Does a fellow Halloween party-goer hold the answers to Kurt Sova’s suspicious death more than 40 years ago?
Kurt Eugene Sova was a 17-year-old high school student from Newburgh Heights, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland), when he disappeared after a Halloween party in 1981 and turned up dead five days later. Prior to his death, Kurt was a typical high school boy: good student, good son, good friend. The youngest of four boys, Kurt was close with his family. His mother reported that Kurt was never in any trouble—not with neighbors, nor in school, nor with police. Kurt’s oldest brother, Kevin, described Kurt as “... fun-loving, very funny. A comedian. Loved doing sports …” In another report, Kevin said, “Kurt might have been the most talented of all of us.”
The day Kurt disappeared
On Friday, October 23, 1981, Kurt reportedly skipped school and hung out near a local liquor store until he convinced someone to buy him a bottle of Everclear, which he spent the day drinking at a friend’s house before venturing out to attend a carnival. According to friends and family, it was unusual for Kurt to drink a lot, so his behavior that day was out of the ordinary.
On his way to the carnival, Kurt ran into his friend Samuel Carroll, who was heading to a Halloween party. Kurt decided to join Samuel, and they attended the party at a duplex on Harvard Avenue, about two miles from the house where Kurt lived with his parents. Samuel claimed that Kurt became highly intoxicated and ill at the party, so the two of them went outside to get some fresh air. Because it was chilly outside, Sam decided to go back into the duplex to get their jackets, and he left Kurt by a fence on the property. When Sam came back outside two to three minutes later, Kurt was gone. Sam briefly looked around for Kurt in case Kurt had simply wandered away, but because such a short time had passed and there was no sign of Kurt, Sam assumed Kurt had gotten a ride home.
When Kurt’s body was found
According to Kurt’s mother, Dorothy, “It was not like him to be gone overnight. It was not like him to stay out after 10:00, 10:30 at the latest.” When Kurt had not returned home by the next morning, his parents became worried and started calling around to friends to try to locate him. When their calls didn’t turn up Kurt, they began searching the neighborhood for him, to no avail. On Sunday, October 25, when there was still no sign of Kurt, Dorothy and Kurt’s father, Ken, filed a missing person report with Newburgh Heights police.
Kurt’s family indicated that the local police did not take Kurt’s disappearance very seriously and failed to do a thorough investigation—assertions that were later supported when the police chief pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty related to allegations of gambling and corruption, and another police officer pleaded guilty to brutalizing suspects while he was already serving a prison term for a drug conviction.
The family continued their own investigation, doing everything they could to find Kurt. Dorothy confronted the residents of the duplex where the party was held. At first, they denied having a party or seeing Kurt, but after a pizza delivery person confirmed he delivered a pizza to the duplex during a party the night Kurt disappeared, they changed their story and admitted to having a party and seeing Kurt in attendance.
While Kurt’s family continued their search, the owner of a local shop where the family put up a missing person flier was approached by a mysterious man who claimed that the fliers weren’t needed because Kurt would be found dead in a couple of days. Police questioned him, but they ultimately decided he suffered from mental illness and wasn’t responsible for Kurt’s disappearance or a threat to the community, so they cleared him.
Several days after Kurt went missing, one of the residents of the duplex where the party was held notified Dorothy that there was someone sleeping on a cot in the basement of the duplex, and it might be Kurt. While police did not investigate this lead, Kurt’s father, Ken, went to the duplex and saw that someone had been staying in the basement, but they were no longer there, and Ken found no definitive signs of Kurt.
On October 28, 1981, three kids playing by a furniture warehouse came across a body in a ravine that was only about 500 yards from the duplex where the party took place. When authorities arrived at the scene, they confirmed the body was that of the missing Kurt Sova. He was found in shallow water, face up, wearing a bright yellow t-shirt, and barefoot. His left shoe was discovered nearby, but his right shoe was never recovered.
The chief deputy coroner performed an autopsy, but he was unable to determine a cause of death. The body had some minor scrapes and bruises, but there were no clear signs of trauma to indicate foul play, and Kurt’s blood alcohol level was listed as 0.11, which by itself would not likely have been high enough to kill Kurt. The manner of death was determined to be a probable accident, but because Kurt’s body was found in a ravine that had been searched less than a day earlier, the death was considered suspicious. Kurt’s family and law enforcement now believe that somebody who knew the area dumped Kurt’s body in the ravine after searchers initially looked there.
Where the case stands today
In 2019, nearly 40 years after Kurt Sova’s death, the Newburgh Heights Police Department reopened Kurt’s case and partnered with Tiffin University criminology students to re-investigate the evidence. In 2020, Kurt’s case was selected for CrimeCon CrowdSolve, an exclusive event where true crime enthusiasts and citizen detectives gathered to examine the case files and explore new theories. While both efforts generated new ideas and some potential leads, the case remains unsolved.
Anyone with information regarding Kurt’s case should contact Crime Stoppers of Cuyahoga County at 216-252-7463 (as of 2020, they were offering at $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case) or the Newburgh Heights Police Department at 216-641-2117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.