Arnold Karl Sodeman (1 Viewer)

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Arnold Karl Sodeman




A.K.A.: "The School-girl Strangler"

Classification: Serial killer
Characteristics: Rape - Alcoholic
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: 1930 - 1935
Date of birth: December 12, 1899
Victims profile: Mena Griffiths, 12 / Hazel Wilson, 16 / Ethel Belshaw, 12 / June Rushmer, 6
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Status: Executed by hanging at Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, on June 1, 1936

Arnold Karl Sodeman (12 December 1899 – 1 June 1936), also known as the School-girl Strangler, was a serial killer who targeted children. He confessed to four killings before being executed at Pentridge Prison, Victoria in 1936. Sodeman was the second of eleven persons to be hanged at Pentridge Prison after the closure of Melbourne Gaol in 1929.

Early life

Arnold Karl Sodeman was born in Victoria in 1899. His mother suffered from bouts of amnesia and his father and grandfather had both died in mental institutions. At 18, Sodeman had been sent to a reformatory for 12 months for fraud.

It wasn't long after his release from the reformatory before he was in trouble with police again for armed robbery and wounding of the station master at Surrey Hills train station. Sodeman was sent to prison to serve 3 years hard-labour. Whilst in prison, Sodeman escaped and given another 12 months of hard-labour to add to his existing sentence. By the time he was released in 1922, he was a well-seasoned criminal.

Released in 1926, Sodeman settled down to various labouring jobs, at first in Melbourne and later in Gippsland. He married Bernice Pope at Collingwood and their daughter was born in 1928. The marriage was a happy one; although Sodeman seemed to suffer from occasional bouts of depression and frequent drunkenness, he was never violent to his family. To those who knew him he was a hard-working, mild and amiable man with a generous disposition. He led a normal, law-abiding existence until 1930.

The murders

On November 9, 1930, Arnold Sodeman abducted a 12 year old schoolgirl, Mena Griffiths. He came upon his victim at the local playground playing with a group of friends. He gave the other girls some money, and told them to go to the shop to get some candy; meanwhile, he told his victim that he had a different errand for her to run. By the time the little girl's friends returned to the playground, there was no sign of the man or their friend. Griffith’s body was discovered 2 days later at Ormond, in an abandoned building. She had been gagged, bound and strangled to death.

On January 10, 1931, he abducted a 16 year old Hazel Wilson and strangled her to death. Her body was also found in the suburb of Ormond. He had gagged both girls and tied their hands behind their backs with portions of their clothing.

Sodeman struck for the third time on January 1, 1935. His victim, Ethel Belshaw, was a 12 year old girl whom he strangled at the sea-side town of Inverloch. Belshaw was intending to buying an ice cream when she disappeared.

On December 1, 1935, Sodeman killed his fourth victim, a 6 year old girl named June Rushmer. He met her while she was walking home from a local park. Her body was found the following day less than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi) from her Leongatha home. She had also been bound, gagged and strangled. Witnesses stated that they had seen the child with a man on a bicycle shortly before her disappearance.

Sodeman at the time was working with a crew fixing the shires roads. During morning smoko, a fellow co-worker had jokingly stated that he had seen Sodeman on his bike near the crime scene. Sodeman replied angrily that he wasn't there. He had answered with such anger and rage, it was very out of character for him to react that way the workers told police.

Police rushed to Sodeman's worksite and took him away for questioning. As soon as police had him in their custody, Sodeman confessed to the crimes. Police were skeptical of him at first, but when he gave details of the crimes that only the killer could have known, they knew they had the right person. Whilst confessing to the crimes, Sodeman told police how he would link his thumbs together to simplify the choking of his victims.

June Rushmer inquest

The little court house at Leongatha was crowded to-day, when the inquest on June Rushmer, aged 6, whose bound and gagged body was found in the scrub on December 2, was resumed. Arnold Sodeman, 36, of Leongatha who has been charged with murder, was present in court. The Government Pathologist, Dr. Mollison, said that the dead girl's hands were tied behind her back with a piece of cloth, and a bloodstained garment was pushed into her mouth. A piece of torn sock was tied around her neck. The body bore bruises. Death, he thought was due to suffocation.

Nancy Viola Smith, aged 12, said that she played with June Rushmer on the Leongatha reserve on December 1. June Rushmer left the park at 7.15 p.m.

William Henry Money, of Leongatha said that at 7.15 p.m. on December 1 he saw Sodeman riding his bicycle in the direction of the reserve. Sodeman had a strange look on his face and the witness thought it peculiar. Sodeman did not speak to him.

Vincent Desmond Ryan of Leongatha, said that between 7.15 and 7.30 p.m. on December 1 he saw a man with a little girl on the front of his cycle. The child was similar in build to June Rushmer, but witness was 90 yards away and could not see him properly.

Senior Detective O'Keefe said that Detective Delminico said to Sodeman : "If you care to tell us what you had to do with the death of the girl, I will leave the room. " Sodeman replied, "No you can stay." He continued, "there is not only this one." He then made a statement.

The statement set out "I saw June Rushmer on the footpath walking towards her home near the tennis court and she said, 'Give us a ride.' I knew her and she knew me. I agreed, and rode down the stock route and turned down the road leading to the sanitary depot. About 100 yards from the corner, she said, 'This is far enough.' I got off the bike and said 'You can walk home.' I made a run towards her and she ran into the bush. I ran after her, and caught her round the neck, and she started to scream. I held her by the neck and she went limp all of a sudden. I then took off her bloomers and jammed them into her mouth. I got a belt from her frock and tied it over her mouth and round the back of her neck." Sodeman was committed for trial by the Coroner.

Trial and sentencing

At the conclusion of the two-day trial, in February 1936 the jury found him guilty of murder. The judge sentenced him to death for the murder of Rushmer.

Judge Charles Gavan Duffy advised the jury to distinguish between opinions given by expert medical witnesses on matters relating to the physical body, which could be proved by surgery, and those concerning the mind. Rejecting Sodeman's defence of insanity.

The defence

The government medical officer Dr A. J. W. Philpott, his assistant Dr R. T. Allan and a psychiatrist Dr Reginald Ellery all gave evidence that Sodeman was suffering from a disorder of the mind which created an 'obsessional impulse' of such power that—under the influence of alcohol—he was no longer responsible for his behaviour. Since Sodeman was intoxicated on all four occasions, the doctors concluded that he was insane at the times of the murders. Their conclusion was reinforced not only by Sodeman's repetitive behaviour, but also by his family's medical history: both his father and grandfather had died insane.

Appeals

An extract from the Argus, Friday 24 April 1936, read, "An English King's Counsel has now been engaged to plead the case before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of Arnold Sodeman, who has been condemned to death for the murder of June Rushmer at Leongatha. Sodeman's solicitor (Mr. C H. Auty) said yesterday that he had arranged by cable message for Mr D. N Pritt, K C, a leading Kings Counsel, and a member of the House of Commons, to appear for Sodeman in the proposed application by him for special leave to appeal against the refusal of the High Court of Australia to grant him special leave to appeal against his conviction. Mr Auty said that his agents in London would instruct Mr. Pritt and another barrister, who would act as Mr Pritt's Junior, regarding the details of the application Meanwhile, Mr. Auty has addressed a written request to the Premier Mr. Dunstan) that the Government should grant a further reprieve to Sodeman until such time as the condemned man's application to the Privy Council has been determined Mr Auty said yesterday that he was now 'preparing the petition for special leave to appeal and other necessary documents. He expected that those documents would be ready in time to be despatched to England next week'. One of the documents which must shortly go forward to London is an affidavit in support of the application. This must be signed by Sodeman, whose present reprieve expires on May 4, for which day the execution has been fixed. It is expected that the Executive Council will grant the reprieve now asked for by Mr. Auty It is expected that a report will be received from the Crown Law Department next week, and if the Cabinet decides that the request should be granted the necessary action will be taken immediately by the Executive Council. Sodeman's appeal against his conviction was unsuccessful. The grounds of the appeal were:-(1) That the learned trial Judge wrongly admitted evidence, namely, the evidence of the deaths of Mena Griffiths, Hazel Wilson, and Ethel Belshaw; (2) that the learned trial judge misdirected the jury (a) as to the onus of proof in a case of insanity, (b) as to the requirements of the law in relation to insanity, and (c) as to the law relating to drink, insanity, and manslaughter; and (3) that the prosecution and the learned trial Judge made comments on the failure of the accused to give evidence.

Execution eve

He had not wanted a reprieve because of the fear that if he lived he may have committed more murders. Sodeman spent a good deal of yesterday playing draughts with Edward Cornelius, who is under sentence of death for the murder of the Rev. Cecil in Fitzroy in November of last year. His last words to the Governor of the Gaol last night were: "I am glad it is nearly over."

Execution

Arnold Karl Sodeman was hanged and buried Pentridge Prison, Coburg, on 1 June 1936. Asked by the Sheriff whether he had anything to say, Sodeman replied: "Nothing, sir." He walked to the scaffold, apparently unmoved.

An autopsy disclosed that he was suffering from leptomeningitis, a degenerative disease which could cause serious congestion of the brain when aggravated by alcohol.

75 years later

On the seventh-fifth anniversary of the murder of Ethel Belshaw, Leongatha newspaper ‘’’The Great Southern Star’’’ published an interview with Maureen Lewis (nee Keighery) who was Sodermans neighbour in 1935. Maureen was with the Sodeman family on the same day Arnold brutally murdered 12-year-old Ethel Belshaw in Inverloch. She counts herself lucky Sodeman’s wife, Bernice, did not allow him to buy her an ice cream on New Year’s Day 1935. Ethel was last seen buying an ice cream from a Beach Road milk bar in the town. Maureen had travelled with the Sodemans from Leongatha, for a fun day in the sun. She was friends with the Sodemans’ child, Joan, a girl of similar age. “On the day Ethel was murdered he wanted to take me for an ice cream. It could have been me that day,” she said. “I went down there with them to Inverloch on that day with the Sodemans. They lived next door. He wanted to take me for an ice cream and Mrs Sodeman wouldn’t let him take me unless he took Joan, his daughter.”

But Maureen, like many others in Leongatha, always suspected there was something not quite right about the man. “We were always frightened of him. In those days you didn’t call anyone ‘Old Sodeman,’ because your dad would pull you up and insist you call him Mr Sodeman. But to us kids he was always Old Sodeman,” she said. “He wore sandshoes and he was sort of creepy."


Arnold Sodeman – Australia

A group of young girls playing in the Melbourne suburb of Armadale had no inkling of the deadly sexual predator watching them from a nearby hotel bar. His drink finished, Arnold Sodeman, a 30-year-old family man, approached one of the girls, 12-year-old Mena Griffiths, and proposed that she went for a walk with him. Sodeman took her to an abandoned house, where he raped and strangled her, then stripped her.

That was in November 1930, and two months later he struck again, befriending Hazel Wilson, 16, on her way to a dance. He dragged her into a vacant lock-up, raped and murdered her and then stripped her.

The similarities in the two crimes were widely publicised, and Sodeman hastily decamped to Inverloch, 70 miles away. There, on New Year’s Day 1935, he saw Ethel Belshaw, 12, on the beach and took her for a walk. He raped and killed her in identical circumstances.

Eleven months after that he was working as a road digger near Dumbalk when he raped and murdered Jane Rushmer, six, the daughter of a fellow-worker, after taking her for a bike ride.

When questioned by police he said, “I’ve had enough,” and confessed to all four crimes. He was hanged in Pentridge Prison, Melbourne, on Monday, June 1st, 1936.


SODEMAN, ARNOLD KARL (1899-1936), murderer, was born on 12 December 1899 at Hawthorn, Melbourne, son of Karl Sodeman, a German-born engineer, and his native-born wife Violet Esther, née Wood. As a child he was treated severely by his father and frequently witnessed Karl beating Violet. Aged 13, Arnold ran away from home and worked in the coal mines at Wonthaggi, South Gippsland.

In his youth Sodeman was twice brought before the courts to answer criminal charges. At 17 he was convicted of theft and forgery, and sent to a reformatory. Soon after his release, he was convicted in Melbourne in 1920 of attempted robbery under arms and given three years hard labour. Having escaped from French Island, he was apprehended and sentenced to another year. Released in 1926, Sodeman settled down to various labouring jobs, at first in Melbourne and later in Gippsland. To those who knew him he was a hard-working, mild and amiable man with a generous disposition.

On 17 July he married Bernice Cecilia Pope at Collingwood with Congregational forms; a daughter was born in 1928. The marriage was a happy one; although Sodeman seemed to suffer from occasional bouts of depression and frequent drunkenness, he was never violent to his family.

On the morning of 2 December 1935 the body of 6-year-old June Rushmer was discovered, lying face-down in a patch of swordgrass, outside the township of Leongatha in Gippsland; she was bound and gagged, and had died from suffocation. The crime resembled three earlier unsolved killings: 12-year-old Mena Griffiths on 8 November 1930, 16-year-old Hazel Wilson on 9 January 1931 (both at Ormond, Melbourne), and 12-year-old Ethel Belshaw at Inverloch, Gippsland, on 1 January 1935. As a result of information received from a suspicious workmate, Sodeman was arrested and questioned about Rushmer's death. At first he denied any involvement with the victim, but after twelve hours interrogation broke down and confessed—to all four murders.

He was tried in February 1936 for the murder of Rushmer. The government medical officer Dr A. J. W. Philpott, his assistant Dr R. T. Allan and a psychiatrist Dr Reginald Ellery all gave evidence that Sodeman was suffering from a disorder of the mind which created an 'obsessional impulse' of such power that—under the influence of alcohol—he was no longer responsible for his behaviour. Since Sodeman was intoxicated on all four occasions, the doctors concluded that he was insane at the times of the murders. Their conclusion was reinforced not only by Sodeman's repetitive behaviour, but also by his family's medical history: both his father and grandfather had died insane.

At the conclusion of the two-day trial, Judge Charles Gavan Duffy advised the jury to distinguish between opinions given by expert medical witnesses on matters relating to the physical body, which could be proved by surgery, and those concerning the mind. Rejecting Sodeman's defence of insanity, the jury found him guilty of murder. The judge sentenced him to death.

After exhausting all avenues of appeal, Arnold Karl Sodeman was hanged and buried in Pentridge Gaol, Coburg, on 1 June 1936. An autopsy disclosed that he was suffering from leptomeningitis, a degenerative disease which could cause serious congestion of the brain when aggravated by alcohol.

Select Bibliography

R. S. Ellery, The Cow Jumped Over the Moon (Melb, 1956); J. P. Bourke and D. S. Sonenberg, Insanity and Injustice (Melb, 1969); Victorian Law Reports, 1936; Commonwealth Law Reports, 1936; People (Sydney), 31 Jan 1951; Argus (Melbourne), 10-13 Nov, 12, 13 Dec 1930, 19 Feb, 20, 21 Mar 1931, 4, 9 Jan, 4, 9, 12 Apr, 16 May, 3, 6 Dec 1935, 1 Jan, 27 Mar, 4 Apr, 30 May, 1 June 1936; transcript of Sodeman's trial, 17, 18 Feb 1936 (Supreme Court, Melbourne).

Australian Dictionary of Biography - Adbonline.anu.edu.au

Arnold Sodeman

Rarely discussed on the topic of serial murder, Arnold Sodeman was a prime example of a "home-based" killer. This was a family man, with a wife and daughter who he adored. This was also a well-respected man in the community. No one ever suspected Sodeman when children began to turn up dead around the Melbourne area in the early 1930's.

On November 9th, 1930, Sodeman began his killing ways when he was out for a walk at a nearby park. He came upon a small group of young girls, of which one was particularly attractive to him. To get her alone, he sent the other girls off with money to buy candy, while he asked 12 year-old Mena Griffiths to stay behind and run an errand for him.

That was the last anyone saw of her. Two days later her body was found gagged and strangled in an abandoned house not far from the park.

About two months later, in January of 1931, the body of 16 year-old Hazel Wilson was found near her home in Ormond. It was obvious to the inspectors that this was exactly the same method used as with the Griffiths girl. However, the police didn't have anything to go on.

Oddly enough, it was nearly five years before Sodeman struck again. On New Years Day, 1936, at a crowded seaside resort at Anderson's Inlet, 12 year-old Ethel Belshaw disappeared.

Everyone was immediately reminded of the early murders when it was learned that the Belshaw girl was last seen walking with a man on a bicycle. Her body was discovered the next day in nearby scrubland.

This time around the police tried being much more thorough. They interviewed over 10,000 people, including Sodeman himself. However, he didn't attract any attention whatsoever, even though it was known that he was in the area of the latest victim's disappearance at the same time as her abduction.

It wasn't until a year later, and yet another murder that police would catch a break in the case. In the town of Leongatha, six year-old June Rushmer was found dead of strangulation. Witnesses all told of the girl being seen with a man on a bicycle, and this time Sodeman became the joke of his fellow workers.

Sodeman always rode his bicycle to work, and his co-workers began to joke with him when the news broke of the suspect on a bike. Usually able to take a joke, Sodeman would break into a furious rage, and threaten anyone who would make such a joke. Everyone pretty much left it at that, except for one man who went to the police with his story, sensing that Sodeman reacted too severely.

When police went to the Sodeman home, they recieved little resistance, and had Sodeman in a cell within hours. Surprisingly enough, he confessed willingly. With the police trying to keep a lynch mob at bay, Sodeman proceeded to describe how he linked his thumbs together to simplify his choking of the girls. Police were now convinced, and sentenced him to death.

At first police weren't exactly convinced that he was their man. They were a bit wary of convicting him without absloute proof because in the course of this case, they inadvertantly accused two other men at different times of the murders. Both of whom spent some time in a cell for the officers mistakes.

It wasn't until Sodeman went as far as describing what the children ate as their "last meal" that police knew they had their man. Only the killer could have known what candy he used to lure the children.

On June 1st, 1936, Arnold Sodeman was hanged at the Metropolitan Gaol at Pentridge, being formally convicted of four murders.

When an autopsy was conducted after his execution, doctors soon began to understand why Sodeman, a semmingly calm and upright citizen, could resort to heinous murder. It seemed that Sodeman suffered from chronic lepto-meningitis, which is an inflammation of the tissue covering the brain. The inflammation was activated by large intakes of alcohol. Sodeman was known to have taken to the bottle in the last few years of his life.
 

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