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The Christmas eve of 1945 should have been a happy occasion for the Sodder family but unfortunately, a house fire would bring agony for the family as it would burn what they cherished most and change the course of their life forever.

Postcard for missing Sodder Children
Postcard for missing Sodder children, credit Jennie Henthorn/Smithsonian

Night of the fire

One strange occurrence out of many is the phone call on the night of the fire. The phone in the kitchen rang around 12:30 A.M., Jennie Sodder went to get the call and heard a female speaking.

The lady on the call wanted to talk to someone who Jennie was unfamiliar with and, Jennie heard laughter and clinking of glasses in the background. After ending the call she noticed lights were on and Marion was sleeping on the couch, she closed the doors and turned off the lights and went to bed.

While she was trying to sleep she heard a thud sound and something rolling on the roof, minutes later she woke to the smell of smoke coming out of the fire inside the house.

George and Jennie Sodder were asleep along with their 9 children when a fire started in the house and only George, Jenny and 4 of their children escaped the fire leaving 5 children behind, Maurice(14), Martha(12), Louis(9), Jennie(8), Berry(5) in the house upstairs.

Marion went to call the fire department from the nearby house but the operator did not respond, she got a similar response when she tried contacting the fire department from other people’s homes.

One of the neighbors drove to town and found the fire chief FJ Morris in person and even though the fire department was only located 2.5 miles away from the home, it took them 7 hours to arrive at the burning house.

After noticing the missing kids George broke back into the house to save them but the staircase was on fire and when he tried to retrieve his ladder it was missing from its normal spot and none of his coal truck was starting.

Maurice(14), Martha(12), Louis(9), Jennie(8), Berry(5) left to right, missing Sodder children

At 8:00 A.M. in the morning, when the two-floor house turned into nothing but cinders the firefighters arrived.

The remeaning children were however presumed dead to the fire after no sign of them till the morning.

F.J. Morris the fire chief suggested that the fire may have been so hot that it completely cremated the children’s body including their bones.

What strikes mischievous about the theory that no one smelled flesh burning during or after the fire and even if the flesh is burnt the bones are still left behind. A week later the coroner’s office issued death certificates of the five children.

The basement of the house still remained but the father covered it up with five feet of dirt to make a memorial place for his children.

Bad wiring or Foul Play?

The officials came in the morning but they had to wait for 2 hours as it was too hot to investigate anything. After the place cooled down the officials deemed bad wiring for the fire, but George had that checked weeks before the incident.

The parents were not convinced however, Jennie went to talk to the local crematorium where she found out that a house fire burns at around 1100 degrees Celcius but if a human body burns two to three hours at 1400 degree Celcius the bones would still remain as the fire in the house lasted only 45 minutes to one hour.

George and Jennie Sodder, in front of the billboard they erected in 1952. The prize was later increased to $10,000, credit: find a grave (gw)

Jennie began burning different types of animals to see what remains after they are burned and all of them left remains.

The household appliances found in the basement were burnt but partially intact and identifiable, interestingly when the family visited the memorial George had set up Sylvia Sodder found a hard rubber object in the backyard. Jennie believed it to be the same object that she heard during the night time.

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After further inspection, George Sodder found out that the green thing was, in fact, a Napalm “Pineapple Bomb”, similar to those were used in the world war.

Re-opening the remains

Geroge and Jennie left no stone unturned in finding their children’s fate they asked the officials to look for the remains again and what they found was both strange and unsettling.

They discovered 4 small bones in the corners of where the basement used to be, which George covered with 5 feet of dirt as a memorial to his children.

The doctor sent the bones to research and found that bones were from a single set of four lumbar vertebrae with fused transverse recesses meaning the bones belonged to someone 16-17-year-old. However, the oldest child to go missing was Maurice, 14 years of age at the time of the fire, the doctor said it was not impossible but not improbable that it wasn’t his bones.

The site of the fire, with the memorials the Sodders placed for their missing children, photo credit: find a grave (gw)

What didn’t sit well with George is that none of the bones found had any burnt marks or even a scratch? Indicating a possible case of foul play.

The FBI even denied George’s plea to find the missing Sodder children as the matter fell under the local character and would investigate if they got permission by the local authorities, but Fayetteville Police declined and cited lack of evidence.

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F.J. Morris, when opened the case again reported finding a heart in a box but when the box was opened and examined, it contained beef rather than the human heart. Why did Morris do that? Suggesting a case of foul play.

Sodder Children Kidnapped?

No one heard anything from the children during the fire and no one saw them escape could the Sodder Children have been kidnapped before the fire started, well George thought so, no one believed him but that the Sightings started happening.

Sightings

  • A woman claimed to have seen Sodder children peering outside of a car window the same night as the fire started just outside Fayetteville.
  • A waitress at a tourist stop located between Fayetteville and Charleston West Virginia said that she had served the children breakfast on Christmas eve and saw them leaving in a car with Florida license plates.
  • About a month after the fire an employee at a hotel in Charleston claimed to have checked the Sodder children into a hotel room, she further added that the children were traveling with 4 adults, 2 males and rest 2 females.
    1. They arrived in the night.
    2. Adults were speaking Italian to one another.
    3. When the clerk attempted to make small chat all of them went silent.
    4. They left early in the morning.
  • George saw a photograph of school children in a newspaper from New York and believed the one of the girls in the photo is his youngest daughter Betty. George drove there but the parents refused to speak to him.
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Postcard

Jennie received a postcard with no return address and a photo with some text written on its backside and postmarked in Kentucky.

The photo was of a man in his mid-20s with dark hair, same curly hair and same straight nose and the message written on the back read:

Photograph received by the family in 1967, believed by them to be an adult Louis, credit: Wikipedia

“Louis Sodder
I love brother Frankie.
Ilil boys.
A90132 or 35.”

Both the parents were immediately convinced that the man in the photo was their son, “Louis” and hired a private investigator. Sodders feared that releasing the letter to the police might put their son in danger.

The detective left for Kentucky with Sodder’s money and all the information about the case never seen or heard from again.

Leading to this the parents lost all their faith in law enforcement and took the matter in their own hands, they started printing flyers and billboards pleading for help in finding out the truth of what happened to offer $10,000 reward.

Theories

What really happened to the children? The questions haunted the Sodders for their life and the generation coming has been searching for the answers to what exactly what happened to the Sodder children. Here are some theories over time.

Involvement of mafia

The remaining children believed that a local mafia attempted to recruit George into the circle but failed to convince him. In revenge, the man in the mafia entered the Sodder’s home and kidnapped the children and in the process of running away set the house on fire.

Many of the Sodders believed that their children lived their lives but did not contact their family for the fear of endangering them.

Jennie Brother

Many believed that one of Jennie’s brothers had kidnapped the children and taken to Florida but the police thoroughly investigated this and found nothing but dead ends.

Kidnapped before the fire even started?

Many believe that the children were kidnapped even before the fires started and were kidnapped outside the house while they were completing the chores.

Sylvia Sodder

The last alive Sodder is adamant that her siblings did not die in the blaze she said that though she was only 2 when the fire took place, the fire was her first memory that she would never forget the sight of her father screaming for help.

George Sodder died in 1968 and after that Jenny distanced herself from the outside. She only donned black clothing since the fire until her death in 1989.

What happened to the Sodder children will never be known, whether it was a curse or the family was being haunted by the mafia, no one ever heard from the children again and with no sign of them being dead no one is ready to accept the fact that the children died in the fire that night.

What do you think happened to The Sodder children? Read about the inmates who escaped the infamous Alcatraz prison and then read about the mystery behind the Bermuda triangle.

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