Christmas Eve, 1945, Fayetteville, West Virginia. The Sodder family ended the night with laughter, new toys, and love. Unfortunately, the morning only welcomed smoke, a burned down home, and five missing children. Within 45 minutes, the Sodder's lost not only their home but part of their family as well.

While some believe that the fire was on accident, that the children perished along with the home, I believe it was something more. I believe that the fire was planned and that the children were taken from their families by people who were angry with the father, George Sodder, and his mysterious childhood in Italy.

As an Italian immigrant, George Sodder came to the United States at 13 years old, leaving behind his childhood and starting a new life. "He found work on the Pennsylvania railroads, carrying water and supplies to the laborers, and after a few years moved to Smithers, West Virginia." (Abbott, smithsonianmag.com). Shortly after finding work, George met his wife, Jennie, and the two had ten children.

The Sodder family grew to become one of the most well respected families in the area. However, George Sodder's past was a mystery to everyone. George never spoke about why he left home, but many, including myself, believed that it was because of his dislike for the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. It was known by many in the town that George was not a fan of the Italian dictator which caused several arguments to heat up with other families. I believe that George sought out a chance to start a new life from the Italian dictator and because of this he made enemies along the way.

While George traveled to the United States in order to seek out a new life, enemies must have been made during the process. The Italian mafia was big during the time and being someone known for their dislike in the Italian dictator could only mean trouble. Before the event of the fire, several incidences happened with the Sodder family- a series of events that I believe were leading up to the fire.

A man approached the family, asking about hauling work, and ended up going to the back of the house. The man spotted two fuze boxes and claimed that they would one day start a fire, despite George going and having it checked and cleared to be in fine condition. Shortly after, a salesman approached the family asking if they would like to purchase life insurance. When George declined the man grew vexed, soon threatening the family, "Your goddamn house is going up in smoke," he warned, "and your children are going to be destroyed. You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini" (Abbott, smithsonianmag.com). Lastly, the older Sodder children had spotted another man parked along the highway, watching their younger siblings head home from school.

On the night of the fire; Maurice, Martha, Louise, Jennie, and Betty Sodder had been staying up late, playing with the new toys they had received from the oldest sister, Marion. "Jennie told them they could stay up a little while longer, but they had to remember to turn out the lights, close the curtains, and lock the front door. George and Jennie and four of their other children then went to bed" (MacGowan, historicmysteries.com). As the family headed off to bed, the five remaining children stayed up and played with their new toys. Hours later, close to one in the morning, Jennie woke up to the phone ringing, a woman's laughter on the other line asking for an unknown person. Jennie claimed the woman had the wrong number and before going back to bed, she headed to the living room where she found the lights on, curtains open, door unlocked, and her oldest daughter asleep on the couch. As Jennie began to fall back asleep, she heard one loud bang and then a rolling sound on the roof.

When Jennie Sodder woke up an hour later, she smelled smoke. Jennie found the fire that had been started in George's office. The family managed to escape, all except for the five children that had been playing with their new toys the night before. Due to the phone being down, Marion, the eldest daughter, went to a neighbor's home and called the fire department, only to result in them not showing up until morning.

Unable to find the ladder that was usually on the side of the house, George went to his trucks, thinking he would be able to get to the attic, where the children slept, and crawl in that way. But to his avail, the previously working trucks were now not working and the family had to watch as their home burned to the ground, leaving nothing but debris and a broken family.

The fire was claimed to be a result of faulty wiring, but if it was faulty wiring the power wouldn't be working. Not only did Jennie see the lights on an hour before the fire, but the family saw the lights on as the house burned to the ground. Additionally, a witness claimed they saw a man removing a block and tackle. I do not think the man managed to pull the engines out entirely, but I do in fact believe that he tampered with them enough to get them to not work. The man who had been wanting to work for the Sodder family knew the layout of the land and where everything was. That man could have easily hidden the ladder and destroyed the engines.

There were also no bones found on the property and with experiments done by Jennie with animal bones, it was conducted that there should have been indeed bones left behind. Perhaps not exact bones, but fragments of the bones. Either way, bones should have been left behind if the children did, in fact, perish with the home, but there were none.

There were also sightings by witnesses claiming that they saw the children in a car the night of the fire and the morning after. A woman who ran a tourist stop 50 miles west of Fayetteville claimed that she served them breakfast. A week after the fire in Charleston, a woman in a hotel saw four out of the five children with two Italian men and women. The men were very hostile and wouldn't let the children speak when the woman tried to talk to them. So it is clear to see that the children did, in fact, not die, but were taken by possible Italian mafia members.

Unfortunately, this will forever be a cold case. While many believe that the fire was an accident, I believe it was a sinister act to get George Sodder to 'pay' for disrespecting the Italian dictator. While the children may still be very well alive, living a hopefully pleasant life in Italy or somewhere else, the family continues to search and hope for answers on their missing siblings. What I can't wrap around my head is that if the family and people who don't even know the family are so committed to this case, why aren't our police departments and law officials?


Works Cited

Abbott, Karen. "The Children Who Went Up In Smoke". Smithsonian, 2018,

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-children-who-went-up-in-smoke-17242980

2/. Accessed 4 Oct 2018.

MacGowan, Doug. "The Sodder Children Mystery | Historic Mysteries". Historic Mysteries,

2018, https://www.historicmysteries.com/sodder-children-.... Accessed 4 Oct

2018.