Between grisly crimes, suspect built successful real estate firm
As he built a successful real estate firm, Todd Kohlhepp’s behavior struck some as odd: watching pornographic videos during work, making macabre jokes in marketing literature and openly discussing that he was a sex offender.
But he was also an awardwinning agent described as a hard worker and good boss.
All the while, authorities say, he was hiding a grisly secret that included seven killings over 13 years. He gunned down four people at a motorcycle shop in 2003 and within the last year killed three more, authorities said. The crimes were uncovered earlier this month when investigators rescued a woman chained up in a 30-foot long storage container on his property.
“He was the kind of Type Double A, hair-on-fire kind of guy . ... You felt that if he wanted to take you out, he could take you out easily,” said Lawrence Shorts, a mortgage banker who worked on transactions with Kohlhepp.
Kohlhepp made ominous comments about having trouble sleeping and how he would “know where people live,” Shorts said. A neighbor, Scott Waldrop, said Kohlhepp bragged about chasing people off his rural property with an arsenal including guns with silencers and night-vision equipment.
Kohlhepp moved to South Carolina sometime after the 2001 completion of his 15-year prison sentence for raping another teenager at gunpoint in Arizona. He was in his early 30s and began studying at Greenville Technical College in 2003. While attending classes that November, he killed four employees at the Superbike Motorsports store in Chesnee, authorities said.
Those slayings went unsolved for 13 years. When Kohlhepp was arrested last week, the sheriff said he confessed to the bike-shop shootings and pointed investigators to three shallow graves on his land.
Detectives notifying victims’ families of Kohlhepp’s confession said he was an angry customer at the shop. Motives aren’t clear for the more recent killings and the woman’s kidnapping.
In 2004, Kohlhepp transferred to the University of South Carolina-Upstate and ranked near the top of his class the next year, said college spokeswoman Tammy Whaley. He finished his business degree in 2007, then distinguished himself in real estate. A 2008 news article said he was Weichert Realtors’ top-selling rookie agent for a region spanning parts of both Carolinas.
Next, he went into business for himself, registering Todd Kohlhepp & Associates in 2009. The firm’s website listed over a dozen agents, but also an unusual sales pitch. Describing the team that developed the firm’s marketing, it said “we threatened not to feed them if it didn’t work. It’s amazing the motivation you can get after day three!”
Still, Kohlhepp developed a hard-working reputation.
“Todd did his job well and we never had any issues or saw any flags in the years we worked with him,” Velocity Design Group owner Danielle Cuddie said in an email.
An agent at Kohlhepp’s firm, Cherry Laurens, said they met a decade ago and were study partners at USC-Upstate. She said the accusations surprised her.
“Everybody loses their temper, but as far as out of character for what would be normal? No,” she said.
Shorts, the banker, said Kohlhepp appeared successful, driving expensive cars. Records show he owned two BMWs and a motorcycle.
Todd Kohlhepp enters a courtroom for a bond hearing at the Spartanburg Detention Facility in Spartanburg, S.C., on Nov. 6.