FBI Profiler John Douglas On The Discovery Of Kala Brown On Todd Kohlhepp's Property

John Douglas is the inspiration for the character of Holden Ford on Netflix's 'Mindhunter,' based on the book of the same name cowritten by Douglas.

May 03, 2019

Photo by: Mark Olshaker & John Douglas; The Killer Across the Table cover art [courtesy Harper Collins]

Mark Olshaker & John Douglas; The Killer Across the Table cover art [courtesy Harper Collins]

By: Christine Colby
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Former FBI profiler John Douglas is true-crime royalty. Most people might know of him through his book, cowritten with Mark Olshaker, Mind Hunter: Inside the FBI's Elite Serial Crime Unit.

The book is so influential that it was the basis for the hit Netlix show Mindhunter, in which Douglas is portrayed by Jonathan Groff.

Photo by: Jonathan Groff, as FBI Special Agent Holden Ford, based on John Douglas, confronts a killer across the table in Season One of the Netlix series 'Mindhunter' [courtesy HarperCollins]

Jonathan Groff, as FBI Special Agent Holden Ford, based on John Douglas, confronts a killer across the table in Season One of the Netlix series 'Mindhunter' [courtesy HarperCollins]

Douglas has famously worked on such cases as the Atlanta Child Murders, the West Memphis Three case, and the BTK murders.

Now, Douglas has a new book, along with coauthor Olshaker again, Killer Across the Table, in which he introduces readers to four new cases he has worked on and shines a light into his process of analyzing crimes and killers.

Enjoy this brief excerpt from Killer Across the Table, describing the moment authorities located and rescued captive Kala Brown on the property of convicted serial killer Todd Kohlhepp.

What Happened to Kala and Charlie?

Kala Victoria Brown, 30, and Charles David Carver, 32, were missing, and those who knew them well were terrified for their safety. The last time anyone had seen them was leaving the apartment they shared in Anderson, in the northwestern corner of South Carolina, on August 31, 2016. They had been dating for several months and their friends knew the relationship was serious. There were no text messages from either one after that date.

I knew none of this at the time. I learned some of it when follow-up stories began appearing in the newspaper. The rest I learned from what became a voluminous case file.

Carver was married to Nichole “Nikki” Nunes Carver, but they were in the process of getting a divorce.

Carver’s mother, Joanne Shiflet, said she and her son never went a day without some sort of communication. She called the manager of the apartment complex where the couple lived. The manager went into the apartment and found no sign of them, only Brown’s Pomeranian dog, Romeo, without food or water. Brown’s mother, Bobbie Newsome, insisted that Kala would never voluntarily leave Romeo like that. And there was no sign of Carver’s white Pontiac.

Posters with their photos went up and police entered the search. Some cryptic posts appeared on Carver’s Facebook page saying they were okay and had just gone off by themselves, but Shiflet told investigators they didn’t sound like her son. Someone may have hacked his account. And still, no one had actually heard from either Brown or Carver.

On October 18, Detective Sergeant Brandon Letterman of the Spartanburg County sheriff’s office got a visit from two detectives from Anderson. They said they were working a missing persons case, and they had a tip that Kala was buried on a hundred-acre wooded property. Brown’s cell phone had last pinged to a cell phone tower in Woodruff, just south of Spartanburg. The only property that fit the tip’s description within two miles of the cell phone tower that had registered the ping belonged to a local successful 45-year-old real estate broker named Todd Christopher Kohlhepp, who lived in the Kingsley Park subdivision in Moore, southwest of Spartanburg, held a pilot’s license, and owned a BMW sports car. Woodruff was about five or six miles farther south.

Photo by: Todd Kohlhepp [Spartanburg County Sheriffs Office]

Todd Kohlhepp [Spartanburg County Sheriffs Office]

The sheriff’s office flew a helicopter over Kohlhepp’s property, looking for clues or evidence, such as Carver’s car. But the dense forest revealed nothing. With a court order, Letterman obtained Kohlhepp’s cell phone records, and when they arrived two weeks later, he found that the real estate agent’s phone and Brown’s had been in close contact at the time she disappeared. That was enough for a probable cause search warrant of both of Kohlhepp’s properties.

On November 3, the sheriff’s office dispatched two teams — one to Kohlhepp’s home in Moore and the other to his Woodruff property.

Deep in the woods, the Woodruff team came upon a 15-by-30-foot green metal Conex shipping container, three-quarters of a mile from the nearest road. It was secured with five locks. The team worked with sledgehammers for 15 minutes trying to break them.

Suddenly someone said, “Stop!” He thought he heard knocking from inside. Brandon Letterman knocked back. He heard a faint “Help!” through the metal wall.

Using power tools they found in a barn on the property, including a blowtorch, deputies cut the locks and opened the door. They rushed in, guns drawn.

Inside the dark space they found Kala Brown, fully dressed and wearing glasses, but chained by the neck to the wall and handcuffed. “Just the girl! Just the girl!” the lead deputy called back as he surveyed the interior. “How are you, honey? These are bolt cutters and this is a paramedic. We’re going to get you out of there, okay?”

Photo by: Kala Brown in Conex shipping container [Spartanburg County 7th Circuit Solicitor's Office/courtesy HarperCollins]

Kala Brown in Conex shipping container [Spartanburg County 7th Circuit Solicitor's Office/courtesy HarperCollins]

As they were cutting her loose, one of the deputies asked, “Do you know where your buddy is?”

“Charlie?” she said, still bewildered.

“Yes.”

“He shot him.”

“He shot him? Who did?”

“Todd Kohlhepp shot Charlie Carver three times in the chest.”

Letterman’s team relayed the information to the Moore team. At the house, senior investigator Tom Clark, accompanied by Anderson investigator Charlynn Ezell and senior investigator Mark Gaddy, confronted the 300-pound, disheveled-looking Todd Kohlhepp with what they had learned. Kohlhepp asked for a lawyer and to speak to his mother. He was taken in handcuffs to the Spartanburg detention center, where both requests were granted.

Meanwhile, the Woodruff team had searched the loft apartment above his garage and found chains and shackles. “You don’t see that too often,” one of the deputies commented.

Deputies found Carver’s car, stained brown to help hide it, on Kohlhepp’s property, crushed under tree branches, covered with a pile of brush. They also found a prepared but empty grave.

Excerpt from The Killer Across the Table provided by HarperCollins publishers.

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