Police Mishandled Investigation of 2003 Quadruple Homicide Linked to Serial Killer Suspect: Victims’ Families
A mistaken DNA test led investigators astray, police say
While they’re grateful a suspect has been arrested, relatives of the four people allegedly fatally shot in 2003 by suspected South Carolina serial killer Todd Kohlhepp say they can’t help but wonder if closure could have come for them sooner — and if the deaths of three others could possibly have been prevented.
The quadruple homicide took place at the Superbike Motorsports motorcycle shop in Chesnee, South Carolina: Scott Ponder, the shop’s owner, his mother, Beverly Guy, and employees Brian Lucas and Chris Sherbert were the victims of a crime Kohlhepp has allegedly confessed to.
Terry Guy, the husband of Beverly Guy and stepfather of Scott Ponder, tells PEOPLE Kohlhepp’s name was one of 15 highlighted on a list provided to police of 400 customers of the business, but that the 45-year-old real estate agent was never questioned.
“The police understand how I feel about it,” Guy says, saying that the highlighted names represented “the people [police] believed needed to be talked to immediately.”
Lt. Kevin Bobo, a spokesman for the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, declined comment to PEOPLE’s questions about the case, citing an ongoing investigation.
Kohlhepp’s alleged confession — coming after his arrest for allegedly holding a woman captive in a metal shipping container for two months — will possibly close the long-cold murder case.
In addition to his confession for the quadruple homicide, Kohlhepp allegedly showed police the grave sites of two people he said he killed, and police also found another dead body on his property, bringing the number of his alleged murder victims to seven.
Mistaken DNA Evidence Hampered Investigation, Family Says
Both Guy and Melissa Ponder, the wife of Scott Ponder, believe that alleged mishandling of DNA evidence at the crime scene hampered the investigation early on.
More than a year after the shootings, authorities got a tip that Scott Ponder was sterile, even though his wife, Melissa, had recently had a baby. (The tip was later learned to be erroneous.)
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After extracting DNA from Melissa Ponder’s infant son’s diaper, police accused her of infidelity by claiming the DNA results indicated the boy had been fathered by another man — Brian Lucas, the shop employee killed alongside her husband.
Melissa Ponder tells PEOPLE she “absolutely” considered herself a suspect in the murder when confronted with test results. “Their focus was so intent on me,” Ponder says.
However, there had allegedly been a mixup with the DNA results: Lucas and Ponder’s blood samples had been mixed up, say family members. In reality, Ponder was indeed the father to his wife’s baby.
Family members believe the focus on the DNA tests detracted from the investigation, causing the case to go cold.
“I think about this a lot and had they not wasted so much time on me, maybe something would have come up that was beneficial [to the case],” Melissa Ponder adds.
Thomas Lucas, Brian’s father, said the whole episode “took a whole lot of time to sort out.”
“When they started really pressing [Melissa about the DNA results], they were really pointing the finger at her,” Lucas adds.
Guy says erroneous accusations of infidelity against Melissa left a lasting and painful effect, compelling her to move from to Phoenix.
“I only get to see [my grandson] once a year rather than weekly because of that. The police robbed me of a better relationship with him. They tormented her and accused her of all this. They didn’t even have the [guts] to apologize for what they put her through,” Guy says.
Did a Harmless Joke Lead to Murder?
Guy and Lucas both believe police dismissed the idea that an irate customer could have been the shooter.
They also tell PEOPLE they’ve learned from police that Kohlhepp allegedly admitted that he was motivated by revenge.
Guy says Kohlhepp allegedly had been to the shop three weeks before the shootings to replace a motorcycle he’d bought a year earlier, which, he told Ponder, had been stolen.
“My stepson — he was a prankster or whatever — and he asked the guy, in a joking way, if he was buying another bike so it could be stolen,” Guy says. “That gentleman left feeling insulted.”
Guy says the fact that Kohlhepp had a criminal record — he served 15 years for a 1987 kidnapping and is on the sex offender registry, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE — should have aroused the suspicions of authorities immediately.
“The sad part about this is, that person being on the customer list had already served 15 years in prison. They should have automatically went and got him and interviewed him,” he says.
Both Guy and Lucas tell PEOPLE they were shocked upon learning of Kohlhepp’s alleged confession, and initially had mixed emotions about the news.
“I was in disbelief, because early on, they said it was not a customer,” Lucas says. “I never believed that. This guy was a customer and he was mad.”
When Guy was told Kohlhepp allegedly claimed responsibility for his wife and stepson’s deaths, he was happy. But his joy was quickly replaced by anger.
“I thought that, after all this time, it was just so sad that it took this long and yet, they had finally got him,” Guy says. “I am a religious person. I believe their blood had been crying all this time, but now, they get to actually rest. My loved ones actually get to rest now because they have got retribution for what had happened.
“The sad part about it is, I have a 12-year-old grandson who never even got to lay eyes on his grandmother or father, all because a person got mad because they were ridiculed.”