The lumbering man stood outside the White Castle in Huntington, Long Island waiting for the taxi he had just called.
Cabbie and father of four Jeffrey Hirsch had only just returned to Long Island to care for his ailing mother.
On Aug. 11, 1987, his passenger was a man named Todd Hodne, a 28-year-old ex-con whose dreams of football stardom had ended in the slammer. Now, on this broiling day on Long Island, the two men met.
Hirsch drove the onetime grid star to a side street near the Walt Whitman Mall. Then, Hodne pulled a knife in a botched attempt to rob the cabbie. A scuffle ensued and the former jock strangled his driver until he was brain dead.
Hodne was pinched a short time later. Hirsch the cabbie died six days later.
“I have been a prosecutor for nearly 30 years,” wrote John B. Collins, who prosecuted one of Hodne’s crimes, in a letter to a parole board. “I have prosecuted serial killers and capital cases. Todd Hodne, to this day, remains among the three most dangerous, physically imposing and ruthless excuses for a human being I have ever faced in court.”
‘NO CONTROL OVER HIS DARK IMPULSES’
It wasn’t supposed to be like that. Hodne grew up on Long Island where he starred in football as a linebacker at St. Dominic High School. He was big and fast and tough.
Naturally, he was recruited by famed coach Joe Paterno to play for his Penn State University Nittany Lions. The freshman started in seven games in 1977 culiminating in an appearance at the Fiesta Bowl.
But beneath his rugged exterior, lay demons. One family member later told ESPN that Hodne “had no control over his dark impulses.”
Hodne’s promising freshman year turned into a disaster during the summer of 1978 when he and two pals from Long Island broke into and robbed a record store. He would later be nabbed on burglary charges and suspended from the team.
Paterno conceded there could be a return to the team “if he has a good academic year and if he proves to us that [the robbery] was a mistake.”
‘DRIVEN AND DETERMINED’
Hodne engaged in other nocturnal activities besides burglary: Rape. By 1978, an unknown monster was prowling the UPenn campus in State College attacking young women.
ESPN noted: “He was driven and determined and a little desperate. He was also cruel, the most predatory of predators, a hunter who liked to linger. He attacked with a knife to the throat, and when he attacked women, he made sure they couldn’t see him, but he also liked to suggest they knew him.”
“Do you recognize my voice?” he asked one victim.
‘IT JUST WASN’T NORMAL’
During Hodne’s reign of terror, he committed at least a dozen rapes and sexual attacks during 1978 and 1979 in State College and on his home turf in New York.
His roommate, who asked not to be named, told ESPN that Hodne was extreme in everything he did.
“Todd just didn’t have the same moral compass that other people did,” the man said 45 years after the fact. “He had some wild sexual appetites. We had bunk beds, and I’m on the bottom, he’s on the top. And he’d be up there going at it for hours at a time. It just wasn’t normal. I mean, I knew something was definitely different in that aspect.”
Eventually, he was arrested but instead of being remanded into custody, the judge gave him bail and let him return to Long Island. There, he picked up where he left off and was arrested again in May 1979 on four counts of first-degree rape, among other charges.
Hodne pleaded guilty to two counts of rape and other sexual abuse and robbery charges. He was sentenced to a minimum of seven years and a maximum of 21 years.
In 1986, Hodne came up for parole. The Nassau County (NY) prosecutor who caged him was apocalyptic and wrote a letter detailing his burly crimes. The parole board, saw things differently and sprung him.
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DIED IN 2020
It didn’t take Hodne long to once more come off the rails. He repeatedly violated his parole and by the late 1980s was hooked on crack cocaine. Hodne ditched his job and he ditched his therapy.
And on Aug. 11, 1987, he encountered cabbie Jeffrey Hirsch.
Hodne would be convicted and spend the rest of his life in a New York State prison. He died of cancer in 2020.
Hodne was largely forgotten until the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal blew up in State College in 2011. Then, his name was once more on everyone’s lips.