Autopsy of Architecture

Stories Behind the Nation's Historic Buildings & Structures

Dr. Charles L. Scudder with one of his English mastiffs

Out near Summerville, Georgia lays what remains of Corpsewood Manor, a house built by Dr. Charles Lee Scudder and his partner Joseph Odom, and the site of their murders. Charles Scudder was born on October 6, 1926, in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin. In the 1940s, he attended Oberlin College in Oberlin, Ohio, and was involved with the school’s drama program. There, he met Helen Kilbourne Hayslette, and the two were married on September 10, 1946, but the marriage soon ended in divorce. In the 1950s, Scudder remarried Bourtai Bunting, daughter of British modernist poet Basil Bunting. That marriage also ended in divorce after having four sons together.

Scudder was a student of Loyola University under Dr. Alexander Karczmar. a neuroscientist who was professor and chairman of the Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics at Loyola, and director of its Institute for Mind, Drugs, and Behavior. After graduating, Scudder became associate director of the Institute for Mind, Drugs, and Behavior and worked as an associate professor. Years later, Karczmar would describe his student, friend, and colleague as quite eccentric. He kept a pet monkey and dyed his hair odd colors. He believed in the unity of the universe and published the results of his experiments on that subject. He was also an accomplished harp player and had been invited to play with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Scudder also owned a mansion on West Adams Street in Chicago which he filled with baroque furniture he had bought from when the Balaban and Katz Chicago Theatre was liquidating furniture. In 1959, he hired Joseph Odom to help with the kids and the two continued living together in the mansion well into the 1970s when Scudder’s children were adults.

Dr. Scudder grew tired of university politics, medical students who grew more unruly and less interested in learning, and the daily hustle of the big city. He took solace in his garden and enjoyed the frequent visits from the city’s little wildlife. His partner, Joseph Odom, had always enjoyed a simpler life and had an inherent dislike for anything modern. After some conversations, the couple decided to move out to the country with the glamour of four seasons but without super-cold winters. Somewhere isolated where they can live off the grid. After months of studying geological maps of southern states and contacting local realtors, Scudder found a plot of land at the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and surrounded by national forest land. There was no running water, phone, or electricity available and the only way to the property was via a long, winding old logging road. While still lecturing at Loyola University, he bought the land, had a well dug, planned his house, and bought a small camper and a jeep.

Joseph Odom (left) and Charles Scudder (right) with their English mastiff, Beelzebub

In 1976, on his 50th birthday, Scudder resigned from his position at Loyola University. He auctioned off all his furniture and possessions he didn’t care about, gave away all his electrical appliances, sold his home in Chicago, and arranged for a moving company to handle the things he decided to keep. Scudder and Odom, along with their two English mastiffs, left for Georgia in the midst of a terrible blizzard. They lost their way several times in the course of the trip and when they did get there, they couldn’t locate where their property was. Lost and stranded in the wilderness, they made camp to wait out the blizzard. When the storm finally cleared, they found the corpse of a horse along the old logging road and so they appropriately named the road, “Dead Horse Road”. Dr. Scudder and Joseph Odom took in the beauty of the bare, haunting tree around them and named their new home, “Corpsewood”.

Living out of a camper, Scudder and Odom set out on building their “castle in the country” as Scudder would describe it in an article he wrote in 1981 for Mother Earth News. During the construction of the house, 45,000 bricks were laid by hand, three layers thick with a two-inch-wide air space between the layers for insulation. They dug trenches and installed pipes for sinks, a tile drainage system, and a chemical toilet which was later enclosed in a brick outhouse. By the end of summer, the pair were able to move into the first floor which contained the kitchen, dining room, and living room. The next year, they put a roof over the two upstairs bedrooms which were reached by a circular stairwell illuminated by stained glass. Along with the two-story house, they had also built several outbuildings including a three-story chicken coop. The first floor of the coop was for poultry and food storage. The second floor was for canned goods and the couple’s pornography collection. The top floor was nicknamed the “Pink Room,” furnished with mattresses and pink linens where the couple would entertain guests.

The three-story chicken coop where Scudder and Odom entertained guests located on the top floor nicknamed the “Pink Room”

Being the eccentric that he was, Scudder was interested in the occult, having decorated Corpsewood Manor in satanic artifacts and other occult items, and drove around with a pentagram painted on the side of his jeep. Despite this, Scudder never identified as a Satanist and instead, was an Athiest who related to the beliefs system of Anton LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan and the religion of LaVeyan Satanism. As practiced by the Church of Satan, they do not worship a deity but instead, worship one’s self, and The devil is used as a symbol of humankind’s inner desires. A few months before their impending murders, Scudder had painted a self-portrait, bound with duct tape over his mouth with what looked like five bullet holes in his head, which many speculate was a premonition of his own death.

Local hunters regularly passed through their property and would ask them for permission to hunt on their land, many of which enjoyed their hospitality and homemade wine. One of these hunters was Kenneth Avery Brock. The lifestyle Scudder and Odom enjoyed led Brock to believe that the couple were millionaires when in fact, they had spent all of their savings on their secluded homestead and were living on just $200 a month.

The self-portrait painted by Scudder just a few months before his murder

In the late-1982, Avery Brock moved into the trailer home of Samuel Tony West, and told West about the “queer devil-worshippers” who he believed were hoarding a fortune in their home. The pair hatched a plan to rob the couple and put their plan into motion on the night of December 12, 1982. On the way out to Corpsewood Manor, they picked up a .22 Remington rifle from Brock’s mother and told her they were going out to hunt rabbits. They then picked up West’s nephew, Joey Wells, and his date Teresa Hudgins who later testimony had no idea what was about to transpire later that evening. On their way out to the Corpsewood, the four of them huffed a combination of alcohol, paint thinner, and glue known as “toot-a-loo.”

Upon their arrival, they were greeted by Scudder who took them up into the “Pink Room” where they sat around drinking Scudder and Odom’s homemade wine while Odom was in the main house cleaning up after supper. It wasn’t long before Brock supposedly said he was going out to his truck to get some “toot-a-loo” when in fact, he went to fetch the rifle. He returned and upon seeing the gun Scudder, probably a little intoxicated from all drinking, giggled and said “Bang, bang” before he was held at knifepoint and ordered to give up the location of his money. Wells and Hudgins were terrified and ran down to their car, but the engine refused to start.

Brock went down and into the main house’s kitchen where he surprised Odom, shooting him four times as well as killing the couple’s two mastiffs. Bound and gagged, Scudder was taken into Corpsewood Manor where he was met with the body of his dead partner. Brock led Scudder into the library, pulled down the gag from his mouth, and sat him in a chair. Scudder stood up and shuffled towards Odom’s body. West ordered him to stop. Scudder continued on, uttering his last words, “I asked for this”. West shot him in the head at close range, dropping Scudder to his knees. Another shot sent Scudder reeling into a bookcase before he was shot three more times in the head.

Corpsewood Manor as it stood after the murders took place

After the brutal slayings, the house was ransacked looking for the hidden fortune. They tried taking Scudder’s gold-encrusted harp but it was too heavy and too big to take with them. The two perpetrators left with a only handful of coins, some jewelry, silver candelabras, and a gold-plated dagger, before fleeing in Scudder’s black jeep. The bodies of Charles Scudder and Joseph Odom would not be found until two days later when their friend Raymond Williams visited Corpsewood to notify the couple of the passing of a friend in Rome, Georgia. After noticing bullet holes in the kitchen door, he went back down the mountain and called the sheriff’s office. The same day, Teresa Hudgins came forward to the police and a nationwide manhunt ensued.

Heading westward, Brock and West decided to ditch their getaway vehicle for something less conspicuous. At a rest stop in Boniva, Mississippi, they kidnapped Navy lieutenant Kirby Phelps with the intention of tying him to a tree and stealing his vehicle. While Brock was unloading the jeep, West shot Phelps twice. While in Austin, Texas, the two men argued about their plan and split up; Brock voluntarily surrendered to police in Marietta, Georgia on December 20, and West was arrested in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Christmas Day.

While investigating the murder scene, law enforcement officials found two human skulls, three vials allegedly filled with LSD-25, numerous occult tools, a small occult library, a large general academic and literature library, and a large collection of homosexual pornography at Corpsewood Manor, according to news reports at the time. The Chattooga County Sheriff’s Office labeled Scudder and Odom as “Devil Worshippers”. Sheriff Gary McConnell had tried to bring charges against Dr. Scudder and Joseph Odom in the past for their odd behavior and beliefs but was unable to because of the First Amendment regarding freedom of religion.

As the trial was underway, Scudder and Odom were labeled “homosexual devil-worshippers” by the media and general public, and with their lifestyle and interest in Satanism, they became easy targets of the “Satanic Panic” that was sweeping the nation at the time. According to Magistra Blanche Barton of the Church of Satan, “Dr. LaVey was enraged and grieved by the injustice of what happened to them.” LaVey viewed the murders as evidence that there were still areas in the United States where eccentrics were still attacked for holding beliefs outside of the norm.

January 2, 1983 article by the Chicago Tribune

During the trial, the defense accused Dr. Scudder of spiking the wine with LSD in order to try and have oral sex with them. The bottle of wine was tested by law enforcement and tested negative for LSD or any other hallucinogens. When that failed, West argued he was involuntarily intoxicated. The defense went as far as to say on the matter of the supposed drugging, “He had a motive because he was a homosexual.” Prosecutors pointed to the fact that West had confessed to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation(GBI) agent that he and Brock had planned the robbery and murders just a few days prior. West also told the GBI agent that Brock wanted to kill Scudder because Scudder had once engaged in oral sex with him. During his confession, West also said, “All I can say is they were devils and I killed them, that’s how I feel about it.” Scudder’s old colleague and friend Dr. Karczmar was also contacted during the trial and attested that Dr. Scudder was not a drug abuser nor was he a devil worshipper, and would have actually been the type of person to disapprove of drug use.

While the brutal murders of Scudder and Odom were deemed justifiable in the eyes of the public, the murder of Kirby Phelps was not. Kenneth Avery Brock plead guilty and received three consecutive life sentences. West was convicted of double homicide and sentenced to death, but not having the right number of women on the jury led to a retrial. In the second trial, West was resentenced to life in prison. Brock is currently serving his life sentence at the Coffee Correctional Facility while West is currently serving his life sentence at Wilcox State Prison. Both have been denied parole multiple times.

Kenneth Avery Brock (left) and Samuel Tony West (right)

A small private funeral was held at Corpsewood where Odom’s ashes were scattered in the rose garden. Dr. Scudder’s ashes were taken back to Wisconsin by his sister Janet Scudder Arnold, where they were buried in the family plot. Famed defense attorney Bobby Lee Cook of Summerville, Georgia, was hired by Scudder’s sons to represent their claim to the estate. Odom’s sister also claimed the estate, as Scudder’s will had left everything to him. Scudder’s gold-encrusted harp and a bronze statue of Mephistopheles from Corpsewood are currently in the possession of Bobby Lee Cook.

As for Corpsewood Manor, the chicken coop suffered a fire on January 5, 1983, and the manor soon followed. Portions of the manor remain to this day where visitors claim the area is steeped in sadness and that they can hear gunshots, the barking of dogs, and sometimes the glowing eyes of Beelzebub in the darkness. The reality of the matter is that two innocent men were brutally murdered, then victimized for their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. Although we as a society have made many strides towards equality and acceptance of others’ beliefs, there is a large portion of the country that still has its beliefs rooted in bigotry and hatred.

Photo © 2018 David Bulit, Corpsewood Manor - Summerville, Georgia
Photo © 2018 David Bulit, Corpsewood Manor - Summerville, Georgia
Photo © 2018 David Bulit, Corpsewood Manor - Summerville, Georgia
Photo © 2018 David Bulit, Corpsewood Manor - Summerville, Georgia
Photo © 2018 David Bulit, Corpsewood Manor - Summerville, Georgia
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