By Jazmine Halawa
In 1945, on Christmas Day, the Sodder Family awoke in the middle of the night to smoke filling their house. In the house were George and Jennie Sodder, and their 9 children. They were able to get five of their nine children out of the house. When the flames settled, there were no signs that the kids burned in the house. There was no remains or smell of burning flesh. Right away, George suspected foul play involved.
On the night of the fire, Jennie was awakened to a phone call at around 12:30 am. She picked up the phone, but could only hear background noise and no one clearly talking. When she hung up, she heard a loud bang on the roof followed by a rolling sound. She shrugged it off and quickly went back to bed. The next time she woke up, smoke was filling up her bedroom. Herself and George were able to get out four of their children, but the other five were stuck in the house.
George tried to save his children, but everything seemed to stop him. First, he ran back into the house, but the staircase was completely up in flames. He then went to find his ladder, but it was not in the normal spot in the garage. Lastly, he tried to move his trucks so he could try and jump into the second floor of the house, but they would not start. Throughout the whole time, one of the older Sodder children went to the neighbor’s house to call the fire department. They did not end up answering their many calls, so one neighbor went to the fire department and found the fire chief and told him to send help. The building was only two and a half miles away from the Sodders house, but it took them 8 hours to reach the scene. By the time they got there, the house was completely ash.
The five Sodder children were presumed dead from the fire, but after searching the remains of the house, there were no bones of the kids. This was when Geroge and Jennie started to believe that their children were not dead, but were instead kidnapped. The fire chief explained that the fire was started due to faulty wiring and that it was so hot that it completely cremated the remains of the children. The seemed reasonable at first, but there were still some appliances that were not completely ash. George also had the wiring of the house checked a few months before the fire, and Jennie remembers that when she first woke up to smoke the lights were still on, so the power was not out. All these details made the surviving Sodder family doubt that the kids were dead.
Geroge started to think of strange events leading up to the fire, and one stood out from the rest of them. One day a man came to the house to try and sell the family life insurance. When George declined the man became irate and said, “Your goddam house is going up in smoke and your children are going to be destroyed.” The man then went on about George’s thoughts on Mussolini, the Italian dictator, who he was very vocal about. George’s opinion on Mussolini is thought to be one of the reasons he specifically was targeted.
To this day, no one knows exactly what happened to those five missing Sodder children. There have been many reported sitings of the children. One occurred the day of the fire when a woman reportedly saw them in a car driving by the house as it was still burning. A few days after the fire, a woman said she saw the kids with two men and two women as they were checking into a hotel. She knew about the story from the newspaper and tried to talk to the children, but the man became hostile and did not let her talk to them. She wanted to try and talk to them the next morning, but they left very early and she never saw them again. There were no reported sitings for the next few years until Geroge saw a picture in the newspaper. It was of some students who attended a school in New York City and one girl looked very similar to one of his missing daughters Betty. He then drove all the way to New York but her parents refused to speak to him. Lastly, 20 years after the fire occurred, Jennie received a letter in the mail of a picture of a man in his twenties who looked exactly like their missing son Louis. He was 9 the time of the fire. On the back, it said “Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35.” George and Jennie hired a private investigator again but turned up cold.
Throughout the whole investigation, and many private investigators, not much was found. Many believe that the community was part of the whole event. The fire chief seemed to try and hide evidence that could point to a suspect, and the insurance agent who became irate with George was put on the jury of the case and declared it an accident. The youngest of the Sodder children, Sylvia, who was only two at the time of the fire, still continues to try and serve justice to her five siblings who went missing on Christmas day.