Whispers of evil still haunt Corpsewood

Whispers of evil still haunt Corpsewood

October 31st, 2015 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Bricks are all that remains of Corpeswood Manor in Chattooga County Wednesday, October 28, 2015.

Photo by Angela Lewis Foster /Times Free Press.

Gallery: Whispers of evil still haunt Corpsewood

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Information for this article came from the following sources:

“Murder at Corpsewood: The Saga of Chattooga County’s Devil Worshipper Slayings” by Espy Publishing, 1983

“A Castle in the County” by Charles L. Scudder, Mother Earth News, 1981

Court transcripts of the 1983 murder trial of Samuel Tony West

Interview with Ralph Van Pelt Jr., assistant district attorney in West’s murder trial

Interview with Tony Gilleland, retired Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office investigator

Interview with Clifton “Skip” Patty, West’s defense attorney

Interview with Amy Petulla, author of an upcoming book about the Corpsewood murders

 

TRION, Ga. — In the middle of a shadowy forest on Taylor's Ridge, a set of brick ruins echoes with whispers.

Men and women claiming to be ghost hunters have visited the property, searching for spirits. Teenagers still sneak down the dirt path, leaving crushed cans of Bud Light behind in woods. Some steal bricks from what's left of the house, testing the theory that the place carries a curse.

This is all that is left of Corpsewood Manor, once the home of Dr. Charles S. Scudder and Joey Odom, a couple who had moved to Georgia from the Chicago area.

The fact that they were known to be gay was enough to create a stir in the early 1980s, especially in that part of the rural South. Other stories had leaked that the two men worshipped dark spirits, perhaps even the devil himself. In their house of bricks, they lived without running water or electricity. Their dim rooms were lit only with kerosene lamps.

A sign outside the house read, "Beware of the thing."

Later, investigators found pentagrams, human skulls and checks written to the Church of Satan.

"You could feel the presence of evil," Chattooga County Investigator Tony Gilleland told people.

Before they were murdered on Dec. 12, 1982, Scudder and Odom were preparing to celebrate the winter equinox.

***

The night after police left the house for good, fire swallowed a tower on the Corpsewood property, in the exact spot where Scudder once brought willing young men. Soon after that, the main house caught fire, too. Police never arrested anyone for arson.

What had happened within the dim walls of Corpsewood? Why did Scudder and Odom die?

The answer — involving sex, drugs and greed — eventually came to light.

***

A friend of the gay men called police to say he found bullet holes in the front door of Corpsewood Manor, launching the murder investigation. Days later, Sheriff Gary McConnell received another call. A teenage girl and her boyfriend wanted to talk.

Earlier that week, they said, the boyfriend's uncle picked them up after their date. He brought with him his roommate. While the couple sat in the back seat, 30-year-old Samuel Tony West and 17-year-old Kenneth Avery Brock discussed their plans for the night. They invited the couple to visit the devil worshippers in the woods.

And so they went to Corpsewood, and to a brick tower the men had built. They drank his homemade wine. Some of them huffed paint thinner, sending Brock to his knees. And Brock and West decided to act out a plan they had concocted earlier.

Brock went downstairs and came back with a .22 Remington Speedmaster. Scudder laughed, until Brock pressed a knife to his throat. And then he cut strips of bed sheets and bound Scudder's ankles and wrists. And then he balled up some more strips and shoved them in Scudder's mouth.

As West held Scudder hostage, Brock went downstairs, to the kitchen, where he shot Odom and the couple's two English mastiffs. Brock returned to the tower, and he and West led Scudder through the kitchen, to the living room. And they threw him on the couch, removed his gag and demanded money. Scudder said he didn't have any.

He saw his lover, shot to death. And he stood up from the couch, his ankles still bound together. West told him to stop, but Scudder shuffled across the room toward Odom.

"I asked for this," he said

Nobody in the room understood what he meant, but West opened fire, blowing Scudder into a bookcase, killing him. And then West stood in the living room, stiff, while Brock ran up and down the stairs, ripping out desk drawers, looking for money, finding none and cursing.

The couple sat together on a chair, watching, as Brock and West piled silver candelabras, a gold-plated dagger, a leather jacket, a bracelet, some cut glass and a radio into a pillowcase. They left in Scudder's jeep, telling the teenagers that if they called the police, Brock and West would kill them, too.

***

The eccentric devil worshippers, it turned out, lived modestly, despite a sprawling property, a large library and collection of antiques.

Scudder and Odom had moved to town about six years earlier. Scudder had retired from his job as a pharmacology professor at Loyola University, tired of unmotivated students and petty professors. He bought 40 acres in the woods, put his $40,000 in a bank account and lived off a couple hundred dollars a week. He wanted to live quietly.

He and Odom built their two-story brick house themselves. They built the tower, too. And a gazebo, a cellar and an outhouse. They grew their own fruit and vegetables, raised chickens, made wine. They lived without a phone. And they were peaceful, and they were happy.

"The change was like crawling out of an old, outworn skin," Scudder wrote of his new life.

***

After they left Corpsewood that night, West and Brock talked of fleeing to Florida, or Mexico, or the Philippines. Instead, they drove west. They killed a man at a Mississippi rest stop, took his car and kept running. They stopped in Texas. But West and Brock got into an argument at a topless bar, and West told Brock to get lost.

West then drove through Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri. Then he started driving back to the scene of the crime. He stopped at the Palomino Club Lounge in Chattanooga, spotted a police officer and said he was wanted for murder and tired of running.

He confessed the whole story as soon as he met the sheriff. He said he wanted to be put to death. He also said Brock had first come across the house while hunting, and Scudder gave him a tour. He brought the 17-year-old Georgia boy upstairs to the tower, the place he took his lovers.

Brock then brought West to the house, and Scudder gave him a tour, too. But when the three men entered the tower, West became uncomfortable. He waited outside.

Days after the murder, after Brock hitchhiked from Texas to Marietta, Ga., after the couple who witnessed the crime spoke to police, after the police visited Brock's family, the boy who killed the devil worshippers called his mother from a payphone.

He said he was tired, and he hadn't eaten in days, and he needed someone to pick him up from this gas station. He didn't notice the undercover officers, pulling into the parking lot.

Contact Staff Writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.


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