Be­tween grisly crimes, sus­pect built suc­cess­ful real es­tate firm

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - WEATHER - By Jonathan Drew and Seanna Ad­cox

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.

RICHARD DHIRO — AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Todd Kohlhepp en­ters a court­room for a bond hear­ing at the Spar­tan­burg De­ten­tion Fa­cil­ity in Spar­tan­burg, S.C., on Nov. 6.

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