FORGOTTEN BUSINESS. The Sodder case, these 5 kids went up in smoke on Christmas Eve

At the age of 6 to 14, Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha and Maurice Sodder disappeared on December 24, 1945 after a fire in their home. Closer returns to this mysterious case …

December 24, 1945, West Virginia. In the small village of Fayetteville, George, Jennie Sodder and their nine children, like millions of other families, celebrate Christmas Eve. Carefree, the children open their presents and go up to try them on the ceiling, unaware of what the night has in store for them. Around half past ten midnight, Jennie Sodder wakes up in a quiet house and hears the phone ring. At the end of the queue a woman with a striking laugh who seems to have called the wrong number. Dozing, Jennie hangs up and returns to her bed. Before going to bed again, she hears an object falling loudly down on the roof.

Around 01.30 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 place. The father of the family and his sons try to gain access to the attic without success, while neighbors try in vain to join the firefighters there as well. A 45-minute nightmare ensues in which the family home disappears under the power of fire. Destroyed, 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 the greatest mysteries in American history open up. On the morning of December 25, firefighters were surprised to find neither the bones nor the remains of the five missing Sodder children. Chief FJ Morris, however, is categorical: The fire was not powerful enough to completely burn the corpses. 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 pronounced dead. Their surviving brothers and sisters attend their funeral, but their parents, sadly, refuse. For them, the last five little ones did not succumb to the flames. To preserve hope, George Sodder covers the ashes of the house with earth and builds a “garden in memory of lost children.” The pictures of the children are patched there, and will remain so for decades …

If George and Jennie Sodder would never 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 carrier had come to the family home and pointed to the fuse boxes and said “It’s going to set fire one day“. Shortly afterwards, another man had tried to sell insurance to the father of the family and had become angry when he had refused:”Your damn house will go up in smoke“, he would have said at the time. The man would also have threatened the Sodder children and vehemently criticized the father’s political orientation, which at the time openly condemned Mussolini’s policy in Italy. “Your children will be devastated. You will pay for your inappropriate remarks about Mussolini”would have launched the insurance company. In addition, shortly before the fire, the Sodder sons would have noticed a man parked on US Highway 21 watching them from a distance when 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 questioned the theory that the fire was caused by an electrical fault. The driver of a bus claims to have seen strangers throw “fireballs” at the house on the evening of December 24th. In 1968, a new turn also calls into question the deaths of the Sodder children. In her mailbox, Jennie Sodder finds a photo of a man in his twenties. On the back are 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 deaths of Betty, Jennie, Louis, Martha and Maurice, especially imagining that they would have been kidnapped by the Italian mafia in retaliation for George seniors’ statements about his homeland. …

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