Australia · Executions · Serial Killers

The execution of “The Schoolgirl Strangler”

June 1, 1936
Coburg, Victoria, Australia
Arnold Karl Sodeman, “The Schoolgirl Strangler,” is executed

Sodeman’s fist known victim was 12-year-old Mena Griffiths, murdered on November 9, 1930. While Mena and her friends played on a playground, Sodeman distracted the other children by giving them money to buy ice cream, then told Mena she was to assist him with an errand. When the friends returned, Mena and Sodeman were gone.

Mena’s body was found two days later. She had been bound, gagged, and strangled to death. During questioning, Sodeman confessed to luring Mena into an empty house and “as soon as we got in I seized her by the throat. I then let her go and she fell to the ground. … Looking down on her my memory came back and I said, ‘my God, she’s dead. I’ve killed her.’ I stood there wondering what I could do and I must have remembered or read of something being about tying people up. So I stripped her, bound her and gagged her with her own clothing, and dragged her into the bathroom and left her.”

Sodeman killed several other girls in this manner: Hazel Wilson (16) on January 10, 1931; Ethel Belshaw (12) on January 1, 1935; and June Rushmer (6) on December 1, 1935.

While working as a road repairman, co-workers joked about seeing Sodeman’s bicycle at the scene of June’s murder. Sodeman lashed out defensively. Because the response was so out of character for Sodeman, his co-workers alerted police. He was taken in for questioning and confessed, though police did not believe his confession until he provided details about the murders not known to the public. He also confessed to intending to murder another girl and a boy, though he realized what he was about to do and stopped himself.

At trial, his defense team attempted to argue Sodeman was not responsible for his actions because of an “obsessive impulse,” a condition in which a person temporarily loses control due to intoxication. (After his autopsy, he was found to have leptomeningitis, a disease which causes inflammation to the tissue covering the brain and can inhibit certain functions. Alcohol is known to exacerbate this condition, and Sodeman had been intoxicated during each murder as well as the two instances of attempted murder.) The jury did not feel this was a valid excuse and Sodeman was sentenced to death. He was executed by hanging, leaving no final words.

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