South Carolina kidnapper linked to as many as seven killings

Registered sex offender Tod Kohlhepp was caught after a woman kidnapped in August was found chained inside a shipping container on his property.

John Byrum/AP
Law enforcement searches the home of Todd Kohlhepp in South Carolina; he is accused of kidnapping a woman and murdering her boyfriend and then keeping the woman chained in a shipping container, among other crimes.

A South Carolina man accused of holding a woman chained inside a storage container was due in court for a bond hearing Sunday after investigators say he confessed to an unsolved quadruple murder that happened 13 years ago.

Authorities have charged Todd Kohlhepp, 45, with four counts of murder in the deaths of four people in 2003 at the Superbike Motorsports motorcycle shop in Chesnee, South Carolina. His alleged role in those killings was uncovered, authorities said, after the woman was found last week in a locked metal container on Kohlhepp's property in rural Woodruff.

Kohlhepp's arrest has put to rest for local law enforcement and the families of the victims a mystery that has haunted them for more than a decade.

"We got 'em today. We got 'em today. I'm rejoicing that this community can know that four people who were brutally murdered, there's no wondering about it anymore," Sheriff Chuck Wright said late Saturday night.

Kohlhepp is also charged with the woman's kidnapping, and prosecutors say more charges are expected.

A Spartanburg County Sheriff's investigative report says Kohlhepp "confessed to investigators that he shot and killed" the owner, service manager, mechanic and bookkeeper of the motorcycle shop. "Kohlhepp gave details ... that only the killer would know," the report says.

Authorities say Kohlhepp is a suspect in at least three other deaths.

Wright says Kohlhepp also showed law enforcement officers Saturday where he says he buried two other victims on his 95-acre property near Woodruff. Wright said there could be more bodies.

Those are in addition to the body found Friday at the site. Authorities identified that victim as 32-year-old Charles Carver, the boyfriend of the woman found Thursday. Carver died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Carver and the woman went missing around Aug. 31, and their last known cellphone signals led authorities to the property. The Associated Press is not naming the woman because the suspect is a sex offender, though authorities have not said whether she was sexually assaulted.

The wife of one of the 2003 victims said detectives told her Kohlhepp was an angry customer who had been in the shop several times.

Melissa Ponder told The Associated Press she had resigned herself to her husband Scott's death remaining unsolved — until she got a phone call Saturday evening from detectives.

"He knew too much about the crime scene," Ponder said of Kohlhepp's account to detectives. "He knew everything."

"It isn't closure, but it is an answer," Ponder said. "And I am thankful for that."

The parents of another 2003 victim, 29-year-old service manager Brian Lucas, came to Spartanburg for the suspect's bond hearing on Sunday, the 13th anniversary of the killings.

Standing with his wife before the hearing, Tom Lucas said he wants to be in court to look the man accused of killing his son in the eye.

"We want to see the face. I want to look at him, and I want to try to use that in healing," he said.

Lorraine Lucas said she started counseling sessions several weeks ago to prepare herself in case a suspect was ever arrested.

"I needed to be prepared for when they do make an arrest, so we can accept what happened," she said.

Before Kohlhepp emerged as a suspect, investigators have said all four victims were killed with the same 9 mm pistol. They have theorized that the killer came in the back, perhaps through an open garage door, and killed mechanic Chris Sherbert, 26, as he worked. Bookkeeper Beverly Guy, 52, was found just outside the bathroom in the middle of the showroom.

Thirty-year-old shop owner Scott Ponder was found just outside the door in the parking lot. He was Guy's son. Brian Lucas was in the doorway.

Kohlhepp was released from prison in Arizona in 2001. As a teenager, he was convicted of raping a 14-year-old neighbor at gunpoint and threatening to kill her siblings if she called police. Kohlhepp had to register as a sex offender.

But that didn't stop him from getting a South Carolina real estate license in 2006 and building a firm.

Wright said "it's strange" that Kohlhepp managed the pretext of a normal life for so long.

Scott Waldrop, who's lived next door to the Woodruff property for nearly 22 years, said he thought Kohlhepp was a serious Doomsday "prepper" who liked his privacy, but "he didn't seem like a threat."

Waldrop said when he saw the container, it was full of bottled water and canned goods. After buying the property two years ago, Kohlhepp immediately started putting a chain link fence around it.

Waldrop said Kohlhepp paid him to put no trespassing signs, cut trees and do other odd jobs around the property. Kohlhepp also installed deer cameras and put bear traps throughout.

"I was the only one he let over there, I think because I laughed at his jokes and listened to him," he said. "I just hate to know somebody who's done something like this."

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