The Strange and Abnormal: The peculiar disappearance of the Sodder children

Ava Ferrigno, Features Editor

On December 24, 1945, the majority of people were celebrating Christmas and basking in its joy. But for one family in Fayetteville, West Virginia, this night would haunt them for the rest of their lives. At 1:30 am, an “accidental” fire engulfed the Sodder house, supposedly taking the lives of five of the nine Sodder children. However, George and Jennie Sodder both believed that someone had purposely set fire to their home in order to steal their children. They claimed that Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, and Betty were still alive.

How could this be possible?

The first piece of evidence, which is the most significant, is the fact that none of the missing children’s bones were found at the scene. The fire marshall had told the Sodders that this was because their remains disintegrated due to the heat of the fire. However, according to Karen Abbott, many of the household appliances were still recognizable. Jennie Sodder refused to accept the marshall’s dismissal and conducted her own research. She had found that in a similar house fire, all of the victims remains had been discovered, further solidifying her beliefs and motivating her to talk with an employee of a local crematorium. The employee had stated that human bones would still be identifiable even after being burned at 2,000°F for two hours. The Sodder house fire had not burned for nearly as long or at such a high intensity, therefore, the children’s remains should have been discovered.

The fire’s cause was suspicious as well. The fire department claimed that electrical issues had triggered the blaze, however, the Sodder home was recently rewired and cleared by inspectors. Also, as the house burned, the Sodder’s Christmas decorations remained lit, demonstrating that the wiring was in perfect working order and a fuse had not been blown.

Other unusual events surrounded the incident including the possible tampering of the Sodders trucks and the theft of their ladder, both of which would have helped the family reach their children in the attic.

If this fire was not an accident, who would have wanted to kidnap the Sodder children and why?

The Sodder family was not always a popular one in their Italian immigrant community. George Sodder outwardly criticized the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and Italy’s fascist government. Naturally, a majority of the Italians in Fayetteville had supported the dictator and were angered by George’s harsh rhetoric. In October, only three months before the house fire, a life insurance salesman arrived at the Sodder’s door. After he was dismissed, the man had shouted to George that the Sodder home “[would go] up in smoke and [his] children [would be] destroyed.”

Afterwards, the older Sodder sons had noticed a strange car that would watch their siblings as they returned from school. Furthermore, a man was later caught stealing a block and tackle around the time of the fire and admitted to cutting the Sodder’s phone line prior to the incident. Thus, the Sodders believed that this man and the salesman were working for the Sicilian Mafia who they thought had taken their children due to George’s remarks. Although it is possible that the Sodder children had been kidnapped, it seems a bit dramatic to say that it was the Mafia considering that the Sodders were not very important politically or financially. Perhaps it had been the salesman acting with other offended Italians after they had too much to drink that night.

In order to end this peculiar case once and for all, a corner proposed an inquest. According to Abbot, one of the jurors was the life insurance salesman who had threatened George Sodder. It was declared that the accidental deaths of the five children were caused by the fire, which had started as a result of “faulty wiring.” The salesman most likely swayed this decision in order to cover his tracks as exhibited by the fact that the fire could not have been caused due to electrical issues. The other jurors had agreed with him because everyone other than the Sodders wanted to see the case closed.

Maybe the life insurance salesman had murdered the Sodder children in an act of rage, or perhaps they were kidnapped by the Sicilian Mafia. Whatever the case, it should be known that their deaths were not an accident.