Police in Tempe, Arizona, say they are searching through unsolved homicides dating back 30 years to see if there are any connections to alleged serial killer Todd Kohlhepp, who's made national headlines after being linked to seven deaths in South Carolina.
In a phone call earlier this month to inform Melissa Ponder Brackman that investigators had made an arrest in the 2003 shooting death of her husband, businessowner Scott Ponder, a Spartanburg County sheriff’s deputy said Kohlhepp “admitted to shooting somebody in Arizona.”
“There isn’t a specific case that we’re looking at directly, but they are working on it and it just takes a little bit of time,” said Tempe Police Department Detective Lily Duran.
Brackman and family members of three other victims killed at Superbike Motorsports in Chesnee, South Carolina, are preparing to file a wrongful death lawsuit against Kohlhepp, according to attorney Doug Brannon.
“I believe these families are entitled to anything they can get,” Brannon said.
Spartanburg County Sheriff Chuck Wright has said that Kohlhepp has confessed to killing seven people in South Carolina, and he could face the death penalty.
Scott Ponder Jr., a 12-year-old who was born seven months after his father died, said he doesn’t want Kohlhepp to be put to death if found guilty.
“Enough people have died already,” said Ponder Jr., who lives with his mother, Melissa Ponder Brackman, and stepfather in Arizona. “We don’t need to kill somebody else.”
Brackman said she was shocked hear her son's sentiments.
“We had never talked about that, ever,” Brackman said.
Amazement has come often in the last two weeks for Brackman. She said a “whirlwind of emotions” followed the stunning news of an arrest in her former husband’s cold case. She said she recorded the recent phone call from the Spartanburg deputy because she was wary after dealing with South Carolina investigators in the past. The recording of her conversation was played on a recent broadcast of CBS' "48 Hours."
Brackman said she was repeatedly and aggressively questioned after her husband was found dead. She was also accused of knowing more than she had shared and was suspected of being involved with another man, she said, when police believed the DNA of her husband did not match the DNA of her son.
It turned out that blood collected at the Spartanburg County Coroner’s Office was mislabeled. The mistake was discovered weeks later as she stood by her assertion that Scott was indeed Scott Jr.’s father, she said. Current Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger, who took office in 2009 about six years after that investigation, declined to comment on the matter Friday.
“I just said, ‘Unless you guys get your crap together, I’m not speaking to you anymore, but I’m going to have his body exhumed,’” Brackman said. “It was that point they decided to check Scott’s mom’s DNA and Scott’s DNA. When those two didn’t match up, they realized that there was a problem.”
Though she’s involved in the lawsuit against Kohlhepp, she said she’s never considered suing the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office.
“The reason being because I did not want to alienate myself from them, even though I was – excuse the term – pissed off beyond anything,” she said. “I just didn’t want to cut that relationship with them because I still, more than anything, just wanted this solved. People think I’m crazy, but, truthfully, I just wanted this solved.”
Brackman said she plans to return to Spartanburg County for a candlelight vigil for families of murder victims on Dec. 1, at Morningside Baptist Church.
“I’m glad in hindsight that I didn’t sue anybody and I still can talk to these men down with the sheriff,” she said. “Obviously they wanted this solved as much as we did. This is a hard thing to have hanging over their heads.”
Kohlhepp lived in Arizona with his father, William Sampsell, in 1986 when at age 15 he was accused of rape and holding a 14-year-old neighbor at gunpoint in a case where he eventually pleaded guilty to kidnapping and served 15 years in prison.
He’s been charged with four counts of murder at Superbike and with the kidnapping this year of Kala Brown, an Anderson woman who spent two months chained inside a metal container on a large, rural property near Woodruff, investigators said. Brown was discovered after investigators obtained a search warrant for Kohlhepp's property. Brown said she witnessed Kohlhepp shoot her boyfriend, Charlie Carver, investigators said.
Kohlhepp led investigators to the buried remains of Carver and two others on the fenced, 95-acre property he owns in Woodruff, said investigators. Kohlhepp is also accused of killing Meagan Leigh McCraw Coxie and Johnny Joe Coxie, local residents who like Carver and Brown had been recruited to work for him.
Kohlhepp, a 45-year-old real-estate broker and licensed pilot who was registered as a sex offender as part of the plea deal for his Arizona kidnapping case, is being represented by Shane Goranson and Boyd Young, attorneys with the South Carolina Commission on Indigent Defense. Goranson declined to comment on the case.
Kohlhepp eventually is expected to be charged with all seven deaths in Spartanburg County, according to Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office Lt. Kevin Bobo.
Michael Burns, The Greenville News