For almost 13 years, a grisly quadruple homicide in rural South Carolina baffled Spartanburg County investigators.
The deaths, which became known as the “Superbike murders,” shocked what was a “sheltered little community,” Ponder’s widow, Melissa Ponder, told The Washington Post by phone Sunday. To this day, it remains Spartanburg County’s only quadruple homicide.
Despite occasional leads, the case remained unsolved year after year.
“The last 13 years were, I want to say, a nightmare … not knowing anything,” Ponder said.
The case appears to be cracked at last, after Todd Christopher Kohlhepp confessed Saturday to the killings — nearly 13 years to the day after the “Superbike murders,” officials said.
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright told reporters Saturday evening that authorities are confident in Kohlhepp’s confession because it included specific details about the crime scene.
“He told us some stuff that nobody ought to know,” Wright said, according to KFVS-TV.
Kohlhepp, a 45-year-old real estate agent in the area, had been in custody after authorities made numerous disturbing discoveries on his sprawling, wooded property in rural Woodruff, S.C., about 35 miles south of Chesnee.
On Thursday, police found Kala Brown, 30, chained inside a metal storage container on Kohlhepp’s land. She told authorities she had been kept there for the past two months, WYFF-TV reported.
“It was pretty emotional, to say the least, when she was found — especially when she was chained like a dog,” Wright told the news station. “She had a chain around her neck.”
An “obviously traumatized” Brown had screamed for help when sheriff’s deputies knocked on the side of the container, about 30 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high, Wright said.
Brown and her boyfriend, Charles “David” Carver, 32, had been missing since Aug. 31, triggering an agonizing search by their worried family members and friends. Cellphone and social media records led authorities to Kohlhepp’s property in Woodruff.
Investigators continued to search the property and discovered early Friday a body buried in a shallow grave, which was identified Saturday as belonging to Carver, according to the Associated Press. The coroner said Carver died of multiple gunshot wounds, the AP reported.
Kohlhepp also showed authorities Saturday where he said he buried two other unidentified victims on his 95-acre property, according to the AP. Those remains have since been unearthed but not identified, Greenville Online reported.
Investigators are continuing to search the Woodruff property, as well as others connected to Kohlhepp, this week. But Kohlhepp’s confession to the “Superbike murders” brought a small measure of closure in one of the state’s most notorious cold cases.
Over the years, the unsolved crime was profiled by numerous TV shows, including nearly annually on local news stations, “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Crime Watch Daily.”
Friends and family members of the four victims agonized over who could have walked into the small-town shop in broad daylight and committed such a crime, Ponder said.
In recent years, Brian Lucas’s parents, Tom and Lorraine Lucas, started a Facebook page seeking information from anyone who might know what happened in Chesnee so many years ago. They emphasized a $25,000 reward and circulated a sketch that police released in 2012 of a “person of interest.”
That person was described as a white male who was 25 to 40 years old, approximately 6 feet tall and weighing 175 to 200 pounds.
The highly publicized case attracted several leads, but nothing ever panned out.
“I had told myself I will probably never know in this lifetime what happened to him,” said Ponder, who was pregnant at the time of the murders. After she gave birth to her son, they moved to Arizona to avoid the spotlight the case attracted; she said her son, now 12, is “a strong kid, a really good kid.”
Even then, Ponder said she and most of the victim’s family members have kept in close contact since 2003, always hoping that one day there would be a measure of justice.
On Saturday evening, Ponder said she received a phone call from a Spartanburg County sheriff’s detective: “Are you going to be available in an hour?” she said he asked her. “It’s really important.”
A short while later, sheriff’s deputies told her they had gathered together family members of all the Superbike murder victims so they could announce to them at the same time: Kohlhepp had confessed to the 2003 killings.
“I think it’s just relief and disbelief and … it’s just a myriad of emotions,” Ponder said. “I never thought I would get this phone call. … It’s a big deal. It’s a big deal for any law-enforcement entity. It’s a big deal for a family.”
Tom and Lorraine Lucas did not return a phone call Sunday. They told reporters outside the Spartanburg County Detention Center on Sunday that they wanted to look their son’s accused killer in the eye, according to the AP.
“We want to see the face,” Tom Lucas said, according to the AP. “I want to look at him, and I want to try to use that in healing.”
Officials now believe Kohlhepp is responsible for at least seven deaths, in addition to kidnapping Brown.
“Just because he’s confessed, there’s still a lot of work to be done on the current case and other cases,” Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Kevin Bobo told The Post on Sunday.
Kohlhepp was charged Friday with one count of kidnapping, according to court records. Prosecutor Barry Barnette said in court Friday that Brown saw Kohlhepp shoot and kill her boyfriend and that additional charges were expected, the AP reported.
Wright said Saturday that four murder warrants have been signed for Kohlhepp.
The gruesome revelations are a stark contrast to Kohlhepp’s professional image. On the surface, Kohlhepp portrayed himself as a tech-savvy professional who ran his own South Carolina real estate firm upstate.
“At Todd Kohlhepp & Associates we feel that it’s important for our clients to know a little more about who’s working for them besides a name and number,” read the first part of his bio in a company brochure.
But all of that omitted disturbing details about Kohlhepp’s past criminal history and why he was a registered sex offender.
Details from his childhood — particularly his conviction for the 1986 rape of a teenage girl in Tempe, Ariz. — hint at a deeply troubled individual who harbored violent tendencies from an early age.
An extensive psychiatric evaluation of Kohlhepp, then 16, revealed a sometimes suicidal teenager who saw himself “as a loner, hostile toward other children and not wanting to be around people,” according to a report first obtained by Greenville Online.
The psychiatrist said there was “convincing evidence” that Kohlhepp had borderline personality disorder. “Throughout the interview, one got the feeling that if he were pushed to any limits, he was potentially explosive,” the psychiatrist wrote. The psychiatrist also warned that Kohlhepp’s “severe underlying emotional issues … could result in emotional deterioration in the future or continued aggressive behavior toward others in the future.”
Kohlhepp served 15 years in prison and was released on Nov. 24, 2001, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections. Records also showed that he received postsecondary education and vocational training while in prison.
At some point, Kohlhepp moved to South Carolina and built a real estate business. (His real estate license is listed as valid through June 2017, according to the state’s Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department).
Ponder said Sunday that detectives had given her a possible motive for the killings but that she was not sure whether she could publicly disclose it yet. She added that her heart went out to Brown, the girl who was found chained on Kohlhepp’s property.
“I just feel like she’s the hero, really of the story,” Ponder said. “She made it through this horrible, horrible ordeal.”
Brown reportedly worked for Kohlhepp cleaning houses and had arrived at his Woodruff property with her boyfriend to help clean it up when Kohlhepp pulled a gun on them, according to CBS News.
Kohlhepp’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 19, according to court records.
Meanwhile, investigators were continuing to scour Kohlhepp’s property for any other victims on Sunday afternoon, the 13th anniversary of the Superbike murders.
“We always seek justice for the family and for the victims,” Bobo, the sheriff’s spokesman, said. “Sometimes that’s swift. Sometimes that’s not. That doesn’t mean we quit trying.”
This post has been updated.