A real estate agent in South Carolina is accused of kidnapping a woman who was found “chained like a dog” inside a metal storage container on his property — and may be responsible for the deaths of at least seven people, authorities said.
Over the past week, Spartanburg County sheriff’s deputies have made shocking discoveries on a sprawling, wooded property owned by Todd Christopher Kohlhepp, 45, in rural Woodruff, S.C.
On Thursday, police found Kala Brown, 30, chained inside a metal storage container on Kohlhepp’s land. She told authorities that she had been kept there for two months, WYFF News reported.
“It was pretty emotional, to say the least, when she was found — especially when she was chained like a dog,” Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright told the news station. “She had a chain around her neck.”
An “obviously traumatized” Brown had screamed for help when sheriff’s deputies knocked on the side of the container, about 30 feet long, 15 feet wide and 10 to 12 feet high, Wright said.
Brown and her boyfriend, Charles “David” Carver, 32, had been missing since Aug. 31, triggering an agonizing search by their family members and friends. Cellphone and social media records led authorities to Kohlhepp’s property in Woodruff.
Investigators continued to search the property and discovered early Friday a body buried in a shallow grave, which was identified Saturday as Carver’s, according to the Associated Press. The coroner said Carver died of gunshot wounds but did not say how many times he had been shot, the AP reported.
And later Saturday, Kohlhepp reportedly confessed to killing four people at a motorcycle shop nearly 13 years ago in Chesnee, S.C., according to the AP. That crime, the county’s first quadruple homicide, had remained unsolved since 2003.
Kohlhepp also showed authorities Saturday where he says he buried two other, unidentified victims on his 95-acre property, the AP reported.
Officials now believe Kohlhepp is responsible for at least seven deaths, in addition to kidnapping Brown.
Kohlhepp was charged Friday with one count of kidnapping, according to court records. Prosecutor Barry Barnette said in court Friday that Brown saw Kohlhepp fatally shoot her boyfriend and that additional charges were expected, the AP reported.
The gruesome revelations are a stark contrast to Kohlhepp’s professional image. On the surface, Kohlhepp was a polished Realtor who ran a successful South Carolina real estate firm upstate. In a company brochure, Kohlhepp portrayed himself as a tech-savvy professional committed to helping people buy and sell homes in Greenville and Spartanburg counties.
“At Todd Kohlhepp & Associates we feel that it’s important for our clients to know a little more about who’s working for them besides a name and number,” read the first part of his bio.
Beneath it was a picture of Kohlhepp dressed in a pinstripe suit, smiling broadly, next to a list of his business qualifications. He boasted that he was a licensed pilot and that his company had “One Focus … Results!”
But there was no mention of Kohlhepp’s criminal history and why he was a registered sex offender.
Details from his childhood — particularly his conviction for the 1986 rape of a teenage girl in Tempe, Ariz. — hint at a deeply troubled individual who harbored violent tendencies from an early age, according to court records obtained by the Arizona Republic.
Records showed that when Kohlhepp was 15 he went to a neighbor’s house, held a .22-caliber handgun to the 14-year-old girl’s head and demanded that she follow him, the Republic reported. Once back at his home, Kohlhepp duct-taped the girl’s mouth, restrained her hands and raped her — then told her he would kill her and her younger siblings if she called police, according to the paper.
The girl reported the rape to police, and Kohlhepp was arrested on kidnapping and sexual assault charges, court records showed. He took a plea bargain, pleading guilty to just the kidnapping charge, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.
An extensive psychiatric evaluation of Kohlhepp, then 16, revealed a sometimes suicidal teenager who saw himself “as a loner, hostile toward other children and not wanting to be around people,” according to a report first obtained by Greenville Online.
Kohlhepp’s parents had divorced when he was a baby, the report said, and he was raised mostly by his mother and stepfather. After they separated in 1982, Kohlhepp began acting out, destroying his room and breaking mirrors so that his mother would send him to live with his biological father.
The report also detailed other alleged violent acts from Kohlhepp’s childhood. He destroyed his bedroom with a hammer, hit other classmates, was caught “Cloroxing” a goldfish, shot a dog with a BB gun and was dismissed from the Boy Scouts because he was too disruptive, the report said.
A teenage Kohlhepp described his father as “a lier [sic] and preoccupied with guns” who allegedly taught the boy how to “blow things up and make bombs,” according to the report. He had occasionally considered killing his father, whom he accused of physical abuse, but also “had this rage turned back at himself,” the report said.
In the 1987 report, Kohlhepp told the psychiatrist that when police were outside his home to arrest him after the rape of the 14-year-old girl, he put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger, but it jammed. “At this point, he laughed somewhat inappropriately,” the report said. “He stated ‘Someone doesn’t want me to die yet.’ ”
Kohlhepp seemed conflicted about the rape, alternately describing it as something he was ashamed of but also something that he had done to “get back” at his father. The report went on to say that Kohlhepp did not appear to suffer from hallucinations, delusions or other cognitive deficits; in fact, he seemed to be in the “normal intellectual range” and “tended to minimize his problem and expressed hope that he would go back to school and get a GED.”
The psychiatrist said there was “convincing evidence” that Kohlhepp had borderline personality disorder. “Throughout the interview, one got the feeling that if he were pushed to any limits, he was potentially explosive,” the psychiatrist wrote. The psychiatrist also warned that Kohlhepp’s “severe underlying emotional issues … could result in emotional deterioration in the future or continued aggressive behavior toward others in the future.”
Kohlhepp was released from prison Nov. 24, 2001, according to the Arizona Department of Corrections. Records also showed that he received postsecondary education and vocational training while in prison.
At some point, Kohlhepp moved to South Carolina and built a real estate business (his real estate license is listed as valid through June 2017, according to the state’s Labor, Licensing and Regulation Department).
When Kohlhepp applied for his South Carolina real estate license in 2006, he explained his sex offender status in a two-page letter filled with details that contradicted court documents regarding the 1986 charges, according to the Independent Mail:
Kohlhepp wrote, in his 2006 letter about the 1986 incident, that he had been in a heated argument with his girlfriend, they were both 15 at the time, they ended their relationship and afterward chased his dog and returned to his house.
Police showed up at the home, after having been called by the girl’s parents, who were concerned they could not reach her by phone, Kohlhepp wrote.
He explained in the letter that the kidnapping charge stemmed from a firearm he was carrying and because “I had told her not to move while we talked this out.”
Kohlhepp said he had been carrying a gun because he was concerned about crime in the Phoenix area and chalked it up to a youthful mistake.
Kohlhepp was granted a real estate license about three weeks after he applied, the Independent Mail reported. “Our community has been deeply disturbed by this,” Nick Kremydas, chief executive of South Carolina Realtors, told the paper. “The alleged acts of this person are not representative of us.”
State records showed that Todd Kohlhepp & Associates had two offices, one in Moore and another in Greenville, and that Kohlhepp supervised nearly a dozen agents. It is unclear whether any were aware of his private life. On Saturday, a call to the phone number listed for the company went to an answering machine, where Kohlhepp’s voice promised, with a slight Southern drawl, to return calls as soon as possible.
Listings for all of the properties and agent bios on his company’s Web page redirected to server error messages. By Saturday afternoon, an agent profile page for Kohlhepp on the real estate site Zillow appeared to have been removed, and a slew of negative reviews had been posted to his company’s Facebook page.
Brown reportedly worked for Kohlhepp cleaning houses and had arrived at his Woodruff property with her boyfriend to help clean it up when Kohlhepp pulled a gun on them, according to CBS News.
Brown and Carver were reported missing after the Anderson, S.C., couple didn’t show up to dinner with a friend on Aug. 31. No one heard from them after that. In mid-October, The Washington Post reported that the couple’s family members were disturbed by messages that began appearing on Carver’s Facebook account.
The family suspected that his account had been taken over by someone sinister. As The Post reported:
Suddenly, the page exploded with content, as if it had been hacked. It would appear to be flooded with spam, but a closer inspection revealed many of the posts to be related to the couple.
News stories about the missing couple appeared in rapid-fire succession, along with other stories about missing people. Strange, violent images and memes began being posted on the Facebook page.
“If I weren’t crazy, I’d be insane,” read one. Another read, “Sometimes late at night I dig a hole in the back yard to keep the nosy neighbor’s guessing.”
. . . On Oct. 1, one user commented on the marriage announcement, “Where the hell is Kala Brown???” to which Charlie’s Facebook account responded, “kala is with her husband charlie.”
On another post, a user asked where Kala was, to which Charlie’s account responded “who the f––– are you to question me about my girlfriend?”
Carver’s Facebook account has since been deleted.
Kohlhepp’s next court appearance is scheduled for Jan. 19, according to court records.
Travis M. Andrews and Sarah Larimer contributed to this report.