SPARTANBURG, S.C. (AP) — Sheriff’s deputies in South Carolina searched Wednesday for two more possible victims connected to a man who pleaded guilty last year to killing seven people.
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright said the search along Interstate 26 came after he received a “second-or-third-hand tip” from a documentary film crew about more killers connected with Todd Kohlhepp, who previously lived in the area.
About 20 deputies and a dog trained to sniff for cadavers were searching in heavily wooded areas, even though Wright said he was not hopeful the tip would pan out.
“Because I know he’s killed seven, I feel like we need to check this out,” said Wright, who also worries about giving the killer unwarranted attention.
“I don’t want it to be one of those things, he wants to stay relevant,” the sheriff said.
The documentary crew was given access to the search while other news media were kept away.
“Where they got their tip, I don’t know,” Wright said about Wednesday’s search.
The documentary crew was not immediately identified.
Nothing had been found by midday Wednesday.
“We haven’t been able to confirm anything he’s claimed yet,” Wright said. “It’s not to say that the details are not sketchy because it’s been so long, but we’re obligated to go check.”
Kohlhepp is serving seven consecutive life sentences without parole at Broad River Correctional Facility in Columbia after pleading guilty to multiple charges in May 2017.
His string of crimes was uncovered in 2016 after police rescued Kala Brown from a storage container where she was chained at the neck and investigators found a body buried in a shallow grave. Brown told investigators she saw Kohlhepp shoot and kill her boyfriend, 32-year-old Charles Carter, who went with her for a cleaning job on Kohlhepp’s property in rural Spartanburg County.
Kohlhepp raped Brown while holding her against her will, and told her he had also killed a husband and wife in December 2015, burying their bodies on his land. Johnny Joe Coxie, 29, had been killed immediately, and Kohlhepp kept 26-year-old Meagan Leigh McCraw-Coxie alive for six days before shooting her in the back of the head on Christmas, Solicitor Barry Barnette said.
The Associated Press typically doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault, but Brown has spoken publicly about her traumatic experience.
Kohlhepp admitted to her that he had killed four people in the Superbike motorcycle shop in November 2003, the prosecutor said. The owner, Scott Ponder, 30; Beverly Guy, 52; Brian Lucas, 30; and Chris Sherbert, 26 were killed because Kohlhepp thought they were making fun of him. Guy was Ponder’s mother and worked as a bookkeeper. Lucas was a service manager, and Sherbert was a mechanic at the shop.
Kohlhepp’s crimes took place over more than a decade as he ran a real estate business.
According to the plea agreement signed by Kohlhepp, he will serve seven consecutive life terms plus 60 years on kidnapping, sexual assault and other charges. Kohlhepp will not be eligible for parole, and he also agreed not to appeal the sentence.
Kohlhepp moved to South Carolina in 2001 shortly after 14 years in prison for pleading guilty to kidnapping in Arizona. Authorities there said the then 15-year-old forced a 14-year-old neighbor back to his home at gunpoint, tied her up and raped her.
Friends and co-workers at Kohlhepp’s real estate business said he was a hard worker with some strange habits. He would watch pornographic videos during work and joked on his firm’s website that he motivated workers by not feeding them.