The Children Who Went Up In Smoke
2014 01 07

By Karen Abbott | Past Imperfect

For nearly four decades, anyone driving down Route 16 near Fayetteville, West Virginia, could see a billboard bearing the grainy images of five children, all dark-haired and solemn-eyed, their names and ages—Maurice, 14; Martha 12; Louis, 9; Jennie, 8; Betty, 5—stenciled beneath, along with speculation about what happened to them. Fayetteville was and is a small town, with a main street that doesn’t run longer than a hundred yards, and rumors always played a larger role in the case than evidence; no one even agreed on whether the children were dead or alive. What everyone knew for certain was this: On the night before Christmas 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away in the Army). Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out. George and Jennie and four of their children escaped, but the other five were never seen again.


Billboard about the Sodder children, who went missing on Christmas Eve, 1945.

George had tried to save them, breaking a window to re-enter the house, slicing a swath of skin from his arm. He could see nothing through the smoke and fire, which had swept through all of the downstairs rooms: living and dining room, kitchen, office, and his and Jennie’s bedroom. He took frantic stock of what he knew: 2-year-old Sylvia, whose crib was in their bedroom, was safe outside, as was 17-year-old Marion and two sons, 23-year-old John and 16-year-old George Jr., who had fled the upstairs bedroom they shared, singeing their hair on the way out. He figured Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie and Betty still had to be up there, cowering in two bedrooms on either end of the hallway, separated by a staircase that was now engulfed in flames.

He raced back outside, hoping to reach them through the upstairs windows, but the ladder he always kept propped against the house was strangely missing. An idea struck: He would drive one of his two coal trucks up to the house and climb atop it to reach the windows. But even though they’d functioned perfectly the day before, neither would start now. He ransacked his mind for another option. He tried to scoop water from a rain barrel but found it frozen solid. Five of his children were stuck somewhere inside those great, whipping ropes of smoke. He didn’t notice that his arm was slick with blood, that his voice hurt from screaming their names.

His daughter Marion sprinted to a neighbor’s home to call the Fayetteville Fire Department but couldn’t get any operator response. A neighbor who saw the blaze made a call from a nearby tavern, but again no operator responded. Exasperated, the neighbor drove into town and tracked down Fire Chief F.J. Morris, who initiated Fayetteville’s version of a fire alarm: a “phone tree” system whereby one firefighter phoned another, who phoned another. The fire department was only two and a half miles away but the crew didn’t arrive until 8 a.m., by which point the Sodders’ home had been reduced to a smoking pile of ash.

George and Jeannie assumed that five of their children were dead, but a brief search of the grounds on Christmas Day turned up no trace of remains. Chief Morris suggested that the blaze had been hot enough to completely cremate the bodies. A state police inspector combed the rubble and attributed the fire to faulty wiring. George covered the basement with five feet of dirt, intending to preserve the site as a memorial. The coroner’s office issued five death certificates just before the new year, attributing the causes to “fire or suffocation.”

But the Sodders had begun to wonder if their children were still alive.


The missing Sodder children. From left: Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie, Betty.

[...]

Read the full article at: smithsonianmag.com




Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Roswell, UFOs and Project Pandora
2014 07 23
Well, now, this is interesting. In fact, it’s very interesting. Over at the Department of Defense’s website you can find a file that has been declassified via the Freedom of Information Act on the subject of Project Pandora (which, to a significant degree, was focused on Cold War secrets, and how microwaves can affect the mind and body). It’s a fascinating ...
Men of Europe, Put Down the Eckhart Tolle Book and Pick up Your Sword
2014 07 23
Remember who you really are... The New Age Tactical Spiritual Military Industrial Complex supports murder and genocide. What is happening in Gaza today will eventually take place in London, Dublin, New York, Lisbon, Barcelona, Oslo, Glasgow, Melbourne, Stockholm, Auckland and Cape Town and wherever you are reading this article. Notice is being served upon all humanity. Not just the people of ...
Study Challenges Hypothesis that Birds Evolved from Dinosaurs
2014 07 23
The re-examination of Scansoriopteryx – a sparrow-sized, pre-Archaeopteryx, bird-like creature that lived in what is today China during the Jurassic period, about 154 million years ago – challenges the widely accepted hypothesis that birds are derived from land-dwelling dinosaurs that gained the ability to fly. Unearthed in Inner Mongolia in 2002, Scansoriopteryx was previously classified as a theropod dinosaur, from which ...
Israeli Professor: Rape Hamas Militants’ Mothers and Sisters to Deter Terrorist Attacks
2014 07 23
An Israeli academic has claimed that raping wives and mothers of Palestinian Hamas militants is the only thing that could deter further terrorist attacks. The remarks by renowned Middle East scholar Mordechai Kedar of Bar-Ilan University were made three weeks ago after the grim discovery of the bodies of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers, but the recording was published online (in ...
’Mysterious plane’ with no callsign spotted circling London for two hours
2014 07 23
Scotland Yard has declined to comment on reports of a mysterious eavesdropping spyplane circling London. A radar tracking website showed an aircraft orbiting London at 10,000 feet for more than two hours. The plane had no recognisable callsign but was identified as a twin-engine Cessna F406 with the registration G-BVJT. The aircraft has been linked in the past to a shadowy fleet of ...
More News »