Like many unsolved mysteries, the story of the Sodder children continues to haunt people today. On Christmas Eve 1945, the Sodder family house in Fayetteville, WV, went up in flames. Four of the nine children home at the time escaped the fire, but five - Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, and Betty - did not. But it's not a simple case of smoke inhalation or fire. More than 70 years later, there are still many questions remaining about what happened to the Sodder children.
The Sodder children are some of the most famous missing children in West Virginia. Accounts of the night of the fire include a strange phone call, a missing ladder, cars suddenly not functioning, and more; the family had good reason to believe their children survived the flames. Throw in the Italian mafia, a box containing beef liver, and a photo mailed 20 years after the incident, and there's a compelling unsolved mystery laced with conspiracy theories.
In 1945, the Sodder family's Christmas Eve appeared normal. Marion, one of the elder sisters, had brought home new toys for her siblings. Martha, Jennie, Betty, Maurice, and Louis all asked to stay up later than usual to play; Jennie Sodder, their mother, agreed so long as Louis and Maurice took care of the cows and chickens before bed.
Around midnight, Jennie went downstairs to answer the phone, but found the lights on and curtains open, with Marion asleep on the couch. She assumed the children had simply neglected their usual chores and had gone straight to bed. Within a few hours, however, the house was in flames - of the five children allowed to stay awake, none were around.
After the fire started, George Sodder, the children's father, went to grab a ladder from his car to get the children down from the second floor. The ladder was missing from his truck. He changed plans, thinking he'd drive his vehicle underneath the window and climb on top of it to reach the window.
But neither of George's trucks would work, though they were functional the day before. He had neither a way inside nor means to put out the fire - their water barrel had frozen solid in the winter chill. George, alongside his surviving family members, could only watch the house burn while they waited for the fire truck to arrive.
With the home on fire, one of the children, Marion Sodder, ran to a neighbor's house to phone the fire department, but couldn't get through to anybody. Someone at a nearby tavern also called the fire department for help, but no one responded. This same person drove to town for assistance from the fire chief F.J. Morris.
Fayetteville didn't have a fire alarm, so the department planned to initiate a phone tree, in which the first caller begins a line of people calling down the tree. But it wasn't quick enough - the fire engine didn't arrive until 8 am, seven hours after the fire started.
A series of odd events marked the night of the fire. Many accounts include a strange phone call to the Sodders around midnight, but investigators found and identified the caller - a neighbor who'd called the wrong number. This is not the only mystery, though. After the phone call, Jennie Sodder woke up a second time when she heard an object hit the roof and roll down the side of the house.
A half-hour afterward, she smelled smoke and discovered the house on fire. On a later visit to the house's remains, the family found a rubber, rock-like object in the yard, which George Sodder believed may have belonged to a pineapple bomb.