Dec 22, 1968
Fayetteville– Their search has dragged on for 23 years, but George & Jeannie Sodder will never believe five of their children burned to death in that Christmas morning fire of 1945.
A weather-scarred billboard on a lonely WV road offers $10,000 for information leading to the five, regarded as lost in the fire that leveled the Sodder home in minutes.
The undying hope that the two boys and three girls still are alive has taken the Sodders to a Mexican border town and a Spanish hamlet in Florida. But always frustration: nothing.
For nearly two decades, this billboard stood at the site of the Sodder house fire. It showed photos of the missing Sodder children and offered a $5,000 reward for information leading to their recovery.
Still, after all these years, the Sodders receive letters, photographs and telephone calls from persons across the country, from those who say they saw the children.
Authorities in this small coal mining community snuggled in the Appalachian mountains refuse to concede anything but that the children died in the fire on that bitterly cold and windy Christmas day.
George Sodder, then a 50-year-old Italian immigrant, ran a small coal trucking business. He and his wife decided to retire early that Christmas Eve.
Two older boys –John, 23, and George Jr., 16—turned in early, too, for they had worked a hard day with their father. They slept in the attic, along with two other boys and four girls.
But the two youngest sons—Maurice, 14, and Louis, 10—and three of their sisters—Martha Lee, 12, Jennie, 8, and Betty, 6—pleaded with their mother to let them play with toys 17-year-old Marian had brought them from her dime store job that day.
Mrs. Sodder consented but she reminded Maurice and Louis not to forget to feed the cows and close the chicken coop. She took 3-year-old Sylvia off to bed with her.
The phone rang just after midnight and the woman caller asked for a man whose name Mrs. Sodder didn’t recognize. Mrs. Sodder later recalled the woman caller’s weird laugh just before hanging up.
Mrs. Sodder dismissed it as a prank and returned to the bedroom. But she noticed the lights were still on and the shades had not been drawn. And the doors weren’t locked, all chores the well-minding children always did before going to bed.
A short time later, as she was dozing off, Mrs. Sodder remembered hearing “something hit the roof—like a rubber ball. It rolled and hit the ground with a thump.”
News article continues here…