Cold Case Explorations

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A 40-Year-Old Cold Case: What Happened to Kurt Sova?

This case has remained unsolved for 42 years, 1 months, and 10 days.

October in Newburgh Heights, Ohio (OH) is often a chilly month, with fall giving way to winter. Near the end of the month, 17-year-old high school student Kurt Sova attended a Halloween party with a friend on a Friday, as high school students so often do. However, Kurt never returned home from this party.

On Saturday morning, Kurt still hadn’t arrived home, and his parents began searching for him. A missing persons report was filed, and though flyers were put up and people questioned, no one admitted to knowing where Kurt was, or that there’d even been a party at all — although that would change later.

Five days after the Halloween party, Kurt’s body was found just 500 yards from the party house. There were no signs of violence, and the coroner couldn’t even determine why he’d died at all. Some think that Kurt died of natural causes while others point to foul play. Forty years later, there are still no answers.

As Kevin Sova, Kurt’s older brother so poignantly asked, “How could [Kurt] go to a party, wind up dead, and we don’t know nothing about it forty years later?” What happened to Kurt Sova?


Table of Contents

About Kurt Sova

Kurt Eugene Sova was born on October 28, 1981 to parents Ken and Dorothy Sova. He was the youngest of four boys and was close with his family growing up. One of his brothers described him as “fun-loving, very funny… a comedian.”

A photograph of Kurt Sova.
A photograph of Kurt Sova (Cleveland 19).

By all accounts, Kurt was a good kid: he was a good student, didn’t get into much trouble, and had a lot of friends in school. He was also athletic, artistic, and funny. “Kurt might have been the most talented of all of us [brothers],” said his older brothers, Kevin Sova. 

In October 1981, the family lived in Newburgh Heights, OH. Kurt was 17 years old and a junior at the local high school. It’s not clear what his plans for the future entailed, but they almost certainly didn’t include ending up dead by the end of the month.

The Days Leading Up to the Discovery

There are some conflicting reports about what happened in the days leading up to the discovery of Kurt’s body, so I’ve tried to include the variations and/or contradictions where appropriate. Below is a summary of the days leading up to the eventual discovery of Kurt’s body on October 28.

Friday, October 23: A Halloween Party

Kurt reportedly skipped school on Friday and instead headed to a liquor store, managing to get a patron to buy him a bottle of Everclear (because he wasn’t old enough to purchase alcohol for himself). He reportedly then went to his girlfriend’s house. This would have been unusual behavior for Kurt as he wasn’t known to skip school, nor drink during the day.

That afternoon, Kurt met up with a friend. Although Kurt had been planning to go to a carnival that evening, his friend suggested they head to a nearby Halloween party later that night instead. The party was being held in a duplex less than 2 miles from the Sova’s home.

Saturday, October 24: No Sign of Kurt

In the early morning hours on Saturday, the party raged on and some people reported that Kurt was heavily intoxicated. He was reportedly knocking items around and was both ill and disruptive, likely from having imbibed too much alcohol.

One of Kurt’s friends later confirmed that Kurt had been intoxicated and went outside to get some fresh air. In the few minutes that the friend took to go back inside to grab their jackets, Kurt had vanished from the yard, and no one knew where he went. Kurt’s friend later said, “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.”

When Kurt didn’t return home on either Friday night or Saturday morning, his parents grew worried and searched the neighborhood for any signs of their son. They also called his friends’ homes, thinking that perhaps he’d spent the night over at one of their places. However, they couldn’t find any trace of him, nor did anyone report having seen Kurt the night before. 

Sunday, October 25: Missing Persons Report Filed

By Sunday, Kurt’s parents were extremely concerned that he still wasn’t home. They somehow heard that he’d gone to a Halloween party on Friday night, but that was the last that anyone had seen of him. Ultimately, they filed a missing persons report with the authorities. 

Kurt’s mother, Dorothy, found out where the party had been held and went to go and ask the owner, a woman by the name of Debbie Sams, if they’d seen Kurt that night. (Some sources state that Dorothy had spoken to one of Debbie’s roommates instead.) At first, Debbie denied seeing Kurt or even having a party that night. 

Another photograph of Kurt Sova.
Another photograph of Kurt Sova (FindAGrave).

More Digging, More Information Found

Confused because they’d heard that Kurt had been at that party, his parents did some more digging around and found out that a pizza delivery man had dropped off pizzas for the party. With this new information — a witness who confirmed the party had in fact taken place — they approached Debbie again and asked them what happened to Kurt.

This time, Debbie admitted that there had been a party, and that Kurt had been drinking Everclear during it. At the time, Everclear was the strongest alcoholic drink on the market. 

Monday, October 26: Someone Heard Kurt

On Monday, a schoolmate named Franco (some sources spell the name as “Franko”) reportedly both heard and saw Kurt in town. Franco was on his way to a job interview when he thought he heard Kurt yell out, “Hey, Franco!” 

Not knowing that Kurt was considered a missing person at the time, Franco didn’t think anything of it. He did note that he then saw Kurt heading toward a van with people he thought weren’t local to Newburgh Heights. 

Tuesday, October 27: A Phone Call

On Tuesday, Debbie called the Sovas around 3 PM to report that Kurt was sleeping in the basement of her home. When the family went over there to check, it was clear that someone had been sleeping in the basement, but that person was gone by the time they arrived.

Wednesday, October 28: A Body Found

Three young boys were out playing and exploring a ravine in Newburg Heights when they came across a horrifying sight. Kurt’s body was found only about 500 yards from the house where the Halloween party had been held. The location was also about a mile away from his family’s home

The location where Kurt Sova’s body was found.
The location where Kurt Sova’s body was found (Cleveland 19).

The Investigation

The Newburgh Heights Police Department (NHPD) was called to the scene of Kurt’s body and conducted an investigation into his death. Kurt’s body was found in a “Christ-like” pose — on his back with his arms outstretched — in a small puddle of water. He was also missing his shoes, although one was later found wedged in some nearby rocks. The other shoe was never found.

The area where Kurt’s body was found had already been searched before and he hadn’t been there, making some believe his body was placed there sometime on Tuesday. However, there is no publicly-available evidence that either confirms or denies that he was placed at this location.

Autopsy Findings

An autopsy showed that Kurt had been dead for about 24–36 hours prior to his body being discovered in the ravine. That meant that he had been missing (and alive) for several days, at least from Friday through some part of Tuesday. Where had Kurt been during this time?

Additionally, the coroner was unable to determine a cause of death, nor were there signs of foul play like stab or gunshot wounds. Kurt had some alcohol in his body when he died, but his blood alcohol level wasn’t high enough to kill him.

The ruling of why Kurt died was as a “probable accident.” However, Kurt’s family disagreed and thought he’d been the victim of foul play. To this day, the case has never been labeled as a homicide.

SIDS… in a Teenager?

In an interview in November 1993, Dorothy Sova (Kurt’s mother) claimed that authorities had originally told her that Kurt had died of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS. “They tried originally telling me it was like SIDS,” she told a reporter, “But there’s no such thing as SIDS in a 17-year-old boy.”

Some notes that Dorothy made while trying to figure out what happened to her son, Kurt Sova.
Some notes that Dorothy made while trying to figure out what happened to her son, Kurt Sova (Fox 8).

Witness Comes Forward

A woman came forward to authorities with information she thought might be important in Kurt’s case. She explained that on Monday, October 26, she’d been working as a manager at a local record shop when a homeless man saw Kurt’s missing person flyer, then said to her, “They’re going to find him and they’re gonna find him in two days, and they’re not going to know what happened to him.” 

It was two days later that Kurt’s body had been found. It’s not clear if the homeless man was ever identified or if he had any further information to offer to investigators. 

Months Later, Another Boy Found Dead

Eugene Kvet, another young boy who was familiar with Kurt, was found dead on February 2, 1982 about 2.5 miles from where Kurt’s body was located. It was about four months since Kurt’s death, and both boys had limited physical damage to the bodies — no signs of massive trauma and only some light scratches or bruising that would be considered normal for teens to have. 

An autopsy ultimately showed that 13-year-old Eugene had died from falling into a ravine, although it’s not clear whether he fell or was pushed in. Eugene was also missing a shoe that was never found. Authorities haven’t said if they think the cases are connected.

A Bungled Investigation?

Many have accused the NHPD of bungling the investigation. Even the current police chief agrees: “In 1981, the case wasn’t handled very well. There was just a mediocre investigation at best,” admitted NHPD Chief John Majoy in 2022. He wasn’t specific about what the previous investigators did wrong, however.

Over 40 Years Later, Many Unanswered Questions Remain

Now over 40 years later in 2023, that’s largely where the case stands today: no answers, no more information than we had back then. How did Kurt’s body get to the area where it was found? Did he walk there or was he placed there? When did that happen (because the area had already been searched before)? 

Kurt’s remaining family members also are left with few answers. “Did [Kurt] die here? Was he placed here?” asked one of his older brothers, Kevin Sova, of the spot where the body was eventually found. And now, after over four decades later, we may never know.

Theories on What Happened

There are a number of theories about what happened to Kurt Sova, with ideas ranging from the plausible to the unlikely. Forty years on, it’s difficult to say where the truth really lies. Let’s examine some of the more popular theories in this case.

Kurt Died of Natural Causes

Some hypothesize that Kurt passed away of natural causes somehow. While this might be rare for a young and otherwise healthy 17-year-old boy, it does happen. A study from 2010 showed that of those aged 12–19 who died, approximately five percent of them passed away due to heart disease or congenital anomalies. If Kurt had some sort of undiagnosed heart condition or a congenital anomaly, he may have succumbed to one of these issues. Again, it’s obviously extremely rare, but it does happen.

Additionally, because there were five days between Kurt’s disappearance and the discovery of Kurt’s body, he had to have been alive for some of that time — at least for a few days in the time since he went missing. And remember that a witness supposedly saw Kurt getting into a van with a bunch of people from out of town, so did he spend his last days with these new people?

So, it’s possible that Kurt died while he was with the group of people, and they panicked and then dumped the body somewhere. Kevin Sova, Kurt’s older brother, believes this is what happened to his brother: “I truly, in my gut… think that he just died and they panicked.” 

The Sova family gravestone.
The Sova family gravestone (FindAGrave).

Kurt Died of an Accident

Some have suggested that some sort of an accident occurred (perhaps alcohol poisoning or a drug overdose), resulting in Kurt’s death. However, the autopsy showed that Kurt didn’t have a lethal blood alcohol level at the time of his death. “I still have a hard time thinking that Kurt just walked down that road, fell over and died and they found him,” said Kurt’s older brother, Kevin Sova.

Other accidents like falls or knocks to the head would probably have resulted in some sort of physical evidence on the body — be it bruising, swelling, subdermal bleeding, etc. From what we know about the autopsy, none of that was found. 

Kurt Died Due to Foul Play

Many people, including Kurt’s family, suspect that the teenager met with foul play. While this is possible, there were reportedly no obvious signs of foul play: no strangulation marks, no petechial hemorrhaging, no stab or gunshot wounds, and no signs of trauma aside from a few scratches and minor bruising. If he did die due to foul play, the killers covered their tracks very well.

What Do I Think Happened?

To say with complete certainty what actually happened in this case is nearly impossible. There are several odd quirks about the case, like the fact that one of Kurt’s shoes was never found, that another dead boy was found a few months later who was also missing a shoe, and that a homeless man seemed to have “predicted” what happened to Kurt. It’s all very strange, even if these tidbits eventually turn out to be complete coincidences.

Natural Causes Possible

Although teenager deaths of natural causes are rare nowadays, they aren’t unheard of. It’s imaginable that a group of teenagers might panic and make a poor decision if one of their friends died. Perhaps in an attempt to avoid blame, they dumped his body near to the party house and left him there to be found.

Even if Kurt did die of natural causes though, that still doesn’t explain why he simply ran off for several days after the Halloween party. Who was he with? What was he doing? Due to the blood alcohol level in his body at the time of death, he seemed to have been drinking for at least some of that time. 

Perhaps Kurt was going through a tough time in his life. After all, it wasn’t like him to skip out on school and he’d done just that on the Friday he went to the party. Was something bothering him? We’ll probably never know for sure.

A news segment discussing the mysterious death of Kurt Sova.
A news segment discussing the mysterious death of Kurt Sova (Cleveland 19).

More Thorough Autopsy Might’ve Found Real Reason

Ultimately, I think a more thorough autopsy may have discovered the real reason for Kurt’s death, be it a drug overdose or alcohol poisoning, or even a heart issue or congenital abnormality that went previously undiagnosed. Did they test for traces of drugs in his system? Some drugs have to specifically be tested for and won’t come up during a regular autopsy.

I get the sense that authorities at the time wanted to get a simple ruling in the case, like an accidental death, and then move on. Even a modern NHPD chief agreed that the investigation had been “a mediocre one at best,” although it’s not clear what the investigation lacked to be deemed mediocre.

Case Outlook

If Kurt’s death was was either an overdose or foul play, then it’s possible that someone who knew about it might one day come forward with that information. However, if Kurt died of natural causes, we may never know exactly what killed him (barring an exhumation and second autopsy). 

Overall, this case is a sad one because Kurt’s family never got the answers they needed to get closure. Two of his brothers and both of his parents are now gone, having died without ever knowing what happened to Kurt. If someone out there knows something, forty years has been long enough; it’s time to come forward. Let Kurt’s last remaining family have the answers they’ve been searching for all these years.

Case Updates

There are a number of updates in Kurt Sova’s case, although none of them have conclusively solved the mystery of what exactly happened to the 17-year-old on that chilly October night. 

November 1988: Unsolved Mysteries Episode

In November 1988, the hit TV show Unsolved Mysteries aired an episode that included a segment about Kurt’s death, trying to get more information about what might’ve happened to him.

Dorothy and Kurt Sova on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries.
Dorothy and Kurt Sova on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries (IMDB).

July 2001: Kurt’s Father Passes Away

In July 2001, Kurt’s father, Ken Sova, passed away. He never learned what really happened to his son.

December 2014: Kurt’s Mother Passes Away

Many years later, in December 2014, Kurt’s mother passed away as well. She, too, never found out why Kurt had died.

2019: Kurt Sova’s Case Reopened

Authorities reopened Kurt’s case in 2019, hoping to solve the cold case. NHPD chief John Majoy explained what the investigators doing all these years later: 

“We traveled three states away for polygraphs. We traveled thousands of miles and put in hundred of hours into this case which had not been done up until now.”

NHPD Chief John Majoy (Source: Fox 8)

February 2020: Kurt’s Case Goes to CrowdSolve

At CrimeCon in Chicago in February 2020, hundreds of true crime fans gathered with experts, professors, law enforcement, and more to try to solve Kurt Sova’s case. It seems that they were unable to solve the case at that time.

Pictures and information about Kurt Sova at Crowdsolve in 2020.
Pictures and information about Kurt Sova at Crowdsolve in 2020 (Cleveland).

Do You Have Information?

There is a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in Kurt Sova’s case. If you have any information, please reach out to Crime Stoppers at (216) 252–7463 or the NHPD Tip Line at (216) 386–0024.

A flyer seeking information about the death of Kurt Sova.
A flyer seeking information about the death of Kurt Sova (Cleveland).

Cold Case Questions

  • What do you think happened to Kurt Sova?
  • Was this a death by natural causes or perhaps a drug or alcohol overdose? Or maybe you think it was something else?

Let me know in the comments below!

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