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The disappearance of the Sodder children right before Christmas in 1945 has shocked the nation for the past 74 years. All those years later and the question still remains: What happened to the Sodder children?

The Fire

The story goes like this: Christmas Eve in 1945 a fire broke out in the family home of George Sodder and his wife Jennie in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The couple had ten children together, five of which mysteriously vanished after the fire. The missing children were Maurice, 14, Martha, 12, Louis, 9, Jennie, 8, and Betty, 5.

flyer for the missing sodder children
Flyer released including a $5,000 reward for the missing Sodder children. (via the Smithsonian Magazine)

The other four children Sylvia,2, Marion, 17, John 23, and George Jr., 16, escaped the home and made it out alive. One of the couple’s children was serving in the army at the time, reported a Penn State article.

After several attempts to reach the Fayetteville Fire Department, a neighbor drove directly to Fire Chief F.J. Morris. Morris then implemented the town’s fire alarm system meaning all firefighters had to be contacted individually.

The fire, attributed to faulty wiring, broke out at 1 a.m. but firefighters weren’t on scene (only two miles away from the Sodder home) until about 8 a.m. according to the Penn State article.

It’s reported that while waiting on the fire squad, George tried to use his coal truck to rescue the kids still in the house. What is confusing about this is his truck was apparently inoperable at the time even though it was working just days earlier.

George also went along the side of the house to get his ladder for direct entry to the second floor only to find the ladder gone.

Another strange fact about the fire was the phone lines to the house had been cut. Why would the phone lines be cut in a fire?

In a desperate attempt to put out the fire, George ran to a barrel of water only to find it frozen solid.

An article by NPR mentions author George Bragg writing Jennie woke up in the middle of the night because she heard something being thrown on the roof but went back to sleep. She awoke later to smoke filling up the house.

Investigation and Theories

While searching through the rubble, rescue teams found no evidence of the children’s remains. But, according to the NPR article, firefighters found “a few bones and pieces of internal organs.” Fire Chief Morris said the fire was hot enough to completely cremate the bodies. If the children perished in the fire, certainly there would be signs.

The Sodder family was never told about the bones they found.

Unfortunately, before a more thorough search was completed, George levelled the house and created a memorial for his lost children. 

Strangely enough, according to Reader’s Digest someone reported they saw the five missing children pass by in a car while the home was ablaze.

As Italian immigrants, some theorized the Sodder children were abducted in an attempt to get George to join the Italian mob.

A mysterious encounter with an insurance salesman ended with the man yelling at George, “You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini.”

This led to the theory that someone attacked the Sodder family because of George’s critiques of the Italian government and Mussolini’s control.

They also recalled a strange incident a few months earlier when a stranger showed up at his house asking about a job. When George said he didn’t have a job for him, the man pointed to his fuse boxes reportedly saying “This is going to cause a fire someday.”

billboard for the missing sodder kids
The billboard that was erected on the side of Route 16 in hopes of finding the Sodder children. (via wikipedia)

Looking back, the Sodders wondered if their children could have survived the fire. Hope remained. On Route 16 George and Jennie had a billboard put up in 1952 and offered a $5,000 reward for information on their children’s whereabouts.

The billboard stayed up until Jennie died in 1989, 20 years after George died. 

As of 2020, only one of the Sodder children lives, Sylvia. She is around 70 years old and still refuses to believe her siblings perished in that ill-fated Christmas Eve fire. 

To this day there are no answers in the disappearance of the Sodder children though the question is very much still asked. What happened to the Sodder children?

Want to learn more about the puzzling case of the missing Sodder children? Check out this video from the Buzzfeed Unsolved Network.

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