What Happened to the Sodder Children?

The mystery of the Sodder children is one of the most captivating, confusing, and enduring mysteries of recent decades.

The mystery revolves around a bizarre tragedy that hit the Sodder Family on Christmas Eve, 1945, in Fayetteville, West Virginia.

George and Jennie Sodder, Italian immigrants, and their nine children were asleep in their home when a fire broke out.

The rush to get out of the house was chaotic, and as the family regrouped outside, not everyone was there.

George, Jennie, and four of their children escaped, but five of the Sodder children—Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha, and Maurice—were nowhere to be seen.

It has been believed since that day that the four children perished in the fire.

The Tragic Fire

Missing Sodder Children
Five Sodder children were never seen again after the fire (left to right): Maurice, 14, Martha, 12, Betty, 5; Jennie, 8; and Louis, 10.

On the night of the fire, Jennie went to bed early but let some of the children stay up because they were excited about Christmas.

She instructed them to pick up and do the evening chores before going to bed themselves.

At around midnight, Jennie answered a phone call with only what appeared to be a woman’s voice on the end, who said nothing, laughed, and then hung up.

Now awake and in the home’s main living area, Jeannie noticed that the children seemed to have gone to bed already.

However, she also saw that they had failed to do the chores she had told them to do.

Jennie returned to bed, assuming all was well and as it should be that night.

She fully expected that the next time she awoke, it would be to start Christmas breakfast or to get a call from their second eldest son, Joe, who was away in the army.

But just an hour or so later, Jennie woke up to find the bedroom thick with smoke.

The house was on fire, spreading quickly through the old home. In the chaos that followed, she and her husband George, as well as four of their children, escaped as the house was engulfed in flames.

But five of their children never emerged from the home.

Tragically, it was ruled the children had been overcome by smoke and had perished in the fire.

Normally, that would have been the end of the case, and it would be remembered as a tragic holiday loss for the Sodder Family.

However, that is far from what happened as a series of unusual, bizarre, and downright suspicious things unfolded in the weeks and years that followed the fire.

Here are the stranger details about that mysterious night and what exactly happened:

The Family’s Strange and Different Routine That Night

George and Jennie were in bed at a reasonable hour. Two other sons and the youngest daughter, a two-year-old, also went to bed as usual.

The oldest sister, 19-year-old Marion, stayed up late with the five middle children but fell asleep on the couch while she was watching them.

When Jennie answered the strange phone call around midnight, she saw that Marion was asleep on the couch.

The other five children were nowhere to be seen, and Jennie assumed they had put themselves to bed in their attic bedroom.

No one else moved or stirred until the smell of smoke woke up George and Jennie.

Rampant Communication Issues

burning-house
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.

Jennie and George escaped the house as the flames spread with their two-year-old. Marion and the two older sons in the house escaped, too.

But the five middle children were nowhere to be seen as the family ran from the burning house.

It is worth noting that in the chaos, it is believed no one had gone to the attic to get them, assuming they were already on their way out.

The home’s phone lines were not working, so Marion tried to reach the fire department by phone from a neighbor’s house.

However, no operator responded, and the call went unanswered despite multiple call attempts.

Somebody else who saw the blaze from their property tried to call for help from a nearby tavern.

They, too, were unable to get anyone to answer their calls.

It took somebody driving into town to track down the fire chief and get help.

By then, it was too late. The house was on fire and was burning quickly.

George Tried to Save the Children

As soon as George realized five of the children were still inside the burning home, he sprang into action.

He ran for the ladder that he knew was sitting propped up at the side of the house so he could try and climb up to the attic to save them.

However, the ladder was not there; it was nowhere to be seen.

Thinking fast, he ran to move one of the work trucks he regularly used on the property.

He hoped it would help him reach the attic window.

But in a cruel twist of fate, neither of the trucks on the property would start despite being in good working order earlier and having no known issues.

There was no other source of water that could be used to try and extinguish the flames.

The family could do nothing but wait for the fire department to arrive.

The Fire Chief Changed His Story Years Later

Official reports were that no conclusive remains had been found in the rubble after extinguishing the fire.

According to the fire chief, the children had died in the blaze, and the heat had incinerated their remains.

However, that didn’t jive with the fact that some places and items in the home escaped the fire relatively unscathed, as it burned hot but fast.

The idea that the remands were incinerated beyond recovery also compounded what the Sodders learned two years after the blaze.

The chief had apparently told somebody else he found a human heart in the rubble but decided to bury it quietly and “forgot” to tell George and Jennie of his discovery.

When the Sodders heard this, they demanded the chief show them where the heart had been buried.

A funeral director identified the object as a beef liver. This just further led to theories of abduction, coverups, and negligence.

Abduction and murder were leading theories that gained popularity over the years.

Some theories suggest that the children were kidnapped due to George Sodder’s outspoken criticism of Mussolini and Italian fascism.

The belief is that his political involvement could have potentially made him enemies who targeted his family- but nothing has ever been found to prove this.

Rumors of Sightings Fuel Conspiracy Theories

The Sodder family never accepted the official explanation given about the fire and their children’s fate.

They firmly believed their children had been abducted.

They put up a billboard on the site of their former home and offered rewards for information about their children.

Their attempt to find their children never wavered over the years.

Over the years, there have been various sightings and claims that the Sodder children were seen alive after the fire.

One woman claimed to have seen the children peering from a car that had been speeding away from the home as it burned.

Another person said she saw the children at a hotel and served them breakfast the day after the fire.

The Sodders hired private investigators to chase leads and tips, but the children were never found.

Countless leads were followed, but hopes were dashed every time.

The last living Sodder child died in 2021 without ever finding out what happened to her missing siblings.

Personal Reaction to the Sodder Children Mystery

When talking about the tragedy of the Sodder children, my thoughts bounce between various theories as I try to figure out an answer to this confusing case.

I lean towards the possibility of abduction, given the series of odd events and threats leading up to the fire.

The lack of remains and the strange circumstances of the fire suggest something more sinister than a simple accident.

It seems plausible that someone targeted the Sodder family and kidnapped the children.

The official report doesn’t seem logical, and there are too many unanswered questions.

Hopefully, one day, the truth will finally come to light about what happened to the Sodder Children.

5 thoughts on “What Happened to the Sodder Children?”

  1. Has anyone thought about what the change in routine for the family might indicate? Could it have been a setup from the beginning? It feels like there’s a piece of the puzzle missing here.

    1. You might be onto something, but we also need to consider the possibility of it being a tragic coincidence. Without more evidence, everything is just speculation.

  2. HistorianRick

    Agent Johnson, I appreciate the efforts to bring light to this mystery. However, weren’t there some inconsistencies with the fire chief’s statements over the years that need a closer look? It could help clear some confusion or add to the complexity of the case.

  3. the rumors of sightings always get to me. it’s like they r still out there, watching, waiting to tell their story. gives me chills tbh. anyone else feel like this mystery could be a book in the making?

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