CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ohio (WDTN) — It’s been 25 years since India and Cody Smith of Champaign County were first reported missing.

The case of India and Cody caught the attention of the nation back in 1997. It was even featured as a documentary in Forensics: You Decide in the episode “Nature’s Evidence.”

Twenty-five years later, we are still remembering India and Cody. Here’s their story.

July 9, 1997

On the morning of Wednesday, July 9, 1997, Kevin Neal and his wife, Sue Neal, had been arguing. For a period of time, they had been having marital difficulties due to their “mutual infidelities,” according to court documents.

That morning, Sue’s daughter, 11-year-old India Smith, was at their home visiting, as Sue did not have custody of her.

Kevin and Sue Neal looking for India and Cody (WDTN Archive Footage)

Sometime throughout the morning of India’s visit, the couple got into a fight. Sue ended up telling Kevin to leave the house or she and her 4-year-old son, Cody Smith McGraw — who she did have custody of, would move out. She then went to work, leaving India and Cody with their stepfather.

Around 2 p.m., Kevin reported his stepchildren, India and Cody, missing to authorities.

Kevin claimed he had been searching and yelling for the kids for nearly 40 minutes before calling the police. Court documents state that Kevin told the dispatcher he was afraid to call his wife because he feared she would blame him for their disappearance. Dispatchers then alerted Sue that her children were missing.

When Sue got home, she jumped out of her car and charged her husband saying, “Kevin, what the (explicit) have you done with my kids?”

The days following their disappearance

Police and family searched across the area for India and Cody. India’s birth father, Rick Smith, was interviewed several times after July 9, one of the times pleading, “If there’s anyone out there who’s got her, please let her go.”

Kevin Neal speaking with police (WDTN Archive Footage)

Both Kevin and Sue were questioned by police the day after the children went missing. Kevin told police that he had been doing housework that morning and that he could hear the children playing in the yard. According to court documents, Kevin said he did not hear any car doors or screams while he was working. He continued on by saying that India was too responsible to have walked away or to have gotten into a car with a stranger.

In an interview, India’s biological father echoed Kevin’s statement saying, “She’s never done nothing like this…She would scream and holler if someone picked her up.”

July 23, 1997

Kevin was called back to his home state of Indiana for a pre-trial hearing at the end of July for an incident that happened about two years prior.

In December 1995, Kevin was accused of assaulting his neighbor and on July 23, 1997, he was imprisoned for the incident.

That incident was not Kevin’s first bout of legal trouble. In 1983, Kevin plead guilty to raping his adoptive mother and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was released from his sentence early in August of 1989.

Sue told a reporter in response to her husband’s imprisonment, “I love him very much and I miss him, but I miss my kids a (explicit) of a lot more than him.”

August 2, 1997

Police officers searched the Neals’ residence again on Aug. 2, 1997, and found a pair of Cody’s shoes in a trash pile. Court documents reported that the shoes had not been seen there previously despite police searches and canine searches from July 9 through 11.

Nettle Creek Cemetery (WDTN Archive Footage)

When a reporter asked Sue about the shoes she said, “I’m not saying they are Cody’s, I’m not saying they aren’t Cody’s.”

Despite his wife’s statement, Kevin confirmed that those shoes were the shoes he had put on Cody the morning that the children had gone missing.

September 6, 1997

A farmer was mowing his hay about eight miles from the Neals’ residence on Sept. 6, 1997, when he found the naked bodies of India and Cody, court documents said.

The bodies were found near Nettle Creek Cemetary in the weeds and overgrowth next to the farmer’s field. It was determined that the bodies were located less than a hundred feet from the grave of Sue’s mother.

Court documents reported that the coroner was unable to determine the exact cause of death and could only say the deaths were due to “undetermined homicidal violence.”

May 20, 1999

Nearly two years after the disappearance of India and Cody, their stepfather was indicted by a jury on counts related to the events of July 9, 1997.

According to court documents, Kevin’s aunt testified during the trial and said that he had told her “he had done something terrible and guessed that he might as well do away with himself.”

Kevin’s mother said that one time after he had consumed a significant amount of alcohol, Kevin said “he took the blame for the children’s disappearance and wanted to kill himself.”

Kevin Neal walking with police (WDTN Archive Footage)

Along from testimonies, there was plenty of evidence against Kevin.

Two farmhands who were working nearby on July 9, 1997, recalled that they never heard Kevin shouting for the children as he had claimed.

Additionally, the State found Kentucky Bluegrass seeds and Catchweed Bedstraw seeds in the pocket of Kevin’s jeans — the same seeds that could’ve been found at the Nettle Creek Cemetery. The State also presented evidence of insect activity within the remains of the bodies. Although the exact date of death could not be determined, the State estimated that the children died between July 9 and July 14.

Finally, the jury came back with a guilty verdict on two counts of aggravated murder, four counts of abuse of a corpse and one count of tampering with evidence.

Kevin Neal (Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction)

Afterward

On June 16, 2000, Kevin filed two motions for a new trial. Both were denied without holding a hearing on July 25, 2000.

Kevin is now serving his two life sentences among other sentences at the Marion Correctional Institution where he has been since June 6, 2000.