The citizens of Fayetteville, West Virginia awoke to tragedy on Christmas Day, 1945. A fire had consumed the home of George and Jennie Sodder, leaving five of the couple’s 10 children never to be seen again. Before the sun set on that tragic night, questions arose about the fire, questions that persist to this day, placing the Sodder children at the center of one of American history’s most infamous unsolved cases.
BEFORE THE FIRE
George and Jennie Sodder, along with 9 of their children were asleep on Christmas Eve.
During that night, mother Jennie was awoken THREE times.
First, at 12:30 a.m., she was awoken by a phone call during which she could hear a person’s voice as well as glasses clinking in the background.
She then went back to bed only to be startled by a loud bang and a rolling noise on the roof.
She soon dozed off again and finally awoke an hour later to see the house engulfed in smoke.
DURING THE FIRE
George, Jennie, and four of the Sodder children escaped. George broke back into the house to save them, but the staircase was on fire.
When he went to get a ladder, he discovered that it was missing.
Additionally, both of his trucks would not start.
Marion ran to a neighbor’s house to call the Fayetteville Fire Department, but did not get a response, prompting another neighbor to go looking for Fire Chief F.J. Morris.
Help did not arrive until 8 a.m. even though the fire department was just two miles away from the Sodder home.
The police inspector said the cause of the fire was faulty wiring. But George and Jennie had no previous issues with the electricity.
Authorities scavenged the ashes of the fire looking for bones and remains, but found nothing. This is suspicious, as typically when bodies are cremated, bones are still left behind.
George and Jennie began to suspect that their five children were not dead, but instead kidnapped. Believing that the fire was deliberately set as a diversion, they began to stitch together a series of odd moments leading up to the fire.
A life insurance salesman threatened George in the Fall before the house fire, when he tried unsuccessfully to sell George life insurance. He literally told George his house would go up in smoke and his children would be destroyed!“Your goddamn house is going up in smoke,” he warned, “and your children are going to be destroyed. You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini.” George was indeed outspoken about his dislike for the Italian dictator, occasionally engaging in heated arguments with other members of Fayetteville’s Italian community, and at the time didn’t take the man’s threats seriously.
In the days leading up to the fire, two of the surviving Sodder children witnessed a man watching the younger kids from the highway.
Much later, when the family visited a memorial on the property, they found a rubber object in the yard that George believed to be a napalm "pineapple bomb." They believed this could've caused the loud bang that night.
*An employee at a crematorium informed Jennie that bones remain after bodies are burned for two hours at 2,000 degrees. Their house was destroyed in 45 minutes.
Apparently the fire department had found some bones and a heart at the scene, but for whatever reason—perhaps to spare the family further grief on Christmas Day—the chief never told the Sodders about it. When the family found out and confronted him years later, the chief led them to the site where the remains had been buried; upon testing the "heart," it was found to be a beef liver.
A woman even claimed to have seen the children driving away as the fire was blazing that night.
AFTER THE FIRE
George and Jennie would not quit.
They made a billboard which announced a $10,000 reward for the safe return of their children, whom they now thoroughly believed to be alive and who had been taken from the house while the fire was deliberately set to cover the tracks of some kind of abduction.
23 years after the fire, a photograph of a man in his twenties with very similar features to their missing son Louis was sent to Jennie with no return address.
There was also a very interesting and mysterious handwritten note on the back of the photo. On its flip side a cryptic handwritten note read: “Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35.”
She and George couldn’t deny the resemblance to their Louis, who was 9 at the time of the fire. Beyond the obvious similarities—dark curly hair, dark brown eyes—they had the same straight, strong nose, the same upward tilt of the left eyebrow.
The letter was postmarked from Kentucky, so the Sodders hired a private detective to go there and find this man.
Strangely enough, the detective was never heard from again!
George died in 1968, still hoping for a break in the case.
Since the fire Jennie had worn black exclusively, as a sign of mourning, and continued to do so until her own death in 1989.
The youngest and last surviving Sodder child, Sylvia, is now 69, and doesn’t believe her siblings perished in the fire. Her very first memories are of that night in 1945, when she was 2 years old. She will never forget the sight of her father bleeding or the terrible symphony of everyone’s screams, and she is no closer now to understanding why.
WHAT REALLY HAPPENED?
What happened to the missing Sodder children? Did they die in the fire? If so, what happened to their remains? Or were they abducted?