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Dissolved like smoke: the mystery of the disappearance of the children of the Sodder family

'04.06.2022'

Source: Yandex Zen

Sometimes real events turn out to be so strange and confusing that even after decades they leave more questions than answers, writes the author of the "Sleeping Hare" blog on Yandex Zen.

Photo: Shutterstock

The trip to Fayetteville, West Virginia is inspiring. The winding roads pass through dark groves of sycamore and ash, clinging to the ribbed steps of the Appalachian Mountains. Around one bend, next to the hawk's nest community, lies the kitschy relic of a roadside americana - a mysterious hole. Entering Fayetteville itself, you will cross the spectacular New River Gorge Bridge, a 3030-foot steel arch (it spans the cool waters of the New River).

But for decades, travelers coming to Fayetteville have been treated with a much darker place: a billboard depicting photographs of Sodder’s five lost children and a mournful plea for heartbroken parents seeking news of their fate.

The official explanation for the disappearance of Sodder's children Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jenny and Betty, who were between 5 and 14 years old, is that they died in a fire that consumed Sodder's family home on Christmas Eve 1945. An alternative explanation, circulated by Sodder's parents, Sodder's children who survived the flames, and an active network of amateur detectives, is that the children were kidnapped from the burning house in retaliation for the family.

George and Jenny Sodder were Italian immigrants, although only George, who had immigrated at age 13, spent considerable time in his home country. The couple were a shining example of the American Dream: George went from working on the railroads in Pennsylvania to owning a small shipping company in West Virginia. He and his wife had 10 children and lived in a two-story house north of Fayetteville, where many Italian immigrants and their descendants settled.

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George was a hardworking, devoted family man, but he never gave up sharing his beliefs. He often discussed his disapproval of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, whom some Italian Americans before World War II regarded as the model of the power that made Italy great again. Arguments with other Italian Americans were common, and the family claimed that George received frequent threats during the war.

Christmas Eve 1945, the family celebrated with nine of their 10 children. The war ended, which meant that Joe's eldest son would soon return from the army. Daughter Marion bought gifts for her younger brothers and sisters from the income from the new job. At night, the five children of Sodder, as usual, went to sleep in the attic.

Around 30 am Jenny Sodder was awakened by a crash on the roof, followed by noise. She fell asleep again, but after XNUMX minutes she was awakened by the smell of smoke. She soon discovered that there was a fuse box fire burning in George's office. The Christmas lights were still flickering in the living room downstairs, and the children were asleep in the attic.

George, Jenny, Marion, two-year-old Sylvia, and two older Sodder boys fled home; one of these boys, John Sodder, initially claimed that he had gone upstairs to wake his brothers and sisters. He later changed his testimony, saying that he had only shouted to them.

A fire could not have occurred in a more catastrophic time. Christmas came, in the middle of the night the city of Fayetteville was closed. Many local men still served in the army, and firefighters were barely staffed.

In addition, a series of mysterious misfortunes made salvation impossible. The tall staircase that usually stood against the outer wall has disappeared. The water in the barrel was frozen, the telephone line was cut off. George Sodder tried to start the truck to park under the attic window, climb to the roof and save the children. But the engines would not start, although at the beginning of the week they worked normally. In desperation, George climbed the walls and smashed the attic window - he cut his arm in the process, but nothing helped him to get to the bedroom upstairs.

With a broken heart, the Sodder family watched their house: they thought that their five children had burned down that night.

Firefighters arrived only at 8 am the next day. What is the reason for being late? Fayetteville's fire chief F.J. Morris, who couldn't drive a fire engine. This was followed by a cursory two-hour examination, although fire investigations often took days or even weeks. But the remains were never found, and the Sodders were told that their children must have been completely burned down. Later, George Sodder, unable to bear the sight of his destroyed house, used a bulldozer to bury what was left under five feet of mud.

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Over the coming weeks, the Sodders came to the conclusion that their children had indeed been kidnapped - possibly by members of the mafia who resented George's anti-Mussolin remarks. The missing staircase was found abandoned in a nearby ravine. Investigators concluded the fire was due to faulty wiring, although George recently forced an electrician to rewire the house and the Christmas lights remained on while the fire burned. The owner of a nearby hotel claimed to have hosted strange guests traveling with children. After speaking with a local crematorium employee, Jenny Sodder concluded that the bones could not be completely burned.

The Sodders hired a private detective who soon discovered shocking news. Fayetteville Fire Chief F.J. Morris apparently found a heart among the remains of a house. He secretly put what he found in a box and buried it. Initially, the information was transferred to the Minister, who confirmed the story of George Sodder.

Faced with the charge, Morris admitted. He took Sodder to where he buried the remains. Indeed, the box was buried in the ground with some kind of flesh inside, but the local funeral director said it was fresh beef liver that had never been exposed to extreme heat.

Many point to this odd twist as proof that Morris was indeed trying to convince the Sodders that their children died in the fire, throwing them away from the true fate of teenagers. In a way, the theory may be true - Morris may have been trying to convince the Sodders that their children died that night. But this was not because he was hiding the abduction. Rather, he was hiding his incompetence.

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By the boss's own admission, he did not know how to drive a fire engine. A short two-hour investigation on Christmas morning was hardly adequate. And George Sodder may well have buried the remains of his children too deeply as he bulldozed the smoldering ruins of the house with mud.

Nevertheless, the Sodders themselves did not abandon the version that their children were abducted. Billboards and announcements asked about their fate. In 1967, a photograph was sent to Sodder, which already depicted an adult Louis, although perhaps this was a fierce rally of the family, the tragic story of which by that time had become national news. Although the numerous follow-up measures on various tips have yielded little or no significant results, the theory of kidnapping has persisted to this day.

Original column published on the blog. «Sleeping hare"On Yandex.Zen

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