The Children Who Went Up In Smoke

On Christmas Eve, 1945, a fire broke out at the home of George and Jennie Sodder in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The couple escaped with their baby, and the three older children living at home got out as well. The other five children in the house, Maurice, 14; Martha 12; Louis, 9; Jennie, 8; and Betty, 5, were never seen again. In about 45 minutes, the wooden house was burned to the ground. Strangely, no remains of the children were found in the ashes. The odd circumstances of the fire led the family to recall other recent events that in hindsight were terrifyingly ominous.

The Sodders planted flowers across the space where their house had stood and began to stitch together a series of odd moments leading up to the fire. There was a stranger who appeared at the home a few months earlier, back in the fall, asking about hauling work. He meandered to the back of the house, pointed to two separate fuse boxes, and said, “This is going to cause a fire someday.” Strange, George thought, especially since he had just had the wiring checked by the local power company, which pronounced it in fine condition. Around the same time, another man tried to sell the family life insurance and became irate when George declined. “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.” George was indeed outspoken about his dislike for the Italian dictator, occasionally engaging in heated arguments with other members of Fayetteville’s Italian community, and at the time didn’t take the man’s threats seriously. The older Sodder sons also recalled something peculiar: Just before Christmas, they noticed a man parked along U.S. Highway 21, intently watching the younger kids as they came home from school.

Receiving little help from local officials and a rejection from the FBI, George and Jennie Sodder launched an investigation they pursued for the rest of their lives. Read the entire story of the missing Sodder children at Past Imperfect. Link


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