What Happened to the Missing Sodder Children?

While on record, the case of the missing Sodder children is solved, its official explanation is so full of inconsistencies that even today—nearly 80 years after its occurrence—it still perplexes true crime aficionados across the world.

Who Was George Sodder, Father of the Missing Sodder Children?

In 1895, George Sodder was born Giorgio Soddu in Sardinia, Italy. When he was 13, he and his brother immigrated to the United States.

He never publicly disclosed his reasons for leaving his homeland, and years later it would serve as a source of speculation in determining the motives behind the disappearance of his children.

After founding a profitable truck hauling company in Smithers, West Virginia, he met Jennie Cipriani, whom he would soon marry.

They moved to Fayetteville, West Virginia, where they purchased a home in which to raise their 10 children.

While George’s status as a successful business owner earned him respect amongst some members of his community, others did not hesitate to express their disdain for him.

See, George was a vehement critic of Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, who—despite aligning with fascism—was as loved as he was hated in certain Italian communities.

Foreshadowings of Catastrophe

In October of 1945, an insurance salesman knocked on George’s front door in an attempt to sell him a life insurance policy.

When George refused, the man responded with something along the lines of, “Your house will go up in smoke, and your children will be destroyed.”

When George asked the insurance salesman why he would make such a threat, he cited George’s “dirty remarks” about Mussolini.

Another incident involved a stranger telling George that his home’s fuse boxes would “cause a fire someday,” a statement that George found puzzling, as he had recently had the wiring in his house inspected by an electric company. 

Christmas Eve, 1945: Tragedy Strikes the Sodder Family

After a quaint family celebration of Christmas Eve, 1945, George and Jennie retired to their beds. At 12:30am, however, they were awoken by the ringing of their telephone. Jennie answered and was met with hysterical laughter, followed by a hang-up.

Checking on her children, she saw that the eldest daughter Marion was asleep on the couch. For whatever reason, the house’s lights were still on, and the front door was unlocked.

It was Marion’s job to turn off the lights and lock the door, but Jennie let it slide, figuring that she had been too distracted by festivity to remember these simple chores. Jennie returned to her bed.

At 1:30am, Jennie was awoken once again by the sound of an object slamming against the roof, then rolling.

She managed to fall back asleep. The next time she would wake up, her house would be in flames.

Evidence of Foul Play: Were the Sodder Children Kidnapped?

George, Jennie, and four of their children escaped. With their eldest son away serving in the US army, five of the Sodder children were unaccounted for.

To rescue them, George attempted to climb into the attic via a ladder that was always on the side of his house.

However, tonight, the ladder was mysteriously gone. Days later, it would be found 75 feet from the home, tossed to the side of an embankment.

Phone lines had also been cut, so emergency services arrived far later than they should have. In fact, a passerby had to go to a local tavern to phone the fire department.

After the fire was finally put out, investigators found no remains of the five missing Sodder children.

Because bones aren’t generally burnt in house fires, many assumed that the five missing Sodders had been kidnapped prior to the incident. 

In fact, for years, Jennie would test this theory for herself, burning the bones of dead animals. As she expected, the bones never withered with the flames.

Still, authorities ultimately ruled that the children died in the fire, which they attributed to “faulty wiring,” even though Jennie remarked that all the lights had been working perfectly well that night.

Months later, after the snow had melted, the real source of the fire had been discovered: Amongst the ruins were the remnants of a hand grenade.

This is likely what Jennie heard bang against her ceiling on that tragic night. At this point, foul play was obvious, even if the official report claimed otherwise.

A Letter from Louis, One of the Sodder Children

Alleged photo of an adult Louis Sodder
Source: Unknown; edited slightly by Daniel Case, Public Domain

Throughout the years, numerous sightings of the Sodder children were reported, though none of them led investigators to the locations of any of the missing people.

A particularly strange incident occurred in 1967, when George and Jennie received a letter containing what was supposedly a photo of Louis — one of the missing Sodders — as an adult, with nonsensical ramblings and a set of numbers written on the back. 

While this text has never fully been decoded, many have pointed to the numbers “90132” as being the zip code of Palermo, Sicily, leading some to speculate that the children had been taken to Italy.

Some even insist that there was mafia involvement in their kidnapping, as George never did make clear why he left the country in the first place. Perhaps he had, a very long time ago, double-crossed the wrong people?

George died a year after receiving this letter, and Jennie died in 1986, neither of them ever learning the truth as to what happened to their children.

The surviving Sodders campaign to this day to see the case solved. 

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