Forward: I would like to thank Daniel Ellis, the author of Corpsewood: A True Crime Like No Other, for taking the time to answer my meticulous questions and authoring a wonderful book about this horrible tale. The link to purchase his book is below in the citations.
As Raymond William’s pick up truck stammered down the dirt path his heart was as heavy as the cold. His visit was not to be the usual one today. A close friend of Joey and Charles had passed away and it was up to Raymond to deliver the bad news.
Raymond perhaps would have called his friends, that is if their home had any electricity or a landline. However, the two eccentric men on the mountain insisted on living off the grid. Any appliances, like their refrigerator, were powered by kerosene and their home warmed by the four chimneys.
Raymond approached the home he had been to many times before but something was not right. The four chimneys were cold and smokeless. On a day this cold shouldn’t there be at least one fire going? As he got closer to the home he noticed that the Jeep wasn’t anywhere to be seen.
A feeling of dread came over him as he exited his truck. Just as he was trying to find a reasonable explanation for all this, he saw the black metal door to the house wide open. A window shattered by a bullet hole, the stench of death thick in the air.
It would seem that Raymond had only found more bad news.
Photo credit: Pamela Purcell
Charles Scudder first met Joey Odom in 1959. Joey, at the time 21, was working at a bookstore and was approached by Charles who was looking for a specific book. It is unknown what book Charles was looking for in particular, or if he found it, nor what the conversation was that spoke which would cause a passionate and unbreakable spark between the two. What is known is that this chance encounter would change the courses of their lives forever.
On paper the two should have never worked. Joey was a working class effeminate gay man who had strong ties to his Catholic upbringing and Charles was a well educated self proclaimed atheist with a fascination with the occult. Charles was extroverted, Joey was more of a homebody. Charles was horrible at reading people, but Joey could spot a phony from a mile away.
However when two people who are very different fall in love they become something greater than the sum of their parts. This was clearly the case with Odom and Scudder.
Shortly after their relationship began, Charles ‘hired’ Joey as a live-in cook and housekeeper. Joey thrived in this environment and took delight in helping to raise Charles’ children (that he had from a previous marriage) and caring for them while Charles toiled away at his job as a professor at Loyola University. This is a ‘job’ that Joey adored and thrived in. He loved cooking for others, taking care of them and their loved ones, and had always had a fondness for children though he never had any of his own.
Charles was far from the stereotypical stuffy professor archetype. He was notorious at Loyola University for pranking his fellow professors by surprising them with a shrunken head or a rubber snake. He also loved eye catching clothing, extravagant necklaces, and even dyed his naturally dark hair vibrant purple.
For a while things were great. The University turned a blind eye to Charles’ sexual preferences, something that would have been rare in that time, and Charles found great satisfaction with his work. However times changed and there seemed to be more and more ‘red tape’ and he was growing tired of the usual university politics a professor often encounters.
The children were now all grown and Charles’ and Joey’s parents had passed away so they had the urge to do something new. Chicago living had grown tiresome after all and they both wanted to take a chance and try ‘going back to the basics’.
But where were two non-monogamous eccentric gay men to go?
The pair did some soul searching. They wanted a place in a hilly country, with ‘the glamour of four seasons but without super cold winters’, and most importantly a ‘measure of isolation’. Eventually they were able to find a plot of land at a reasonable cost out in Chattooga County, Georgia.
On Scudder’s 50th birthday he handed in his resignation to the university and the two packed up the few items they wanted to keep, and took themselves and their two beloved dogs, Beelzebub and Arsinath, out to their new home.
Joey Odom (left), Charles Scudder, Beelzebub (right)
Upon their arrival to the property the couple found a dead horse in the winding road up to where they would break ground on their home. Perhaps other people would find this ominous or at least be slightly disgusted by it. Instead the two had a laugh about it, christened the drive “Dead Horse Road” and eventually would name their own home “Corpsewood Manor” in reference to their little inside joke.
The two broke ground on their new life, living in a camper while they meticulously laid brick after brick. By the end of their first summer there the first floor had been built and during the second year the second floor was complete. After that they built a chicken coop topped with a guest house (which would be later known as ‘The Pink Room’ when a friend gave them antique pink house paint) and an apiary.
Though the two wanted some isolation, it wouldn’t be long before the two found their ‘tribe’ in this strange island of misfit toys. An aging nudist, a devout Catholic woman, a group of rough motorcyclists, a young couple with their children, and many others. They would entertain their visitors often and provide wine, food, and a good song on Charles’ harp.
Even outside their friend group they were well loved in their community. Though one could expect rural people to be unwelcoming of unique individuals, but Joey and Charles were known as “the nicest couple of fellas you’d ever want to meet.”
Corpsewood was known to throw parties for the inner circle they knew well but how debaucherous they truly were seems to be in speculation. Many sources that can be found will weave a tale of wild sex parties fueled by LSD. However more reliable sources, people in the community and those who knew Charles and Joey personally, tell a different story.
The Pink Room was more of a facility to entertain guests since Charles disliked having people in the main house. There were mattresses provided but only so those of who were too inebriated to drive home had a safe place to sleep for the night. Charles did embrace the Church of Satan ethics of free expression and doing what one pleased, but never encouraged and was quick to throw out a guest who was causing trouble.
The three story chicken coop, The Pink Room was on the top floor.
Photo credit: Orrin Grey
Charles was in possession of LSD, but it had been obtained legally before it was outlawed. He never partook himself, he didn’t believe in using drugs and even abhorred Joey’s seldom cigarette, but would offer it to those who interested because he believed that if someone wanted to do such a thing they should do it in a place of safety.
And that is what Corpsewood was for many people. A place of safety and hospitality.
However this would unfortunately change when Kenneth Brock stumbled into their lives. Brock had happened upon the property while out hunting. Charles took a liking to him and told him he was welcome to do so. Brock would return to the property often, at first just for hunting but eventually for company, a glass of wine, and a good conversation.
It wasn’t long until Brock told his roommate West about the ‘satanists up on the hill’. Eventually West would venture out there to meet the them but over time a sinister plot began to develop between the two. After all, the two were unemployed and needed money. Charles and Joey seemed to have some and were out in the middle of nowhere. If something were to ‘happen’ to the two would anyone really go looking?
On the cold night of December 12, 1982 Brock and West picked up West’s nephew Wells and his girlfriend Teresa Hudgins for a trip out to Corpsewood Manor. Unbeknownst to the owners and the two new additions this was not going to be a friendly visit.
Wells and Brock’s ‘drug’ of choice was huffing paint thinner. While the group of them were up in the Pink Room with Charles they began passing the bag around. Charles, of course declined, but was still dedicated to being a good host for the group. Joey and the dogs remained in the main house, cleaning up from the dinner they shared only moments prior.
Brock would eventually pull a gun out on Charles, to which Charles responded by making a mock gun with his finger and thumb and saying “Bang, bang.” in an effort to diffuse the situation with comedy.
It worked momentarily. Brock did put the gun down but would pull a hunting knife out when Charles had gotten up to adjust the kerosene lamp. He grabbed him by the hair, held the knife to his throat, and violently threw him to the mattress.
Once again, Charles tried to diffuse the situation via comedy by saying “Okay, what kind of game do you want to play? I’ll play your game.”
Brock made it clear that this wasn’t a game by tearing apart a bed sheet and tieing Charles’ ankles. West then picked up the gun and began to help Brock in restraining their victim.
At this moment Teresa realized what was happening. Crying, she begged the two to stop it but was threatened by West into submission. Charles, concerned, asked Teresa if “she was okay”. Wells responded that he “should be worried about himself.” before a gag was placed in Charles’ mouth.
The robbers then aggressively asked Charles where ‘the money was’, to which Charles responded after they pulled the gag out that there wasn’t any. Which was true, the two did live mostly off the land and only had a small amount in a bank in town. He stated he was more than happy to help in anyway he could, and that this was all unnecessary.
Unsatisfied with his answer, Brock got the gun from West and decided to take his chances with Joey. During this time Wells would try to plead with his Uncle West to abandon this plan, that he didn’t need to do this and all of them could just leave.
They were all interrupted by the sound of several gunshots from the house. Brock emerged from the house proclaiming “I killed that man and those dogs!” The light in Charles’ eyes dimmed as he stared blankly at the floor.
Once Brock returned they dragged the entire group back to the house to put on display what had happened only moments prior. When Charles arrived in the archway that led to the dining room he stopped. Joey Odom lay on the floor, blood pooled under him from the gunshots in his head and arm.
He let out a muffled scream but Brock pulled his hair back, forcing him to look a head. Teresa started to cry once more and Wells tried to comfort her in an effort to keep everyone else alive.
Charles was forced to step over Joey’s lifeless body on his way to the study before being thrown down on the couch. In front of him by the wood stove were the now lifeless bodies of his beloved dogs. The pair still curled up around the warmth, never having gotten up before meeting their end.
Teresa would make another attempt to leave before both she and Wells were commanded to sit in a chair in the study. Brock and West started asking Charles again where the money was, and of course the answer had not changed.
At this point Brock and West started tearing apart the study in an effort to find anything valuable. Charles slowly gazed around his home, a place once full of laughter and love now coated in blood. His gag had been loosened and had dropped under his mouth. He looked at his faithful dogs, the ones he always used to refer to as ‘his beauties’ as they now lay lifeless on the cold floor. Slowly, he turned his head to see Joey, who he had loved for so long and so deeply. The man who helped him raise his children and who he built this wonderful place with.
With defiance, Charles stood up from the couch. West shoved him back down, but Charles stood up once more and began walking towards his fallen partner. West screamed at him to come back, but still Charles continued while muttering “I asked for this.”
The blast of the gun rang out in the small home and Charles was hit in the back of the head. He crumpled, but was still determined to get to Joey. That was when another shot was fired and Charles fell backwards into a bookcase.
West then approached and finished the job.
Brock and West ransacked the house, only finding minor items of value before departing into the night with the Jeep owned by Joey and Charles. Unfortunately Brock and West would not be brought to justice until after they had taken the life of Kirby Phelps and would only continue to slander Charles and Joey in their trial.
The story to that is long and painful to those that knew Charles and Joey. Justice would be served though when both men were given life sentences for their crimes. However, the damage was irreversible.
The rough bikers would forever feel a twinge of guilt for not being there to protect their friends. The devout Catholic woman staring blankly out her kitchen window, a second cup of tea instinctively made for Joey growing colder by the moment. The married couple who had to console their weeping children when they broke the news that they wouldn’t be able to visit the manor anymore to hear Charles’ harp or to play dolls with Joey. The aging nudist would keep watch over Corpsewood before he himself departed from this world, leaving the estate to slowly and quietly be reclaimed by the wilderness.
Though their home now lies in ruins, one can not help but hope that Joey and Charles are still there in some way. Laughing together on their patio by the rose garden, the air lightly sweet from Joey’s freshly baked raspberry tart. Their hearts and glasses full as they welcome their visitors.
In researching this case I was surprised to find a lack of articles detailing the life Joey Odom and Charles Scudder before they met their end. Even more upsetting: the information I did find was clearly only derived from the claims West and Brock made in court or from the media frenzy that happened around the trial. It is not wise to trust the words of heartless murderers. As a result, I wanted to share the tale that I had the pleasure of learning about through my various sources cited below.
All too often in cases involving a murder we become obsessed with the crime itself and tend to forget the victims. Hence why it isn’t detailed that fully in this post. There are far better writers than me who have fully covered the events that transpired that December night and the trial there after. I’ll let them tell you the story in excruciating detail.
Joey and Charles were loved dearly. Who had favorite songs and foods. Who had hopes and dreams. Who, when they tragically departed, left a large hole with marred edges in the lives of those who treasured them.
Let’s do our best to remember them for who they were, not how they died.
Ellis, David “Corpsewood: A True Crime Like No Other”, 2016
Grey, Orrin “House of Horror: The Brutal Murders at Georgia’s Corpsewood Manor”, 2019
Petula, Amy “The Corpsewood Manor Murders in North Georgia”, 2018
Scudder, Charles “A Castle in the Country”, 1981
West v The State, 1984