Fire During Christmas Time
Christmas time is usually a time to spend with family and celebrate. But for the Sodder family with their home located in Fayetteville, West Virginia, U.S, this was far from the case. On Christmas Eve 1945, a fire erupted around 1 am destroying the Sodder home to the ground. George Sodder (father) his wife Jenine and 9 out of their 10 children were inside the house. George, Janine and 4 out of the 9 children managed to escape. The other 5 children remained trapped inside the house. George was able to break back into the house but was unable to make it back up the stairs on their 2-story house. Their bodies or remains were never found. This is especially puzzling since the house burned down quickly not allowing enough time to cremate their bodies completely. The Sodder believe that the remaining 5 children escaped the fire due to a series of events before and after the fire.
A Series Of Unusual Events
George Sodder was originally from Italy and he was known for his outspoken criticism of Benito Mussolini and the Fascist government. This left some hard feelings around town where most of the families were of Italian decent. As a result, there were theories of the Sicilian Mafia being involved. George also had a couple of odd occurrences prior to the fire. A life insurance agent visiting his house said his house would “would go up in smoke … and your children are going to be destroyed” after being rejected. A handyman looking for work also mentioned that a couple of fuse boxes “would cause a fire someday” after doing an inspection around the house and not being hired. The younger Sodder children also reported a strange car that seemed to have been following them after school.
Around the time the fire started Janine heard a loud bang on the roof followed by a rolling noise. She woke up around half an hour later to a house in flames. They tried to call the fire department right away but the telephone line was not working. It was later found that the wires were cut. Both parents and children yelled upstairs at the other 5 children but heard no response. George could not make it upstairs since the stairs were burning down in flames. He ran outside to get his ladder in an attempt to reach the windows on the second floor but the ladder was missing. He then ran to his car in an attempt to drive it up to the house and climb to the rooms upstairs but the car wouldn’t start. The fire department was eventually called by either a neighbor or a motorist who had seen the fire. Due to low manpower during the war, the firemen did not respond later that morning. The Sodders had no choice but to watch in pain as the house quickly burned down within 45 minutes. The fire department ruled the fire as being a result of an electrical issue. George pointed out that this was hard to believe since he had recently rewired and inspected the whole house.
Aftermath Of The Fire
Following an investigation of the site no bodies, bone fragments or any other remains were found. A local employee at the crematorium confirmed that human bones remain even after burned at 2000 degrees C for 2 hours. Consumed in grief and not being able to stare at the site anymore, George bulldozed 5 feet of dirt over it. It was converted into a memorial garden for their lost children. Death certificates for the 5 children were issued later the following year. But the Sodders kept questioning all the findings related to the fire. If this was an electrical issue why did the Christmas light stay on throughout most of the early stages of the fire? Besides the confirmation of the local employee at the crematorium, the Sodders found items from the house almost intact in the ashes after the fire.
The Sodders did not give up hope that their children could be alive somewhere. In 1952 they put up a billboard at the house location with pictures of their children and offering a reward in return of information. They also made and passed flyers. Soon enough a woman who ran a hotel in Charlestown reported having seen the children along with two men and women of “Italian decent”. George Sodder kept following leads and tips in person, traveling to the areas. But the most credible piece of evidence was mailed to them directly in a letter. It was addressed to Janine Sodder containing a picture of a young man around his late 20’s with a strong resemblance to her son Louis. One of the missing children. On the back of the letter was written: Louis Sodder, I love brother Frankie , Ilil boys, A90132 or 35
George Sodder died in 1969 and Janine Sodder in 1989. After her death, the family decided to finally take down the billboard. The surviving children together with their own children continued to make the case public and investigate leads. Many have suspected throughout the years that the Sicilian mafia kidnapped the children and took them back to Italy. This remains one of the most mysterious disappearances and still unsolved cases.