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ESPN Publishes Investigative Report On Late Penn State Linebacker's Serial Rapes
Todd Hodne was convicted of raping women at knifepoint in a series of on-campus attacks in the late 1970s. Some say Joe Paterno knew, and did nothing to stop him.
A new investigative report published by ESPN examines the potential role Penn State may have played in a former football player's serial rapes and murder.
Penn State faced scrutiny when retired football coach Jerry Sandusky was accused of sexually abusing 10 boys over a 15-year period. Now, ESPN’s in-depth expose, written by Tom Junod and Paula Lavigne, tells the lesser-known story of Penn State linebacker Todd Hodne, who was accused of raping several women - and eventually killing another - in the late 1970s and 1980s.
In the piece, former Penn State Head Coach Joe Paterno is accused of turning a blind eye while Hodne violently attacked his victims, “ransacking the lives of women in the dark.”
According to ESPN's "Untold" feature story, Hodne attacked at least 12 women. Four of the known victims have since passed away.
Hodne’s crimes, which began in 1978, were enough for a prosecutor to once say Hodne was “among the three most dangerous, physically imposing and ruthless excuses for a human being I ever faced in court,” according to the publication.
Investigators connected the college linebacker to the attacks after he was arrested in June 1978 for breaking into a Record Ranch electronics store.
For the burglary, Paterno told reporters Hodne was suspended for the season.
“Sometimes they felt that because they were football players, they’d be getting special treatment,” said Lee Updraft, who was then the school’s assistant vice president for student affairs. “But they were more worried about Joe Paterno than they were of me, let’s put it that way. Joe could just do anything he wanted, and nobody was going to question him.”
Paterno announced that Hodne could return to football “if he has a good academic year and if he proves the robbery was a mistake.”
On Sept. 13, 1978, 21-year-old Betsy Sailor — who had placed a classified ad in the school newspaper in search of a female roommate — met with Hodne when he responded on behalf of his "girlfriend," a ruse he devised to meet Sailor. After speaking with Hodne, Sailor took a quick trip to the store. When she returned home, her light switch didn't work.
“The next thing you know, I had a hand around my mouth and a knife at my neck,” Sailor said more than four decades later. “And a voice said, ‘I’ll kill you if you say a word.’”
The assailant put a pillowcase over her head and sat on her chest, pinning her shoulders with his knees. Sailor said she recognized the voice as the man she'd spoken to earlier when he said, “I’m going to rape you.”
That fall, Hodne went on to attack 24-year-old Adrienne Reissman as she was getting into her vehicle in a dark alley after work. Because of Hodne’s size, he could not carry out his planned rape because Reissman's car was too small.
“It took a long time to feel safe again,” Reissman said years later.
Like the attack on Betsy Sailor, Susan - whose surname was withheld in the article - also returned home to find her light wouldn’t turn on.
“When he confronted me, he threw one of my shirts, one of my favorite shirts, over my head, put me in a bathtub, and shaved my pubic area,” said Susan, claiming her attacker also held a knife to her throat. “And then he had his way.”
The rapist continued to call his victims and gloat about the attack, threatening to return.
Susan’s father, who worked for the phone company, traced the calls to Hodne’s Hamilton Hall address. Meanwhile, fingerprints collected from Sailor’s crime scene had been sent for examination by police and matched the ones taken from the 1978 burglary.
Authorities called Paterno about to ask about the player’s whereabouts and Hodne surrendered to authorities days later.
On October 25, 1978, Hodne was arraigned for the rape of Betsy Sailor. He posted bail and was released the same day.
ESPN’s writers unearthed a report about another 1978 victim known only as “Karen” in the article. Karen’s attack was similar to the others, except she said Paterno was involved in covering it up.
“She had heard from the police that there were others who had been attacked recently. She had heard some of the other women had received phone calls after their assault, possibly from the assailant." reports ESPN. "But when she picked up, she did not hear the voice she feared. This was someone familiar but not someone she knew. It was a man everyone knew. And when she realized who it was, she wondered immediately how he knew her name:
“‘Karen, this is Joe Paterno,’” the man said. “Are you OK?’”
Several of Hodne’s teammates would be called to testify in Hodne’s trial for the rape of Sailor, including Hodne’s long-time friend Tony Capozzoli, who said players were not allowed to talk about Hodne’s cases without Paterno’s blessing.
“So right off the bat, [Paterno] says, ‘Todd Hodne is guilty, and if you testify for him, you’re off the team,’” Capozzoli recalled.
Capozzoli went on to testify against Hodne and claimed he was kicked off the team for it.
“And when I get back, my room key doesn’t work. All my s*** is gone; somebody moved it,” Capozzoli said. “[Paterno] goes, ‘You still have your scholarship; you can go to school. But you’re off the team.’”
Hodne was found guilty of raping Betsy Sailor and returned to his native Long Island while awaiting sentencing.
There was little press surrounding the assaults at the time.
And it wasn’t the end of Todd Hodne’s violent attacks.
The former linebacker was accused of sexually assaulting several more women on Long Island, beginning weeks after his conviction for Sailor’s rape. In 1979, he was indicted in Nassau County, New York, on four counts of first-degree rape, three counts of first-degree sodomy, and other charges, including robbery and attempted rape.
Just six months after he was found guilty of raping Betsy Sailor, Hodne pleaded guilty to two counts of rape, two counts of sexual abuse, and one count of attempted second-degree robbery.
“I only wish I could recapture what I lost,” Hodne told the judge.
Hodne served three years for Sailor’s rape and four years for his Long Island attacks, a total of seven years of a 21-year sentence.
Hodne’s life spiraled while on parole, as he became addicted to cocaine, was evicted from an apartment, and fired from a series of odd jobs. On the night of Aug. 11, 1987, he attempted to rob cab driver Jeff Hirsch, who was called to pick him up in Huntington, New York. Hodne put Hirsch in a chokehold, breaking his neck before driving away with the victim still in the taxi.
Hirsch, a father of four, died five days later after he was taken off life support.
Hodne’s daughter discovered the full extent of her father’s crimes only after learning about them from ESPN. She made a statement, addressing her father’s victims.
“There is nothing easy about this for any party involved. I’m sorry you haven’t been able to tell your stories; I’m thankful you can now,” said Hodne’s daughter. “His crimes haunted him till [sic] the day he died. It’s not easy to come to terms with what he did. I know there is nothing I can say to undo the damage and trauma you and your families have endured.”
Todd Hodne died of cancer in a New York prison in 2020 while serving time for Hirsch’s murder. He was 61 years old.