How Investigators Discovered a Serial Killer Hiding in Plain Sight

Todd Kohlhepp

SOUTH CAROLINA— During the years when Todd Kohlhepp was on a killing spree, he led a double life, enjoying a prosperous career as a real estate broker.

As he built a successful real estate firm, Todd Kohlhepp’s behavior struck some as odd: watching pornographic videos during work, making macabre jokes in marketing literature, and openly discussing that he was a sex offender. But he was also an award-winning agent described as a hard worker and a good boss.

All the while, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office said, he was hiding a grisly secret that included seven killings over 13 years. He gunned down four people at a motorcycle shop in 2003 and killed three more, authorities said. The crimes were uncovered when investigators rescued a woman chained up in a 30-foot-long storage container on his property.

Kohlhepp was charged with kidnapping and seven counts of murder after Kala Brown was found chained in a storage container on his Woodruff, South Carolina property. Kala has stated publicly that Kohlhepp raped her repeatedly while holding her captive.

Kala’s boyfriend, Charlie Carver, was found shot to death in a shallow grave.

Missing Spartanburg County couple were also found shot and buried on Kohlhepp’s property following his arrest. They were later identified as husband and wife Johnny Joe Coxie, 29, and Meagan Leigh McCraw-Coxie, 26, residents of Spartanburg, who were reported missing on December 22, 2015. They were allegedly hired by Kohlhepp to work on his property. McCraw-Coxie had been killed by a gunshot wound to the head, while Coxie had been killed a week earlier by gunshot wounds to the torso.

How Did a Convicted Felon Obtain Weapons?

A search of Kohlhepp’s property also uncovered numerous weapons, including 9mm pistols outfitted with suppressors, semi-automatic rifles, and an undetermined amount of ammunition. Because there was no record of a background check under Kohlhepp’s name for the purchase of a firearm, investigators believed he acquired the weapons illegally.

Dustan Lawson, a man accused of buying firearms and silencers for Kohlhepp despite knowing he was a convicted felon, faced federal charges. Lawson admitted to buying at least 12 guns and five silencers from 2012 to 2016, lying that they were for himself. In 2018, he pleaded guilty to 36 federal firearm charges and was sentenced to eight years in prison.

Academy Sports Pays $2.5 Million to Families of Serial Killer Todd Kohlhepp (Conor Hughes, Post and Courier Greenville, November 28, 2023)

SPARTANBURG—The national sports retailer that sold the guns serial killer Todd Kohlhepp used to kill three people will pay $2.5 million to the victims’ families to settle a lawsuit against the company. 

Kohlhepp, a former Upstate Real Estate Broker, pleaded guilty to seven counts of murder in 2017 and was sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences.

After his arrest, Kohlhepp admitted to a 2003 quadruple homicide at Superbike Motorsports in Chesnee, providing details that had never been released to the public. 

A South Carolina judge approved the legal agreement between the plaintiffs and Academy Sports and Outdoors at a Nov. 27 hearing in Spartanburg, four years after the legal complaints were filed. 

The damages will go to the families of Charles Carver, Johnny Coxie, and his wife, Meagan Leigh Coxie, all three of whom were found buried on Kohlhepp’s 96-acre Woodruff property in 2016.

Cindy Coxie said after the hearing that no amount of money would ever be enough to make up for what she lost, but the end of the lawsuit brings some solace.

According to the complaint, Dustan Lawson purchased firearms from Academy locations in Greenville and Spartanburg counties between 2012 and 2016. He then gave those guns to Kohlhepp, who could not legally own them after he was convicted of rape in 1987.

Kohlhepp then used the guns from Academy to kill Johnny and Meagan Coxie, as well as Carver. 

Former federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent Joe Vince submitted a report on behalf of the plaintiffs that states Kohlhepp was with Lawson when he bought two guns from Academy in 2014 and that the store sold Kohlhepp a firearm directly moments later. 

The lawsuit states Academy, which has more than 250 locations across the country, was negligent in its duty to prevent straw purchases—the practice of buying firearms for someone who is prohibited from owning them.

Several signs should have tipped off employees that Lawson was buying the weapons for someone else, the suit states, including the number of guns he bought in a short period, his repeated purchase of the same kind of gun, and his use of cash.

Todd Kohlhepp’s Known History

Kohlhepp, a registered sex offender, moved to South Carolina sometime after the 2001 completion of his 15-year prison sentence for raping a 14-year-old teenager at gunpoint in Arizona.

In 2003, he was in his early 30s when he began studying at Greenville Technical College.

While attending classes, he executed four employees one by one at the Superbike Motorsports store in Chesnee, South Carolina. Those slayings went unsolved for 13 years.

The victims were identified as owner Scott Ponder, 30; service manager Brian Lucas, 29; mechanic Chris Sherbert, 26; and bookkeeper Beverly Guy, 52, Ponder’s mother. All four died from multiple gunshot wounds.

When Kohlhepp was finally arrested, the sheriff said he confessed to the bike shop shootings and pointed investigators to three shallow graves on his land. Detectives notified the victims’ families of Kohlhepp’s confession and said he was an angry customer.

In 2004, Kohlhepp transferred to the University of South Carolina-Upstate and ranked near the top of his class. He finished his business degree in 2007 and then distinguished himself in real estate. A 2008 news article said he was a top-selling rookie agent at Weichert for a region spanning parts of North and South Carolina.

In 2009, he went into business for himself, registering Todd Kohlhepp & Associates. The firm’s website listed over a dozen agents, but also an unusual sales pitch. Describing the team that developed the firm’s marketing, it said, “we threatened not to feed them if it didn’t work. It’s amazing the motivation you can get after day three!”

This site has an affiliate marketing relationship with advertisements. I may receive a small referral fee or commission if you sign up for services or purchase a product. This allows me to continue to curate content.

Kohlhepp appeared successful in driving expensive cars. Records show he owned two BMWs and a motorcycle. Kohlhepp appeared to be a loner. His neighborhood was close-knit, but neighbors said he never attended occasional get-togethers.

Kohlhepp’s sex offender status was common knowledge, though Kohlhepp claimed the charges were trumped up after a joyride with another teenager upset her father.

But authorities described something far worse: Kohlhepp was 15 when he tied up a 14-year-old at gunpoint and raped her in Arizona in 1986. Court documents say he pleaded guilty to kidnapping and was sentenced in adult court. Kohlhepp had psychological problems from a young age.

An Arizona judge wrote that he was bright but “emotionally dangerous” and preoccupied with sex. A 1987 pre-sentencing report says a neighbor described Kohlhepp as a “devil on a chain.”

He had moved in with his father in Arizona around age 12 after growing up in South Carolina and Georgia. Kohlhepp had lived in Tempe with his biological father from 1983 to 1986 when he was charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. In 1987, Kohlhepp was sentenced to prison until 2001. Tempe Police Department was reviewing their unsolved homicides and missing person cases from 1983 to 1986 to see if Kohlhepp was connected to any of them.

1980: According to a juvenile probation officer’s report, Kohlhepp was referred to the Behavior Evaluation Center at the Georgia Mental Health Institute because of his mother’s inability to enforce limits and his behavior problems in school. He was about 8- or 9-years-old.

November 25, 1986: When he was 15, Kohlhepp used his father’s handgun to force a 14-year-old neighbor to walk to his home, where he placed duct tape on her in his bedroom, tied her hands, and then raped her, according to Arizona court documents. Kohlhepp told a probation officer when questioned about the crime that he wasn’t sure why he raped the girl, but it could have been an act of rebellion because his father was out of town, according to the records. Kohlhepp said he was upset with the victim because she had a crush on his friends but was only interested in friendship with Kohlhepp.

March 1987: According to a psychological evaluation, Kohlhepp described his attitude toward himself as “negative.” He repeatedly asked himself, “Why do I do things like this?” He saw himself as a “bad person.” He said he “feels badly because he feels that he can hurt people.”

October 1987: Kohlhepp entered prison in Arizona to serve a 15-year sentence for kidnapping in connection with the incident involving his teenage neighbor.

August 2001: Kohlhepp was released from prison after serving the 15-year sentence. While in prison, Kohlhepp graduated from Central Arizona College with a bachelor’s degree in computer science.

January 2002:  He started working as a graphic designer for Seven Sons & Company in Spartanburg. He worked there until November 2003.

2003: He began studying at Greenville Technical College.

November 6, 2003: A customer found four people shot dead inside Superbike Motorsports, a motorcycle shop in Chesnee, South Carolina. The victims were identified as owner Scott Ponder, 30; service manager Brian Lucas, 29; mechanic Chris Sherbert, 26; and bookkeeper Beverly Guy, 52, Ponder’s mother. All four died from multiple gunshot wounds. Before Kohlhepp confessed to the shootings in 2016, investigators believed that the gunman, armed with a pistol, entered the shop from the back and killed Sherbert as he worked. He then killed Guy in the middle of the showroom, Lucas at the main doorway, and Ponder in the parking lot.

According to Ponder’s wife, Kohlhepp was a disgruntled customer who had been in the shop several times. According to Kohlhepp’s mother, he attempted to return a motorcycle there, but the employees laughed at him, would not return the money he had paid for the motorcycle, and embarrassed him for not knowing how to ride one properly.

2004. Kohlhepp transferred to the University of South Carolina-Upstate.

March 25, 2006:  Kohlhepp received a private pilot’s license from the Federal Aviation Administration.

May 2006: Kohlhepp applied to take the South Carolina real estate exam and was required to explain why he was convicted of kidnapping in Arizona two decades earlier. He also opened TKA Real Estate, which he ran out of his Moore, South Carolina, home.

June 2006: Despite being registered as a sex offender, Kohlhepp was able to get a real estate license on June 30, 2006, after lying about the felony charge on his application. At that time, the law did not require a criminal background check for realtors.  From this, he built a firm that had a dozen agents in its employ.

2008: Kohlhepp graduated from USC Upstate with a BS in business administration and marketing.


What was Kohlhepp doing during this timeframe?

May 2014: Kohlhepp purchased a 95-acre tract near Woodruff for $305,632. He then set a fence, which cost $80,000, around the property. He continues his work in real estate.

December 2015: Two reported missing—A young married couple was offered work on Kohlhepp’s property in Woodruff. He shot Johnny, put his wife in a container, and held her for about a week. He executed her in cold blood, putting a bullet in the back of her head. He buried them on his property.

August 2016: Kala Brown, 30, and her boyfriend Charles David Carver, 32, went missing after they went to remove brush from one of Kohlhepp’s properties. Kohlhepp shot Charlie three times in the chest. He shoved Kala into a storage container and chained her up like a dog. She was held captive. Claudia Shiflet, Carver’s mother, received a one-word reply to a text she sent Carver. It is the last communication she says she received from him. Carver was later found dead of multiple gunshots on the property. Leah Miller, a friend of Kala Brown, spoke to Brown by phone. Brown told her she was in Greenville and was driving home, according to a police report. Miller received a text message from Brown at 6:06 a.m. “Are you awake?” Miller answered the message several hours later but never got a response from Brown. It is the last message she received from Kala Brown.

September 2016: Cell phone triangulation was used to locate Kala and Charlie. The pings were tracked to Kohlhepp’s property.

UPGRADE: Samsung Galaxy S23 Android SmartPhone. 128GB Storage, 50MP Camera

Shiflet filed a missing-person report. She told Anderson police she had not heard from her son in days and could not reach his girlfriend either. Shiflet told police that a manager checked the couple’s apartment. The manager told Shiflet that it looked like no one had been at the apartment in a while.

Miller filed a missing-person report and told Anderson police that she had not heard from her friend in several days. Miller told police that Brown’s car, a black Chevy Cobalt, was parked in front of the Anderson apartment complex where Brown lived. Police checked Brown’s apartment. Brown’s family later said Brown’s dog, Romeo, had been left alone in the apartment without food.

Strange postings appeared on a Facebook page belonging to Carver. They included messages indicating that Carver and Brown were married and were fine. The families of both Brown and Carver believed the postings were fake because they came after weeks of silence.

November 3: Authorities found Kala Brown chained to the wall inside a metal storage container on the property. Investigators had tracked her down after tracing the couple’s last known cellphone signals, after which they heard banging noises coming from inside the container. A search of Kohlhepp’s property recovered Carver’s vehicle, which was found in a ravine covered in brush.

Rescue of Kala Brown from Todd Kohlhepp’s Property (YouTube Video)

Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office investigators were on Kohlhepp’s property near Wofford Road when they heard banging. On the 95-acre property in Woodruff, Brown was found in a metal container, chained by the neck and ankles. She had been kept there for two months. She was taken to a hospital. Investigators said she is “alive and well.” Brown’s friend, Leah Miller, confirmed that Brown had worked for Kohlhepp before she disappeared. Miller said Brown cleaned houses and cleared properties for Kohlhepp before he offered them for rent.

According to Kala, she witnessed Carver being shot by Kohlhepp. During her captivity, she was raped twice a day and did what she had to do to survive. She was intimidated into not escaping after having been shown the graves of Kohlhepp’s other victims.

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said Brown told investigators there may be as many as four bodies on Kohlhepp’s land. Wright said investigators were trying to determine if they were dealing with a serial killer. Investigators removed items, including two BMWs, from Kohlhepp’s residence at 213 Windsong Way in Moore. Agents at Kohlhepp’s real estate firm said they were shocked by the case.

November 4: Heavy equipment was brought to the Wofford Road property after cadaver dogs alerted investigators to several places where Brown had been held captive. Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger said a body was found around 10 a.m.

Body Found on Property Where Kala Brown was Rescued (WSPA 7News, YouTube Video)

Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright gives an update on the body found in Woodruff.

Carver’s family went to the scene, though authorities did not call them there. “I felt led to be there for my brother,” said Nathan Shiflet, Carver’s brother. According to  Carver’s mother, Carver and Brown drove from Anderson to Kohlhepp’s Woodruff land to talk to him about clearing some property. “It ended up being a trap,” Claudia Joanne Shiflet said. She said she learned during Friday’s hearing that Brown knocked on the door of a two-story garage after she and Carver arrived at the property. After the door opened, that’s when her son was immediately shot.

November 5: Wright identified a body found Friday in a shallow grave on the property as that of Charles David Carver, 32. ​

Kohlhepp implicated himself in a 13-year-old unsolved quadruple homicide and is now suspected in the deaths of as many as seven people. He was also seen walking the property with investigators. Authorities say Kohlhepp led them to where he said two other bodies were buried.

November 6-8, 2016: ​Authorities continued searching the property and found one body.

Kohlhepp appeared in court in Spartanburg and was officially charged with four counts of murder. The charges were in connection with the four deaths at Superbike Motorsports in Spartanburg County 13 years ago. 

A third body was unearthed and removed from the property. The search for bodies also extended beyond the Woodruff property to other locations linked to Kohlhepp.

Todd Kohlhepp Finally Confesses

At the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, police interviewed Kohlhepp.

Regarding the Superbike store, Kohlhepp bragged, saying, “I cleared that building in less than 30 seconds. You would have been proud of me.” He showed no signs of remorse.

Their playful banter angered him. He sought revenge. Kohlhepp had details of the crime that had never been shared with the public.

The murder mystery was finally solved after 13 years. A serial killer had been operating in their midst—and he was a well-known real estate agent.

Kohlhepp wanted a deal if he confessed to more crimes.

Todd Kohlhepp’s Trial

A prosecutor wanted to send a man who killed seven people in South Carolina to death row, but the state’s lack of execution drugs and the desire of victims’ relatives to never see him again led authorities to accept a deal for life in prison without parole for the serial killer.

According to the plea agreement signed by Kohlhepp, he will serve seven consecutive life terms plus 60 years on kidnapping, sexual assault, and other charges.

Kohlhepp, 46, will not be eligible for parole and agreed not to appeal the sentence.

Kohlhepp was eligible for the death penalty, but the plea deal took that off the table.

At the time, no one had been executed in South Carolina in more than six years because the state lacked the drugs needed for lethal injections.

“The reality of the situation is this state doesn’t have a functioning death penalty,” Solicitor Barry Barnette said.

In December 2017, Kohlhepp wrote to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal, claiming that he had more victims who had not been discovered but he had not given authorities the details.

Lawsuits Against Todd Kohlhepp

Relatives of the four Chesnee victims filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him. On December 1, it was announced that Kala Brown also filed a $360 million civil suit against him.

In August 2020, some of Kohlhepp’s belongings went to auction, and the proceeds were donated to the victims’ families.

As of January 2024, Todd Kohlhepp, age 52 (Inmate #00372454), is still serving his life sentence at Lieber Correctional Institution—a Maximum-Security State Prison for Men in Ridgeville, South Carolina. He earned Work Credits and serves as a Wardkeeper Assistant as of May 3, 2023.

World’s Most Evil Killers—Season 4, Episode 18—Todd Kohlhepp (Full Episode on YouTube)

Related: How Authorities Finally Captured a Serial Killer in Southern Louisiana

How South Carolina Investigators Discovered a Serial Killer Hiding in Plain Sight