040 - The Mysterious Death of Kurt Sova - Revisited
Kurt Sova was born on July 15th, 1964 in Cuyahoga County, Ohio to parents Kenneth and Dorothy. A quiet boy with a close circle of friends, Kurt was described by his family as being kind, intelligent and dependable. Kurt was the oldest son, later having three brothers. He often aided his parents in looking after his siblings and took his responsibility seriously. Ken and Dorothy were loving parents, who provided him with a support system and did their best to raise a polite son who was never known to get into trouble. Somewhat of an introvert, as Kurt aged he began to expand his horizons and his personality blossomed. By the time he turned 17, in 1981, he was well on his way to becoming the driven and reliable man he’d been raised to become. While many kids Kurt’s age enter into a rebellious period, he hadn’t, and continued to follow the rules set by his parents. Considering his maturity and tendency to steer clear of troubling situations, Kurt was granted a fair amount of leeway when it came to his curfew and activities with friends. Also, it was the early 1980’s and much of the more carefree nature of the seventies still lingered, that sense of innocence of living in a safe small town also lent credence to Ken and Dorothy’s more relaxed approach. Of her son, Dorothy later said “He never had any trouble with the neighbors. I never had any trouble with him in school. I never had any trouble with him with the police.”
While Kurt’s parents found him to be respectable and innocent, for lack of a better term, friends described him slightly differently. Kurt was seventeen, and like many boys his age, wasn’t afraid to break the rules in order to have some fun. Several of his closer friends, interviewed later, suggested that it wasn’t uncommon for the group of them, including Kurt, to get their hands on some alcohol and spend their nights drinking, smoking cigarettes and even indulging in marijuana when they could find it. This isn’t exactly unusual behavior for someone his age, as most kids partake in these kinds of activities as they make the slow progression from teenager to adult. Unfortunately for Kurt, he would never complete the transition and his death would become a bizarre mystery full of confusion and rumor, leading many to wonder what could have happened in his final hours to leave such a young boy deceased with no proper explanation.
On the morning of Friday, October 23rd, 1981, Kurt woke up and began his daily ritual, preparing for school. According to Ken and Dorothy, it was a typical Friday morning and Kurt was excited for the weekend. Halloween was coming up and a carnival was in town. Kurt had plans of going to the carnival that night, and as far as Ken and Dorothy knew, he would be attending school that morning. However, outside of his parents knowledge, Kurt had no plans on going to school that morning. According to reports of the time, Kurt cut school that morning and, instead, proceded to the parking lot of a liquor store where he would try and persuade someone to buy some alcohol for him. Allegedly, Kurt was successful and scored a bottle of 190-proof Everclear. 190 proof means that the liquor was 95% pure alcohol, making it extremely potent. While it has been said that Kurt was known to drink with his friends, it’s never been made clear whether or not they typically drank large quantities of something this strong.
Since he was out of school, but couldn’t go home, Kurt is alleged to have spent a large part of the morning and some of the afternoon at his girlfriend’s home. Later in the day, he ran into a friend, Samuel Carroll. Kurt talked about going down to the carnival to have some fun, but Carroll mentioned a party that was happening in the neighborhood of Newburgh Heights. Kurt is said to have been somewhat drunk already, and agreed to go to the party instead. The party was being hosted by Debbie Sams and her brother, Clayton, at a Duplex on Harvard Avenue which they shared with a female roommate. Upon arriving at the party, there were several people that Kurt and Carroll knew, although there were reportedly others who were unfamiliar to them. Reports would later say that the party had been attended by several people who had traveled in from Detroit, located only a few hours away.
What exactly occurred at the party that night has been a heated pointed of contention in this case, with some suggesting that Kurt seemed normal, though drunk, and others saying that Kurt was incredibly drunk and causing a scene. Witnesses who attended the party would later say that Kurt was drinking Everclear, though no one can say for sure whether it was his own bottle that he’d gotten earlier in the day, if he had picked up another one or if there was simply Everclear at the party. Either way, multiple attendees described Kurt as visibly drunk. According to Carroll, Kurt became ill at the party and vomited. In an interview, Carroll later stated “The roommate asked me to please get him out of the house, so I helped him down the stairs and outside.”
According to Carroll, in the transition from later afternoon to night, the temperature had dropped significantly and neither he nor Kurt were dressed for it. They had worn jackets, but had taken them off inside for the party. Carroll later said that he and Kurt stood around for twenty to thirty minutes, near a chainlink fence behind the Duplex, talking while Kurt tried to sober up, or at least feel less sick. Carroll explained that, after some time had passed, he wanted to go inside and get their jackets because he was freezing. He left Kurt standing against the chainlink fence and, according to Carroll “I then went to go and get the jackets upstairs. I got the jackets and went back down and he wasn’t there. I was only upstairs about two or three minutes.” Carroll wasn’t sure where Kurt had gone, so he began wandering around, calling out his name. According to Carroll, he walked up and down several side streets and checked the nearby parking lot of a JL Goodman warehouse, but after failing to locate Kurt, he assumed his friend had decided to go home, or had met someone he knew, later saying “I can only guess that someone he knew picked him up because it happened that fast. Someone had to pick him up in a car.” Carroll returned to the party.
At this same time, while Kurt was now missing, Dorothy Sova was driving around town looking for him. It had gotten late, and it was unlike Kurt to not come home, or at least call and let his parents know that he was going to be late or spending the night with a friend. Neither Dorothy nor Ken had seen Kurt since 7:30 that morning, when they were under the impression that he was getting ready for school. They wouldn’t find out that he’d taken the day off until later. Dorothy visited several locations she knew Kurt often spent time, but failed to locate him. She returned home and, assuming that he would be home sometime later, eventually fell asleep. When she awoke the next morning and found Kurt’s bed empty and not slept in, she began to panic. Dorothy later said “It was not like him to be gone overnight. It was not like him to stay out after 10, 10:30, 11 o’clock at the latest, and that was only when we knew where he was. This night he just never came home.”
Ken and Dorothy made several phone calls and, early the next morning, had assembled many friends, neighbors and even some of Kurt’s friends to search for him. The group split up and searched different areas, looking in ravines, alleys and even dumpsters but found no sign of him. According to Dorothy “We were in teams. We must have had 40 people looking for him, day and night.” The search lasted for hours, but they could find no trace of Kurt. Saturday slowly began dwindling, and Kurt was now missing for more than twenty-four hours. His parents placed multiple calls to friends trying to get any information they could, but they failed to find anyone who had seen Kurt the night before, or at least, no one who was willing to admit to seeing him.
The next day, on Sunday October 25th, Dorothy and Ken filed a missing persons report with the Cleveland police department while their other sons printed up fliers bearing Kurt’s photo and vital information. The fliers were posted all over town, on power poles, fences and even the windows of businesses. Almost from the onset, Kurt’s parents felt that the police weren’t taking the care seriously and began conducting their own investigation. They began questioning everyone they knew who was friends with or who had ever even met Kurt, but again, they failed to dig up any information or leads about where their son could be. Each day that passed brought more fear and panic into their lives. They knew that if Kurt could, he would have contacted them by now and they just knew something was very wrong. Finally, their searching paid off and someone told them about the party at the Duplex. Dorothy went to the Duplex, but the owner was uncooperative and alleged that not only had she never seen nor heard of Kurt, but that she hadn’t had a party either.
Police later interviewed several people who had attended the party, and who named Kurt as an attendee. In addition to this, they spoke with a pizza delivery man who reported making a delivery on Friday night and that there was definitely a party going on at the time. Confronted with this information, the woman changed her story saying that there was in fact a party and Kurt had attended, though she wasn’t sure what had happened and that he had left. The owner, along with all attendees of the party who had been questioned, failed to report anything out of the ordinary or any incidents occurring, other than Kurt being excessively drunk. Kurt’s family paid several visits to the duplex and ultimately were given his jacket, which had been left behind during the party. After more visits, the owner filed a complaint with the Cleveland Police and Chief James F Lukas spoke to the Sova’s, telling them to stay away from the Duplex.
On Monday, Judy Oros had a bizarre encounter. Judy worked at a music store, and in the front window was one of the fliers Kurt’s brothers’ had printed up. There had been a homeless man hanging around the area for a few days, allegedly from Detroit, and he had made bizarre statements to people during the course of those days. During one particular encounter, the man alleged that he had access to bodies that were being flown into Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and that he had, on several occasions, stolen shoes from those bodies. People who came across the man found him to be creepy, and likely crazy, and tried to steer clear of him. According to Oros, the man entered the store and approached her, gesturing towards the flier with Kurt’s face on it. He is alleged to have said “They’re gonna find him and they’re gonna find him in two days, and they’re not gonna know what happened to him.” Disturbed and frightened by this statement, Oros contacted police who took her statement and said they would look for the man and to give them a call if he returned.
The following day, Ken and Dorothy were informed that Kurt may still be in the duplex. Who the source was can’t be confirmed, some articles have reported that the owner of the Duplex told them directly that a young man who fit Kurt’s description had been sleeping on a cot in the basement for other days. Other sources have reported that an anonymous source contacted the family and told them the same story, though there doesn’t seem to be any direct confirmation of which is true. Regardless, Ken Sova took his sons with him and returned to the Duplex. Finding no one home, they broke in the door and proceded down into the basement. They did find a cot in the basement, which appeared to have been recently slept in, but there was no sign of Kurt. Ken later said “I went down to the basement. I thought maybe he was sick or he was hurt and I figured if I got down there and found him that maybe I could do something for him. There, I found a cot that looked like somebody had slept in it. After searching the whole basement, I didn’t find anybody there. I had no idea if Kurt was hurt or not. All I know is somebody did sleep in that cot that night and when I got there, they were gone.”
Frustrated and desperate for answers, the Sova family continued their search for Kurt. Eventually, Kurt’s friend who had accompanied him to the party, Samuel Carroll, came forward and spoke to the family. It’s not clear why there had been such a delay in this conversation taking place, though some have suggested that Carroll was afraid of getting into trouble while others believe Carroll knew more than he was willing to admit about Kurt’s whereabouts. For the new few days, the search continued but no new information or leads about Kurt, his whereabouts or his condition were found. According to Ken Sova, on November 2nd, he passed through and thoroughly checked the area of a ravine where local kids often hung out, but it was empty.
Six days after Kurt attended the party, on November 3rd, 1981, at approximately 5:30pm, three local boys were playing in behind the JL Goodman warehouse on Harvard Avenue. They began making their way through a steel yard and then into the abandoned area that Ken Sova had searched the previous day. On this day, the boys made the disturbing discovery of a human body, lying face-up in a puddle. Scared and unsure what to think, the boys ran as fast as they could and came across a man working in the area. They told him what they had seen, and not believing them at first, the man went to check for himself. After confirming their story, the man phoned the police to report the body. Officers arrived on the scene and quickly identified the victim as the missing Kurt Sova. His body was described as being laid out in a crucifixion like pose, with his arms out to his sides and one foot was propped on top of the other. Paul T. Grzesik, a part time patrolman at the time later stated “When we arrived there, his body was laid out like Christ on the cross.” Kurt was still dressed in the clothes he had worn to the party six days earlier. Interestingly, Kurt didn’t show any obvious outward signs that would suggest a cause of death. One bizarre detail discovered was that Kurt’s shoes were missing. While police searched the area to sweep for evidence, they did manage to locate his left shoe, buried in a pile of rocks nearby. His right shoe was never found.
Unable to determine a possible cause of death at the scene, and failing to discover any forensic evidence, Kurt’s remains were taken to the medical examiners office. Chief Deputy Coroner Dr. Lester Adelson was surprised by the condition of the body. There were minor cuts and scrapes and some bruising on his shins and cheek, but no indication of a lethal wound. There were no knife wounds, gunshots or puncture marks to indicate a needle. Baffled by this, a thorough examination was conducted. Toxicology was run, which came up negative for cocaine and LSD. Kurt’s blood alcohol content was listed as 0.11%, just over the legal limit in the United States which is set at 0.8%. With nothing to indicate foul play, Kurt’s cause of death was ruled to be of natural causes, though it was later reclassified as a “probable accident.” Dr. Lester later said “You can stop the machinery without damaging the machinery. The manner of death in this particular case was signed out as a probable accident. He hadn’t been beaten in any way. He hadn’t been traumatized in any way. He didn’t have enough alcohol to end his life. He had no pre-existing natural disease. As Sherlock Holmes said, ‘You eliminate all other possibilities and that which remains is the truth.’ This was a diagnosis by exclusion.” According to Cuyahoga County Coroner Elizabeth Balraj, of the approximate 1,200 autopsies they performed each year, the cause of death cannot be determined in only one or two cases.
Kurt’s family were absolutely devastated by the news that he had been found deceased. Beyond being heartbroken, they were angry and frustrated. Ken and Dorothy didn’t believe that Kurt had died as the result of any kind of accident, and firmly felt that foul play had been involved. Ken was adamant that he had searched the area of the ravine just the day before Kurt was found and that, at that time, his body hadn’t been there. Ken later stated “I know he wasn’t there the day I was searching. They must have dumped him off that evening. I looked around and I’m sure that if Kurt was down there, I would’ve noticed that bright yellow t-shirt that he had on, against any of the terrain.” Ken demanded to see Kurt’s body, and the coroner acquiesced. Accord to Ken “I felt sort of hurt because there was mud on his face and they didn’t even wipe him off. He looked cold, he looked so cold. He was lying there as if to say ‘Dad, I’m so cold, Take me home.’” Kurt’s parents had difficulty accepting that the coroner was unable to determine a confirmed cause of death, but police accepted the coroners statement and closed the case, feeling that there were no indications that they were dealing with a homicide. This would be the catalyst for a great deal of strife between local authorities and the Sova family.
Dorothy Sova, when asked about the unknown cause of death, responded “I didn’t believe that they couldn’t tell me how Kurt died. For my peace of mind, I want to know what happened to my boy.” The lead detective on Kurt’s case was Robert Carras, and while Dorothy tried to convince him that something more had gone on than what they knew, Carras wasn’t interested. He tried to tell Dorothy that she was grieving and in denial, that it was understandable, but that they had found nothing that justified further investigation. According to Carras, Kurt had likely gotten a little too drunk that night and when he’d left the party he could have done any number of things which could have resulted in his accidental death. Dorothy disagreed and was determined to find the answers on her own.
News of Kurt’s death swept through town, and those who knew Kurt or the Sova family in general reached out to send their condolences and well wishes. Kurt’s body was laid to rest in Holy Cross cemetery in nearby Brook Park. Ken and Dorothy promised their son that they would find the truth about what had happened to him, and following his memorial service, they began their search for answers. On Thursday morning, two days after Kurt’s body had been discovered, music store manager Judy Oros had another disturbing experience in relation to the homeless man who had said Kurt’s body was going to be found. A shopkeeper nearby stopped by the store and told her that a man had left a bouquet of roses for her. Attached to the roses was a note which red “Roses are red, the sky is blue, they found him dead and they’ll find you, too.” Horrified and scared, Oros placed a call to the Cleveland police who sent two detectives down to speak with her. At this time, the homeless man appeared in the area and, according to Oros, the detectives took him into their vehicle to question him. Oros later told a reporter “They took him outside and were sitting in their car with him. They checked him out, they told me he was just some wacko from Detroit.” The man was released by police, ruled out of having any possible involvement and was never seen in the area again.
Several days before Kurt’s body was discovered, a local woman named Angeline Reddick had witnessed a strange sight. Angeline was looking out the window of her home on Washington Park Blvd when she saw two men carrying a third. According to Reddick “I seen them taking a boy down the alley. It was just before Halloween. One foot was barefoot, I’m almost sure it was the right one. I figured a couple of teenagers with a couple of beers too many and they’re trying to sober him up.” According to Reddick, after the discovery of the body she wanted to contact police but her husband didn’t want them to get involved, fearing that whoever had killed Kurt could possibly come after them. Reddick later said that she ran into the Sova family at a later date and told them what she had seen. Dorothy told the story to the Newburgh Heights police, and they said they’d follow up on it, but according to Reddick, no police ever came to question her about the incident. Dorothy later said “I’m not surprised they didn’t interview her. They didn’t interview half the people who came to me with stuff. Carras kept playing me off as the mother who could not accept her son’s death.”
The Sova’s continued looking for information and, later, spoke to a friend of Kurt’s named David Trusnik who had an interesting story. According to Trusnik, three days after Kurt had disappeared, he had been driving down a nearby road on his way to a job interview. As he drove, he saw Kurt and another boy on the side of the road less than a mile from the Sova residence. Trusnik would go on to say that he clearly recognized Kurt so he pulled to the side of the road to offer him a ride. Trusnik would go on to say “At this point, a van pulled up and Kurt yelled out ‘Franco.’ They both ran over to the van and they got in. I didn’t know Kurt was missing. If I would’ve known he was missing, there would probably have been something I could’ve done. I could’ve followed the van. But I didn’t know. And two days later he was found dead. And that was the last time I saw him.” Again, Dorothy brought this to the police, but they continued to dismiss her information.
Dorothy began investigating any deaths which shared even remote similarities to Kurt’s. Some four months after Kurt’s body was found, the body of 13 year old Eugene Kvet, who also in a strange coincidence lived just one block North of the Sova’s, was found in another ravine off Harvard Avenue. In a bizarre similarity, Eugene’s right shoe was also missing, just like Kurt’s had been. The coroner’s office ultimately ruled that Kvet’s death came as a result of him falling into the ravine, and while Dorothy could accept this, she still felt it was strange and that there was more here than the police were willing to look into. For months she fought to get Kurt’s case reinvestigated, contacting several other police departments and agencies. Over the course of the next few years, four law enforcement agencies reinvestigated Kurt’s death but were unable to come up with answers. Each time they explained that the case had grown too cold and the initial investigation, conducted by the Newburgh Heights police, had been sloppy and left them with little to work with.
In 1990, nine years after Kurt’s death, the case was reopened by the prosecutor’s office. Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor James A Gutierrez said about the original investigation “The initial investigation done by the Newburgh Heights police was a joke. A joke. If I had known about some of this stuff earlier, I probably would have indicted some people on dereliction of duty. There was no police investigation whatsoever. It’s unbelievable. The people who ran Newburgh Heights, from a law enforcement perspective, in the early 80’s ought to be ashamed of themselves.” Police Chief Lukas disagreed with Gutierrez, stating “I felt it was a pretty good investigation, based on the fact that we really didn’t have a lot to go on. Nobody would even talk. We didn’t have a cause of death and that was the biggest problem. If they would have at least given us a cause of death, we would’ve had something to go on.”
When the prosecutor’s office dug into the case, they made several disturbing discoveries. Polaroid crime scene photos showed Kurt’s body on a stretcher, but not the position that he had been in when first discovered. When asked about why they had no photos of the crime scene before the body was moved, Chief Lukas responded “I know there were photos taken, I’m almost positive there were photos.” Lukas was further questioned as to why no forensics specialists were called to the scene, which had been processed predominantly by detectives and patrolmen, Lukas explained that they were a small police department and, at the time, didn’t have a forensics team. Other police departments, when asked about this, explained that the Newburgh Heights police should have called the Cleveland Police and asked them to send a forensics specialist down. Dorothy Sova would later claim that the Cleveland police had offered to send a forensics team shortly after the body had been discovered, but that the Newburgh Heights police had rejected the offer.
The prosecutor’s office also asked Chief Lukas why they never obtained a warrant for the Duplex where the Samses’ lived since they had witness statements, as well as an admission from the owner, that a party had been held the night Kurt disappeared and that he had in fact been present at the party. In addition to those facts, they also had received information that someone resembling Kurt may have been staying on a cot in the basement days after the party had taken place. Chief Lukas simply responded “We had no reason to search it.” Suffice it to say, the way in which the Newburgh Heights police had handled Kurt’s death was seriously called into question, labeled as unprofessional and borderline negligient.
Eighteen months after Kurt’s death, Dorothy’s campaigning finally paid off. Cleveland Police Department Detective Al Figler agreed to look into the case and reinvestigate. Figler’s first move was to request the full case file from the Newburgh Height’s police, but he was shocked with what he received. According to Figler “When I talked to Carras, there must have been three or four pieces of paper thrown in a manilla folder with four polaroids. It was a joke. Basic detective work would demand more documents than that.” Figler’s investigation continued to unearth poor work, and possibly even direct attempts to dismiss Kurt’s case and simply brush it under the rug as an accidental death. It became clear to everyone in a professional capacity who examined the case that Dorothy Sova was not simply a grieving mother who refused to let go of her son. The Newburgh Height’s police department, at a minimum, had not devoted enough attention or time to Kurt’s case, and at a maximum, had actively worked to cover up and conceal the true facts.
Due to a lack of evidence, an improper investigation and uncooperative investigators, there wasn’t much would could be done in Kurt’s case, but those who did look into it felt that the official ruling was incorrect and that there was enough information to suggest that Kurt’s death may not have been accidental. Unfortunately, little could be done at the time. Nine long years would pass, with the Sova family consistently arguing that someone had murdered Kurt and that the Newburgh Heights police either knew who had done it, and were covering up for him, or they simply chose to ignore obvious clues and information which could have lead to answers. While the Newburgh Heights police felt that they had done nothing wrong, things would shift years later when further investigations into their activities would result in terminations and arrests.
Nine years after Kurt’s death, In 1990, Chief Lukas was officially removed from his position and permanently fired from the Newburgh Heights Police department. According to reports of the time, Lukas has been caught falsifying police credentials and giving them to a 911 dispatcher working for the department. Lukas had previously been reprimanded in 1984 for an incident where the Police Chief was off duty and present at a party where illegal gambling was taking place. He was found guilty of dereliction of duty. When asked about these incidents later, and whether or not he had shown dereliction when it came to Kurt’s case, Lukas was adamant that it was unfair to use these errors in judgment against him, stating “That’s not even fair. What happened was completely unrelated. That’s the only part I take offense to. That Sova case was handled on the up and up.” As a result of Kurt’s case, and accusations of abuse of power, corruption and physical abuse against the Newburgh Heights Police Department, the FBI officially launched an investigation. While Chief Lukas was merely fired, and banned from every being a police officer again, the lead detective on Kurt’s case, Robert Carras, had much greater charges to contend with.
At the conclusion of the FBI’s investigation, Detective Robert Carras with brutally beating five crime suspects during his time with the Newburgh Heights police, though speculation was rampant that there were quite a few more. One of the suspects he was charged with beating was named Eric Kotonski. According to Kotonski, Carras accused him of driving while under the influence of alcohol, which he vehemently denied. Carras demanded that Kotonski turn over his car keys, and when he refused, Carras bashed him over the head with his flashlight. Kotonski was sent to the hospital as a result, but Carras came along to drive him to the Police station afterward for processing on the DWI charge. According to Kotonski, on the way to the station, Carras took a detour and drove him to a desolate area where he stopped and exited the vehicle, taunting and threatening his handcuffed prisoner. Kotonski would later state “He took me behind J.L. Goodman Furniture, but I wouldn’t get out of the car. I had already been beaten up once and I wasn’t going to go through it again.” It should be noted that, the area where Carras had driven Kotonski was the very same place where Kurt Sova’s body had been found.
Carras was ultimately found guilty of five beatings which had taken place between 1988 and 1989, making many believe that it was unlikely he’d only committed these brutal assaults during that short period of time. As it turned out, though, assault wasn’t the only crime that Detective Carras was committed. In addition to investigating these crimes, the FBI came upon rumors that the detective had been involved in drug trafficking. In 1990, Carras was charged, found guilty and convicted of 76 counts of aggrevated drug trafficking and illegal processing of drug documents. Most, if not all of the counts were related to the powerful painkiller Percocet. As a result of his crimes, Robert Carras was placed on leave and ultimately fired from the Newburgh Heights Police Department. Carras continued to be uncooperative in relation to Kurt’s case, with Detective Sgt Don Mester of the Sheriff’s Department taking over. Mester would later say “We had a very difficult time getting records from Carras and the Newburgh Heights Police Department. But as long as I’m here, we’ll consider the case open.” Assistant prosecutor Guitierrez later directly asked Carras if he was involved in Kurt’s death, though Carras denied it.
The corruption of the Newburgh Heights Police Department was exposed, and the lead detective on Kurt’s case was found to be worse than many of the criminals they dealt with week in and week out, but for the Sova family, questions remained and the answers were nowhere to be found. No amount of arrests or convictions could bring their son back and even though they’d seen the police department cleared of those who had ignored their pleas for so long, there was no movement on Kurt’s case. The mystery of why their son had died remained unanswered, and for Dorothy, it was a bitter battle that left the family struggling for the truth. In an interview, she later said “It has taken ten years of our lives. It has literally crushed our family. Sometimes I think I should just take all this stuff and throw it in the fire and get on with my life. But you can’t go on with your life because you’re constantly hearing different things about it.” When asked about Kurt, Dorothy responded “I remember all the good things, the fun things about him. Oh, God, he was just a lovable boy.”
In the thirty seven years since Kurt Sova’s body was found, the questions have only continued to mount. A botched investigation by a corrupt detective, an inability for a medical examiner to give a definitive cause of death, statements from witnesses contradicting one another and rumors abounding in a community that could never truly understand what had happened. In the absence of verifiable truth, multiple theories have been put forth as to try and piece together the puzzle of the tragic and bizarre death of seventeen year old Kurt Sova.
The first theory is that Kurt’s death was, as the file official states, a probable accident. Supports of this theory suggest that Kurt likely drank too much during the course of that fateful Friday and may have mixed it with other elicit substances resulting in his death. Theorists go on to speculate that Kurt likely died at the party that night and that his body was hidden, and then placed in the ravine in order to protect those who had been at the party from getting into any kind of trouble for allowing an underage boy partake in liquor, and possibly other drugs, resulting in his death.
The second theory is that Kurt Sova’s death was no accident, and that he was likely the victim of foul play. Believers of this theory suggest that Kurt may have been murdered by someone present at the party that night. They point to the fact that the seventeen year old didn’t know many of the attendees, some of whom were not local to the area and had driven in from Detroit. Others believe an incident occurred at the party and Kurt was targeted as a result of his drunken behavior, while still others think that Kurt’s friend, Samuel Carroll, may have been somehow involved and that the entire story about his disappearing from outside was completely made up.
Then there is the homeless man who made the strange statements about Kurt being found dead, days before he was found. Many believe this man may have been involved Kurt’s death, either having played a role in it, or witnessing it. Others believe that the homeless man knew nothing about the case and was simply mentally unstable and made his bizarre, though later prophetic statements, based on possessing no actual knowledge of Kurt or his death. The homeless man made statements about stealing shoes, and for many, this directly connects the deaths of both Kurt Sova and Eugene Kvet, though this has been a point of great contention among theorists.
The fourth and final theory is that Kurt Sova’s death was in some way related to the corruption with the Newburgh Height’s police department. Some have speculated that lead investigator Carras murdered Kurt, being that his body was found in the location Carras was known to beat suspects. Some have gone so far as to speculation that Kurt may have witnessed Carras dealing drugs, or may have purchased drugs from him which lead to an accidental overdose. Many believe that the Carras slanted the investigation, either to protect himself or someone else who was involved. Still, many others believe that Carras and the Newburgh Heights police department were not involved in the murder, but simply negligient when investigating the case and that the poor investigation was due to a lack of interest or concern.
It has been thirty-seven years since Kurt Sova’s body was found near his home. For the rest of their lives, Kurt’s parents fought for answers, and to find justice for their son. They witnessed the corruption of the Newburgh Height’s police department, and while they took solace in justice being served, it didn’t lead to new answers or insight into what happened to their first born son. Sadly, Dorothy and Ken Sova took the mystery to their grave, and all of these years later, Kurt’s case remains a baffling study. How a seventeen year old boy goes to a party, vanishes for days and turns up dead in an area which had already been searched has never been sufficiently answered.
A young man with a life full of possibility was taken far too early. A family was shattered by the death, and to this day relative wonder what could have happened to the sweet and kind teenager they so lovingly remember. The death of a child is a bitter pill to swallow, and often times, grows like a cancer into all facets of the parents lives, stealing away any possibility of joy or happiness for the future. While Dorothy and Ken had other children, the gaping hole left by Kurt’s death festered for the rest of their lives. A haunting death, and an utter lack of answered, made only worse by a corrupt police department that was either disinterested in justice, or directly involved with the crime itself. All of these years later and the death of Kurt Sova remains unsolved, but someone knows what happened and hopefully, someday, the answers will come to light and Kurt, along with his parents, may rest in peace after the revelation of the truth.
[Thoughts & Theories]
The death of Kurt Sova is a case that has stuck with me ever since I was young. It’s one of the first mysterious death cases I can remember hearing about. It appeared in season one of Unsolved Mysteries, a show which made a large impression on me when I was a kid, and one which has fostered an obsession with true crime throughout my life. That’s a large reason why I selected this as the first case I would cover, and to this day, I am still baffled by this case. A seventeen year old boy went out to a party a week before Halloween and never came home. He went missing for days, and then turned up dead in an area that had allegedly been searched already. It’s been thirty-seven years, and Kurt Sova’s death remains as mysterious as it was the day that it happened. The answers have never come, the story has never been explained and Kurt’s death has never been resolved. His family buried him without knowing why, and for the rest of his parent’s lives, they were haunted by the questions. Their obsession threatened to break apart the family, but to leave it aside, in their minds, would be to abandon their son.
Only parents who have faced the incredibly pain and anguish of losing a child can understand. I couldn’t begin to fathom what Dorothy and Ken Sova faced throughout their lives, the sleepless nights, the endless questions, the pain of losing their first born. It’s a nightmare no parent should have to experience. They worked long and hard to try and find the answers, to bring attention to their sons case, to stir up the whirlwind around the Newburgh Height’s police department. In part, through their actions, they were able to shine a light on the corruption that existed and over the years, local and federal law enforcement agencies were able to take action. While the Newburgh Height’s police department was cleared out of its bad seeds, Kurt’s case remained unresolved. In the absence of truth, theories often arise about what may have happened. Some have been put forth by his family, some by friends and detectives and others by internet investigators who have been looking at the case for years.
The first theory explores the possibility that Kurt’s death may have been exactly what it was ultimately ruled to be, a probable accident. According to statements made by the medical examiners office, based upon Kurt’s autopsy, there was nothing outwardly that would suggest foul play. Kurt’s body wasn’t covered in bruises, there were no knife marks or gunshot wounds. There were minor cuts and scrapes as well as signs of bruising on his shins and cheek, but nothing significant enough to immediately alarm them as to a possible cause of death. They ran toxicology on Kurt, finding that his blood alcohol content was 0.11%, which is a little less than halfway over the legal limit currently in the United States. This certainly wasn’t high enough to indicate death could have come as a result of alcohol consumption.
BAC is measured, in an autopsy, by determining the weight of ethanol in grams in 100 milieters of blood. How alcohol affects someone and how much it takes to impair them, or incapacitate them varies based on factors such as height, weight, tolerance, gender and body fat percentage. What may only give someone a slight buzz may result in intoxication for another, but there are general numbers which are considered close approximations. Since Kurt’s BAC was 0.11%, that falls under a category described as being defined by significant impairment or motor coordination and loss of good judgement. Speech may be slurred, balance, peripheral vision, reaction time and hearing will be impaired. According to the University of Notre Dame, alcohol poisoning doesn’t begin becoming a possibility until the BAC of the victim reaches the range of 0.25 to 0.39%, which at its lowest threshold was more than double Kurt Sova’s BAC. Alcohol posining can lead to the loss of consciousness, illness and total confusion. The onset of a coma and possible death as a result of alcohol poisoning is associated with a BAC of 0.40% and higher. Suffice it to say, Kurt’s BAC was not in a range whereby he should have been at risk of dying as a result of alcohol.
Time also has to be factored into this examination. Kurt was missing for six days when his body was found. We have no confirmation of a time of death for Kurt, meaning that he could have died anytime from the moment he was last seen at the party to the moment his body was found. Time of death plays a role in the determination of BAC. Improper storage of a body can actually raise the victim’s BAC in a toxicology report because of the natural post mortem fermination process which occurs. BAC has been proven to rise as much as .20% due to the body not being kept cool. Though we don’t know Kurt’s time of death, we do have to consider that he could have been dead for longer than a day or two. A standard protocol for toxicology is that the numbers can only be considered valid if tested within forty-eight hours of death. It has also been stated that “High BA levels may develop during putrefaction and levels up to 0.200% do not necessarily indicate that alcohol was imbibed before death.” Depending upon multiple factors such as environment and condition of the body, putrefacation generally begin within the first forty-eight to seventy two hours after death. Suffice it to say, often times, postmortem BAC is actually higher than it was at the time of death, rather than lower. These are all factors a medical examiner must consider.
So why does any of this matter? Well, we have been told by multiple witness reports that Kurt had been drinking Everclear. It’s been suggested that Kurt began drinking early in the day and continued well into the night, so the fact that Kurt’s BAC was only 0.11% could signify two possibilities: Either Kurt hadn’t been drinking as much as has been suggested, or Kurt was alive long enough for his BAC to have decreased meaning that the idea of Kurt having died within a few hours of vanishing from the party is unlikely. There are, though, other factors to be considered. Whether or not Kurt had any kind of allergic reaction to alcohol is unknown, though possible. It’s been said by his friends that Kurt drank from time to time, so it seems unlikely that he was allergic but it’s nearly impossible to know for sure. In addition to alcohol, the medical examiner also tested Kurt for Cocaine and LSD, neither of which were found present in his system. Why only these two? We can’t be sure, but some have suggested the possibility that Kurt could have taken a drug which had a bad interaction with the alcohol and which ultimately lead to his death. Without more in depth autopsy records, we may never know.
The story about Kurt possibly sleep on a cot in the basement of the duplex could lend credence to Kurt having died days after the party. The sighting of Kurt on the side of the road yelling out the name “Franco” also plays a role in this. While we cannot pinpoint Kurt’s official time of death, there appears to be enough information to at least consider the possibility that he lived beyond the night of the party. Whether he was ill due to alcohol or drugs, or possibly in the process of dying is unknown, but again a possibility. Those who support the death by accident theory believe Kurt likely became impaired due to some illicit substance in his system, and fearing legal action, those who were with him that night could have tried to nurse him back to health, and when it failed, elected to dump his body in the ravine. The location of his body, to me, has always suggested that whoever placed him there wanted him to be found. It was an area that was frequented by children and workers, not the kind of place you’d leave a body you didn’t want to be found.
It has also been argued that, if the story of that night is true, Kurt could have wandered off in a drunken stupor and ended up at the location where his body was later found, dying as a result of any number of possible factors. The issue with this is that, Kurt’s father claims to have searched that area and not seen Kurt. Also, men were working nearby and children were playing in that area during the days when Kurt was missing. It seems unlikely, though not impossible, that Kurt could have been in that spot the entire time. There is also the mystery of his missing shoe, having never been discovered, and his other shoe having been jammed into a pile of debris nearby. If Kurt were so incapacitated and drunk that he simply stumbled into the area, how does one shoe vanish and the other end up essentially buried? These are all good questions that demand answers which have never come. The possibility that Kurt died as a result of an accident, be it due to alcohol, drugs or some kind of a genetic or physiological issue is certainly possible.
The second theory in this case takes the opposite approach to the first, suggesting that Kurt’s death was not the result of an accident but due to foul play. In terms of foul play, there are several individuals who are considered possibilities. We have those who were present at the party that night, the homeless man who made bizarre statements about Kurt in the days he was missing as well as Kurt’s friend, Samuel Carroll, who told the story of Kurt vanishing. Beginning with the party, we don’t know a lot about the attendees. We have been told that several people were present who were unknown to Kurt and his friend, having driven in from Detroit. Debbie and Clayton Sams hosted the party, though they were never investigated officially in terms of any possible connection to Kurt’s death. There was a female roommate with whom they shared the apartment, and then there was the owner. All of these people have played various roles in the case, with the owner alleged to have first denied Kurt was ever there, and then later to have supposedly said someone fitting Kurt’s description was sleeping on a cot in the basement.
It’s certainly curious that his presence at the party was denied, but this doesn’t necessarily suggest foul play. If you had a party, and underage kids had shown up and gotten drunk, one of whom later went missing, it isn’t hard to imagine someone would deny that to protect themselves. Later, everyone admitted that Kurt was there, though they claimed to have no knowledge what had happened to him. Samuel Carroll, Kurt’s friend who attended the party with him, later told authorities that he had brought a very drunk Kurt outside and that when he went back inside to get their jackets, he returned to find Kurt missing. He believed Kurt had either wandered off, or more likely, had gotten into a car with someone being that he wasn’t gone long and Kurt was nowhere to be found afterward. This is certainly a possibility, but many have called it into question wondering if Carroll knew more than he was saying. We have no way of truly knowing, and all these years later, Carroll has never contradicted his statement. Is it possible that something more happened and Carroll has never wanted to admit it? Absolutely, but without further information, it becomes nothing more than speculation.
Then we have the homeless man who told a store manager that Kurt was going to be found dead. Police spoke to the man, though the intensity of their scrutiny has to be called into question considering what happened in the Newburgh Height’s Police Department in later years. However, it’s difficult to imagine that a homeless man who is alleged to have had some kind of psychological problems wouldn’t have been more thoroughly looked at if there was even the slightest belief that he could have been involved in some way. The man was supposedly from Detroit, though his name and other information has never been revealed, if it is even known. Another bizarre connection between this man and Kurt’s death is that he is alleged to have made statements about stealing shoes from bodies, and one of Kurt’s shoes was in fact missing. For years people have speculated about this man’s possible involvement in Kurt’s death, whether he could have played a role, or simply witnessed something. We may never know because, again, the investigation was so poor there is no legitimate record of who this man is. He was not seen in the area again after police spoke to him, and it’s essentially impossible to track him down thirty-seven years later, assuming he is even still alive.
So theories abound about the possibility of foul play. Could Kurt have been murdered by someone from the party? Could he have been involved in some kind of an incident with Samuel Carroll that lead to his death? Could this homeless man have played a role? They’re all possibilities, but we have to also consider the condition of Kurt’s body. There were no outward signs of assault, or any kind of foul play. While that makes it almost impossible that Kurt was beaten in some kind of an assault it does open the door to the possibility that Kurt could have been drugged. Some consider the idea that Kurt may have been forcibly drugged, either by being told to take something or by having it slipped in his drink. Others have suggested that Kurt may have been offered a drug, chose to take it, and had a lethal dose or bad reaction to it. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time a young man lost his life due to a poor decision made while drunk at a party.
A woman who lived near the area where Kurt’s body was found reported that, around four or five days after the party, she saw two men dragging another into the area. According to her, she thought that the person being dragged was likely drunk and that the others were helping him home. This has never been confirmed and police never questioned this witness. She also noted that the person being dragged was missing a shoe. If her statement is accurate, this means Kurt was placed in the ravine in the middle of the period during which he was missing. That would certainly support the theory that he’d been alive for a few days after, though doing what and in what condition we can’t know. At the same time, Kurt’s father alleged that he searched that area just the day before Kurt’s body was found and there was nothing there. We can’t confirm what this witness alleges, but it does seem to fit the location and condition of Kurt’s body, though it does contradict Ken Sova’s statements about his search.
On top of that witness, we also have the statement from David Trusnik, a friend of Kurt’s, who alleges that he saw Kurt three days after he disappeared. Trusnik stated that Kurt walking along the side of the road with another person, and the two proceded to a van and he heard Kurt yell out the name “Franco.” Police didn’t follow up on this statement either, but it again suggests the possibility that Kurt was alive for days after the party, though in this case, Kurt didn’t appear to be in any kind of danger and he was clearly not intoxicated. Trusnik’s statement is a point of contention, with some believing him completely and others believing that he was mistaken. Again, another strange detail of this case that can neither be confirmed nor denied, but it does open the possibility that Kurt could have survived the party and later been involved in an incident which lead to his death. For me, I’ve always felt it was suspicious that Kurt would have been hanging around town, in plain sight, three days after his disappearance when there were already search parties and fliers about him all over town.
This is a very difficult angle to examine. There are a lot of options here, and all of them are just as likely as anything else. When you factor in the denial of Kurt being at the party, the fact that Samuel Carroll did not report Kurt’s disappearance immediately and the behavior of the homeless man, how could these not be considered? In addition to the known people who may have been involved, we have a slew of others who could have played a role under the assumption that Kurt was alive fr some of the time that he was missing. The homeless man was spoken to and sent on his way. The people who had the party as well as the owner of the duplex were never thoroughly questioned nor was a search warrant executed on the apartment. Samuel Carroll has never been considered a suspect, and from what I’ve gathered, his official story has never been called into question by authorities. We may never know for sure, but Kurt’s parents have always felt that foul play was involved in his death. It certainly isn’t impossible, and for some, they’ve always felt Kurt’s death was connected to that of Eugene Kvet.
[Lost the final few paragraphs to this script, but I will recover them shortly.]