Midnight at the Castle of Good and Evil—Book Review

The Corpsewood Manor Murders in North Georgia
Amy Petulla
History Press, 2016

 Even the name Corpsewood Manor is reminiscent of a haunted house attraction. When I first encountered a description of this remote, northwest Georgia site I discounted the description as a typical internet fiction, one of those countless urban legends that are found in the weedier portions of the web. None of the better sources I followed made mention of this until Theresa Racer, the creator of Theresa’s Haunted History of the Tri-State Blog covered this site. I did some perfunctory research on the site and determined that most of the wild facts about the site were not mere inventions and have always meant to include this story in my blog. I was excited to see Amy Petulla, the owner of Chattanooga Ghost Tours and the co-author of Haunted Chattanooga with Jessica Penot, wrote a book about this fascinating case and haunting.

The facts of this story seem like a swirl of bad tabloid journalism. Two gay men, Charles Scudder and Joey Odom, lived in a hand-built castle on a remote mountain ridge in northwest Georgia. The remote location allowed them to escape the pressures of urban living and live in a simple manner without electricity, phones, and the rude interruptions of modern “connected” life. The remote castle acted as a fortress keeping the outside world at bay while allowing them to indulge in decadent pleasures that were viewed with contempt by much of the outside world. Scudder, a former professor of pharmacology at Chicago’s Loyola University, engaged in reading and study in his mountain hideaway where he also dabbled in the occult and the hedonistic tenets of Satanism.

Two local men, Tony West and Avery Brock, had visited the pair a handful of times and even partaken of some of the verboten pleasures that were offered to some of the guests of the castle, when they were struck with the idea of robbing the pair. West and Brock visited Corpsewood on the evening of December 12, 1982 and shot both men to death when they did not reveal where their money was hidden (both Scudder and Odom had a decent sum of money but it was entirely in bank accounts, the pair had no cash on them). The criminals took some valuables from the castle and fled in Scudder’s Jeep. On the road, the two criminals robbed and killed a naval officer they encountered in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Both men were quickly arrested and tried for the murders. They were both found guilty. Both men remain in prison for this horrible crime.

After the discovery of the bodies of Scudder and Odom (as well as their two beloved mastiffs), curious locals flocked to the scene to gawk at the remote castle. The crowds stripped the home clean of souvenirs, even digging up the rose bushes while some of the more valuable items were safely removed by friends and acquaintances of the couple. Many of these items were later believed to have brought bad luck to the owners. The remote castle was soon torched by arsonists and the surrounding forest quickly began to reclaim the site.

As a lover of the paranormal Petulla includes an entire chapter on the paranormal activity that still persists at the site. One of the more fascinating tales she notes came from her masseuse who visited the site one afternoon with friends. At the site of the house they met two middle aged men sitting among the ruins in lawnchairs. After an amicable conversation about the tragedy that had occurred there many years earlier, the masseuse and friends walked away to explore the rest of the site. Returning to the ruins of the house they discovered that the odd men had left. After describing the two men to Petulla she produced a photograph of Dr. Scudder and the masseuse was shocked to say that he had been one of the odd pair.

Petulla revels in the details and personalities involved in this case. The picture she presents is not unlike John Berendt’s Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, which explores the events surrounding a murder that occurred in Savannah a year before the Corpsewood murders. Like Berendt who had reported on Jim Williams for Esquire and was personally embedded in Savannah society, Petulla worked as an assistant district attorney under David “Red” Lomenick, who had prosecuted West and Brock a few years earlier. This intimate knowledge of the case is born out in exquisite detail in this book.

In all its tabloid-esque elements, Petulla handles the story sympathetically and mostly without casting aspersions on the victims. She also utilizes interviews with locals who were friends of Scudder and Odom and presents them as fascinating eccentrics who simply wished to live their own lives before that was upended by this murderous plot. By incorporating details of the eccentric personalities involved in this case, Petulla presents a scary, bizarre, and thoroughly enjoyable adventure through remote northwest Georgia in the early 1980s.