Skip to comments.The Sodder Family Mystery
Posted on 11/29/2019 8:05:27 AM PST by robowombat
This post was published on 3rd August 2019
The Sodder Family Mystery
Posted By: Douglas MacGowan Douglas MacGowan lives on the San Francisco peninsula with his wife, a dog, and far too many cats. He has published eight books in the genre of historic true crime. You can check out his book on the mysterious disappearance of the Sodder children case here.
There was nothing extraordinary about Christmas Eve, 1945, for the Sodder household in Fayetteville, West Virginia. The tree was decorated and presents for the nine Sodder siblings were waiting for the following day.
Still too excited to sleep, five of the middle children asked permission to stay up late to play with some of the presents that they had been allowed to open on the 24th. Mother Jennie agreed with the understanding that before they went to bed, they had to turn off the lights in the house and lock the front door. The children readily agreed.
After a couple of hours, the phone rang and Jennie got up to go answer it. The caller was a woman who asked for a person Jennie didnt know. Jennie told the woman that she had the wrong number. Jennie would later state that the woman then laughed strangely and hung up.
Before going back to bed, Jennie noticed that the lights were still on in the house and that the front door was unlocked. She thought at the time that the five children had forgotten to close up the house. She turned off the lights and locked the door and went back to bed.
Before she could fall asleep, however, she heard a noise that she later claimed sounded like something hitting the roof and then rolling down and onto the ground. Feeling too tired, she did not investigate and attempted to go back to sleep.
by TaboolaSponsored LinksYou May Like This Picture is Not Edited... Look Closer Two Red Dots Royal Family Confirms Unfortunate News Cleverst The New Budget SmartWatch, Everyone In United States Is Talking About TechWatch But before she could drift off, she smelled smoke. She quickly woke her husband George and ran out of the room only to find the hallway in flames. She shouted over the growing sounds of the fire calling for the children to get out of the house and run into the front yard. Two of the older boys did so, but there was no sign of the five who had stayed up late.
Thinking that the five children were trapped in their upstairs rooms, George went for the ladder that was always near the house only to find it missing. George then thought that he could drive one of his trucks up to the side of the house, stand on the top of it, and get the children out through a window. But mysteriously, neither truck would start.
Horrified, the family members who had made it out of the house, two daughters and two older sons and the parents, could do nothing but hope that the children would soon run out the front door and to safety.
But the house burned to the ground without any sight of the five children.
Once the firemen and police arrived, hours after the house had completely burned to ashes, they did a quick inspection and declared that the five children had undoubtedly died in the fire that was most likely caused by faulty wiring.
But George and Jennie didnt believe that conclusion. They distinctly remembered the lights being on in the house while the building was burning. How was that possible if faulty wiring had been the cause?
Also, there were no human remains to be found in the house, and neither had anyone detected the distinctive stench of human flesh burning.
Unsatisfied with the official conclusions, George and Jennie decided to investigate on their own.
Unfortunately, one of the first things George did in the days following the catastrophe was to cover the houses remains with dirt, stating that he couldnt stand seeing the rubble of the fire. This destroyed a lot of possible evidence that would help determine the cause and consequences of the fire.
But slowly, over time, evidence started to show that went against the official statements as to the cause and results of the fire.
First off was the lack of those skeletons. Jennie discussed the situation with a local crematorium and discovered that a body had to burn for at least two hours at a very high temperature to completely burn up human bones. Jennie puzzled over this, as the fire of her home burned for less than an hour at a much lower temperature than was needed to cremate a body. It was then obvious to George and Jennie that there should have been skeletons in the rubble. Other similar house fires had left complete skeletons within the wreckage.
Various witnesses eventually came forward who claimed to have seen someone throwing fireballs at the house in the early morning of Christmas Day, had seen the children in a car driving away from the house while the fire burned, or had seen the children in the company of several adults in distant towns.
George and Jennie thought that all of this pointed to the fact that the children had not died but had been kidnapped. But the legal authorities didnt believe them, much to their frustration so they continued on with their own investigation.
They went through all of the remains of the house and eventually found what they thought was evidence that the authorities were right a few bones and what seemed to be an inner organ. Surprisingly, after being tested, the bones turned out to be from a person older than any of the lost children and the organ was a cows liver.
Thinking that somebody of the area must have seen something, they fashioned a billboard near their house with photos of the missing five children and offering a reward for the return of the children.
Nobody would ever attempt to claim that reward.
Years went by but George and Jennie refused to give up their search.
Their investigation went nowhere until 1968, when Jennie received an anonymous envelope that contained a photo of a man. On the back was written:
I love brother Frankie
A90132 (or possibly A90135)
The authorities were skeptical, but George and Jennie were convinced that the young man in the photo was their missing son Louis.
That photograph was, in many ways, the conclusion of the entire story. George and Jennie eventually passed away, never knowing answers to questions such as: who moved the ladder? and why had neither of Georges trucks worked, despite the fact that they were in perfect order the day before the fire? and where did those bones found later at the site and the cows liver come from?
There are currently many websites on the Internet that feature the solutions to and discussions about the puzzling story. Amateur sleuths pore over the known facts in attempts to solve the crime and still debate whether it was kidnapping or murder.
The reward no longer stands and the chances of coming up with the true story of this bizarre story at this late date is very slim indeed.
MacGowan, Douglas. Sodder Family Tragedy, Quarrier Press, 2016.
Dad covered the wreckage with dirt even though the forensic investigation wasn’t over yet?
The mom ASSUMED, even with the front door unlocked, that the kids all went to their rooms?
She didn’t check on ONE?
Thanks for posting. Had never heard of this before.
All kinds of creepy and what ifs. Read more at the wiki page. Too many vehicles didn’t run that night especially the fire chief not able to drive a fire truck. Too many warnings the house was going to burn down one day.
No way could the kids have been kidnapped without at least one of them screaming bloody heck and knocking over furniture. One boy was 14 so old enough to land a few punches loud enough to wake the parents.
Yeah, it’s hard to burn bones so don’t know where to go with that. Forensics wasn’t worth beans in 1945 so no telling what really happened.
I’m going to chalk it up to the parents couldn’t deal with the children’s deaths so wanted to believe they were still alive.
According to wiki, the kids were instructed to do more than take care of the door and lights - they had to tend to the livestock, too. So at some point, some of them may have been outside.
No one tends the stock that late at night so not buying that from mama. That had me thinking maybe the parents killed the kids and started the fire to cover it but dismissed that theory since none of the other kids let the cat out of the bag.
Why did they open presents before Santa arrived?
It’s a tradition with lots of families to open a few presents on Christmas Eve.
I’m not sure about the livestock - maybe they stayed in a barn with access to a pen, and were not locked in until the family went to bed.
“she heard a noise that she later claimed sounded like something hitting the roof and then rolling down and onto the ground. Feeling too tired, she did not investigate”
That right there is baffling. How often did things fall on her roof?
Off the top of my head my WTH moments while reading: Who would allow the kids to stay up like this? Who would put off locking the house till the playing kids went to bed? Who would find the lights ablaze and the door unlocked and not check the beds? Who would have known that the trucks would be needed in some way? Why wasn’t the problem with the trucks not found and revealed? Why was Pop so hot to spoil the scene? And on and on...
More exhaustive and detailed article:
The mom ASSUMED, even with the front door unlocked, that the kids all went to their rooms?
Locking doors is era and neighborhood dependent behavior.
Back in those days, even in the cities, in many areas people would leave their doors unlocked during the days, in rural areas, some folks never locked their doors.
When I was growing up, we lived on the outskirts of town and didn’t lock our doors until bedtime. And my parents didn’t do organized bed checks either. We kids were always in bed but there wasn’t any checking.
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