December 24, 1945, West Virginia. In the small village of Fayetteville, George, Jennie Sodder and their nine children celebrate, like millions of other families, Christmas Eve. Carefree, the children open their presents and go up to try them in the attic, unaware of what the night has in store for them. Around half past midnight, Jennie Sodder wakes up in a silent house and hears the telephone ringing. At the end of the line, a woman with a striking laugh, who seems to have dialed the wrong number. Drowsily, Jennie hangs up and returns to her bed. Before going back to sleep, she hears an object falling loudly on the roof.
Around 1:30 a.m., the Sodder residence was invaded by flames. George, Jennie and four of their children, Marion, Sylvia, John and George Jr, quickly evacuate the scene. The father of the family and his sons try to access the attic, without success, while neighbors try to join the firefighters, there too, in vain. A 45-minute nightmare ensues, during which the family home disappears under the power of fire. Devastated, the surviving Sodders understand that Betty, 6, Jennie, 8, Louis, 10, Martha, 12, and Maurice Sodder, 14, have just perished in the flames.
“Your damn house will go up in smoke”
Then opens the greatest mysteries of American history. On the morning of December 25, the firefighters were surprised to find neither the bones nor the remains of the five missing Sodder children. However, Chief F.J. Morris is categorical: the fire was not powerful enough to completely incinerate the bodies. A question then arises: were the Sodder children in the house or not when the fire broke out? On December 30, 1945, Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha and Maurice Sodder were officially declared dead. Their surviving brothers and sisters attend their funeral but their parents, upset, refuse. For them, the last five little ones did not succumb in the flames. Keeping hope, George Sodder covers the ashes of the house with earth and builds a “garden in memory of lost children”. The photos of the children are plastered there, and will remain so for several decades…
If George and Jennie Sodder never wanted to believe in the death of their children on the evening of December 24, 1945, it was because several factors led them to believe the opposite. Several months before the fire, a transporter had come to the family home and pointed to the fuse boxes, saying “It’s going to set fire, one day”. Shortly after, another man had tried to sell insurance to the father of the family and had become angry when the latter had declined: “Your damn house is going to go up in smoke”, he would have said then. The man is also said to have threatened the Sodder children, virulently criticizing the political orientation of the father, who at the time openly condemned Mussolini’s policy in Italy. “Your children will be destroyed. You will pay for your inappropriate remarks on Mussolini”, would have launched the insurer. Moreover, shortly before the fire, the Sodder sons would have noticed a man parked on U.S. Highway 21 who was watching them from afar as they returned from school…
Did Louis Sodder and his siblings survive?
Still open, the investigation into the disappearance of the Sodder children has also given parents plenty of reason to doubt. As early as 1946, testimony called into question the theory that the fire was due to an electrical fault. The driver of a bus claims to have seen strangers throw “fireballs” at the house on the evening of December 24. In 1968, moreover, a new twist calls into question the death of the Sodder children. In her mailbox, Jennie Sodder finds a photo of a man in his twenties. On the back, the words: “Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie, Ilil boys, A90132 or 35.” Did Louis and his brothers therefore survive the fire of December 24, 1945? Seventy-seven years later, the mystery remains intact.
George and Jennie Sodder died in 1969 and 1989 respectively. All their lives, they and their children refused to believe in the death of Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha and Maurice, imagining in particular that they would have been kidnapped by the mafia Italian in retaliation for the declarations of George senior on his native country.
The Sodder Kids © Pexels