Cold case: 4 murdered mid-day in South Carolina motorsports shop
02/11/2016 11:54 am PST
UPDATE Nov. 5: The Spartanburg County sheriff said Todd Kohlhepp, a sex offender accused of chaining up an Anderson woman and slaying her boyfriend, reportedly confessed to authorities that he is responsible for the murder of four victims in a motorsports store more than a decade ago.
In the arrest warrant, investigators said Kohlhepp "gave details specific that only the killer would know."
A high-profile murder mystery remains unsolved in Chesnee, South Carolina: Four people massacred in a motorsports shop in the middle of the day.
Seven minutes, four lives, one gun. A husband. A mother. A son. A friend. Owner Scott Ponder, Ponder's mother Beverly Guy, service manager Brian Lucas and mechanic Chris Sherbert were all found fatally shot on November 6, 2003.
Today, the building stands vacant, a makeshift mausoleum in an empty lot in Chesnee, South Carolina. But it wasn't that long ago that this was the home of Superbike Motorsports, a high-performance motorcycle shop owned by Scott Ponder.
Ponder's friend Noel spoke to him before he drove to the shop on the morning of Nov. 6, 2003. Seven minutes later Noel stumbled upon four people murdered in cold blood.
Mechanic Chris Sherbert's body is found in the back of the shop, bent over as though he were working on a bike. Beverly, also in the back, appears to have been ambushed while stepping out of the bathroom.
"Brian Lucas and Scott Ponder were both found dead. Their bodies were out here out front of the store," said Daniel Gross, a crime reporter for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal. "Except Brian's is out here closest to the sidewalk near the door there. And Scott Ponder's was closer to the parked cars here in the parking lot."
Deputies from the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Office immediately swarm the scene of Chesnee's first-ever quadruple homicide. With such an extreme act of violence carried out in broad daylight, it's not long before authorities receive their first solid tip.
In the immediate aftermath of the murders, police get a promising tip. According to press reports, a witness saw a young man and woman walking away from the scene around the same time.
Police identified the couple, though officially they have only been treated as witnesses, and have never been connected to the crime. Not long after their sketch was released, an even more promising lead comes in from the last person to see the victims alive.
"The sheriff's office contacted one of the last customers who left the store that day," said reporter Daniel Gross.
"He was saying that he was at the shop, he saw a person who had on a leather coat," said Lorraine Lucas, Brian Lucas's mother. "It was a rather warm day and he was looking at a motorcycle that he acted like he never had any motorcycle experience."
According to the witness, that was only moments before the shooting. Investigators released a sketch to the public.
"They don't know who that customer is," said Gross. "They don't know who that individual is. But whoever that was was believed to have been the shooter."
Initial investigations into Brian and Beverly's backgrounds seem to turn up nothing. And when authorities investigate Scott's inner circle, they're equally as stumped.
But when it came to mechanic Chris Sherbert, one of the newest employees at Superbikes Motorsports, rumors of a possible drug connection began to swirl.
"I don't want to talk negative about anybody that got murdered, but Chris was supposed to go to court the next Monday," said Terry Guy, Scott Ponder's stepfather. "From what I gathered, he was looking at a lot of time, and the people that he was with, you know, did they think he was going to turn state's evidence and tell on them? Chris was the first one shot."
Authorities chase down that and multiple other leads while continuing to hunt for the man in their sketch. But after several months, the investigation stalls. Then more than a year after the murders, detectives start looking into a new angle.
"Strangely enough Brian was looking at a home without any knowledge from his wife," said Lorraine Lucas. "He had looked at several different properties."
And then, a break in the case that absolutely no one saw coming.
"[Scott's wife] Melissa was newly pregnant, and after the baby was born they did do a DNA test on a diaper they took from there," said Lorraine.
And what they found blew everyone away.
"They actually told Melissa that Scott wasn't the father of the baby -- that Brian was," said Terry Guy.
Was one of the most violent murders in South Carolina history the result of a love triangle gone wrong?
More than a year after the shootings, sometime after the birth of Melissa Ponder's son, Scotty Junior, Melissa Ponder was summoned to the Spartanburg County Sheriff's Department.
"I was called in to the sheriff's department one afternoon, and I'd been called in to the sheriff's department so many times, so I just thought it was another day like that, so I went down there," said Melissa.
"And they pulled me in a room and shut the door. They were very serious and they said 'We've had something come up and we need to talk to you about it,' I said OK, and they said to me, 'You were here about a month ago, you changed a diaper here at the sheriff's office, and we sent it off and compared it to the blood from the crime scene, and your son's DNA does not match up with his father's.'"
Outraged, Melissa demanded a second DNA test, but the results were the same.
"At that point in time the lead detective said to me 'We now have two DNA tests that show that he's not the father of your baby,'" said Melissa.
In fact, the second test confirmed that the father of Melissa's child was actually Brian Lucas, the man whose body was found just a few feet away from Scott's.
And just like that, a new theory took hold: Could four people have lost their lives because of some sort of love triangle gone wrong?
Brian's own mother does suspect her son might not have been completely happy in his marriage.
"About two weeks before his death I was trying to have a conversation with him and his wife was sitting behind him and making faces. Long story short, Brian ended up saying to her, 'This is my mother, I want you to treat her with respect,' and it started to become a confrontation," said Lorraine.
And there were even more damning clues: On the last day of his life, Brian Lucas was looking at a new house, apparently without his wife's knowledge.
"He was very close to the shop looking at a home with a friend of his who was a realtor, when he received a phone call from Scott," said Lorraine.
So was Brian finding comfort in the arms of another woman -- his own boss's wife? And was someone willing to kill because of it?
"They extensively interviewed Melissa and I know that our daughter-in-law was spoken to at the house," said Lorraine.
"They actually told her they had proof," said Terry Guy. "Me and Melissa sat down and talked, and I told her, I said, 'I'm going to ask you a question, I want you to be honest: Did you have anything to do with it? If proof comes out that you did, wherever you're at, I'll come and get you and bring you back myself.'"
Melissa was adamant that police had it all wrong.
"I said 'We worked hard for that baby, we had to have medical procedures to have this baby, I know he's the father of my baby,'" said Melissa. "The only reasonable explanation here would be that I got the wrong baby. Those are the things you start telling yourself: Did I bring home the wrong baby from the hospital? I said to them, 'You no longer have the liberty to talk to me anymore. Call my attorney. And right now I'm heading over to his office to have his body exhumed so I can have a DNA test done.'"
But for the next year and a half, investigators continued scrutinizing Melissa's every action.
Then, finally, after 18 long months -- vindication.
"What he said was that they compared my husband's DNA to his mother's DNA, which was all gathered at the crime scene, and they did not match up," said Melissa.
"They labeled Brian as Beverly's son based on DNA, but clearly Scott is Beverly's son," said reporter Daniel Gross.
"And once their DNA did not match up, they knew that there had been a mistake made down at the crime scene," said Melissa.
"They did tell me that the blood had been mislabeled because Brian's body and Scott's body were next to each other at the crime scene and they had just put the wrong name on the blood vial," said Melissa.
Adding to the tragedy, Melissa and other family members now fear all the time authorities spent focusing on her may have let the real killer slip through the cracks, a killer who could very well strike again.
"I think this person does this for a living, and they are not going to quit," said Terry Guy.
Theories abound as to who really killed four people that November day.
Could these gruesome murders be connected to an eerily similar triple homicide that happened just five months before in a neighboring town?
In Greer, South Carolina, on May 16, 2003, just five months before the Superbike Motorsports murders, sometime around 1:30 p.m., local couple Eb and Maggie Barnes entered the Blue Ridge Savings Bank in Greer.
"I was one of probably the second or third or maybe fourth to get there. The whole scene was shocking, period," said Greer Police Lt. Eric Pressley.
Huddled in a back room, police find Sylvia Holtzclaw, Eb and Maggie shot to death. Like in the Superbike murders, the shootings happened in the middle of the day, and there seemed to be no witnesses. In the hours after the bank murders, investigators review surveillance cameras from a nearby convenience store, and get their first lead.
"There was a red car that was seen driving to the bank on the frontage road at about 1:24 p.m.," said Greer Police Captain Matt Hamby. "The Barnes family was seen driving three minutes later to the bank."
Based on those details, police believe the person in the red car entered the bank to rob its lone teller, Sylvia Holtzclaw. But then, Eb and Maggie Barnes interrupted, and all three were killed. A red vehicle was seen driving away from the bank three minutes later after the incident occurred.
Suspiciously enough, a similar red car was witnessed at the scene of the Superbike murders. Soon, Greer Police discover that the red car was stolen from a rental lot just days before the bank murders.
Not only that, but they know who did it: 39-year-old career criminal Emmerson Wright.
But Wright is a person of interest they'll never get the chance to question. He killed himself two years after the Greer incident during a police pursuit.
Was Wright the perpetrator of the Blue Ridge Bank murders, and could he have also gunned down four people at Superbike Motorsports just five months later?
At this time, police can't say for sure in either case. But as similarly brutal as both murder scenes were, they don't believe the two crimes are connected.
So the question remains: Who murdered four people in cold blood that November day in Chesnee?
Whatever the motive, this horrific case still remains unsolved and police need the public's help bringing the killer to justice.
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