Murder in Appalachia: Debunking the Myths of Corpsewood Manor
Deep in the Appalachian foothills of Chatooga County, Georgia lies an abandoned fortress once known as Corpsewood Manor. This once stately mansion’s castle-like walls have collapsed to a bare shell consumed by ivy, dense growth and underbrush.
Myths, rumors and legends have surrounded Corpsewood Manor since the brutal double murder of Dr. Charles Scudder and Mr. Joseph Odom on December 12, 1982. Impromptu press conferences by local authorities promoted distorted views and biased opinions from the evidence found at the heinous crime scene. Allegations of satanic cults, animal sacrifices, devil worshipping, supernatural curses, drug use and sex parties began to emerge.
The media smeared and demonized the victims with hyped up newspaper headings even though the court transcripts say otherwise.
I scavenged through old newspaper articles for the actual truth only to find each account different with small details that would change over time. With all the public court documents, trial transcripts, and eyewitness testimony, this horrific murder is still being labeled as the “Devil Worshippers Slayings”.
As a journalist and researcher, I decided to contact a family friend of the Odom Family, Melanie Mumea, to find out the real truth in debunking the myths and legends that surround Corpsewood Manor.
A Castle in Appalachia
In a 1981 published article for Mother Earth News, Dr. Scudder described having a dream of leaving the city life to pursue a simple and quiet existence in isolation away from the chaos. He was an ingenious scientist and Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Layola in Chicago. He was divorced, his children had moved away and his empty nest only inhabited himself and his friend and companion, Joseph Odom.
Mr. Odom worked for Dr. Scudder for 17 years as a cook and helped Dr. Scudder raise his four children after his divorce from Bourtai Bunting, who was the daughter of a British modernist poet, Basil Bunting. His Chicago residential neighborhood began to show signs of deterioration and was beginning to decline. He referred to his Chicago house at the time as a “decaying mansion” requiring constant costly repairs. In his article, he wrote:
- After some soul-searching conversations with Joe, I decided that we really needed to find some place in hilly country, with the glamour of four seasons but without super-cold winters, with a good supply of pure water and wood for heating and cooking, and—most important—with a measure of isolation. (After years of enduring the sensory overload of city life, I desperately wanted to be situated where I could neither see nor hear my neighbors.) – Dr. Charles Scudder, Mother Earth News.com
Dr. Scudder inherited some money from the death of a relative and decided to make a move. In his extensive search through geological maps of the south, he eventually decided on 40 acres of un-cleared land located in the Appalachian foothills of Dirt Mountain now known as Devil Worship Mountain. In 1976 on his 50th birthday, Dr. Scudder resigned from his job and auctioned off most of his furniture and belongings.
Along with Mr. Odom and his two English mastiffs, they began their journey in the middle of an icy blizzard headed toward their future Terrapin Station. When they arrived at their new undeveloped “kingdom”, they spent the next two years clearing the land by hand and built their stately castle with more than 45,000 bricks. With pioneer spirits, they celebrated every achievement with a bottle of homemade wine. They lived in a small camper until they could move into the house.
The estate was designed as a circular structure without electricity and running water with a wood stove for cooking and heat. It was an astonishing accomplishment considering neither one of them had never laid a brick. They kept their food in a kerosene refrigerator and had a chemical toilet enclosed in a round brick outhouse. They had established a rose garden, fruit trees, a grape vineyard, and grew their own vegetables.
As time went by, they acquired chickens, ground their own flour and established beehives. They were self-sufficient and lived off the land like so many Appalachians that came before them. They were happy and fulfilled living off-grid and loved observing the wildlife and rolling mountain woodland. Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom loved what Mother Earth had to offer and they were finally living their dream.
Beware of the Thing
Corpsewood is a strange name for an estate but for Dr. Scudder it was perfect. Dr. Scudder liked the old English tradition of house naming by using some feature of the property. When they first arrived, they found a dead horse laying across the old logging road which became their driveway. The hardwood trees on the property at the time were barren, thus the name Corpsewood was born. They even named their driveway Dead Horse Road.
Before long, curious locals began encroaching onto the property due to the strange circular design of the house. The house exhibited gothic implements such as gargoyle overlooking the property and decorated stained glass windows containing pentagrams, skulls and spiders that he made and designed himself. Dr. Scudder was a big fan of the television show, “The Adams Family” and had placed a sign at the entrance of the estate that warned, “Beware of the Thing”. He was an eccentric person that like to rile people’s reaction with his warped sense of humor.
Before long the local newspaper became curious and sent out a reporter to the property to interview them. As time passed, the neighbors described them as nice and helpful and nicknamed Dr. Scudder “the professor”. Occasionally, people would show up and throw bottles at the house, but the majority of his neighbors were very respectful. Dr. Scudder helped members of the community by teaching some of them how to read, educated them about Shakespeare, philosophy and even made wine for his neighbors.
Mr. Odom was a marvelous cook and enjoyed cooking for friends and neighbors. They were just really nice people who were living off the land in their retirement years. Until they meet Avery Brock who along with his friend, Tony West would shatter their dreams. The murderous duo would destroy their reputation by spreading rumors and insane lies to save themselves from long prison sentences and the death penalty.
In November of 1982, 17-year-old Avery Brock befriended Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom while out deer hunting near the property. Avery deceivingly befriended the couple and spent many evenings drinking free homemade wine. By now, the locals knew the couple as winemakers. A few yards away from the brick manor house was a three-story structure that was known as the “Chicken House”. The top floor of the chicken house was used as a guest room.
Dr. Scudder didn’t like having outsiders inside the main house. Many of his antiques were fragile and the two large mastiff dogs made the living room very cramped. He also did not allow smoking in the main house. The top floor of the Chicken House was also known as the “pink room” simply because someone donated some paint to Dr. Scudder and it just happened to be pink. Their relationship grew to be a teacher-student relationship but at some time may have crossed the line.
Avery’s friend Tony West had been in and out of jail most of his life. During this time, Tony had just been released from prison for shooting his uncle several times in the back over a poker game. Avery told Tony about meeting his new friends he referred to as the “gay devil worshippers”. Avery bragged how they were really cool and made their own wine. On one occasion, Tony accompanied Avery to Corpsewood where they had several drinks of wine.
Tony eventually passed out and when he awoke, he saw Avery and Scudder involved in an intimate situation. Tony gave Avery a hard time about what he had seen. Avery became embarrassed and denied to Tony that he was homosexual stating Scudder took advantage of him. Tony decided to kill that “SOB” and so Avery suggested that if he was going to kill them to make it worth his while. With both of them unemployed, Avery convinced Tony that there must be a lot of money stashed in the main house.
Both Avery and Tony had planned to kill the couple a week before the actual murders happened. But at the time they only had a hunting knife and they were worried about the large dogs in the house, so they decided to wait. In addition, Avery and Tony also had a bible study meeting that night and did not want to be late.
Terror At Corpsewood
On December 12, 1982, this bizarre crime begins with a teenage couple’s first date gone terribly wrong. Teresa Hudgins had a date with Joey Wells, who was the nephew of Tony. Since Joey’s car would not start, they decided to hang out at his house and watch football. Tony invited the young couple to go out joyriding with him and Avery. They managed to scrape together $1.85 for gas and a pack of cigarettes and all four of them rode off in a 1970 Javelin.
Avery suggested they visit the devil worshipper’s house to drink some free wine. Teresa had never met Dr. Scudder nor knew of who or what the “devil worshippers” were. But Avery reassured her they were just some gay guys that made homemade wine. They arrived at Corpsewood where Dr. Scudder came out to greet them as he always did for his friends and neighbors. Tony and Avery had already been huffing toot-a-loo, a mixture of glue, alcohol and paint thinner. Mr. Odom was in the kitchen of the main house as Dr. Scudder showed them all up to the Pink Room of the Chicken House. To reach the Pink Room, they all had to climb a ladder that was placed outside the structure to reach the third floor.
According to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation report, the Pink room had two mattresses with pink pillows, pink carpet, and a wood stove. After Dr. Scudder lit a lantern and the wood stove, he joined Tony and Avery on the mattress where they were sitting. Dr. Scudder then asked Teresa and Joey their names, who were sitting on the other mattress.
After a few minutes of drinking wine, Avery requested more wine and so Dr. Scudder left to retrieve more. When Dr. Scudder returned, Avery left stating he was going to get more toot-a-loo but instead returned with a .22 caliber rifle he retrieved from the car. Dr. Scudder laughed when he saw the gun and jokingly said, “Bang, bang.” By this time Dr. Scudder was slightly inebriated and Avery laughed along with him.
Avery put the rifle down and sat back down with Dr. Scudder and Tony. After a few minutes of conversation, Dr. Scudder tried to get up but Avery grabbed the back of his hair, pulled him back and put a knife to his throat. Thinking this was a game or joke, Dr. Scudder asked Avery, “What kind of game do you want to play?” Avery threw Dr. Scudder on the mattress and tied his arms behind his back with a torn sheet and demanded to know where the money was.
By this time, Teresa is freaking out, scared and crying. She begs them not to hurt anyone and to let them go. Teresa and Joey hurried down the ladder to escape but Tony ordered them back at gunpoint. At one point, Joey does manage to get Tony back to the car to leave, but the car would not start. This was a sign for Tony that the events that would unfold were meant to happen.
Avery and Tony continued to demand where the money was but Dr. Scudder never carried cash and did not respond. Thinking that torture might make him talk, they asked Dr. Scudder if he had a soldering iron. Dr. Scudder questioned why he would have one because he had no electricity. Tony then gave the gun to Avery who then left. While Avery was absent, Joey tries to convince Tony not to do this and get in more trouble. It was then they all heard a blast of gunshots being fired.
Avery returned stating he had killed the man and both the dogs. They then dragged Dr. Scudder, bound and gagged, down the ladder to the kitchen of the main house. Dr. Scudder was horrified to see Mr. Odom making gurgling sounds lying on the kitchen floor in a pool of blood. The two English mastiffs had been shot but were still walking around. Tony shot them again and both dogs walked over to the wood stove and died.
Mr. Odom had been shot five times with four bullets to the head and one bullet in his arm. The two dogs were lying over by the wood stove dead. Dr. Scudder cried out at the site of his best friend lying on the floor bleeding to death as Tony forced him into the library. Tony once again demanded to know where the money was stashed. Dr. Scudder tried to stand up with his feet still bound to go where Mr. Odom was located. Tony demanded he sit back down or he would kill him, but Dr. Scudder responded, “I asked for this” and continued toward Mr. Odom.
Tony then shot Dr. Scudder in the face but it did not kill him immediately. The gunshot had forced him to his knees, but Dr. Scudder tried to stand up again.
Tony shot him again repeatedly leaving four bullets in his head. As this was going on, Avery was ransacking the house looking for money and bragging about how rich he was going to be. With no money to be found, they began going through the house looking for valuable things to steal.
Most of Dr. Scudder’s items that were of great value were his gothic 16th century furniture that was too heavy to move and a large gold plated harp that Dr. Scudder enjoyed playing for his friends. So they opted for a few gold coins, silver candelabras, jewel-crusted dagger, some flasks of wine, handcuffs and a pistol. Most of Dr. Scudder’s artworks were considered Satanic in nature which may have diverted them from taking such items.
They then ordered Teresa and Joey to help them load the items into Dr. Scudder’s jeep. Avery wanted to set the house on fire to destroy the evidence, but Tony convinced them that a large fire would draw attention. As they went back into the house to look for more items, Dr. Scudder began making sounds. Avery then stood over Dr. Scudder and fired the pistol he found upstairs and shot Dr. Scudder between the eyes. As they continued searching the house, Mr. Odom was heard gurgling. To their surprise, Mr. Odom had managed to drag himself from the kitchen towards the dining room. Avery then shot Mr. Odom again with the same pistol. Avery then took off in Dr. Scudder’s jeep as Tony managed to get the Javelin started to follow behind. They told Teresa and Joey that if they called the law he would kill both of them.
The Forgotten Victim
Tony and Avery headed west to Mexico and discussed getting rid of the jeep in exchange for possibly a Toyota that would be less conspicuous. On December, 13th, they stopped at a rest stop in Vicksburg, Mississippi to sleep and awoke to find Navy Lt. Kirby K. Phelps alone and sleeping in a Toyota next to them. Tony carjacked Phelps at gunpoint and handcuffed him while Avery transferred their belongings to the vehicle.
Tony then led Phelps through the woods to handcuff him to a tree. When Tony uncuffed one hand, Phelps gave him a right-hand sucker punch. Tony then shot Phelps three times in the head, robbed him and took off in his car. Meanwhile, Avery drove the jeep into Louisiana to abandon it and then rejoined Tony. Kirby was discovered two days later by a civil war relic hunter.
As they continued their escape through Louisiana and Texas, the two murderers would eventually split up after an argument at a topless bar in Austin. It was at this time Avery started hitchhiking back to Georgia and eventually called his mother from a phone booth.
At this time a warrant for their arrest had been issued. Initially, when Avery called his mom, he confessed to her that Tony had done the killing. Tony went back to Chattanooga, Tennessee and turned himself over to the local authorities.
Using the Insanity Defense
Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom were found four days after the assassination by a friend who stopped by to give news of a friend that had recently passed away. Upon arrival, the house was riddled with bullet holes. Authorities were cautious approaching the property because they knew of the two English mastiffs and rumors had already been spread that Dr. Scudder had trained them to kill.
Sheriff McConnell who was in charge of the investigations made a statement to reporters in a press statement, “It was pretty well known they were devil worshippers. We looked into prosecuting them, but there was nothing we could do–that’s just freedom of religion.” The news of the crime grew rapidly among the media and network news.
When Tony West was first arrested, he quickly admitted to authorities with great clarity the details of what happened at Corpsewood. Never once did he mention anything about devils or the occult. But two days later after he learned of the media coverage and allegations that the victims were devil worshippers his story quickly changed. When he was interviewed again about the murders, Tony arrogantly stated, “All I can say is they were devils and I killed ’em.
That’s the way I feel about it.” Tony insisted the murders were the result of being drugged by Dr. Scudder and claimed the wine he gave him had been laced with LSD. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation found three empty vials labeled LSD25 during the crime scene investigation. The saved containers were more than 20 years old and degraded from past experiments with Dr. Scudder’s job. There was never any evidence of LSD found in the wine bottles. Teresa Hudgins also testified that Dr. Scudder did not put LSD in the wine. In fact, he voluntary confessed before he lawyered up and can be heard from the actual audio cassette recording that the obvious motive was murder and robbery.
Tony didn’t even remember the names of the men he murdered. He always referred to them as the “big one” and the “smaller one”. When Tony was arrested, he was wearing clothes that belonged to Navy Lt. Kirby Phelps. Courtesy of Daniel Ellis, this audio clip from that interview describes some of the horrendous violence of December 12, 1982.
Tony’s defense wanted to use the temporary insanity to try and get him off of the death penalty and thus the legend of being drugged began. He also stated he thought the dogs were two lions walking around because of his alleged LSD poisoning. Avery also said there was nothing in the wine but his attorneys told him not to say that during the trial or it could damage his case.
Where Are They Now
As Shakespeare wrote in Julius Caesar, “A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once”. Just like Julius Caesar, Dr. Scudder was not afraid to face challenges that life brought and proudly faced difficult situations for what he believed in. But the cowardly murderer dies many times as he considers the possibility of his own death and the role he played in murdering two innocent victims. According to close family and friends, Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom were not devil worshippers as the media portrayed them. In fact, Dr. Scudder did not worship anything or believe in the supernatural.
Melanie Mumea stated to me in our conversation:
- Charles was into the metaphysical. He was a scientist that believed strongly that you cannot discount any science without experimentation. He read tarot, did scrying and other forms of divination, but he was not a satirist or a devil worshipper. Charles believed more in the power of human consciousness. He was going to write a book about the tarot and how each card could be linked to an aspect of science, but he was murdered before he was able to write it, unfortunately.
Dr. Scudder only played up the occult to ruffle peoples feathers. He liked shocking and teasing people to see how they would react. Joey would quickly correct him stating he was Catholic. People jumped to their own conclusions and became disillusioned.
Daniel Ellis, author of Corpsewood: A True Crime Like No Other and Melanie Mumea, who administers the memorial Facebook page, Corpsewood Manor – A Castle in the Woods are trying to bring the true facts to light. His research of this true crime drama is not just based on Google internet searches but personally interviewing people related to the case. Mr. Ellis painstakingly analyzed old documents of court testimony, police reports, audio recordings and eyewitness accounts to accurately portray the facts of the case, not just rumors and myths.
Daniel has stated in his interviews that why would people want to create such illusions when the real case is just as riveting. According to his interview with a former coworker, Dr. Karczmar in Chicago, he stated that Dr. Scudder never conducted any work for the government or military. His work was with mice and not humans and would never use drugs himself or on others. These rumors of drugging the murderers with LSD was against Dr. Scudder’s ethics and was against a person’s personal freedom. Dr. Karczmar stated that to label him as a devil worshipper would have been laughable and amusing to Dr. Scudder.
In the last 30 years, Tony West and Avery Brock have faced the parole board at least five times and have been denied each time. Even if both of them were to get paroled, they would still have to serve time in Mississipi for the murder of Lt. Kirby. Avery was sentenced with three consecutive life terms in prison. Avery has filed several appeals alleging that his defense attorneys convinced him to plead guilty to murder and armed robbery believing he would be paroled after 7 years.
Tony showed no remorse while smoking a cigarette at his sentence hearing. Tony has had many health issues while in prison and although his first sentence was to be executed, that ruling was lifted by the Georgia Supreme Court ruling that the women on the jury were under-represented on the grand jury that indicted West. The Judge erred in defining to the jury the word “depravity” in the context of the death penalty statute. They are still serving time in Georgia prisons.
Eyewitness Joey Wells moved to Tennessee to live a more quiet life to try and move on from the horrible event. Teresa Hudgins suffered from PTSD for many years but has since published her own book, Corpsewood: The Eyewitness Account, to try and find some closure and hopefully bring peace to herself and to honor Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom. It took her 24 years to revisit the place that had haunted her nightmares for so long.
Melanie Mumea started her Facebook page to bring awareness regarding the discrepancies, false accusations and rumors that have plagued the family members for over 30 years.
- This whole area had its mind made up that the victims were these scary, nutty mad scientist type devil worshiping gay rapists. Their friends who have lived in this area their whole life told them all it was wrong, but sadly people just disrespected them and kept spreading the lies.
I think what hurt them the most is that the legends and lies being spread where straight from the words of the murderer that got printed in the media during the trial. So I wasn’t sure how I could do anything but I thought I would try. So I started speaking out about the truth and started proving who they really were and people started listening. Then more and more people came to my page and changed their minds. I feel like while the killers were sentenced to prison, they never truly got justice. Their family and friends see this garbage online and it hurts them.. they never got justice either.”
Today, Corpsewood has transitioned from a loving home to a gravesite and memorial. Mr. Odom’s ashes were scattered in the rose garden at Corpsewood. Friends and family still visit the site to maintain the rose garden and what’s left of the original estate. Even though Corpsewood is private property, frequent trespassers and vandals continue to visit the property illegally.
Vandals have defaced the brick walls with spray paint, satanic graffiti and left trash behind. There are countless blogs that disrespectfully give directions to the property. Legends of ghost stories and curses have attracted paranormal investigators to constantly trespass on the property. It’s illegal to vandalize someone’s grave and the same should be true for this property as well.
Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom used to give away free seeds and loved growing plants and flowers. Melanie Mumea has started an annual seed project in honor of Dr. Scudder and Mr. Odom in celebration of their kind and giving nature. If you would like to find out more information on the seed project, Daniel Ellis’s book about the true crime at Corpsewood or Teresa Hudgins eyewitness account, check out the links below to their Facebook page.
Do you love all things Appalachia? Then you might enjoy Sitting Up With the Dead: Lost Appalachian Burial Customs and Folklife: The Vanishing Grave Houses of Appalachia.