Marc Hoover: Disappearance of the Sodder children

Marc Hoover

Fayetteville, West Virginia is a small-town with over 70 historic homes. It also has a rich history tracing back to the Civil War. Although it’s not a well-known town, it is the scene of one of America’s most unusual crime cases involving children.

George and Jennie Sodder had ten children. On Christmas Eve 1945, the Sodders and nine of their children went to bed looking forward to celebrating Christmas. Joseph Sodder, the tenth child was in the Army and fighting in WWII. He was the only sibling not present for Christmas festivities. Sometime around 1 a.m. a fire burned the Sodder house down.

George and Jennie escaped with four of their children. Once outside, George took a mental inventory of the children who escaped the fire. He noticed that five of his children were still inside the home. He tried to break into the house to rescue them.

George assumed they were still in their rooms and too terrified to escape. He tried to use the phone to call for help, but the phone didn’t work. He also normally kept a ladder outside the house for emergency purposes. George thought he could use the ladder to reach his children. But when he tried to use the ladder it was missing.

When the fire department arrived, the entire home had burned to the ground. Fire Chief F.J. Morris examined the blaze on Christmas Day. Oddly enough, there were no signs of the five missing Sodder children. Morris ruled the fire had disintegrated all five bodies. But this couldn’t be true. Even if the five children burned to death, there should have been remains. The human skeleton is durable. Even when a body is cremated at high temperatures, bone fragments still remain behind. The Sodden home was void of any human remains.

The cause of the fire was ruled as faulty wiring.

Jennie Sodder didn’t believe Morris’ ruling about the bodies disintegrating. She even experimented by trying to burn chicken bones and other animal bones. None of them disintegrated. She also consulted with a funeral home employee who told her that a body could burn for two hours at 2,000 degrees and would still leave bone fragments. The house burned down in under an hour.

So what happened to the missing children? Was it possible someone kidnapped them? Could the fire have been a ploy to kidnap the children? The Sodders were determined to find their missing children.

The family contacted the FBI for help. The request for help from the bureau was denied. Desperate, the family posted a billboard with pictures of the missing children. The family even offered a $10,000 reward for any information about the missing children. As leads trickled in, George followed them. But they never panned out.

Then in 1968, Jennie received a letter from Kentucky. Inside the letter was a picture of an older man with dark hair. A message inside the envelope stated the man was Louis Sodder, now an adult. The Sodders sent an investigator to Kentucky to find the young man. Again, no luck.

Today, Sylvia Sodder is the only family member left. She thinks someone kidnapped her siblings.

After the fire, the case had many unanswered questions. For instance, someone had climbed the telephone pole and cut the phone line. Who would cut the phone line? Also, the missing ladder was found moved away from the house. Witnesses later claimed they saw strangers throwing lit objects at the house. But no one ever identified these strangers. Another witness claimed to have seen someone driving away from the house with the children inside the car. The kidnapping theory sounds plausible. It also sounds like someone planned the fire.

Is it even possible that some of the missing children are still alive? And if so, do they even realize they were kidnapped? It would be fascinating to find out what happened to the five missing Sodder children. Sadly, it doesn’t appear that anyone will ever solve this mystery.

It’s even worse to think about the anguish George and Jennie Sodder must have suffered. I hope, they are at peace and now reunited with the children they spent their final years trying to bring home.

Marc is a grandparent and longtime resident of Clermont County. Visit his author page at He also wrote Just Bite Me: A Guide to Zombies, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Walking Nightmares, which is available on