A Smoldering Christmas Mystery: Remembering the Sodder Family Tragedy 75 Years Later


For many of us, Christmas is a time of celebration, a time of laughter and love. It’s the greatest time of year, a time when people all over the world seem at peace and everyone seems content. For one Fayetteville, West Virginia family, all of that Christmas cheer escalated into a night of hopelessness andtorment.

It was late on Christmas Eve, 1945, that evening had been filled with merriment and cheer, now everyone in the house had retired to bed for the night awaiting the grand arrival of Santa. George and Jennie Sodder, and nine of their ten children. One of their older sons was away fighting in the Army. But for the rest of the Sodder family, everything was going just as you would expect any Christmas Eve to go, happy and quiet.

Suddenly in the middle of the night, Jennie awoke with a start, she smelled smoke. Slowly, she got out of bed, she didn’t wake George right away, perhaps because she hadn’t yet found the source of the smell, maybe one of the kids was making toast in the kitchen. 

But when Jennie discovered flames in another room, she realized that their lives were all in immediate danger. She woke George and the couple located what children they could. In a mad dash, they shouted upstairs for the kids who were on the second floor to come down. 

As the flames began to spread rapidly, the couple fled the house, trusting that the younger ones were right behind them. Once they emerged out of the house and into the front yard, George looked back to see the fiery tongues of the blaze licking the foundation of their home. He also saw their beautiful decorations and electric Christmas lights gleaming through the fire-lit windows, relics of joyous memories slowly becoming engulfed in flames and turned to ash. 

That’s when he realized there were only four of the nine children who lived at the home outside with he and Jennie, the other five were still inside the sweltering structure, but maybe, just maybe, he had time to rescue them from the raging fire. 

George broke a window on the bottom floor of the house in order to go back inside the smoke-filled house, he cut his arm but didn’t notice, he was too consumed in the hope that somehow, he could still extinguish the fire. But as he stood in the house and faced the rolling flames, he realized there was no way that he could fight the flames, they were too strong. 

They forced him back out of the house and onto the lawn, he’d have to find another way to rescue his children that were still in the house that was engulfed in the blaze. No matter how hard George tried, there was no hope, he had done all he could do to try to salvage his kids but it just wasn’t going to happen. 

When the sun broke the Fayetteville, West Virginia horizon on Christmas morning, 1945, the only thing that remained of the Sodder family home was a basement full of ashes and soot. Fire Marshalls searched the remnants of the house, but they never found any skeletons. All they recovered were a few small bones and pieces of internal organs. 

The Fire Chief ruled that the fire was caused by faulty wiring. Still, the fire should not have been hot enough to disintegrate entire human bodies. George and Jennie Sodder were told that nothing at all was found of their children, and that a more thorough search wouldn’t take place until after the holiday season. 

This tragedy has simmered in the minds of Americans for years since it took place, and nearly 75 years later, the location of the children’s bodies remains a raging mystery.

George and Jennie Sodder have since passed on, but their last surviving daughter, Sylvia, now 77, is convinced that her siblings didn’t die as a result of the fire. What does she think happened to her loved ones?

What could have happened to the bodies of the five Sodder children that vanished in the pitch black smoke? Will the peaceful little town of Fayetteville, West Virginia ever get closure?

(Picture: thetruecrimefiles.com)
(Picture: truecrimefiles.com)