The Sodder Children
George and Jennie Sodder had ten children, nine living at home at the time that this happened. It happened on Christmas Eve 1945. That night the eldest daughter, who had been working at a local store, surprised her younger siblings with some toys that they were delighting in playing with. They begged to stay up past their normal bedtime, later than their parents, and their mother Jennie relented so long as they fed the chickens, and brought the cows in.
At twelve-thirty, the phone rang downstairs. Jennie got up, went down to the kitchen, and answered it. On the phone, a woman was asking for a person that Jennie was unfamiliar with. The sounds of a party echoed in the background as she informed the woman that she had the wrong number. She hung up, checked the living room, and saw the lights still on, with her daughter Marian asleep on the sofa. She assumed everyone else was in their rooms and asleep. She closed the curtains, locked the door, and shut off the lights before going back upstairs.
At one AM, and when Jennie was back in bed, she was once again awakened to a loud sound of something striking the roof and rolling off. She decided to ignore it and fell back to sleep for another half hour. She then woke up to smell and saw smoke pouring into the room. She woke her husband, grabbed their two-year-old daughter who was in the room with them, and ran out screaming for her children to get out of the house.
She got Marian out of the living room, and minutes after they escaped, two of their sons emerged as well. Multiple attempts to get to the other children were made, but nothing worked, and what was extremely strange was that there was no evidence that the children were even aware of the fire. No screaming came from upstairs, no windows thrown open, nothing.
As it became more and more apparent that the children were not coming out, George broke a downstairs window, cutting his arm deeply, and tried to enter the house, but found the stairway already consumed by the flames. He then recalled a ladder that he always kept propped up against the house and rushed to it, but found it gone. He then had the idea of pulling one of his coal trucks up to the side of the house and climbing atop it to access the children that way. However, neither truck would start even though they had been in perfect working order earlier that very day. He tried to scoop water from a rain barrel but found that it was frozen solid.
Nothing could be done but scream for the children and wait for Marian to return from the neighbor’s house that she had run to call the volunteer fire department. When she did she reported that no operators were responding. A neighbor who saw the blaze knew to find the fire chief in a local tavern and told him about the blaze immediately. The chief activated the phone tree system where one firefighter alerts the next one down the line. However, he did not leave for the site of the fire as he was unable to drive the truck and had to wait for the man who had been trained to do so.
By the time the fire crew arrived, the house had collapsed in on itself, and any hope of finding the children alive had died among the embers. After they cooled the scene, they began their investigation. Their goal was to collect the remains and attempt to determine the cause of the fire. They decided that the cause was faulty wiring at the fuse box, despite the fuses passing inspection just months prior. After they sifted through the rubble, it became clear to the investigators, there were no bodies to be found. No human remains at all could be discovered. Both of these conclusions were reached within two hours of the start of the investigation.
The suggestion was made to George that he collect some of the ashes from the site, place them in a box, and bury it in place of his missing five children. Grief-stricken just four days after the fire, he covered over the entire site with five feet of dirt. Death certificates were issued for all five children stating the cause of death as suffocation.
Even in their sorrow, the Sodders could not help but notice some significant issues with the investigation. They doubted that the fire could have been caused by the electrical wiring as the outside Christmas lights remained on through the first stage of the fire. The phone cord was not burned through as they had thought. Instead, someone had climbed fourteen feet up the pole and reached two feet away and cut it. The missing ladder was found in an embankment seventy-five feet from the house.
The most irreconcilable issue though was the missing bodies. While the fire burned hot, it nowhere near reached the two thousand degrees necessary to reduce the children to ashes, and even then there would still be bone fragments left behind. Many of the household appliances were found in the ashes and still recognizable. This would not be possible with a fire that burned hot enough to completely consume remains. Adding to this, another fire that happened around the same time period killed a family of seven. All of their skeletal remains were discovered in the ashes of their home, contrary to the Sodder children. Then there was the issue of the trucks not starting that night.
Strange coincidences came out of the investigation. A man arrested for stealing from the neighborhood claimed to have been the one to cut the phone line thinking it was the power line, but this made no sense as what he was set on stealing was outside, and he had no reason to enter the houses or mess with their electricity. A bus driver reported seeing someone throwing balls of fire at the house the night of the fire, which made George remember what Jennie had said about something striking the roof and rolling down. As more information came out, the less the Sodders felt that they understood what happened to their children.
After the fire, people reported seeing the children. One witness says that they saw them in a car peering out and watching the fire. A woman said she served them breakfast the next morning, and that a car with Florida plates was outside. Four weeks after the fire, a hotel employee said she had checked the Sodder children in with four adults who spoke in Italian. Two males, and two females. When the clerk tried to make small talk with the children, the entire party fell silent.
In 1947 George saw a photograph of some school children in the newspaper and one of them he recognized to be his daughter Betty who would have been seven at the time. He traveled to New York where she lived, but the parents refused to contact him. A woman at a convent in St. Louis claimed that Martha was residing there, and there were many sightings in Florida where many people believed that they had been taken.
George followed up on every sighting but to no avail. No concrete evidence of his children’s lives - or deaths - could be found.
Four years after the fire, George had the site excavated, and what was found there was even more perplexing. Four small bones were found and sent to the Smithsonian. What they determined were from a single set of four lumbar vertebrae with fused transverse recess meaning that they were from a person sixteen years or older.
The oldest missing Sodder child was Maurice, who was fourteen years old at the time. Pathologists said that it was highly unlikely that the bones belonged to a child of this age. Even stranger was that the vertebrae showed no evidence of any charring, and had never been exposed to fire. This was noted by both George, and the pathologists at the time. The Smithsonian concluded that the bones likely came from the dirt that George used to cover over the site, and not from any of the children. No other bones or remains of any kind were found.
The local authorities refused to reopen the case, and the FBI responded that they would only get involved if local police granted permission when George called them in 1947. However, Fayetteville police and fire declined, stating that it was hopeless.
No one knows what happened to these five children. John, the eldest child to have escaped the fire, believed that the children may have been taken to Italy where George was from. This was lent very little credence until 1968 when they received an envelope, postmarked in Kentucky, with no return address arrived. Inside was a photograph of a young man, dark-haired, with a message written on the back;
I love my brother Frankie.
A9013 (2) or (5)
The resemblance to Louis could not be ignored;
It is theorized that the numbers on the back may correlate to Palermo, Italy.
The Sodders didn’t want to endanger their son, so instead of going to the police, they hired a private detective. Unfortunately, he left for Kentucky to find out if more information could be found about the letter, taking the Sodders’ money, and never returning.
There are even more strange things in this story, but this answer has gone on long enough. These missing children are very interesting to me. I do wonder what could have happened to them. I recommend this very thorough video about the missing children as it is one of the best rundowns I have heard.