The Greenville News and Anderson Independent-Mail reviewed court documents, talked with law enforcement officials, followed social media and Amazon accounts that are being investigated by authorities, interviewed people who knew him and used material from an interview by CBS News to construct this narrative of Todd Kohlhepp’s life.
Todd Christopher Kohlhepp has been angry ever since he learned to walk and talk.
It’s the type of uncontrollable anger that fueled him to destroy classmates’ preschool projects, torture pets and lay waste to a neighbor’s teenage innocence.
Now, authorities say, the 45-year-old real estate agent is a serial killer.
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It was anger and hurt that motivated her only child to kill four people in a motorcycle store in 2003, and again what drove him late this summer to kill the boyfriend of a woman authorities say Kohlhepp kept bound in chains for two months, his mother says.
Two others, a Spartanburg couple, also were killed last December, and authorities say like the boyfriend were buried within a compound that Kohlhepp was carving out of 95 acres in rural Spartanburg County.
Early on, a teenage Kohlhepp himself cited his anger toward one of his two fathers as the reason he raped a 14-year-old neighbor in Arizona.
Kohlhepp carried this rage with him into middle age, as he displayed a subversive dark humor hinting at real violence – a road rage-style frustration with the world and a desire for an apocalyptic wave to rid him of insufferable fools.
Who is Todd Kohlhepp?
The portrait is that of a troubled child, moving back and forth between a stepfather he hated and a biological father he modeled his love of guns after but grew to hate as well, and a mother struggling at times to claim him.
The picture develops into a businessman and college grad with expensive cars and a penchant for bragging about his guns.
At this point, Kohlhepp has been linked to the deaths of seven people – including the quadruple murders in the high-profile 2003 Superbike cold case in Chesnee, along with three people buried on his property in the past year.
The woman held in chains for two months inside a metal storage container on his expansive rural Woodfruff property is the only known victim among them who survived.
His confession to the Superbike killings, Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright says, came as Kohlhepp requested to talk to his mother and share a picture with her.
Regina Tague said she has been assured by her son that there are no more bodies to find.
And, she insists, he’s misunderstood.
What else can be understood beyond the words of a mother is found through public documents, law enforcement statements, cryptic activity on social media and Amazon reviews, and firsthand accounts from those who say they knew him, if only from a mutually established arm’s length distance.
The rape of a neighbor in Tempe, Arizona, when Kohlhepp was 15 and living with a biological father he barely knew opens wide today a door into his young life.
It would be a 30-year gap before Kohlhepp found himself in serious trouble with the law again, a timespan that saw him serve a 15-year prison sentence and carry with him into middle age crimes apparently undetected by those around him.
Otherwise, there were no run-ins with Upstate law enforcement beyond some speeding tickets and violation of a sign ordinance.
Kohlhepp was born in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, as Todd Christopher Sampsell. His parents divorced before he could remember. He lived in Georgia before moving to Upstate South Carolina and spent time in Arizona with his biological father.
Today, both Kohlhepp and his mother live separately in Spartanburg County, their homes in suburban cookie-cutter subdivisions a little more than 10 minutes from the other.
On Monday, when contacted by The Greenville News, his mother wouldn’t elaborate on the case.
“We’re victims, too,” Tague said.
But later in the week, she did sit down with the national television news magazine 48 Hours to describe her son’s motivations.
“Todd is not a monster,” Tague said in the interview. “He’s not even close to it. He wasn’t doing it for enjoyment. He was doing it because he was mad and he was hurt.”
Todd’s emotional and behavioral problems manifested from as early an age as 15 months, his mother said in a 1987 report authored by an Arizona juvenile probation officer in preparation for a hearing to decide whether Kohlhepp should be tried as an adult for the 1986 rape of a 14-year-old neighbor
The thread of anger bears out in Kohlhepp’s psychological examinations related to the 1986 rape of a 14-year-old neighbor and schoolmate, who, according to records from Kohlhepp’s conviction, was lured from her home and held at gunpoint.
Todd’s father, William Sampsell, a military veteran, divorced from Regina in 1973 after four years of marriage, when Kohlhepp was 2. Regina remarried shortly after, and at age 5, Todd took the last name Kohlhepp when his stepfather, Carl, adopted him into the family with two step-siblings.
In preschool, Kohlhepp would sit in a corner and could only interact with other children in “an angry manner,” his mother reported.
He would destroy other children’s projects and hit them. He bleached a goldfish, shot a dog with a BB gun and was kicked out of the Boy Scouts because of multiple disruptions.
While living in Georgia as a pre-adolescent, Kohlhepp spent three-and-a-half months in a mental hospital as an inpatient, committed because he couldn’t get along with other children, a Phoenix-based psychiatrist wrote in a mental evaluation before Kohlhepp’s sentencing in October 1987.
Throughout his childhood, Kohlhepp expressed anger toward his stepfather. At age 12 in 1982, with his mother and stepfather split because of marital troubles, Kohlhepp was sent to live with his biological father for the summer.
Kohlhepp had barely known his father, not having seen him in eight years. His mother said she believed her son’s problems might be because he never knew his father.
After the summer, Kohlhepp returned to South Carolina and demanded his mother send him back to Arizona. He threatened to kill himself or her if not allowed to go back.
The following school year, Kohlhepp was allowed to live with his biological father and even took the name Todd Sampsell. Kohlhepp worked as a dishwasher and busboy at his father’s restaurant – Billy’s Famous For Ribs – and did some landscaping and worked at a Burger King.
The relationship started out well, but deteriorated as Kohlhepp claimed that his father was always absent with any number of girlfriends.
During psychological evaluations, Kohlhepp indicated that his favorite hobby was collecting weapons, a trait he said he shared with his father who claimed to be a special forces soldier, mercenary and arms dealer who taught him how to “blow things up and make bombs.” Attempts to reach his father by a USA Today Network newspaper in Arizona were unsuccessful.
Shortly before the sexual assault, Kohlhepp had expressed his desire to return home to his mother, but she made excuses to prolong his stay.
In the evaluation, his mother shared that she believed Kohlhepp “wanted her all to himself” and did what he could to ruin her marriage.
In October 1986, according to police records, Kohlhepp lured his neighbor three homes away with the promise that her boyfriend wanted to speak with her. Once out, he held a gun to her head and forced her to his home a few blocks south of Arizona State University.
His father said at the time that he was away on a business trip to Nebraska and had enlisted the help of a friend to check on his son.
Kohlhepp tied the girl’s hands with rope and put tape over her mouth. After the attack, he walked her home and threatened to kill her young brother and sister if she shared what happened.
However, someone else had called police, who arrived at Kohlhepp’s home and found him with a rifle pointed at the ceiling.
Kohlhepp’s first response, police said, was “how much time am I going to get for this?” When asked why he did it, Kohlhepp said that it was out of anger and rebellion toward his father. He was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
In the report recommending Kohlhepp be tried as an adult, a neighbor described how she observed that Kohlhepp was starved for affection and attention and could be described as “a devil on a chain.“
In the evaluation, Kohlhepp appeared to show deep emotional disturbance but not psychosis, the psychiatrist wrote. Kohlhepp displayed signs of ego inflation and extreme rebellion against authority, as “he generally feels he should be in control.”
In the evaluation, Sampsell said that “the only emotion Todd is capable of is anger.”
Kohlhepp reported that the only trouble he had been in was for buying a stolen bike. In fact, a teacher at his high school reported poor academic performance but no significant behavioral problems.
Kohlhepp had an above-average I.Q. of 118, according to court records.
In a later psychological report, his mother said that she believed Kohlhepp “had absolutely no remorse regarding the offense.”
While incarcerated while awaiting disposition of his case, her son wrote her several letters expressing his regret, but she related in the probation officer’s report that she didn’t believe him and that he simply wanted to get out and have his weapons shipped to South Carolina.
Once in jail while awaiting his court date, neither his biological father, his stepfather nor his mother wanted to claim responsibility for him.
“It is obvious at this time that Todd has no family support system,” the probation officer wrote.
The psychologist suggested that Kohlhepp needed “confrontation over and over again regarding his aggressive behavior and needs to take responsibility for his aggressive behaviors” and suggested juvenile detention and placement in an “aggressive offenders’ program.”
However, another doctor said that the program was “presently servicing more than the staff is capable of supervising” and was geared toward younger offenders.
The victim’s parents wrote to the judge that the attack had forever changed their daughter’s life.
The juvenile probation officer recommended adult incarceration and suggested “it is highly unlikely that a problem that has existed since he was approximately 15 months of age can be cured in less than three years treatment.”
The hearing in which a judge decided Kohlhepp should be tried as an adult was Jan. 19, 1987, exactly 30 years from Kohlhepp’s next major court appearance scheduled for this coming Jan. 19.
The case was resolved when Kohlhepp agreed to plead guilty to kidnapping in exchange for sexual assault charges to be dropped – a move that a probation officer wrote was a “travesty of justice.”
Before his 1987 sentencing, Kohlhepp’s mother wrote to an adult probation officer in a plea for leniency.
She wrote that her son had put his biological father on a pedestal and took everything his father said as “absolute truth.”
Kohlhepp’s mother wrote that the incident had brought she and her son closer together as Kohlhepp wrote her regularly from jail. “You know,” she wrote. “It’s strange. Maybe a little good does come from some bad.”
The mother relayed how she was a court reporter, saw a lot of cases and “never have I seen this happen to a 15 year old child and not even any help offered.”
“They don’t stop to think that he even walked the girl home,” she wrote. “Does that sound like a dangerous criminal? He even walked the girl home.”
The adult probation officer wrote that Kohlhepp was the “type of individual, one with little or no conscience, who presents the greatest risk to the community.”
The judge sentenced Kohlhepp to 15 years without possibility of parole.
An undated photo shows a fresh-faced, relatively slender Kohlhepp. He entered prison with three inches left to grow.
The 14 years that Kohlhepp spent in adult prison, which included credit for time he had already spent in jail leading up to his prison sentence, was eventful at first.
Two months after he was admitted, Kohlhepp was cited for disobeying an order, according to Arizona Department of Corrections records..
It would be the first of seven violations that included some violent behavior over the course of the first year — including fighting, striking a person and destroying property. Three years later, when Kohlhepp was 20, he was cited for two, non-violent disciplinary infractions — stealing and being absent.
Then, for a decade until his release in November 2001, there was no record of disobedience.
Along the way, Kohlhepp worked in the cafeteria as a server and dishwasher, then in landscaping and general maintenance, making as little as $45 a month. A year before his release, Kohlhepp began vocational training in computer programming.
A little more than halfway through his sentence, Kolhepp’s mother and stepfather divorced in Greenville County, the stepfather’s second divorce in two years.
Upon his release, at age 30 and never having had a driver’s license, Kohlhepp moved back to South Carolina, closer to his mother. He was placed on the government’s sex offender registry.
It didn’t take long for him to put his past behind him and get a job.
In January 2002, Kohlhepp paid his $100 restitution fee to the state of Arizona and began work as a graphic designer at Seven Sons & Co., an Upstate-based sports apparel company.
On social media, Kohlhepp listed his work history from January 1991 to September 2001 as working for “Arizona Consumer Industries” as a “graphic designer with emphasis on print media, vinyl graphics and engraving.”
The Arizona corrections website shows Kohlhepp working for “Arizona Correctional Industries,” a prison program designed to give vocational training to inmates while creating products for sale.
On his LinkedIn profile, Kohlhepp lists a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Central Arizona College, a community college that provides associate degree programs that can transfer for bachelor’s programs at other schools.
The profile says he earned the degree from 1998 to 2001 and states that he “graduated top of my class.”
Kohlhepp worked at Seven Sons until November 2003 — the same month that four people were gunned down inside the Superbike Motorsports shop in Chesnee, a town 30 minutes north of Spartanburg and just south of the North Carolina border.
Inside, the shop’s owner, 30-year-old Scott Ponder, and his mother, 52-year-old Beverly Guy, who served as a bookkeeper, were found shot to death, along with 30-year-old service manager Brian Lucas and 26-year-old mechanic Chris Sherbert.
Sheriff Wright said that Kohlhepp – who has expressed desire to represent himself in court – confessed to the murders and was granted a request to visit his mother, have a picture sent to her and to transfer money for a child to go to college.
“He was very polite and real remorseful, actually,” Wright said in an interview with 48 Hours.
In her interview with the show, Tague said that her son, crying, told her he killed the four because someone had made fun of him for trying to return a motorcycle.
“They laughed at him, made jokes at him,” Tague said. “Everybody’s hurt. He hurt everybody.”
In the case of the Anderson woman and her boyfriend, Charles David Carver, Tague said Kohlhepp shot Carver “because he got nasty and got smart-mouthed.”
As for the Anderson woman, she said, “he didn’t know what to do with her. He couldn’t turn her loose. She’d go get the police.”
The story of the remaining two people found buried on the property this week – married couple Johnny Coxie and Meagan Leigh McCraw Coxie – isn’t as clear.
The Superbike case remained cold for 13 years.
Meanwhile, Kohlhepp was building himself into a real estate businessman.
In 2006, Kohlhepp applied for a South Carolina real estate license, and in doing so, he misrepresented the nature of his felony conviction for kidnapping.
In the application, which at the time didn’t require a criminal background check, Kohlhepp wrote that he had had a heated argument and breakup with his girlfriend but that they decided to remain friends.
Afterward, he wrote, Kohlhepp’s dog got loose and the two looked for it.
The girlfriend’s parents were worried because they couldn’t reach her and called police, he wrote.
In the license application, Kohlhepp laid out a case that specifically addresses the elements of a kidnapping charge – having a firearm (because of his alleged concern over gangs in the Phoenix area) and telling her “not to move while we talked this out.”
Kohlhepp wrote that he earned a GED and an associate degree in computer science while in prison and had learned from his mistakes.
The license was approved, and Kohlhepp worked as a broker for a Spartanburg real estate company while he started his own real estate business, TKA Real Estate, which employed about a dozen agents.
In January 2007, Kohlhepp bought his house on Windsong Way in Moore for $137,500, which had been sold the previous October for $80,000 on foreclosure. Kohlhepp ran his business from the home.
There are no signs of significant legal trouble from that period until the Anderson woman was discovered chained.
Reviews on LinkedIn in 2009 show endorsements for Kohlhepp’s business dealings.
Mortgage lenders described him as “an effective communicator and a pleasure to talk with” and “on it when it comes to getting a deal done for his clients.” One buillder described him as “incredibly personable.”
In 2013, Kohlhepp earned his pilot’s license, a childhood dream he had mentioned in his psychological evaluations.
It’s unclear when and where he flew.
Those who had business dealings with him and spoke to The Greenville News and The Anderson Independent-Mail consistently painted a different picture – one of a domineering, egocentric bragger who talked about his BMWs and guns and how well he knew how to shoot them.
Tammy Whaley met Kohlhepp once a few years ago after a friend – who herself described Kohlhepp as smart, arrogant, talking about guns and going for his pilot license – had suggested that she use him as her real estate agent.
Just 15 minutes into the conversation, Whaley decided she didn’t like him.
“I had an adverse reaction to him,” she said. “He made me feel uncomfortable. I will never doubt my intuition.”
Ron and Maurene Owen lived next door to Kohlhepp on Windsong Way and had researched him online, but the relationship was a distant one despite the proximity.
“I knew that he was a sex offender,” Ron said. “We had information on the internet. He and I have had a conversation about that.”
Michael Foster, an assistant pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Spartanburg, rents a home that Kohlhepp managed. There was no credit or background check, Foster said, and payments were made to a UPS store in Spartanburg.
Kohlhepp, he said, was a “creepy dude” and “just someone who makes everything about himself, someone that just talks a lot about money and a lot about how many people work for him. I always sensed when I was around him that I needed to stay close to him. He was someone that you needed to manage his presence around you, so you don’t get managed.”
Kohlhepp maintained a presence on social media – and those communications took on an ominous tone around the time he bought his 95-acre property in Woodruff in May 2014.
Wilton Lawrence sold the property to Kohlhepp for $305,632 and remembers that he “didn’t want nothing to do with anybody.” Kohlhepp put up a chain-link fence, at a cost of $80,000, that Lawrence said neighbors in the area thought was strange.
Right around the time Kohlhepp bought the property, an Amazon account associated with the name Todd Kohlhepp showed purchases for items like padlocks, tactical gear, targets, knives, gun accessories and books about snipers and emergency war surgery.
The posts caught the attention of Spartanburg County investigators, who say they are looking into them.
The reviews that the user left for some items are chilling in retrospect.
On a review of a knife posted on Sept. 13, 2014, the user said, “havnet (sic) stabbed anyone yet...... yet.... but I am keeping the dream alive and when I do, it will be with a quality tool like this...”
For a shovel with a folding handle, the user posted a review suggesting, “keep in car for when you have to hide the bodies and you left the full size shovel at home.... does not come with a midget, which would have been nice.”
On another review, the user posted that an item is “blacker than my soul and priced right.”
Another review for a hidden shackle padlock says “works great.. also if someone talks back.. go old school on them by putting this in a sock and beating them.. they will not appreciate the hardened steel like you will...”
On one review posted on Jan. 14, 2015, for another set of padlocks, the user said “now my locks have locks... place is hotel california now..” “Hotel California” is a popular song by The Eagles that ends with the lyric, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
The purchases also included basic items like a purse, perfume, plush children’s toys and DVDs of the zombie-apocalypse TV show “The Walking Dead.”
The reviews left by the Amazon user show similarities to the language and style Kohlhepp used on his Facebook profile, which was taken down last week.
The Facebook profile speaks to Kohlhepp’s thoughts more recently.
In a series of Facebook posts in the weeks following the Aug. 31 disappearance of the Anderson woman and her boyfriend, Charles David Carver, Kohlhepp discussed his gripes about bad drivers, having his BMW serviced, frustration with the media and complaints about lenders he dealt with as part of his real estate business.
Dozens of people reacted, commented and shared. The posts were sprinkled among other content such as a picture of a youth baseball team that his real estate company sponsored in the D5 Rebels recreation league.
On Aug. 30, the day before the Anderson woman would last contact someone before she was found on Nov. 3, Kohlhepp shared a photo of two dogs posted to a Facebook group “Round Up And Deport Every Illegal Alien in The USA.”
The following day, he posted, “Its Wednesday, the trash people picked up my trash at 6:30 this morning... this post is still way more interesting than whats on the news.. carry on.”
On Sept. 6, he shared that Labor Day is over and it’s “time to get some homes sold.”
On Sept. 11, he posted about bush-hogging his property and how buying land can be tiring enough to keep a person out of trouble.
Three days later, on Sept. 14, Kohlhepp complained about lenders who delay real estate closings and “wonder why we dont send them more work.”
On Sept. 15, he posted a message about how reports of missing people are often cases of people going to the beach with a friend or a woman found with a boyfriend on a parole violation.
“In the event I become missing,” he wrote, “please note no one would take me. I eat too much and I am crabby, they would just bring me back or give me 20 bucks for a cab ride.”
Ten days later, the conversation turned to his frustration with drivers on rural roads who are “sucking up the yellow line” and have to overcorrect. “I am not the one you wanna play chicken with.. I will hit you.”
A day after, around the time of the Charlotte police shooting protests and riots, Kohlhepp shared how in his family a disruptive child would get “a spanking that was epic.” He wondered what the punishment would have been “if I had looted, burned cop cars and threw stuff at people?”
In April, Kohlhepp mentioned that the villain in “The Walking Dead” – Negan, a brutal dictator who kills people with a baseball bat wrapped in barbed wire – would be a good write-in candidate for president.
On Sept. 30, Kohlhepp made another apparent reference to the show.
“Just admit it,” he wrote, “you look at the news, you see the political crap and the school shootings and just general wth s going on... zombie apocalypse is starting to look better and better every day.”
In August 2015, Kohlhepp posted that he wanted an Ebola virus snowstorm to wipe the population away. He complained about drivers who cut him off and the person who stands in the grocery store and “blocks the islechecking out the microbrews and blocking everyone on their way to their average Michelob ultras..”
The day that the Anderson woman was found chained in a metal container, Scott Waldrop, who lives in a mobile home next to Kohlhepp’s rural property, sent him a text.
“Need you to call me ASAP.”
Waldrop said he had heard the news and assumed that the discovery had occurred on neighboring property.
The two talked from time to time and walked the land together. They would talk about the land and Kohlhepp’s guns and endless stories of his own success.
One neighbor, Waldrop said, thought it was odd that Kohlhepp would no longer let him bale hay on the land as he had done for years.
In one conversation, Waldrop said, Kohlhepp told a story about how he and his father had flown in a helicopter “overseas” and used guns to circle around and “mow down a village” after villagers had shot at them.
“I thought it was just BS,” he said. “He wanted to be a G.I. Joe, you know? He talked the talk. He knew all about guns. He bored me when he talked about guns.”
Last weekend, Kohlhepp had texted Waldrop about when he might finish work on the property.
“Remind me later to tell you about my little altercation with some hunters two weeks ago,” Kohlhepp wrote in a text that Waldrop displayed on his phone as authorities searched the land for bodies. “The(y) ran off my land in middle of dark.”
Waldrop said, “he told me he wanted to be left alone. It didn’t ring a bell that he might be trying to keep something in instead of something out.