Wife of One of the Victims of Suspected Serial Killer Says She Can Finally Heal

Melissa Brackman opens up to PEOPLE about what it was like learning the truth about her husband's 2003 murder in South Carolina

After Kala Brown was rescued from inside a storage container, police uncovered at least three more bodies nearby — and her alleged captor’s chilling secrets. Subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week’s issue for much more on this case.

The wife of Scott Ponder, who authorities say is a victim of suspected South Carolina serial killer Todd Kohlhepp, tells PEOPLE that she had “made peace” with not knowing who killed her husband in 2003.

All that changed, however, when Melissa Brackman received a phone call on Nov. 5 from a South Carolina detective who had worked on her husband’s murder 13 years earlier.

“[He] just said, ‘We got him,’ and I froze,” Brackman tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. She is still in disbelief: “I [didn’t] know how to feel.”

Brackman says she had forged a new life for her and her son, Scott Jr., with whom she was seven weeks pregnant when Ponder was killed in a mass shooting at the motorcycle shop he owned in Chensee, South Carolina.

Courtesy Melissa Ponder Brackman

A year after Ponder’s death, she and Scott Jr. moved to Arizona to be closer to her family. She remarried and had another son — so the break in the case came as a surprise. “I had just given up,” she says.

Brackman learned that her husband’s killer was 45-year-old Todd Kohlhepp, who she had seen on the local news days earlier after he was arrested and accused of keeping 30-year-old Kala Brown bound and chained in a freight container on his property in Woodruff, South Carolina.

She says she never imagined the man on TV was the same man who killed her husband; his mother, Beverly Guy; and his two employees, Paul Lucas and Chris Sherbert, at his Chesnee dealership on Nov. 6, 2003.

But according to law enforcement, during questioning in Brown’s kidnapping, Kohlhepp confessed to the quadruple homicide, which had long since gone cold.

He was a “disgruntled customer” who couldn’t take a joke about a previously stolen bike, detectives told Brackman.

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Kohlhepp has been charged with four counts of murder in the mass shooting of Ponder and the others. He has not entered a plea or retained an attorney, and he has said he plans to represent himself in court.

But since his arrest, authorities say more bodies have been discovered on the realtor’s 96-acre property, including a local couple who were reported missing 11 months ago; and Brown’s boyfriend, Charlie Carver, who was allegedly shot in the head by Kohlhepp.

Authorities say he will likely face more charges, including murder. And Brackman says that with the answers she’s been searching for, she is finally able to heal.

Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office via AP
Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office via AP

“I am praying for the mother who lost her son and for this girl who went through hell, for her family and her boyfriend who died,” she tells PEOPLE. “Right now, I know just praying for other people will bring me peace.”

Even though he never knew his father, as Scott Jr. grows older, he reminds his mother of Ponder more and more.

“He’s a lot like [his father],” Brackman says. “He’s definitely taking on his characteristics and even some of his funny little quirks: He loves a good cheeseburger, fries and a cuddle, just like his dad.”

“It’s funny,” she continues. “He’ll makes certain faces or something will come out of his mouth and I’ll go, ‘Wow that was so your dad!’ “

Still, the truth of Ponder’s final moments is bittersweet for the mother of two.

“[Scott’s death] is hard to talk about, but it’s our life,” Brackman says. “So we have closure as far as knowing who and why. The closure part of losing somebody? I don’t know if you ever have closure for that.”

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