Fire

The Mysterious 1945 Disappearance of the Sodder Children

The story of the Sodder children disappearance is as fascinating and mysterious as it is heartbreaking. In 1945, five children of one West Virginia family went missing in the middle of the night. There was a house fire, and — poof — they were gone. No trace of any of the children was found in or near the house, or anywhere else. To this day, no one knows what happened to these kids.

Related Video: The Mysterious Disappearance of the Sodder Children

Here's the Story

Around 1 a.m. on Christmas Day in 1945, a fire broke out in the Sodder family's West Virginia home. Both parents and four of their ten children escaped, but five children were unaccounted for (their tenth child was away from home in the army). The cause of the fire was a mystery too. When the father, George, attempted to re-enter the house to save the children, the ladder that was always leaning against the house was missing. He thought to drive one of his two coal trucks right up against the house and climb it to enter through a window, but neither truck started — even though they both functioned the day before. And it keeps getting weirder. Multiple people phoned the operator for help, but the calls were never answered. And while the fire station was only two miles away, fire trucks didn't arrive until 8 in the morning.

The Mystery Continues

After the house burnt completely to the ground, nothing was found. No questions were answered. No human remains were located in the remnants of the fire. The Sodders later hired private investigators to help find their five missing children, but at least two of the investigators immediately went missing. Weird, huh? The mystery remains unsolved to this day.

If this smells fishy to you, you're not alone there. One theory that explains the disappearance has to do with the Sodder family's involvement in their Italian immigrant community. As reported by Smithsonian, "George held strong opinions about everything from business to current events and politics, but was, for some reason, reticent to talk about his youth. He never explained what had happened back in Italy to make him want to leave."

Photograph received by Jenny Sodder of Fayetteville, WV, USA, in the mail from Kentucky in 1967. She and her husband George believed the person in it is their son Louis, who they believe disappeared along with four of his siblings around the time of a 1945 fire that destroyed their house, when Louis was almost ten. Text on the reverse of the original includes Louis's name.

Smithsonian goes on to tell a tale that surely seems to point to some shady mafia business (but, hey! Who knows?): "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."

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Hear the whole story in "The Missing Sodder Children" by Dorothy Miles. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Curiosity Staff May 31, 2016

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