SODDER FAMILY CASE: 5 Children missing in Fayetteville, WV - 24 Dec 1945

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Circumstances of Disappearance
On Christmas Eve in 1945, the Sodders and nine of their ten children settled in for the evening. Martha, and four of her siblings - Martha, Betty, Jennie and Maurice pleaded to be allowed to stay up and play with their new toys. Mrs. Sodder relented after the children promised to take care of their chores before coming to bed.

Shortly after midnight Mrs. Sodder was awakened by the phone ringing. A female caller asked for a man whose name Mrs. Sodder did not recognize. The caller gave a weird laugh before hanging up. Dismissing the call as a prank, Mrs. Sodder went to return back to bed but noticed the lights were still on, the shades were not drawn and the doors had not been locked. Believing the children forgot to do these things before going to bed, she went back to sleep. She was awakened again by a noise on the roof.

About a half-hour later, smoke began pouring into the bedroom. She yelled for her husband and children. Once outside, Mr. Sodder noticed that Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha Lee, and Maurice were nowhere to be found. He went to grab the ladder, which was kept near the house, to reach the windows of the room where the children slept. The ladder was missing. Less than forty-five minutes after the fire started, the house was consumed.

Firefighters and state police arrived later that morning and placed the cause of the fire on faulty wiring. State police later withdrew their statement. The fire chief and state fire marshal sifted through the ashes and told the Sodders that they could not find any remains. The acting coroner impaneled a jury of six local citizens who returned a verdict that the five children had died due to suffocation and flames.

Within a few months, the Sodders became convinced that their children did not die in the fire. An investigation revealed that the telephone line had been cut shortly before or during the fire. A late-night bus driver reported seeing balls of fire being tossed upon the roof of the Sodder home. An operator of a motel located halfway between Fayetteville and Charleston reported seeing the children Christmas morning. A Charleston hotel owner reported seeing four of the children in the company of four Italian speaking adults a week later. Three months after the fire, the youngest child found a hard rubber object that was hollow with a twist-off cap. It was identified by Army authorities as an incendiary or napalm bomb called a "pine-apple." It was later discovered that the fire had started on the roof. During the fire, a man was seen stealing a block and chain from the Sodder's garage. He admitted to cutting the electric line to the Sodder home. The ladder, which couldn't be found during the fire, was found down an embankment away from the house.

A couple of years after the tragedy, Mr. Sodder saw a photo of school children in New York and was certain that Betty was one of the children in the photograph. He drove to Manhattan to see for himself but was never allowed to see the child. Sightings of the children came in from all over the country. Every lead proved fruitless. In 1952, the Sodders purchased a billboard displaying photos of their missing children and offering a reward for the recovery of any or all of the children. The publicity fed rumors that the children had been sold to an orphanage or taken to Italy.

The Sodders tried in vain to get their case reopened, even writing to the FBI. State police and local authorities would not reactivate the investigation without any evidence of a kidnapping or murder. The investigating fire marshal admitted years later that he did not search through the ashes as thoroughly as he would have liked. Mr. Sodder, initially believing his children had died, bulldozed the site and covered it with four to five feet of dirt, planting flowers in memory of the children.

In 1949, Mr. Sodder decided to excavate the site in order to search for human remains. The assistant chief of Naval Ordinance in Charleston and a noted pathologist from Washington, D.C. were among those helping. Four pieces of vertebrae and two small bones that could have come from a child's hand were located. The pathologist noted that he was amazed at the scarcity of bones recovered after the thorough search, claiming it was unusual that no skulls or pelvic bones were found in a fire that was quick burning and not so intense as to destroy cloth, flooring and other debris found.

Back in Washington, D.C., the pathologist determined the bones to be human, having come from a person 14 to 15 years of age. Due to the location where the bones were found within the floor plan of the house, Mr. Sodder did not believe the remains to be of his 14-year-old son, Maurice. Another analysis of the bones conducted years later by the Smithsonian Institute determined that the bones came from someone 16 to 22 years of age. It was also noted that the bones bore no evidence of having been subjected to fire. A letter would arrive on a detective's desk claiming that the bones had been removed from a nearby cemetery and planted at the scene.

Many believe the children died that night in the fire and the family was never able to accept the loss. Others believe the children were taken and are still alive somewhere, believing the fire killed their parents and siblings. Mr. Sodder died in 1969, his wife twenty years later. The billboard no longer stands. The youngest of the Sodder children keeps her parents' quest alive to find out what really happened that night.

Investigating Agency(s)
Agency Name: Fayetteville Police Department
Agency Contact Person: Unknown
Agency Phone Number: 304-574-0255
Agency E-Mail: Unknown
Agency Case Number: Unknown

NCIC Case Number: Unknown
NamUs Case Number: Unknown

Information Source(s)
Find a Grave
Charleston Daily News Archive
Charleston Gazette News Archive

 
Last edited by a moderator:

Mel70

Well-known member
I have no idea what to think with this case and I have known about it for a long time. It is so bizarre. I don't think the parents have any part in it. But what someone's motive in taking the children is to me is baffling considering they were older. The phone call. Very creepy. The cut telephone line. Noises on the roof. It says nothing about any disputes between them and anyone. And on Christmas Eve no less. No bodies. Bones that belonged to the children. But some taken from a cemetary and put there. This is very haunting and I can't imagine what that family went through. The parents for the rest if their lives. The father 20 yrs. The Mother 40. Some of the children would be older than my Parents. I don't think there will ever be answers unfortunately. I wish I had them. And the sighting with an Italian family. What?. Blame it on "Gypsys"?. Come on. None of the other sightings panned out either.
 

GrandmaBear

NEXT THE PACK HOSTS THE NFC TITLE GAME!!
I have no idea what to think with this case and I have known about it for a long time. It is so bizarre. I don't think the parents have any part in it. But what someone's motive in taking the children is to me is baffling considering they were older. The phone call. Very creepy. The cut telephone line. Noises on the roof. It says nothing about any disputes between them and anyone. And on Christmas Eve no less. No bodies. Bones that belonged to the children. But some taken from a cemetary and put there. This is very haunting and I can't imagine what that family went through. The parents for the rest if their lives. The father 20 yrs. The Mother 40. Some of the children would be older than my Parents. I don't think there will ever be answers unfortunately. I wish I had them. And the sighting with an Italian family. What?. Blame it on "Gypsys"?. Come on. None of the other sightings panned out either.
Cut telephone line, yet someone called prior to that. Cut electric line and a theft during the fire. A napalm device? All around strange... I find it difficult to believe the kids died in the fire with no evidence found but also do not see someone kidnapping five children either... Why? Oh and the ladder missing and later found... Bizarre is definitely the word for it...
 

Mel70

Well-known member
So they couldn't escape with the ladder is what I think. But yeah. Why take the 5 older ones?. The one son was born in 1931. Others. 1935. 37. 40. I can't remember the other.
 

Mel70

Well-known member
Well. Reading that changes things a bit. The oldest was born in 1923. 2nd oldest left to serve in the military. The father had strong opinions and caused some harsh feelings around the community. I never knew that before. That still doesn't answer who. But to why maybe. What's the best way to get to someone?. Their family.
 

GrandmaBear

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That was a very longggg read. Just finished. More bizarre than it already was imo. So the one who made the threat was on the jury. The Fire Chief buried a beef liver??? What??? Why would anyone believe an organ survived a fire and not bones??? Why would he do such a thing? I don't like his reasoning or believe it. It's cruel if you ask me...

I don't see someone taking these children but I also don't see five children burning up and no remains... Having seen cases here, it takes a LOT to completely burn a body to nothing...

I also find it interesting that it was the kids that stayed up who either did not get out or were believed to have been taken. I have that correct, don't I? So they were downstairs when the rest went to bed...

One thing that does bother me is the father was told to wait for the State Fire Marshall at which point perhaps a better investigation would take place but he did not and he bulldozed the site. I understand it was the grief of he and his wife though, grief does things and they had to see it every day.

It certainly sounds like there was an Italian settlement in this area and his opinions may have made more than a few enemies...

The fact that they have no name of the guy who cut the line and committed theft is downright odd. He should have been suspect number one...
 

GrandmaBear

NEXT THE PACK HOSTS THE NFC TITLE GAME!!
I can see them being taken and killed elsewhere. There was more than one person involved for sure. The woman with the call and the person with the "Pineapple".
In the Wiki article, it said the woman was found and that she truly did call a wrong number... I guess if one believes that...? It was Christmas Eve and sounded as if drinking may have been involved... It could be a coincidence, that particular part of the phone call...? I don't think an arsonist bent on killing would want them awake and that phone call awakened the mom... That pineapple thing though goes with the person who said he saw fiery things landing on the roof... Or seems like it could...
 

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