Thread: Kurt Sova
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Old 05-21-2009, 06:43 PM   #110
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Something I found. Apparently there's a ton of controversy surrounding the Newburgh Heights detective interviewed in the segment, as well as the entire investigation in general:

Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH)

October 27, 1991



Edition: FINAL / WEST
Page: 1A

Article Text:

His body was cruciform, arms outstretched, head to one side, one knee slightly bent and one foot atop the other.

It was found by three boys cutting through a Newburgh Heights ravine 10 years ago tomorrow. But the passing of a decade has only served to deepen the mystery surrounding the disappearance of 17-year-old Kurt E. Sova and the discovery of his body five days later.

For Kurt's parents, Kenneth and Dorothy Sova of Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood, the last 10 years have seemed like 100. They said their initial suspicions that Newburgh Heights police were bungling the investigation were gradually confirmed as one by one, the police in power were brought down by charges ranging from falsifying credentials to drug trafficking.

The man who worried the Sovas the most turned out to be worst of the bunch. Robert Carras, the tiny village's only detective and the man who headed the Sova investigation, was later exposed! as a drug addict with a record of bludgeoning and stomping handcuffed prisoners. This year, he was sentenced to a prison term of six to 15 years.

Carras' investigation of the Sova case was a joke, according to those who later waded through its wreckage, including Cleveland police, the county sheriff's and prosecutor's offices, even the FBI. There were no photos of Kurt's body as it was found, no search of the house where Kurt was last seen alive and no written statements from those who were with Kurt the night he disappeared.

Even the cause of death remains a mystery. The Cuyahoga County coroner's office performed a full autopsy but could not determine what killed the perfectly healthy teen-ager.

Last year, Cuyahoga County Assistant Prosecutor James A. Gutierrez asked Carras whether he had any involvement in Kurt's disappearance and death. After all, Carras once took a crime suspect to a back lot off Harvard Ave. - close to where Kurt was foun! d - and allegedly tried to provoke him into a fight.

! Carras denied any involvement in Kurt's death, Gutierrez said. Carras declined to be interviewed by The Plain Dealer for this story.

But the very thought that the man investigating their son's disappearance and death would later be questioned in the case has deeply troubled Ken and Dorothy Sova.

With the anniversary of Kurt's death approaching, the Sovas find themselves looking back to happier times when their fourth and closest son was still a vibrant part of their lives.

"Kurt was my baby," said Dorothy Sova, unable to stem her tears. "And I often blame myself for letting him remain my baby. While my older boys were adults at 12, he was still a baby at 17. He still went with me to places. He still shopped with me. He still went on vacation with us."

Yet Kurt's personality had a side he did not share with his parents. Like many teens, he was not averse to smoking marijuana or drinking booze on weekends, according to his friends.

Fr! iday, Oct. 23, 1981, was no exception. Kurt cut school and went to a liquor store, where he persuaded an adult to buy him a fifth of 190-proof Everclear, a potent liquor that since has been banned from Ohio liquor stores because it killed a Michigan man.

Kurt drank the afternoon away at his girlfriend's house, then joined a friend, Samuel C. Carroll, for a party that night at the home of Debbie Sams and her brother, Clayton. The Samses and a female roommate rented the upstairs of a double house on Harvard Ave. in Newburgh Heights.

Kurt's drinking continued at the party and he began stumbling around, knocking things over. Then, he got sick.

"The roommate asked me to please get him out of the house, so I helped him down the stairs and to the outside," Carroll said.

"We were out there about 20 or 30 minutes and it was cold out there - we were both in T-shirts," Carroll continued. "I then went to go and get the jackets upstairs. ... I got t! he jackets and went back down and he wasn't there. I was only ! upstairs about two or three minutes."

Carroll roamed nearby side streets and checked the parking lot of a J.L. Goodman Furniture Inc. warehouse, not far from where Kurt's body eventually was found. Finally, assuming Kurt had gone home, Carroll returned to the party.

"I can only guess that someone he knew picked him up because it happened that fast," Carroll said. "Someone had to pick him up in a car."

By then, Dorothy Sova already was out looking for her son, whom she had not seen since 7:30 a.m. She drove to several of Kurt's usual hangouts, but returned home alone for the first of several sleepless nights.

By dawn, the Sovas were really worried. For a thorough search, they enlisted a small army of friends and relatives, who fanned out over the ethnic, working-class neighborhood, asking anyone and everyone if they had seen Kurt. They searched alleys, ravines, even Dumpsters.

"We were in teams. We must have had 40 people looking for him! day and night," Dorothy Sova recalled.

That Sunday, Dorothy Sova filed a missing-person report with Cleveland police. Kurt's older brothers printed up fliers bearing Kurt's photo and information about his disappearance. Kurt's face went up in stores and on utility poles all over the neighborhood.

Dorothy Sova acknowledged that after finding out from Carroll about the party at the Samses' house, her family's repeated visits amounted to harassment. They recovered Kurt's jacket there but came up with nothing to aid the search.

After several days, Police Chief James F. Lukas ordered them to stay away from the house.

On Monday, an eerie occurrence at a Slavic Village record shop foreshadowed the discovery of Kurt's body. An apparently homeless man had been hanging around the shop for a couple of weeks and had bragged of having access to bodies flown into Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. He had bragged of removing shoes from the bo! dies.

On this day, the man showed up and pointed to ! a flier of Kurt taped to the window.

"He says: 'They're gonna find him and they're gonna find him in two days and they're not gonna know what happened to him,' said Judy Oros, who was manager of the store. "He was right."

The next morning, the Sovas heard that Kurt might have been sleeping on a cot in the Samses' basement. Kenneth Sova and his sons went to the house, kicked in a door and searched the basement. There was a cot, but no sign of Kurt.

Shortly before 5:30 p.m., three neighborhood boys cut behind the J.L. Goodman warehouse on Harvard Ave. and headed through some neighboring steel yards. As they passed through a ravine, they saw something that made them stop.

It was a human body lying face-up in a puddle, just a few feet from where Kenneth Sova had searched the night before. The boys ran to a workman, who summoned police.

"When we arrived there, his body was laid out like Christ on the cross," said Paul T. Grzesik, who was ! a part-time patrolman at the time. "One shoe was found nearby. We never found the other (right) shoe."

The scene at the county morgue is burned into Kenneth Sova's brain: "I said I wanted to see the body, so they pulled open the drapes," he recalled. "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 had a bruise on one cheek and numerous bruises on his shins. A few scratches and nicks were found on his body. But there were no bullet holes, knife wounds, needle punctures or internal injuries. The coroner's office was baffled.

Of the approximately 1,200 autopsies performed each year by the coroner's office, the cause of death eludes pathologists in one or two cases, said Cuyahoga County Coroner Elizabeth Balraj.

"You can stop the machinery without damaging the machinery," explained Dr. Lester! Adelson, who worked at the coroner's office at the time.
Ku rt had a blood-alcohol level of 0.11%, slightly higher than Ohio's legal definition of drunkenness; not nearly high enough to kill him. Tests for cocaine and LSD turned up negative. Since no one admitted witnessing foul play, the death was ruled "probable accidental."

News of Kurt's death traveled quickly through the tightly knit community. The predictions of the homeless man in the record store had come true, sending a chill down Oros' spine.

To make matters worse, when Oros arrived at the record store Thursday morning, a neighboring merchant gave her a bouquet of flowers left for her by the man.

"There was a note in it," Oros recalled. "It said: 'Roses are red, the sky is blue. They found him dead and they'll find you, too.'

By the time the man showed up at the store again, Oros had alerted Cleveland police, who sent two detectives.

"They took him outside and were sitting in their car with him," Oros recalled. "They checked! him out. They told me he was just some wacko from Detroit."

The man was released and Oros never saw him again. The man was never interviewed by Newburgh Heights police.

Newburgh Heights police never talked with Angeline Reddicks, either. She says she saw two males dragging what appeared to be an unconscious teen-age boy toward the ravine where Kurt's body later was found.

"I seen them taking a boy down the alley. It was just before Halloween," said Reddicks, who said she witnessed the scene one afternoon from a window in her house on Washington Park Blvd. "One foot was barefoot. I'm almost sure it was the right one. I figured: 'Couple teen-agers with a couple beers too many and they're probably trying to sober up.'

A few days later, Reddicks learned that Kurt's body had been found in the ravine. But she said she never told police what she saw because her husband told her, "You know, Mom, we gotta mind our business."

More th! an a year later, Reddicks by chance met Kenneth Sova on a stre! et and r elated what she had seen. Dorothy Sova said she passed Reddicks' information to the Newburgh Heights police, but Reddicks never heard from them. She said the only officers who interviewed her were sheriff's detectives in 1989.

"I'm not surprised they (Newburgh Heights police) didn't interview her," Dorothy Sova said. "They didn't interview half the people who came to me with stuff. Carras kept playing me off as the mother who would not accept her son's death."

The death she accepts. But she is tortured by unanswered questions: Where was Kurt during the five days between the party and the discovery of his body? How did he die? How did his body end up in the ravine?

She tirelessly tracks down rumors about Kurt that still swirl through the neighborhood's taverns and around its street corners. She seizes upon shreds of information on similar deaths in Greater Cleveland.

One death right in the neighborhood less than four months later bore a st! riking resemblance to Kurt's case. The body of 13-year-old Eugene C. Kvet, who lived one block north of the Sovas, was found in a Cleveland ravine off Harvard Ave. Eugene's right shoe also was missing.

The autopsy findings said Eugene died from falling into the ravine.

Undaunted by this and many other dead ends, Dorothy Sova has succeeded in getting four law enforcement agencies to reinvestigate Kurt's case. But each has come up empty. The trail is too cold.

"The initial investigation done by the Newburgh Heights police was a joke. A joke," said Gutierrez, who reopened the case for the prosecutor's office last year. "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 was unbelievable. The people who ran Newburgh Heights, from a law enforcement perspective, in the early '80s ought to be ashamed of themselves.

Police Chief L! ukas disagreed.

"I felt it was a pretty good investi! gation, based on the fact that we really didn't have a lot to go on. Nobody would even talk," Lukas said last week. "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 have had something to go on."

The Newburgh Heights police file on Kurt's case contains four Polaroid photos of Kurt's body after it had been loaded on a stretcher and was about to be placed in an ambulance. Asked why the file holds no photos of Kurt's body as it was found, a routine police practice, Lukas said: "I know there were photos taken. I'm almost positive there were photos."

Asked why no forensics specialists were called to the crime scene, Lukas said: "You've got to remember one thing: We were a small police department. We didn't have no forensics specialist."

Other law enforcement agencies say the tiny force should have asked Cleveland to send a specialist to the scene. Dorothy Sova said Newburgh Heig! hts rejected an offer of help from Cleveland police immediately after the body was found.

Asked why his officers did not obtain a search warrant for the Samses' house, where Kurt was last seen alive, Lukas said: "We had no reason to search it."

Eighteen months after the death, Dorothy Sova persuaded Cleveland Police Detective Al Figler to investigate the case. The first thing Figler wanted was the case file.

"When I went to talk to Carras, there must have been three or four pieces of paper thrown in a manila folder with four Polaroids," said Figler, who spent eight years working on the case. "It was a joke. Basic detective work would demand more documents than that."

The FBI also opened an investigation of the Sova case last year when the agency charged Carras with brutally beating five crime suspects. One of those suspects was Eric Kotonski, whom Carras arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. Kotonski said that when he refused to s! urrender his car keys, Carras bashed him in the head with a fl! ashlight .

Carras later picked up Kotonski at the hospital to drive him back to the Newburgh Heights police station. But he made an unexpected stop and tried to taunt the handcuffed prisoner into another fight, Kotonski said.

"He took me behind J.L. Goodman Furniture," said Kotonski, referring to the Harvard Ave. warehouse near where Kurt's body was found. "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."

The five beatings for which Carras was convicted all occurred in 1988 and 1989. But prisoners weren't all he abused. There also was Percocet, a potent and addictive painkiller. Last year, Carras was convicted on 76 counts of aggravated drug trafficking and illegal processing of drug documents.

Carras was fired from the Newburgh Heights Police Department in January.

Five months before that, Lukas was permanently banned from law enforcement for helping to arrange phony polic! e credentials for a Newburgh Heights dispatcher.

That was not Lukas' first crime conviction. In 1984, he pleaded guilty to dereliction of duty for allowing gambling at a party where he was working while off duty.

But Lukas said his run-ins with the law should not reflect on his handling of the Sova case.

"That's not even fair. What happened was completely unrelated," Lukas said. "That's the only part I take offense to. That (Sova) case was handled on the up and up."

Not according to the Sheriff's Department, the only agency still actively investigating the case.

"It's kind of been botched since the beginning," said Detective Sgt. Don Mester. "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."

Carras has refused to be interviewed by the Sheriff's Department, Mester said. But Mester and his partner, Detective Len! Smith, are pursuing the probe and have conducted several othe! r interv iews in recent weeks.

And the Sovas keep waiting for answers.

"It has taken 10 years of our lives. It has literally crushed our family," Dorothy Sova said, clutching an armful of files she has accumulated on the case. "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."

As the tears returned, Dorothy Sova caressed the yellowed, dog-eared birth certificate imprinted with Kurt's infant footprints.

"I rememember all the good things, the fun things about him," Dorothy Sova said. "Oh, God, he was just a lovable boy."


PHOTO 1: Dorothy Sova with her dog, Holli, and a photo of her son, Kurt, when he was 15. Mystery still shrouds Kurt's death 10 years ago.

PHOTO 2: ROBERT CARRAS: His investigation of Kurt E. Sova's death has been criticized by other officials, and Carras himself was questioned.

Copyright 1991, 2002 The Plain Dealer. All Rights Reserved. Used by NewsBank with Permission.
Record Number: 06300093
"Why is she lying?, it makes me wonder. What is she hiding?, it makes me wonder."

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