The Sodder Children Mystery
can remember many times as a child and young adult, driving past the small billboard
just outside of Fayetteville on Rt 16, where photos of the above
children were displayed for many years. I understood that these 5
children were "missing" and the sign offered a reward for any
information about them. (we'd drive by too fast to actually read
the sign) For some reason the adults in the car never spoke of the
events surrounding the missing children or anything about the incident
in general. Maybe they though I was too young to know of such
things. I cant remember when the sign was finally taken down, but
I "think" it was the early to mid 70s. This story has taken-on
a life of it's own all over the Internet, and if interested, you'll
find much information there.|
In Fayette County, George and Jennie Sodder gathered for a Christmas Eve
Celebration with 9 of their 10 children in 1945. But that holiday would end in heartache. On that Christmas Eve, Maurice and four of his siblings,
Martha, Louis, Jennie and Betty, asked to be allowed to stay up and play with their
Christmas toys after the rest of the family went to bed. They promised they
would do their chores before they went to sleep, so their parents agreed to let
them stay up.
midnight, the children's mother, Jenny Sodder, was awakened by the ringing
phone. When she answered, the female caller on the other end asked to speak to
someone Jenny did not know, then laughed and hung up. Jenny believed this was a
prank call. Before she went back to sleep, she noticed that her home's lights
were on, the shades were up and the doors were unlocked.
Jenny was woken up
again that night by a noise on the roof. At 1:30 a.m., she realized the house
was on fire. She called for her husband and children to get out. Two of the
Sodders' sons and their daughter, who was carrying the baby, made it outside,
but Jenny and her husband, George, realized Maurice, Martha, Louise, Jennie and
Betty were missing. George tried to find a ladder which was kept near the house
so he could climb up to the children's bedrooms, but the ladder had disappeared.
It was later found down an embankment away from the house.
The Sodder house
burned to the ground less than forty-five minutes after the fire started. The
fire department initially blamed the blaze on faulty wiring. Some reports stated
that officials could not find any trace of the missing children's remains in the
ashes, but other reports maintain that some bone fragments and possible human
organs were located. One was analyzed and turned out to be beef liver. A
coroner's jury ruled that the missing Sodder children had died in the fire.
Afterwards, and against the advice of the fire Marshall, George plowed over the
remains of his home and planted flowers in memory of his lost children.
Within months of
their children's presumed deaths, George and Jenny decided they had not been
killed by the flames but had been kidnapped, and the fire deliberately set to
cover the crime. The house's telephone line had been cut sometime before or
after the fire. Witnesses reported sightings of the Sodder children in the area
shortly after they supposedly died. The Sodders attempted to get the case
reopened, but for many years the police refused to investigate because they
believed no crime had been committed.
In 1949, George and some others excavated the
site of his former home to search for the missing children's remains. Only four
pieces of vertebrae and two small bones that were possibly from a child's hand
were located. A pathologist who assisted with the search remarked that it was
unusual that so little was found, as the fire was quick-burning and should not
have so completely destroyed the children's remains. The pathologist believed
the bones that were located were from a 14- to 15-year-old, which would match
Maurice's age, but due to the location that the bones were found in the floor
plan of the house, George did not believe they were from his son. Another
analysis conducted years later determined that the bones were from a 16- to
22-year-old person. Curiously, the bones did not have any signs of fire damage.
It was suggested that they were planted at the site from a nearby cemetery, but
there is no evidence to support this theory.
In 1968, George and Jenny received a photograph
in the mail of a young man in his mid-twenties. An image of the photograph is
posted below this case summary. On the back of the photograph were these words:
"Louis Sodder" "I love brother Frankie." "ilil Boys" "A90132" or possibly
"A90135." The Sodders believed it was a photo of their son Louis as an adult.
They were unable to verify their theory, however. The man in the photo remains
unidentified and it is unclear who sent the picture to the Sodders and why.
Jenny and George
searched for their children for the rest of their lives, posting a billboard
advertising a reward for their safe return. George died in 1969 and Jenny in
1989. Many people theorize that the missing children were killed in the fire and
their parents were simply unable to accept the loss, but others believe the
children were indeed abducted and were possibly taken to Italy. The youngest
Sodder child, who was an infant at the time of the fire, is still trying to
determine what really happened to her brothers and sisters.