Todd Kohlhepp may read this article.
After all, the serial killer who murdered seven people and repeatedly assaulted the only surviving victim, likes to follow the news about himself, court records show.
In numerous phone calls with his girlfriend while in the Spartanburg County Detention Center, Kohlhepp discusses what the media are saying about him. He talks about a 48 Hours television interview and disputes a local television report that he met one of his victims at a Waffle House. He talks about chilling Amazon reviews he left for products he purchased on the site, a story that The Greenville News broke in the case; and in one in-person visit with his girlfriend, who hasn’t been charged and The Greenville News hasn’t named, he talks about reading newspaper articles about himself while incarcerated.
It all makes sense, based on the observations of a psychologist, a retired FBI profiler and statements about behavior analysis reports that point out Kohlhepp's self-aggrandizing tendencies.
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According to those sources and court documents, Kohlhepp thought he was too smart, too prepared, too secretive to get caught. He’d killed those seven people over the course of 13 years and he planned to kill Kala Brown, whom he’d kept chained in a shipping container for two months. He even made comments to Brown about plans to lure another couple to his rural property to kill again, Brown told investigators.
But in reality, a team of investigators from two agencies and the testimony of the woman he never thought would live to tell her story doomed Kohlhepp, who has been sentenced to seven consecutive life sentences plus 60 years for the murder, rape and kidnapping.
The portrait that’s emerged of Kohlhepp, according to experts, investigators' notes on his behavior and statements of those who knew him is of a controlling man who displayed narcissistic tendencies, who thought of himself as a killer with a conscience, but who even now – after admitting his guilt in court and given the opportunity – has never publicly apologized for his crimes or addressed the families of his victims.
Kohlhepp admitted killing Charles David Carver, Johnny Coxie, Meagan Coxie, Scott Ponder, Beverly Guy, Brian Lucas and Chris Sherbert. He also was sentenced to 60 more years for the kidnapping and the assault of Brown last month .
The Independent Mail and The Greenville News do not typically identify victims of sexual assault, but Brown has spoken about her ordeal in a national television interview.
Contacted last week, Brown's spokeswoman Jenny Dial said in an emailed statement that Brown is not ready for interviews at this time.
Kohlhepp confessed, even bragged, about his killings, and spoke glowingly of his own skills at assembling and firing guns. But he didn’t want to believe he was a rapist. Until he pleaded guilty to raping Brown while he held her in captivity, he denied it vehemently time and time again to investigators, his girlfriend, his mother and real estate agents.
He wanted to believe he was a good guy, and that’s typical of a serial killer, said Helen Morrison, a forensic psychologist from Chicago who has interviewed about 130 serial killers.
“Very often they just deny, deny, deny,” Morrison said. “If they continue to deny, they think that you are not going to be able to pin it on them.”
It’s their way of deflecting the guilt to pretend that they’re still in control even if they know they don’t have a shot at freedom, she said.
In fact, Kohlhepp could be considered a serial rapist. As a 15-year-old in Arizona, he lured his 14-year-old neighbor outside then stuck a gun to her head, walked her to his house, raped her and told her he’d kill her young brother if she ever told, according to court documents. Another neighbor had already called police, and when they showed up at his door, his first question was "how much time am I going to get for this?"
He was allowed to plead guilty to kidnapping in exchange for dropping the charges of sexual assault, which a probation officer described as a “travesty of justice.” He was forced to register as a sex offender.
He also didn’t want to be known as a serial killer, at least not like the worst serial killers, according to case files released June 9 to The Greenville News and Independent Mail and other media outlets after Freedom of Information Act requests.
On Sunday, Nov. 6, 2016 Kohlhepp and Investigator Tom Clark of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office were having lunch together in an interrogation room at the detention center, according to video evidence. They were both eating Philly cheesesteaks, Clark's suggestion.
Clark told Kohlhepp that he had studied some psychology and he had a question for Kohlhepp about the time that passed between the Superbike killings in 2003 and the more recent ones in 2015 and 2016.
"That time span," Clark said. "What kept anything from happening?"
"I don't need to kill," Kohlhepp said.
Kohlhepp said that he knows that according to legal definitions, "I'm serial.
"But I'm not," he said.
Another time, Kohlhepp spoke to his mother by phone from jail and said he wasn’t like notorious serial killers John Wayne Gacy or Ted Bundy, Investigator Mark Gaddy reported.
Morrison, the psychologist, laughed at the statement.
“He just wants to be special,” she said. “That’s a funny way of saying it, but that’s basically what he’s doing. He doesn’t want to be lumped in with anybody else. He’s got to be all by himself.”
Kohlhepp, in trying to justify in his own mind the actions he took, told his mother, girlfriend, real estate agents who called, and investigators that he killed “bad people.”
He said he couldn’t stand people who did drugs. He said one victim tried to rob him. Others at the motorcycle store made fun of him and stole his motorcycle, he said.
“I’m not a bad person,” he told investigators. “But I do bad things sometimes.”
At the same time, he crowed about his abilities.
“My golf game is weak,” he told investigators in his confession video. “My kill game is strong.”
He bragged that he "cleared" the Superbike Motorsports shop in under 30 seconds, telling investigators “you would’ve been proud.”
While at his property pointing out where bodies were buried, he described for investigators how he’d killed Carver and taken Brown captive, saying he “dropped” Carver, took Brown inside and removed her as a “threat” before he came outside and “reassessed” him.
What do you mean? Clark asked.
“I put another .40 in his chest,” he said.
Those are typical statements of a narcissistic personality, said Gregg McCrary, a retired FBI profiler. Such a person would focus on himself and his abilities and try to manipulate the situation to his own benefit.
Morrison, though, believes serial killers have a disorder that’s yet to be determined.
“Those people tend to have no organized personality that we know of but they show the behavior of a narcissist,” she said.
The investigators knew how to keep Kohlhepp talking. They had prepared to interrogate him, and they played up his skills and knowledge and indulged his stories.
Eventually, they obtained behavior analysis statements and an FBI timeline of his life dating back to his first arrest as a teenager.
The man who grew up angry, who lied to get ahead and build his real estate business, who killed out of jealousy, embarrassment or spite, told investigators he would "clear up a lot of cases" for them, but when it came time to share details, he took his time — four-and-a-half hours in all — coaxed along by investigators.
“You’re a hell of a man,” Clark said once, telling Kohlhepp he respected him for facing his crimes and sharing what he’d done.
All the while they kept him talking, court records and videos show, so they could close the biggest murder case in Spartanburg County history, a case in which they had little physical evidence to tie Kohlhepp to the crime.
The sheriff’s office declined to make investigators available for interviews last week.
McCrary said investigators in such cases decide beforehand how to approach each interview, a tactic called prescriptive interviewing.
They use behavior analysis to try to maximize the opportunity to get a confession, he said.
So they played to his grandiosity, his preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited power, wealth and success. Such killers overestimate their talents and have a sense of superiority and self-centeredness, he said.
“They just think they’re smarter than everyone else and they live in this fantasy world about how smart they are and how good they are, when in fact, they’re not,” McCrary said.
“When they tell stories, they’re always the shining star or always the hero, the major player, the good guy,” he said.
When Kohlhepp spoke with opinionated knowledge about the best high-priced bourbons, the investigators engaged. When he said his BMW Z4 was custom-built and "the only one in North America," the investigator said he drove it out of the garage himself so it wouldn't get scratched. When he described spending $250,000 on high-end ammunition and dozens of upgraded weapons, the investigators told him he knew more about guns than they did.
“This man knows what he’s talking about,” Gaddy told Clark in front of Kohlhepp.
“It’ll never happen, but I could teach your SWAT team some awesome s---,” Kohlhepp responds.
But killers like Kohlhepp are also blind to their own weaknesses and mistakes, McCrary said.
Kohlhepp thought he'd done everything right to throw investigators off his trail. After he took Brown and Carver's cell phones, he drove to Greenville and tossed them out the window of his car, court records show.
His crucial mistake wouldn't come for two more months when he told investigators on the morning of Nov. 3 when they first approached him at his home that Brown and Carver had been on his property for only an hour the day they went missing, court records show. Cell phone pings showed they'd been there for at least four to five hours, investigators later told him.
“I knew I screwed that up, the five hours," Kohlhepp said in a videotaped confession. "It was the five hours that got me.”
Friends and acquaintances helped fill in some details about Kohlhepp’s personality for investigators.
After his arrest, one possible target, court records state, met with investigators and said she’d loaned Kohlhepp money. She told Gaddy how materialistic and self-centered Kohlhepp was, he detailed in his report.
“She was very insightful as to him liking to be in control and how calculating he was,” he wrote.
Another witness, who had worked as a handyman for Kohlhepp, called him a private person. “He said he would say crazy s--- all the time but he never took it seriously,” Gaddy wrote.
Brown recounted for an investigator that Kohlhepp told her he was part of a paramilitary operation and that he had connections with international arms dealers. She said he wanted her to be his partner on an assassination team and even allowed her to handle an unloaded gun so she could practice.
The fantasy dates back more than 30 years to Kohlhepp’s childhood. In a psychological evaluation after his arrest as a teenager, Kohlhepp said his favorite hobby was collecting weapons and that his biological father claimed to be a special forces soldier, mercenary and arms dealer who taught him how to make bombs.
Kohlhepp told investigators he disliked hunters who wandered onto his Woodruff property and would shoot their coffee Thermoses or scopes from long distance to scare them off.
Search warrants executed for his house, cars and property turned up dozens of guns and thousands of boxes of ammunition.
The guns, ammo, survivalist gear and solar panels at his property suggest a life he planned to live in seclusion, according to investigators reports and statements Kohlhepp made on Amazon purchases and his now-deleted Facebook account.
He described in phone calls to his girlfriend and mother a secret life, totally removed from his day job. Successful real estate agent versus killer.
He manipulated his mother, girlfriend and employees, even in jail, to cling to his first life, the person he wanted them to believe he was, according to Gaddy’s reports of phone calls and visits.
His mother, Regina Tague, who died in April of natural causes, said on a nationally-televised interview that he wasn’t a monster. He told his girlfriend he didn’t want to lose her and found ways to funnel money to her from jail, court records show.
Even among inmates at the detention center, he found ways to manipulate by boasting and creating fear, investigators' reports show. Once, an inmate overheard him telling others with a smirk about how he could hide a body at Camp Croft or throw one 200 yards off the Blue Ridge Parkway.
He told investigators in confession videos that he wasn’t afraid of inmates, that he was a big guy who could take care of himself.
“Once the people inside realize the people I hunt is them ..." he said in the video.
Clark stopped him.
"They'll be scared to death of you," Clark said.
"I can go the rest of my life and never hurt another person," Kohlhepp said. "I'm entirely OK with that."
Soon after, Kohlhepp was slugged by an inmate. He then choked the inmate before detention officers used a Taser on him, Gaddy reported.
Kohlhepp even tried to manipulate his sentencing. In multiple interviews with investigators, he said he expected the death penalty, to be put on a gurney and wheeled to his death chamber.
"What do you want?” Clark asked him once. “All joking aside, what do you want?"
Kohlhepp didn't hesitate.
"Take me out back," he said. "Shoot me in the back of the head."
He wanted to be treated just like most of his victims. Instead, he was locked in chains and held behind bars; imprisoned for life and, unlike Brown, without hope of freedom.
Reporter Nikie Mayo from the Anderson Independent Mail contributed. Follow Mayo on Twitter at @NikieMayo or Reporter Nathaniel Cary at @nathanielcary.