried around eleven months earlier, shortly after they disappeared.
But perhaps more surprisingly, Kohlhepp quickly admitted to killing four more at a Chesnee mototcycle dealer in 2003. Kohlhepp’s confession resolved a cold case known both locally (and on the internet) as the “Superbike Murders.”
“I cleared that building in under 30 seconds. You guys would’ve been proud. I’m sorry, but you guys would have been proud.”
In a videotaped confession days after his arrest, Kohlhepp recounted the day he shot Superbike Motorsports owner, Scott Ponder; Ponder’s mother and part-time employee, Beverly Guy; service manager and mechanic Brian Lucas; and mechanic’s assistant Chris Sherbert.
Kohlhepp told investigators that he’d once been a Superbike customer, where he had purchased a Suzuki GSX-R750 months before the massacre. Per the murderer’s story, the buyer’s remorse he quickly felt would eventually prove unnecessary when the motorcycle had been stolen. He told neighbors he suspected the bike shop was involved in the theft:
“I was inexperienced and I thought it was a bad decision and maybe wanted to trade for maybe a 600 (motorcycle). They were rude to me about how to ride a bike. They droped (sic) it off at the apartment, so they knew where it was stored. Two to three days later it was stolen. I made a police report. Insurance came out. I lost a $1,000 deductible.”
Kohlhepp returned to the shop when he again decided he wanted a motorcycle. He claimed staff were rude to him, and that an employee implied the shop was, in fact, involved in the earlier theft:
“I let it slide for the time being. Got mad about it. Kept going out there sitting on the bikes and listening to the owner and the manager basically talk trash. Bought a Beretta 92S 9mm. I had three 10-round magazines.”
Describing the quadruple murder as like a video-game, Kohlhepp told Spartanburg County investigators:
“I did not want to shoot other customers. One of the guys wasn’t there. I had to wait for him to come in. It was either the owner or the manager, one of the two main people. Finally all four showed up who worked there, (with) the mechanic and the mom. The mom was not a primary target. I was sitting on a black Kawasaki Katana 600. Told them I would take it. The mechanic took the bike to the back to prep it…I proceeded to walk back through the building to clear, and as I did I put one in each person’s forehead.”
On May 26, 2017, Kohlhepp pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of criminal sexual assault. As part of a plea bargain to avoid the death penalty, he was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences without the possibility of parole.
From behind bars, Kohlhepp is now claiming to have more than seven victims.
The Spartanburg Herald-Journal reported on December 9, 2017 that they received an eight-page letter from the convicted serial killer, in which he claimed to have more victims yet to be discovered. In the letter dated November 28, Kohlhepp—who was recently moved to protective custody—wrote:
“Yes there is more than seven. I tried to tell investigators and I did tell FBI, but it was blown off. It’s not an addition problem, it’s an multiplication problem. Leaves the state and leaves the country. Thank you private pilot’s license…
“…At this point, I really don’t see reason to give numbers or locations.”
In his letter, Kohlhepp said that it had been three years since he “acted out” before the murders of the Coxies.
Apart from running his own brokerage—TKA Real Estate, which reportedly employed nine others—Kohlhepp was an amateur pilot and gun enthusiast. Authorities said they confiscated an “arsenal” of weapons from his properties in Moore and Woodruff. However, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said he was unaware of any specific unsolved homicides or missing persons cases related to Kohlhepp:
“We don’t have anything active right this second, but we’ve always left it open-ended in case he wants to say there’s some stuff we need to check. If he’s got something to say, we’re more than willing to listen.”
Kohlhepp’s known history of violence began thirty years earlier, when Kohlhepp was a teenager living in Arizona.
Kohlhepp was first convicted of kidnapping a 14-year-old in November 1986 when he was a teenager living in Arizona. According to the Arizona Central, Kohlhepp unsuccessfully attempted to coerce his 14-year-old neighbor to go with him four times before pulling out his father’s .22-caliber handgun and holding it to her head.
Kohlhepp continued to hold her at gunpoint—at one point, even cocking it to dissuade her from resisting—as the two walked toward Kohlhepp’s house nearby. There, he tied her hands behind her back, put duct tape over her mouth, and raped her, according to police and court records. Before he walked his victim home, Kohlhepp told her he would kill her and her two younger siblings—then three- and six-years-old—if she called police.
He spent 15 years in an Arizona state prison before being released in November 2001 and moving back to Spartanburg. According to spokesperson Amanda Jacinto, the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office sent all their information on Kohlhepp to South Carolina when he left Arizona. There, he registered— as required by his sentence—as a sex offender.
State law forbids real estate license applications from being automatically denied based on the applicant’s criminal convictions; however, real estate agents are required to disclose criminal offenses due to their close contact with buyers, frequently in one-on-one settings. As part of the application process, applicants must acknowledge and explain any past criminal convictions to the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.
When Todd Kohlhepp applied for a South Carolina real estate license in 2006, the registered sex offender down-played the nature of his conviction in a two-page letter. Per the Arizona Central:
Kohlhepp wrote, in his 2006 letter about the 1986 incident, that he had been in a heated argument with his girlfriend, they were both 15 at the time, they ended their relationship and afterward chased his dog and returned to his house.
He explained in the letter that the kidnapping charge stemmed from a firearm he was carrying and because “I had told her not to move while we talked this out.”
Kohlhepp said he had been carrying a gun because he was concerned about crime in the Phoenix area and chalked it up to a youthful mistake.
South Carolina didn’t require background checks for real estate license applicants until a state law that went into effect in July 2014.
Per a November 2016 WSPA 7 News report, Tempe Police are reviewing unsolved homicides and missing persons cases from 1983 to 1986; however, to the best of my knowledge, no possible connection has ever been made public.
Captain Mike Walters of the Anderson, SC Police Department said that while he doesn’t believe Kohlhepp is connected to any open cases in Anderson County, he suspects more of Kohlhepp’s victims might be in other states where Kohlhepp reportedly spent time. Walters told the Herald Journal:
“I’m sure there are more. I’m just thinking they’re more likely in Florida or elsewhere. People like him, they want the cops to get the notoriety. They’re always going to throw bait out there often to keep their name out there.”
Chief counsel with the FBI’s Columbia office Don Wood said the agency—looking for a “federal nexus” in any possible crimes that would give the Feds jurisdiction—has a pending investigation; however, Would wouldn’t comment specifically on what exactly the FBI is doing.