On December 16th of 1982, a tragic and senseless murder took place in the mountains of rural Georgia. The two murderers were accompanied to the murder site by two innocent friends; these friends served as material witnesses and were able to identify the perpetrators, who were apprehended shortly thereafter. The circumstances of the investigation and capture of the guilty parties weren't what distinguished this event; it was the subsequent vilification of the two victims.
One of them, Dr. Charles Lee Scudder, was a self-proclaimed Satanist. He and his partner, Joe Odom, the other victim, were homosexuals.
Dr. Scudder was born on October 6th, 1926 and educated at the University of Wisconsin and Loyola's Stritch School of Medicine; his degrees were in zoology, languages and chemistry, and his PhD was in pharmacology. In his youth, he was a highly intelligent young man, interested in almost everything. He studied drama, music and art, but ultimately he chose to pursue science as a career. He had two early heterosexual marriages, the second of which produced four sons: Saul, Gideon, Fenris and Ahab.
In 1959 he met Joseph Odom, twelve years his junior, whom everyone knew as Joey. Joey served as cook and housekeeper to Dr. Scudder and his sons, and shared quarters in an aging mansion Dr. Scudder had purchased; built in 1904, it was designed by a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and located on Adams St. on Chicago's West Side. It was a rough area, but Dr. Scudder enjoyed the fading splendor of the mansion and the space it provided for his various interests, which included collecting antiques, producing his own paintings, playing the harp, providing a home for two huge English mastiffs, and pursuing a lively and varied correspondence with individuals and institutions — including Anton LaVey. Although he told his friends in Georgia that he hadn't joined the organization due to the membership fee, a search of Church of Satan archival material has revealed that Dr. Scudder did indeed formalize his affiliation, mailing his membership form and a check for $50 to San Francisco on June 16th, 1980. A cancelled check for a subscription to the Church of Satan's newsletter,The Cloven Hoof, was found on his desk after his death. According to his friends, whenever the subject of church or religion came up, Dr. Charles Scudder would say, "I'm a Satanist."
In 1976, Dr. Scudder became disillusioned with his career and tired of the challenges of living in a disintegrating neighborhood. His sons had grown and left home for their own pursuits; he was still reeling from the sudden death of his youngest son, Ahab. At the time of his relocation to Chattooga County, Georgia, Dr. Scudder was an associate professor of pharmacology at Loyola University's Stritch School of Medicine, serving as both a research scientist and an instructor. He decided to resign his position, and try to live "off the grid," in a rural, self-sustaining setting. Fed up with the frustrations of academic research, he wanted to be surrounded by the beauty of Nature and enjoy a measure of isolation. He purchased 40 acres of mountainous, undeveloped land in rural Georgia. You may read about his decision in his own words here:
A Castle in the Country by Charles L. Scudder
Dr. Scudder and Joey arrived at their property during an ice storm, with their two dogs and whatever they could fit in their Jeep and small camper. As they attempted to reach their hilltop, the first thing they saw was the corpse of a poor, departed horse blocking the logging trail, which they promptly named Dead Horse Road. The brick castle-like home they eventually raised among the trees there, became Corpsewood Manor. Dr. Scudder was a fan of the Addams Family, and likened his own tastes and lifestyle to that of the spooky clan of outsiders with whom virtually every Satanist identifies on one level or another. A sign was soon nailed to a tree along the road to Corpsewood, proclaiming proudly:
"Beware of The Thing."
Dr. Scudder spent six years at his dream home, building, digging, planting and caring for the land that was feeding him and Joey. Joey planted a rose garden and enjoyed cooking on a wood stove. They made friends with some of the locals, who brought fruit to be turned into Dr. Scudder's homemade wine; a wedding was hosted in the rose garden, accompanied by Dr. Scudder's harp playing from the sun deck above the gazebo.
Dr. Scudder continued to make art, painting and creating stained glass that was incorporated into the windows of the house. Most notoriously, he created a stained glass Baphomet sigil, the symbol of the Church of Satan. His interest in the occult could also be seen in the pentagrams he painted on the doors of his black Jeep, and in the catalogs and books later found in the house. He made no secret of his Satanism; while Joey always protested that he himself was Catholic, Dr. Scudder was open about his beliefs, clarifying misconceptions.
Nevertheless, even those pleasantly disposed toward Dr. Scudder and Joey, began to refer to them as "the homosexual devil-worshippers." Despite this negative connotation, many locals would visit Corpsewood to marvel at the progress of its construction, and partake of Dr. Scudder's cautious conviviality.
Trion, Georgia, in Chattooga County, was not an exciting place in the late 70's/early 80's. There wasn't much to do, and it was economically depressed. Young people would "go riding," which consisted of driving around the area in their worn-out cars, with almost no money, looking for something resembling fun. They began to find their way up Dead Horse Road to "the devil-worshipper's castle," where Dr. Scudder would be pleasant and sometimes offer some of his homemade wine. According to the later testimony of the murderers, Dr. Scudder had a brief sexual encounter with one of them in the weeks before the murders; it is unknown whether this was an isolated incident or if such encounters may have happened occasionally with other young men. "The professor's house" was off-limits to his curious young visitors; instead, Dr. Scudder would entertain his guests on the third floor of an outbuilding at Corpsewood, the chicken house. This third floor room had been painted with some donated pink paint, not what Dr. Scudder would usually choose, and Dr. Scudder referred to it as the guest room, or the Pink Room. It contained a couple of mattresses, a space heater, and not much else.
On December 16th, 1982, Tony West and Avery Brock went up to Corpsewood, accompanied by their friends, Joey Wells and Teresa Hudgins, two teenagers on a date. A "riding around" date — their car was out of commission and they had availed themselves of the offer to accompany Tony and Avery for the evening.
Tony and Avery were under the impression that Dr. Scudder was secretly rich, that Corpsewood Manor was full of treasure, and that by eliminating its rightful inhabitants, they could just move in. No one would care; weren't they sinful devil-worshippers? Besides, Dr. Scudder had tried to make Avery a homosexual, taken advantage of him. The homosexual devil-worshippers deserved it. They had discussed this in the weeks preceding the murders.
Upon their arrival, Dr. Scudder was his usual hospitable self; he settled his guests into the Pink Room, and brought them wine. The four visitors were also under the influence of "toot-a-lu," a cheap way to get high by huffing paint thinner and glue poured onto a rag. Drinking and conversation proceeded in the Pink Room, with the two teenaged guests, Joey Wells and Teresa, in one corner sharing a pint of homemade wine, and Tony, Avery and Dr. Scudder in another.
At one point, Avery left the room, climbed down the ladder and went out to the car to retrieve a rifle he'd borrowed earlier that day from his mother. It had belonged to his father. He reappeared in the Pink Room and ordered Dr. Scudder to his feet. Dr. Scudder was subsequently threatened with a knife, bound and gagged, and marched into Corpsewood Manor for the last time, where he found his partner and friend of many years, Joey Odom, dead on the floor, along with his two dogs.
Tony West and Avery Brock threatened and beat Dr. Scudder as they attempted to find out "where the money was." They ransacked his house. They made him step over the body of his companion of many years.
Earlier on the day of his death, Dr. Scudder had been playing his harp, and had used a battery-powered portable stereo to record himself playing and reciting the words to William Blake's "The Tyger." It was to be a gift for a friend. As the perpetrators ransacked the house, they'd mistakenly hit "play" on the stereo and in a twist of fate suitable only for a horror movie or film noir, Dr. Scudder's sonorous voice boomed out a soundtrack to this awful crime.
You can listen to part of this tape here:
Ultimately, Tony and Avery ended Dr. Scudder's life by shooting him several times, took whatever valuables they thought they could identify, and escaped the scene by stealing the Jeep.
But we can't allow our image of Dr. Scudder's last moments to be completely those of a passive, frightened victim. Even as his murderers screamed orders at him to sit still, to give them information, he was overcome with grief at the sight of his dead loved one, and walked across the room to kneel beside him. Dr. Scudder's last words were, "I asked for this." He took responsibility for the mistake he'd made in allowing these savages into his life.
Although the perpetrators of this hideous crime were apprehended and are serving life terms behind bars, justice wasn't accomplished overnight; there were several trials, battles over jurisdiction, admission of evidence, and legal procedure. It's all told in sensitive detail by Daniel Ellis in his book, Corpsewood: A True Crime Like No Other.
Daniel Ellis has taken the story of Dr. Charles Lee Scudder and Joseph Odom and told it with compassion, clarity and with an eye for the details of courtroom drama; he maintains a lively pace and the only thing he leaves out is the dry boredom you might expect from a book with this much "procedure." A great deal of misinformation has been purported about this crime, mainly in the interest of whitewashing the murderers and condemning the victims. Ellis explains the true nature of Dr. Scudder's Satanist beliefs, as well as touching upon the origins of Satanism and briefly discussing the background of the Church of Satan. Part of the perpetrators' defense was to allege that Dr. Scudder had drugged them with LSD that had been discovered on the premises; in fact, there was no trace of any drugs anywhere in the bottles of wine Dr. Scudder had passed around, and the LSD vials found were old laboratory samples, mostly dried up with yellowed labels, that Dr. Scudder had saved as souvenirs from his days as a research scientist in pharmacology. In their attempt to flee the state of Georgia and the responsibility for their stupid and senseless crimes, the murderers had killed a third party at a rest stop, a young Navy officer on his way home for Christmas. They stole his car, his clothes and his meager cash. Their pathetic lie about being drugged against their will by Dr. Scudder, failed to explain this third cold-blooded murder for anything other than what it was.
Dr. Charles Lee Scudder was a Satanist and a member of the Church of Satan. Our founder, Anton LaVey, was made aware of his murder and condemned those responsible.
Dr. Scudder was most definitely one of us, a loving pet parent, possessing an array of passions and interests, with the drive to create his own world and live in it with those he cherished. He had achieved this, however briefly, in the beautiful hilltop location he called Corpsewood, and clearly he savored it. In his own words, from the Mother Earth article:
"At 10:00 a.m., we had tea in the gazebo, and I designed a new chicken-house that I plan to start building soon. Tonight, I may practice my harp. Or perhaps I'll just sit in the courtyard and listen to the tree frogs and whippoorwills, while bats fly and the clouds drift across the full moon. The world that's around me now is fresh, quiet, and very beautiful!"
These two men left behind friends who loved them; those people are still visiting the remains of Corpsewood, and keeping it clean, quiet and beautiful.
Charles Scudder and Joey Odom were different. They were outsiders. Their murderers and many of those who weighed in afterward, vilified the victims as "devils" deserving of their fate. These lifelong losers whose low-rung in life had definitely been their own doing, were nevertheless confident they were somehow "better" than "two weirdos from the big city" who had only come to Georgia for peace and the appeal of its natural beauty.
This is a cautionary tale for every Satanist. Walk among them, but never forget you are not of them.
—Magistra Peggy Nadramia
High Priestess, Church of Satan
Photo Credits: facebook.com/corpsewoodmemorial
Article amended on March 29, 2018 c.e. to reflect the discovery of Dr. Scudder's membership materials in the archives of the Church of Satan.
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