Primarily known for housing academic and athletic achievement, in 1978 Penn State University was home to Todd Hodne, a Division 1 football player who committed a series of violent sexual assaults.
The football team was already a center of controversy during this time due to the former assistant coach’s inclination toward violence. While most people refer to Penn State’s violent sexual past in reference to assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky’s series of offenses, there was a concurring offender during Sandusky’s reign of terror: an equally sadistic football player by the name of Todd Hodne. Often overlooked in media representation, the football player committed at least twelve rapes and sexual assaults between 1978 and 1979, two of the victim being students at Penn State.
This case was brought to national attention by ESPN writers Tom Junod and Paula Lavigne when they published a substantial essay that details the stories of the victims. Interviewing countless classmates, former teachers, and the victims themselves, it is safe to say the linebacker’s inclination for violence dated back to his childhood years.
John Poggioli, a childhood acquaintance of the football player and teammate, expressed that there was always something off about Todd. Attending St Dominic High School in New York together, Poggioli shared that Todd brought knives to school with him and was repeatedly involved in petty theft crimes around their hometown. When both boys ended up attending Penn State for football, Poggioli said Hodne’s desire for criminal intent only escalated, beginning with the robbing of a record store.
“I didn’t stop Todd because I couldn’t stop Todd. If you tried to stop Todd, he would hurt you. You couldn’t say no to him, and he could convince you to do things you wouldn’t normally do,” Poggioli recalled, detailing the time Hodne convinced him to rob a closed store. By the time the cops had shown up, Todd knew when to escape and left Poggioli behind, ensuring he would get stuck with a misdemeanor.
Those who knew Todd Hodne personally claimed he ‘ruined my life’
“He ruined my life,” said Poggioli. “But he ruined so many lives. I feel lucky to have gotten out when I did. I feel lucky compared to the others.”
Although the burglary was a felony crime, violence was not present. With far more harrowing details, the assault of Betsy Sailor would come to be known as one of Hodne’s more disturbing crimes.
Finding her address in the newspaper after she put an ad up in search of a new roommate, Hodne entered her home with his knife with and intent to harm her. The massive linebacker overpowered Sailor quickly and forced her to perform oral sex before nonconsensually penetrating her. After he committed the crime, he exited out the backdoor with Sailor alone in her apartment. Unknowingly, he left behind incriminating evidence that would incriminate him the following year: fingerprints and his knife.
After making a phone call to another woman attending Penn State and committing a violent assault against her, police were able to trace the call back to Todd Hodne. In nearly every way, the phone call and method of operation were identical to the case of Betsy Sailor. After police cross-referenced the cases and fingerprints from Sailor’s incident, the football player was taken into custody by police.
Although being convicted of two gruesome violent sexual assault cases, the football player was allowed bail and went back to his hometown. During this time, his predatory behavior continued and he was arrested again in May of 1979 on four accounts of sexual assault. Pleading guilty to sexual abuse and sentenced to a minimum of seven years at Eastern New York Correctional Facility, Hodne was finally behind bars.
Yet, against the better judgment of the Nassau County prosecutor, Hodne was granted parole in 1986. The following year, he murdered a taxi cab driver and was sentenced to life in prison. He died in 2020 of cancer. Speaking on behalf of his conviction, Betsy Sailor reported that when he was found guilty of the crime he committed against her, she was overwhelmed and even felt sorry for him.
“They had to poll each of the jurors, and hearing that, ‘Guilty, guilty, guilty,’ gave me a very unsettling feeling. I knew what he did. But in my heart of hearts, I felt sorry for him,” she stated. “I felt that prison was not going to be the answer for him and was only going to make him harder. And I felt that this was the end . . . I felt that this was a person that’s now lost to us.”
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