My role in resurrecting a dead criminal case began a few weeks back with an out-of-the-blue phone call courtesy of a private eye named Don Corbett. He phoned with news of a strange case with ties to a Mesa woman and an impending trip to Scottsdale for an interview or potentially an interrogation.
Corbett’s offer was a free meal and an opportunity to listen in on the session between himself and 42-year-old Melissa Ponder about the 2003 death of husband Scott and three others in a small town in South Carolina. It doubled as an invitation to the ground floor of fame — Corbett said the case is odd enough to warrant visions of a book deal or even a film.
A little research into the case at hand provided an objective agreement to the private eye’s assessment and made it difficult to resist adding one more entity to the many, many people who’ve found their way into this case over the course of 10 years. After all, how often does one become embroiled in an unsolved mystery?
The Superbike murders
A quick Google search for “Superbike murders” unveils a plethora of news articles, video and even a Facebook page devoted to the quadruple homicide in Chesnee, S.C.
What is known about what happened at Superbike Motorsports on Nov. 6, 2003 comes from the four people — Brian Lucas, Chris Sherbert, Beverly Guy and Scott Ponder — shot by the same 9 mm gun.
Their corpses were discovered in various states of activity. Store mechanic Sherbert died while working on a vehicle, while authorities found Guy’s body in the middle of the store. Officials believe Lucas and Ponder tried to escape, but only made it to the doorway and the parking lot, respectively. A recent update on the case from a South Carolina TV station states authorities believe the killer went back to the store in order to shoot the four victims in the head to ensure they were dead.
The resulting investigation into the quadruple homicide has led to nothing, despite heavy news coverage on a local and national level — “America’s Most Wanted” had a segment about it, while Geraldo Rivera featured it on his show back in 2006 — and released a composite sketch of a person of interest. Theories on the motive have oscillated between financial motivations and personal vendettas, or even a combination of the two, although neither has netted a solid enough suspect to arrest.
“It’s a very bizarre, wide open case,” Corbett said.
New information about the case has dwindled as the years have gone by, with the most recent update coming from a new composite sketch made by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office in November 2013. Otherwise, the only new news has come from a collection of “X number of years later” articles like this one.
before the murder
Among the many people still waiting for some conclusion to the case is Melissa Ponder, who was wed to Scott Ponder and was Guy’s daughter in law at the time of the incident.
Ponder lived in South Carolina at the time, but her roots are firmly planted in Arizona. They link back to her father, who was the band director and football coach at Safford High School, and Ponder was the homecoming queen. Even 20-plus years on, it’s easy to see why she earned the homecoming votes, but the lithe, self-described bubbly blond was and still is more than her appearances. Her skills as a shooting guard, for example, earned her a basketball scholarship at Eastern Arizona College in neighboring Thatcher.
Her career took her across the country working for an extended warranty program for motorcycles. Ponder had a solid education, a six-figure salary and no desire for a man to swoop into her life to save her – at least until the day she met charming southern gentleman and future husband Scott Ponder.
A period of wooing turned into an engagement, which then evolved into what Ponder described as a “really, really good relationship, a really good marriage.” She moved to that small town in South Carolina with the man she loved, took a lifestyle akin to the proverbial southern belle, and was in the midst of building a brand new home thanks to the success of his business. Ponder was seven weeks pregnant with the couple’s first son, Scott Jr., when Nov. 6, 2003 rolled around.
“At the time, what I had was a fairy tale. I was living a fairy tale,” she said.
Of all the aspects of the case, the one that irks Ponder the most is the ensuing investigation by the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, which she said has let its ego get in the way of solving the case.
“They’re these country boys trying to act like big city,” she said.
One problem she said came early in the investigation when investigators mislabeled DNA, which she said slowed down the investigation.
Spartanburg Country Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Lt. Anthony Ivey wrote in an email there was a mistake, as the vile containing Lucas’ blood was placed in a vile with Scott Ponder’s name on it and vice versa. But he said the mistake, which was corrected, was made by the medical examiner’s office and not the sheriff’s office, and added the mislabeling “did not interfere with our investigation of this case.”
Ponder’s issues extend to the person in charge of investigating the case, Alan Wood, who she allege preyed on her shortly after her husband’s murder. She alleges he started by flirting with her and eventually asked her to take and send him “inappropriate photos,” actions that could have a deleterious effect on any potential criminal action.
“You know how many cases have been lost because officers try to get (victims) in the sack?” Corbett asked.
Ivey wrote a complaint against Wood was made by one of Ponder’s former spouses two to three years ago, although he said that was the only the allegation made against him.
“While we do not discuss internal personnel matters I will tell you that the sheriff’s office was not provided any information that substantiated the allegation,” he wrote.
Don Corbett had nothing to do with Melissa Ponder, Superbike Motorsports, the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office or even the state of South Carolina prior to 2005. He was, and still is, a retired detective from Ohio and a self-described old school Irish cop who looks into cold cases on a pro-bono basis. Corbett said his clients are usually families in need of closure who have run into dead ends while dealing with local police, private investigators, and especially self-proclaimed mediums and psychics.
The Superbike Motorsports case entered his life back in 2005 when he received a call from Brian Lucas’ parents asking for assistance figuring out what happened to their son.
This case has become something of a white whale for Corbett; the detective has spent almost nine years interviewing family member and witnesses, going over files and requesting documents from the sheriff’s office on a regular basis.
The work on the ground is what brought him to Arizona a few weeks back to interview Ponder in person, which took years of persistence to accomplish. Ponder admits he broke her down, and the two met at that restaurant in Scottsdale to discuss details, and for Corbett to determine if she had any involvement in the murders.
Corbett is far from the first person to ask that – she said she’s been a suspect for years – and she falls back on what is in essence a mantra for an answer: “I have nothing to hide.” In fact, she appreciates how Corbett has approached the investigation – this article is among his tactics – and she’s even open to being indicted on charges just to see if it could lead to new information.
“You never know if there’s going to be a day when someone misconstrued something or lied about something,” she said.
Any research Corbett said he’s conducted has come without the aid of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office, which he alleges has stonewalled him repeatedly. He claims the department won’t let him assist in the investigation because of the solipsism Ponder mentioned earlier, although Ivey said the department has worked with a law enforcement agency on the case.
“Since the investigation into this case is still active and ongoing we do not believe it is helpful to permit non-law enforcement entities access to the case file,” he said.
after the murder
Describing Ponder’s last 10 years as tumultuous understates the personal turbulence she’s undergone. Attempts to move on with new relationships faltered, and she’s totaled five husbands in all. One of her exes after Scott Ponder’s death died a year after their divorce from a drug overdose.
The failed relationships featured two unifying traits: rushing into a romantic engagement and Ponder’s inability to let go of her relationship with Scott, especially the life they might have had together.
“It is very obvious I have not been successful in moving on,” she said.
Life hasn’t been easy, but that doesn’t mean she has any regrets as to how the world has turned around her. The five marriages have brought her two children — Scott Jr., who turns 10 this June, and his half-brother, Britton — she wouldn’t have had otherwise.
Plus, her personality added a bite that wasn’t there before; she said she’s still the bubbly blond she was before, but the lightness is grounded by a backbone earned through years of accusations and tribulations.
“I have a really good life, but that’s because I made sure I have a good life,” she said.
Yet there’s still a sense of closure missing from the lack of resolution in Scott Ponder’s case, something she may never find if the years continue forward and the number of people with ties to the case reduces one by one. Even articles like this meant to revive events from long ago shift deep into the archives and among the failures of resurrection despite wishes to the contrary.
A topic as complex as this one presents multiple difficulties, but the most notable is finding new ways of presenting information accumulated over the course of a decade. Even finding a new question to ask is problematic when the person who has discussed this topic in 50 interviews with news agencies, both local and national.
Given the circumstances, the most important question is what would she do if investigators found the killer and he or she was brought to justice?
If this were still the early 2000s, her answer would have entailed holding the son who lost his father in front of the killer’s face. It’s an answer filled with defiance, spite, anger and a touch of optimism for some form of resolution.
“Now, with you asking that, it’s not going to change a dang thing,” she said.