When Dr. Charles Scudder and his partner Joseph Odem decided to make the leap from the hustle and bustle of the big city to the remote mountains of Appalachia, they understood there would be challenges. Living off the grid is difficult for a variety of reasons, whether it’s the absence of creature comforts like running water and centralized heating or it’s the backbreaking labor that goes into undertaking such a project, it takes a special sort of person to not only face those challenges head on, but to delight in the process.
After extensive research, Scudder and Odem finally tracked down the perfect plot of land to turn their pipe dream into a reality. Dr. Scudder left his job as an associate professor at Layola University of Chicago Institute for Mind, Drugs and Behavior on his 50th birthday in 1976. Together, he and his partner, along with their two mastiffs, fought a snowstorm to make their way down the beaten path they had dubbed “Dead Horse Road” and settled on the 40 acres of land they would turn into the paradise they envisioned.
It would take just a few short years for Scudder and Odem to transform the dense woodland into a home fit for a pair of kings. The estate they christened “Corpsewood” was completely self-reliant. They had an on-site well, chemical toilet, gardens to grow their own food and vineyards to make their own wine. In addition to the castle the couple built as their main living quarters, they also built a smaller home they called “the chicken coop” for guests to stay in overnight, and where the couple would host parties.
Hunters would often come along and ask the couple for permission to use the land. That was how they came in contact with Avery Brock and Tony West. Brock was a regular hunter and had been allowed to hunt on the land a number of times. Though by then Scudder and Odem were well known by locals to be a bit on the eccentric side, their kindness and hospitality prevailed and they were always willing to have guests over to enjoy a few glasses of their homemade wine or to listen to Dr. Scudder strum away on his golden harp.
Brock had been invited to the home a number of times to partake in these parties and there’s some speculation that at one point Brock had either engaged in sexual activities or attempted to engage in sexual activities with the pair. Having been in the massive estate and witnessing the couple’s laid back, carefree lifestyle gave Brock the impression that Scudder and Odem were millionaires. While it is true that Scudder did receive a small trust fund from his deceased father’s estate, almost every cent he and Odem had between them went towards building up their property. Telling his roommate Tony West of the rich “queer devil-worshipers” living back in the woods, Brock and West began hatching a plan to rob the couple blind and run away to start fresh.
On the night of December 12, 1982 Brock, West, along with Joey Wells and Teresa Hudgins, made their way to Corpsewood to drink some wine and get high on a combination of alcohol, paint thinner and glue they called “toot-a-loo.” Being hunters, no one thought anything of the .22 caliber rifle sitting on the front seat of the car.
Arriving at the estate, Scudder gave the clan a warm greeting before taking them into “the pink room” located on the top floor of the chicken coop. Scudder grabbed some bottles of his homemade wine, while the teens huffed toot-a-loo and made conversation. After several hours of drinking and merriment, Brock said he was going out to the car to mix up some more toot-a-loo. When he returned he was holding a rifle.
In a nervous attempt to dispel the situation, Scudder jokingly remarked “Bang bang” to Brock when he spotted the gun in his hand. Brock handed the gun to West before pulling a knife from his boot and holding it to the former professor’s neck, demanding that he handed him over the money before tying him up. Wells and Hudgins attempted to flee, but were forced to return to the room when they discovered the car wouldn’t start. Scudder did his best to calm the frightened teens, particularly Hudgins who was in fear for her life, as Brock and West made their way downstairs.
Odem was ordered to leave the house, but before he could even stand he was shot four times in the face. Brock then shot the two dogs sleeping comfortably next to the wood stove.
Brock returned to the pink room to lead Scudder into the main living quarters, again demanding that he handed over the money. Scudder was overcome by the scene he witnessed as he entered into the home that was once his paradise. His longtime companion lay dead on the floor, along with his two dogs. Scudder could do nothing but sputter out incomprehensible moans of grief as he was taken into the library and gagged. Brock held the gun up and pointed it at the former professor. Just before Brock pulled the trigger Scudder managed to utter one final phrase:
“I asked for this.”
He was shot in the head five times at point-blank range.
Taking what they could from the home, the group split up and left in Odem’s and Scudder’s vehicles. The murder wouldn’t be discovered until two days later when a friend stopped by to notify the couple of a deceased acquaintance.
During the investigation the police found what they considered to be bizarre artwork strewn throughout the home, most of which having been dark or occult in nature. Perhaps the most perplexing piece was a self-portrait Scudder had painted that seemed to prophesize his own death, showing him gagged with five bullets wounds to his head. They also found a number of books on various occult subjects and evidence that Scudder may have joined the Church of Satan at one point. Several bottles of LSD-25 – a drug that Scudder was rumored to have had easy access to while working for the university – was also uncovered.
What should have been just a tragic and senseless homicide turned into a media circus. Local news reporters were more interested in the couple’s eccentricities and their “devil worship,” than finding justice for their murder. Suddenly, a couple of gay hippies living in the woods became two of the most tragic victims of the Satanic Panic era.
Rumors swirled about the couple’s hedonistic lifestyle. Everything from homosexual orgies, the rape of children and rampant drug use were said to have occurred in the home, and those were only some of the milder claims. In the court of public opinion within an intolerant town, many believed that the couple had deserved to die.
Teresa Hudgins was who would go forward to the police to confess that she knew who had killed the couple, but Brock and West were already on the run. Driving down Highway 20 in Dr. Scudder’s Jeep which featured two pentacles painted on both of the side doors, West and Brock decided they needed to get a more low-key vehicle to make their escape in.
Pulling into to a rest stop to get some sleep for the night in Boniva, Mississippi, the pair awoke the next morning and spotted Kirby Phelps, a Navy lieutenant, who had also pulled over to sleep in his vehicle overnight. West handcuffed Phelps and held a gun to his head, leading him to a wooded area behind the rest stop. Brock had been unloading the Jeep when he heard two loud bangs. Though the pair later claimed they were only going to leave Phelps handcuffed to a tree, Phelps swung at West and he panicked. If it hadn’t been for the death of a Navy lieutenant, many believe that the pair would have never been brought to justice.
Brock returned to Georgia on December 20, 1982, where he voluntarily surrendered to police. West fled to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he also voluntarily surrendered on Christmas day. During Brock’s confession to police he stated,
“All I can say is they were devils and I killed them, that’s how I feel about it.”
Unfortunately, Brock’s confession conveyed the feelings of many of the locals in regard to the murders of both Odem and Scudder. It was the murder of Lieutenant Phelps that would seal their fate. In spite of the defense’s claims that the teens had been drugged with the LSD found at Corpsewood, there was no evidence to suggest that any drugs had been taken that evening with the exception of the toot-a-loo the teens admitted to huffing. Brock was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences and West was sentenced to death.
Dr. Scudder’s cremains were shipped to Wisconsin where his sister had him buried in the family plot, while Odem’s were sprinkled on the grounds of Corpsewood in the rose garden he lovingly tended to. Some say that the place is haunted to this day and sounds of harp music and barking dogs can be heard howling through the winds. After the murders had taken place, a dark stain appeared on one of the boarded windows near the library, leading some to believe that it’s a sign that Dr. Scudder still watches over the land surrounding Corpsewood.