After 31-year-old Kala Brown was found locked inside in a large metal storage container in early November, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright wondered aloud to local media outlets what kind of person could possibly keep another chained at the neck and ankle, like an animal, for months. “This is just nonsense – that somebody could be that cold-hearted to do that to a human being,” he told reporters two days after the discovery.
Todd Kohlhepp didn’t appear to be that kind of person. At 45, he owned multiple properties in South Carolina, ran a business called TKA Real Estate and was a licensed pilot recognized for his safety standards. On his TKA website biography, he expressed his passion for the real estate game – jokingly comparing it to war – proudly noting how he’s “obsessed with results” and drinks two pots of coffee a day.
Some of his habits – such as watching pornography at work and openly discussing his sex offender status – did raise certain eyebrows. On his website, he joked of his employees: “[W]e threatened not to feed them if it didn’t work. Its [sic] amazing the motivation you can get after day three!”
But shortly after his November 3rd arrest, it emerged that Kohlhepp had more than a twisted sense of humor. In addition to confessing to kidnapping Brown – who had worked cleaning homes for him – and holding her captive for two months, Kohlhepp confirmed Brown’s account of him shooting her boyfriend, Charles Carver, and burying him in a shallow grave on his property.
In the days after the arrest, authorities found out it didn’t stop at the kidnapping and murder – Kohlhepp admitted to numerous other crimes, including a 2003 unsolved quadruple homicide known as the Superbike murders. He even led police to the bodies of another couple, Meagan Leigh McCraw Coxie and Johnny Joe Coxie, who had been missing for more than a year. Both had been shot, and it was later revealed Kohlhepp met them through house cleaning work, just like Brown.
Despite all these revelations, Kohlhepp’s mother, Regina Tague, insisted to CBS last Friday that her son is not a “monster” – though in the same breath, she said he admitted his crimes to her during a meeting arranged by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Department. In that meeting, she said Kohlhepp told her that he shot Carver “because he got nasty and smart-mouthed,” and that he couldn’t let Brown “loose” because “she’d go get the police.”
It seems few people truly understood Kohlhepp’s propensity for violence before this point, and even fewer were in a position to address it. In fact, since his dark teen years, Kohlhepp appeared to live something of a normal life.
But there was one element of his past would never completely go away. In 1986, at age 15, Kohlhepp was accused of kidnapping and raping a 14-year-old girl in Arizona, and served 14 years in prison. On the surface, the case is grim enough, but Fox Carolina obtained court records detailing how Kohlhepp reportedly coaxed the girl from her home, led her to his house at gunpoint, bound her with rope and raped her. When police approached him, Kohlhepp admitted to the crimes, blaming teen rebellion in part for the assault.
His mother, according to Fox Carolina, defended her son in much the same manner as she has this time, telling the court, “he is not a bad boy.”
One of the reviews is for a portable shovel “for when you have to hide the bodies and you left the full size shovel at home.”
Kohlhepp pled guilty to the kidnapping charge, served his sentence, and remains a registered sex offender to this day. His attorney in that case, Allen Bickart, told WSPA “we knew he was screwed up… we knew he had a lot of problems,” but that his concern was mainly regarding Kohlhepp’s future “relationships with females.” The serial killer narrative couldn’t have been further from his mind.
Bickart said that Kohlhepp would’ve been much more closely examined had the 1987 case happened in the era after Columbine, when “you become a little more attuned to things.”
“He was bright,” Bickart said. “He was semi-articulate. He has obviously screwed up. But the only thing he wanted to know was, ‘How much time am I going to do?’ I engaged a psychiatrist, and the psychiatrist really did a very good job of saying, ‘This can be a dangerous person.’ Keep in mind we were only looking at rape. We weren’t looking at a murder. The question is, do you think that this person would commit murder later on? I had a hard time doing it. I was very conflicted about it.”
The Greenville News‘ Tom Smith relayed a conversation Kohlhepp had around that time with a probation officer, in which the teen showed little remorse for his crime or concern about the well-being of the victim. One of many documents from his juvenile record, in particular, fails to mince words: “Behaviorally, he is demanding, self-centered and likely attempts to force others to do what he wants in order to meet his own needs.” A different officer in another report called the fact that Kohlhepp was allowed to plead guilty to kidnapping, rather than the more serious sexual assault charge, a “miscarriage of justice.”
The people with the nearest proximity to Kohlhepp, his TKA Real Estate employees, haven’t been nearly as talkative. One line has been disconnected. Some ignored calls and voicemails, and others refused to comment point blank. It’s hardly surprising, given the details that have, since the arrest, begun to fill in the details about what the man they worked for did in his free time. That includes sinister product reviews posted by an Amazon account thought to be Kohlhepp’s. One of the reviews is for a portable shovel “for when you have to hide the bodies and you left the full size shovel at home.”
But perhaps the strangest turns in the case is the connection to the famous 2003 quadruple homicide in a motorcycle shop, the Superbike murders, which was featured by Unsolved Mysteries in 2014. During their meeting last week, Tague said she asked her son if he was responsible for the killings at the shop, where she claimed he once felt embarrassed by the staff when trying to learn to ride a motorcycle. When the shop wouldn’t give him a refund, she says, he decided to extract revenge, she said.
Kohlhepp is currently being represented by Shane Goranson, an attorney with the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense, who is heading up, along with Boyd Young, Kohlhepp’s legal team. He would not comment on Superbike, or details of any of the cases, and couldn’t confirm when next Kohlhepp will appear in court.