Man with gray hair and five o'clock shadow, wearing a trucker hat

Chas Laughlin bio

Charles "Chas" Edward Laughlin was born May 22, 1965, in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the second youngest of Rufus and Elsie Laughlin's eight children.

Elsie ran an unlicensed child-care center out of the family's battered double-wide trailer on the outskirts of Hattiesburg's low-end blue-collar section.

Rufus drove a city bus for 40 years without promotion. At the end of every workday, Chas saw his father come home and first drown his resentment with cheap bourbon, then take it out on his wife or children—whoever was closest.

As a young man, Chas found work at the service station/garage half a block from the Laughlins' home. He developed a knack for repairing cars and taking advantage of the unwary. By eighth grade—the year he dropped out of school—he was small-town street smart and well-versed in making a fast and dishonest buck. The only thing holding him back was an explosive temper and a drinking problem, both inherited from his father.

On his 18th birthday, Chas was arrested for assaulting a co-worker at the garage, which earned him 18 months in prison. He enrolled in the automobile maintenance and repair program at the prison, where he made contact with other like-minded inmates who gave him an advanced education in chop shops, "cooking the books," and many other skills.

Chas left prison with a GED, several mechanic's certificates, and a full list of contacts. For the next ten years, he worked at repair shops and garages across Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas, always leaving just before his scams were discovered.

In Tyler, Texas, he met JoAnna Deckard, a 24-year-old barmaid with three children by three previous boyfriends. They married in 1987, two months after their son, Gage, was born.

While Chas was working at the TruService Auto Repair Shop in Oxford in 1994, JoAnna demanded that they settle down. Two years later, Chas manipulated the shop owner into selling him the business for below market value and changed the name to Laughlin Automotive & Body Shop.

For the last twenty-odd years, Chas has conducted his business at his shop in Oxford. In addition, he bought out several of the shops he used to work for in Louisiana and Texas and personally hired managers there.

In the mid-2000s, the FBI investigated Chas's network of shops as an alleged chop shop ring, but the case came to a premature end when their lynchpin informant, Alexandria Body Shop owner Marin "Manny" Thibodeaux, was found at the bottom of Catahoula Lake in central Louisiana. 

In the late 2000s, Chas raised the eyebrows of law enforcement once again when he became a major buyer in classic auto auctions in the South, purchasing cars that subsequently disappeared from the country to later reappear with new owners in the United Kingdom, Russia, and China.

Now in his late fifties, Chas has been threatening to retire, but insiders say he's afraid that his son, Gage, isn't up to taking over the business. Others say Chas has so many secrets that he's unable to open the books up to anyone. Either way, Chas himself still holds court at Oxford's Laughlin Automotive and Body Shop.


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