On December 24, 1945, one of the most puzzling, eerie and unexplained disappearances in history took place in the state of West Virginia, United States, at the Sodder residence.
At the time of the event, the house was occupied by George Sodder, his wife Jennie, and nine of their ten children.
During the night, a fire ravaged the house, with four children escaping. The remaining five children have never been found, with the quintet presumed dead.
However, the family contested this belief, and pursued alternate theories. They point to several bizarre elements and inconsistencies as reasons for why they believe the Sodder children survived the fire.
This article reviews this case. There is a reader’s poll at the end of the article, which we hope you partake in. We will all be able to see what the consensus is among our readers as to what happened.
George and Jennie Sodder lived in the town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, United States. The duo had ten children, and were a respected family in the local area.
At the time of the fire, nine of their ten children were living with them at the house, with the other child serving with the United States military.
George Sodder was well-known for his outspoken criticism of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, who had died in April of 1945. This was the source of some disdain for Sodder from those sympathetic to Mussolini.
Two months prior to the fire, George was warned by a life insurance salesman that his house would “go up in smoke, with your children destroyed”, due to his remarks about Mussolini.
Another person warned George that a fuse box in the house would “cause a fire someday”. George had just finished rewiring the house, leading to confusion.
The final mysterious event that has been designated as a point of interest is the alleged regular appearance of an unknown car near where the Sodder children attended school, in the build-up to the disappearance.
The family had been celebrating the festive season, when Jennie, the mother, went to sleep. Prior to going off to sleep, she told the six children present to complete their chores before heading off to sleep.
Jennie was awoken at 12:30am by a phone call. Jennie picked up the phone, but the female caller asked for someone that didn’t live at the house. Jennie didn’t recognise the voice of the caller, although she would later recall the woman having a “weird laugh”.
Upon returning to bed, Jennie noticed that one of the lights downstairs had unusually been left on. Upon investigating, she saw one of the children had fell asleep. Jennie presumed that the other five children had gone up to the attic to sleep.
Jennie was awoken again at 1am. This time, she heard a “thud” sound on the roof of the house. Jennie likened the sound to that of an object hitting the roof. It was followed by a rolling noise, before silence.
Jennie thought nothing more of it, and fell back asleep. But soon enough, Jennie was abruptly woken for a third time, when she smelled smoke.
Jennie discovered that one of the rooms in the house was on fire, near the telephone line and fuse box. Jennie raised the alarm, and woke up some of the children in the immediate area. They then promptly escaped.
Those that were able to escape yelled desperately to the five children that were supposedly in the attic. The fire had meant that the stairway to the attic was inaccessible.
A series of events then hampered the rescue effort. The family’s telephone line wasn’t connecting, making it impossible for the family to get in immediate contact with the Police.
George attempted to scale the house and reach the attic to save the children he believed was inside. The family found that the ladder that they normally used had been mysteriously moved. This doomed any chance of George making it up to the attic.
Moreover, George’s trucks didn’t start, despite having been used just hours before. The family then had the agony of watching their house burn down and collapse, with the belief that five of their children were trapped in the attic.
The Fire service arrived and hastily came to the conclusion that there were no survivors and that the missing five children had been completely burned.
One account at the time claimed to have found bone fragments amongst the wreckage, though this was not consistent with other reports from law enforcement officials. It seemed that in reality, there were no bones.
An inquest into the fire found that the fire had been caused accidentally by “faulty wiring”, with no criminal intent. Death certificates were issued and funerals for all five children were held.
However, the Sodder family disputed the findings of the inquest. They noticed there were several inconsistencies that didn’t make sense.
Firstly, they noted how it would be unlikely that the cause of the fire was electrical – as their Christmas tree lights had worked perfectly during the fire.
Secondly, they eventually found their missing ladder around 75feet away – with no one having known how it got there, hinting at third-party involvement.
Thirdly, their home phone line wasn’t burned in the fire, and had instead been intentionally cut. This was eventually traced to a man that was arrested, though despite admitting theft from the property, he was adjudged to have played no role in the fire itself.
The family also disputed the suggestion that all trace of their children would have been burned in the fire. Many appliances had been left recognisable by the end of the fire. Moreover, scientific evidence based on precedent suggests that the bodies would have needed to have been engulfed for much longer to have been totally burned.
The fact that the trucks didn’t start was another contentious point, as was the strange phone call received around an hour before the fire. The call was eventually traced, with the matter simply having been a call to a wrong number.
Finally, the family also believed that the thud sound heard by Jennie was indicative of some object being thrown at the house, which could have caused the fire.
The Sodder family tried in vain to get the FBI to open a kidnapping case. It seemed that all of law enforcement believed that the case was done and dusted.
The Sodder’s continued to search though, offering a monetary reward, putting up billboards to try and raise awareness of the disappearance.
The billboards led to supposed sightings all over the country, though none were deemed credible. Jennie Sodder did receive a letter in 1967 that included a picture of someone that strong resembled one of the children, though this lead never proved fruitful.
Tragically, the children were never found. The official account is that they unfortunately died in the fire. Despite the surviving family members putting in significant effort to searching for what they believed to be the truth, there was never a trace of the five following the fire.
This disappearance boils down to a choice of two potential theories – either that the children tragically passed away in the fire, or that they were kidnapped or ran away.
We take a look at the evidence for both:
Theory One: The Children Died in the Fire
Arguably the most likely explanation is that the Sodder children died in the fire. This would explain why, despite extensive efforts, no trace of the five children was ever found.
This was the official conclusion of the fire service and investigators. If you take away the emotion of the case and look at the facts, many would argue that this disappearance was a simple case of a tragic death.
Most believe that the fire was accidentally caused. However, due to George Sodder’s outspoken dislike of Mussolini, it has been suggested that a rogue individual may have sought revenge.
One of the biggest hurdles to the following theory on kidnapping is that the Sodder children – had they survived the fire – would surely have realised as they got older that they were the missing children, unless they had been killed shortly after being kidnapped.
Theory Two: The Children were kidnapped
However, there is a wide body of evidence that suggests that the children may actually have been kidnapped. The remaining members of the Sodder Family were stedfast in their belief that the five children had survived.
A bus driver was among the first to come forward to say that on the night in question, that he had seen some people throwing “balls of fire” at the house. This may suggest the fire was started deliberately, and that the fire was a distraction to kidnap the children. These “balls of fire” may also account for the “thud” heard by Jennie Sodder.
There were also questions as to how the five children would have all managed to sleep through the fire. Surely at least one of the children would have awoken and alerted the others. Instead, there was no movement in the attic.
Several witnesses came forward in the weeks and months following the fire to say that they had seen the children. One person said they saw the children in a passing car on the night of the fire, being taken away from the house.
Another person came forward to suggest that she had served the children breakfast the morning after the fire – saying that they were with a couple. The waitress said that she had noticed the couple were driving a car with Florida License Plates. She noted that the children seemed in a normal mood.
These sightings were investigated, but no concrete leads ever formed. Other factors that seemed suspicious included the ladder being moved, George’s trucks inexplicably not working properly and the electric fire verdict not having much evidence to support it.
The family pushed on with their theory, and hired a private investigator to take control of the investigation. The investigator found that the life insurance salesman who had threatened the Sodder residence with arson, was part of the jury at the original inquest, where the accidental verdict was made.
The investigator also questioned the conduct of the fire service and was able to order a full excavation. Yet the excavation yielded no results. The private investigator eventually hit a brick wall.
With the above theories in mind, we now invite you to cast your vote on the theory that you believe is most likely in the poll below.
The disappearance of the Sodder children is a truly bizarre mystery. On the face of it, the case seems simple, but there is so much evidence to suggest that this wasn’t death by fire.
The Sodder family continued to investigate, but as the years passed by, hope was eventually extinguished.
Whatever happened, it was a tragic case. George Sodder sadly passed away in 1969, with his wife Jennie passing away in 1989.
As we have reached a time where most of those who were involved in this case would be reaching old age, it seems as if this is a case that will never be solved. The case will also certainly never be forgotten.