The perplexing account of the Sodder children's disappearance following the destruction of their home by fire leaves many unanswered questions.
The Sodder children's vanishing is a heart-wrenching and perplexing mystery. On December 25th, 1945, a fire broke out in the Sodder family's West Virginia home, where George and Jennie Sodder, and their nine out of ten children were present. The eldest child was serving in the military at the time.
The parents and four of the nine children were able to flee the fire, however, the remaining five were not seen again. Despite the odds, the Sodder family held onto the belief that their missing children had survived.
The disappearance of the Sodder Children
On the evening of December 24th, 1945, the Sodder family celebrated Christmas Eve. The oldest daughter, Marion, who had been working at a store in Fayetteville, brought back new toys as gifts for her three younger sisters, Martha, Jennie, and Betty. The children were so thrilled that they begged their mother to let them stay up past their bedtime.
At 10:00 PM, with permission from their mother Jennie, the children were allowed to stay up a little longer as long as the two oldest boys Maurice and Louis, who were still awake, remembered to feed the cows and chickens before going to bed themselves.
Jennie's husband, George, and their two oldest sons, John and George Jr, who had been working with their father that day, were already asleep. After reminding the children of their chores, Jennie took her youngest child, Sylvia, upstairs to bed with her.
Jennie woke to the sound of the telephone ringing at 12:30 AM and went downstairs to answer it. A woman with a voice she did not recognize was on the other end, asking for a name Jennie was not familiar with. She could hear laughter and glasses clinking in the background. Jennie told the caller they had reached the wrong number, and later remembered the woman's "weird laugh".
Jennie hung up and went back to bed, noticing the lights were still on and the curtains were open, which the children usually take care of. She found Marion asleep on the couch, guessing the other children who stayed up went back to the attic. She closed the curtains, turned off the lights, and returned to bed.
Jennie was awakened at 1:00 AM by the sound of an object hitting the roof with a loud bang, followed by a rolling noise. She lay there for a moment listening for any more sounds, but when she heard nothing more, she went back to sleep. A half-hour later, she woke up again, smelling smoke.
When Jennie got up again, she found that George's office was on fire, specifically around the telephone line and fuse box. She woke George, who then woke his older sons. Together, both parents and four of their children (Marion, Sylvia, John, and George Jr) were able to escape the house.
Five children went missing
As they were escaping, George and Jennie frantically called out to their other five children who were upstairs but received no response. They were unable to go upstairs as the staircase was already engulfed in flames. At first, they thought their children may have escaped the burning house, but soon realized they were missing.
When George tried to go back inside to rescue the children, he noticed that the ladder that was usually against the house was gone. He considered using one of his coal trucks to reach a window, but neither of the trucks would start, even though they had worked fine the previous day.
Many people attempted to call for assistance, but their calls went unanswered. Despite the fire station being located only 2 miles away, fire trucks didn't arrive until 8:00 AM. The most mysterious aspect of the event was that no human remains were discovered among the fire debris. However, another report mentions that some bone fragments and internal organs were found, but the information was not shared with the family.
Sodders believed their missing children were alive
The Sodders argue that their children survived the fire by highlighting various peculiarities surrounding the incident. They disagree with the fire department's determination that the fire was caused by an electrical issue, citing that the house had recently undergone rewiring and inspection.
The Sodders suspected that the fire was intentionally set and speculated that the Sicilian Mafia may have been responsible, possibly as retaliation for George's vocal opposition to Benito Mussolini and the Fascist regime in Italy. Some theories propose that the local mafia attempted to recruit George and when he refused, they abducted his children.
Almost two decades later, Sodders received a strange mail
Twenty years after their disappearance, the Sodder family received a photograph of a young man resembling their missing son Louis, along with a handwritten message on the back reading: "I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35." The zip codes on the message were from Palermo, Sicily, Italy.
Although they believed Louis was responsible, the Sodders were unable to decipher the cryptic message or determine the sender of the photograph. They subsequently hired private detectives to aid in their search for their missing children, but unfortunately, two of the investigators themselves disappeared.
The case remains unsolved
Instead of rebuilding the house, the Sodders transformed the location into a memorial garden for their children who were lost. As they came to believe that the children had passed away, they erected a billboard along State Route 16 featuring pictures of the five missing children and offering a reward for any information that would resolve the case.
The billboard remained standing even after Jennie Sodder passed away in 1989. Sylvia Sodder, the youngest of the Sodder children, currently resides in St. Albans, West Virginia in her seventies. Despite the efforts of the family, the case of the missing Sodder children remains unresolved to this day.