When Ron Owen learned his neighbor Todd Kohlhepp had been accused of abducting a woman and chaining her up for months, the first thing he thought of was his young grandkids, who visit often — and the other children in the neighborhood.
“It’s been very disturbing for us to think about what could have happened to our grandchildren,” Owen tells PEOPLE just one day after 30-year-old Kala Brown was found alive in a large metal container, reportedly on Kohlhepp’s land in Woodruff, South Carolina.
Kohlhepp has since been charged with kidnapping and remains in jail, though it’s unclear if he’s entered a plea or retained an attorney.
“I’m just so glad he didn’t hurt any of those kids,” Owen says. “I had absolutely no indication any of this was happening, and it’s hard for me and my wife to fathom this was going on right beside us.”
“My wife and I have just been moping around the house, trying to put the pieces together,” he says, “and just in our own little way trying to figure out what went wrong and what causes people to do these things.”
Owen lived next to Kohlhepp in Moore, South Carolina, not far from Woodruff. Owen says the two regularly had “over-the-fence conversations,” and he described Kohlhepp as a “decent” neighbor — it seemed.
During their last conversation, four days ago, “He told me he would be selling his house before the first of the year and was planning to move to the 100 acres he’d bought,” Owen says. “He said he wanted to build a house down there and live there.”
It was on that property that Brown — and, later, at least one dead body — was apparently discovered Thursday. She and her boyfriend, Charlie Carver, both vanished on Aug. 31 in Anderson, South Carolina. Though Carver has not been found, prosecutors say Brown allegedly witnessed Kohlhepp shoot him after her abduction.
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Owen says he knew that Kohlhepp is a registered sex offender and once approached his neighbor with questions about his criminal past. (Kohlhepp reportedly pleaded guilty to kidnapping in the late ’80s, as a teenager, after he was accused of raping a teenage girl and pointing a gun at her head.)
“I understand he raped a 14-year-old at gun point when he was ,” Owen says. “He had a childhood that wasn’t the best. When I spoke to Todd about his being a sex offender, he told me he had been convicted, but didn’t tell me it was a rape at gunpoint.
“The way he was talking, I thought maybe in some way he blamed the girl for what happened.”
‘You’re a Good Neighbor’
In reflecting on the new accusations about Kohlhepp, and their relationship as neighbors, Owen tells PEOPLE the two only occasionally interacted.
“We mostly just spoke in passing. We maybe had two or three conversations I can remember,” he says. “I told him at one time, because he’s in the real estate business, that we were thinking about putting our house on the market. He said, ‘Don’t move … you’re a good neighbor, you don’t interfere with anything.’ ”
Kohlhepp was always home at night and ran his real estate business out of his home, Owen says, and he had frequent visitors.
“He was well to do,” Owen says. “He moved here from Arizona and started making money with stocks. He told me at one time that he did some day trading and had made a lot of money. He was doing real well and owned a brand new BMW.”
“After he started making a lot of money, he and I talked across the fence, and he was telling me about how much money he was making,” Owen recalls. “He told me he’d bought this property and installed an $80,000 fence around it. He was a big bragger.”
In a familiar refrain, Owen tells PEOPLE he’s “shocked” his neighbor could be capable of such heinous behavior: “If what they’re saying is true, he’s the lowest form of humanity there is.”