Discovery of woman found 'chained up like a dog' reveals identity of serial killer captor
A South Carolina man killed at least seven people in a hidden crime spree that lasted more than a decade, police have said.
The details came to light only when police rescued a woman chained at the neck in a storage container, authorities said.
Todd Kohlhepp accepted responsibility for an unsolved 2003 massacre the day before the 13th anniversary of the deaths that stumped authorities, said Sheriff Chuck Wright, who was first elected a year after the murders.
Kohlhepp, 45, confessed to killing the owner, service manager, mechanic and book-keeper of Superbike Motorsports, a motorcycle shop in Chesnee, in Spartanburg County.
"God answered our prayers. If it wasn't for Him answering our prayers and Todd talking to us, I don't know that we'd ever solve that case," Sheriff Wright said.
Sheriff Wright said that on Saturday Kohlhepp also showed officers where he says he buried two of his other victims on his 95-acre property near Woodruff. Kohlhepp, in handcuffs and wearing an orange jumpsuit, was at the site for less than an hour.
Those are in addition to the body found on Friday at the site. Sheriff Wright and coroner Rusty Clevenger identified that victim as 32-year-old Charles Carver, the boyfriend of the woman found in a locked metal container on Thursday.
Mr Carver and the woman went missing around August 31. Their last known mobile phone signals led authorities to the property. Mr Carver died of multiple gunshot wounds and an anthropologist is helping determine how long he was buried, the coroner said.
The sheriff said it was possible more bodies would be uncovered.
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 said she was resigned that her husband Scott's death would never be solved before getting a phone call on Saturday evening from one of the case's original detectives.
Detectives told family members of all four victims of the confession at the same time.
"He knew too much about the crime scene," Ms Ponder said of Kohlhepp's account to detectives. "He knew everything."
The Superbike killings stunned the Chesnee community, with rumours that they were committed by a Mexican drug gang or part of a love triangle crushing the families of the victims.
Ms Ponder said she was glad the rumours were untrue. "It isn't closure, but it is an answer," she said. "And I am thankful for that."
Kohlhepp was released from prison in Arizona in 2001. At 15, he was convicted of raping a 14-year-old neighbour at gunpoint and threatening to kill her siblings if she called police.
Kohlhepp had to register as a sex offender but that did not stop him from getting a South Carolina estate agent's licence in 2006 and building a firm.
Sheriff Wright said "it's strange" that Kohlhepp managed the pretext of a normal life for so long.
Scott Waldrop, who has 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".
Mr 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.
Kohlhepp paid Mr Waldrop to put no-trespassing signs, cut trees for him and other odd jobs around the property. Kohlhepp also installed deer cameras and put in 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," Mr Waldrop said.
Kohlhepp has a house about nine miles away in Moore, where neighbour Ron Owen said he was very private, but when they did talk across the fence, he was a "big bragger".
"We didn't see any signs whatsoever that this was going on," Mr Owen said. "My first reaction's a baseball bat, but I know I'm not to take that in my own hands. God will deal with him."