Details of Disappearance
Martha is one of ten children and resided in Fayetteville, West Virginia with his parents at the time of her disappearance. On Christmas Eve in 1945, Martha and four of her siblings, Maurice, Jennie, Louis and Betty, asked to be allowed to stay up and play with their Christmas toys after the rest of the family went to bed. They promised they would do their chores before they went to sleep, so their parents agreed to let them stay up.
Shortly after midnight, the children's mother, Jenny Sodder, was awakened by the ringing phone. When she answered, the female caller on the other end asked to speak to someone Jenny did not know, then laughed and hung up. Jenny believed this was a prank call. Before she went back to sleep, she noticed that her home's lights were on, the shades were up and the doors were unlocked.
Jenny was woken up again that night by a noise on the roof. At 1:30 a.m., she realized the house was on fire. She called for her husband and children to get out. Two of the Sodders' sons and their daughter, who was carrying the baby, made it outside, but Jenny and her husband, George, realized Maurice, Martha, Louise, Jennie and Betty were missing.
George tried to find a ladder which was kept near the house so he could climb up to the children's bedrooms, but the ladder had disappeared. It was later found down an embankment away from the house. The Sodder house burned to the ground less than forty-five minutes after the fire started. The fire department initially blamed the blaze on faulty wiring.
Some reports stated that officials could not find any trace of the missing children's remains in the ashes, but other reports maintain that some bone fragments and possible human organs were located. One was analyzed and turned out to be beef liver.
A coroner's jury ruled that the missing Sodder children had died in the fire. Afterwards, and against the advice of the fire marshall, George plowed over the remains of his home and planted flowers in memory of his lost children.
Within months of their children's presumed deaths, George and Jenny decided they had not been killed by the flames but had been kidnapped, and the fire deliberately set to cover the crime. The house's telephone line had been cut sometime before or after the fire.
Witnesses reported sightings of the children in the area shortly after they supposedly died. The Sodders attempted to get the case reopened, but for many years the police refused to investigate because they believed no crime had been committed.
In 1949, George and some others excavated the site of his former home to search for the missing children's remains. Only four pieces of vertebrae and two small bones that were possibly from a child's hand were located. A pathologist who assisted with the search remarked that it was unusual that so little was found, as the fire was quick-burning and should not have so completely destroyed the children's remains.
The pathologist believed the bones that were located were from a 14- to 15-year-old, which would match Maurice's age, but due to the location that the bones were found in the floor plan of the house, George did not believe they were from his son.
Another analysis conducted years later determined that the bones were from a 16- to 22-year-old person. Curiously, the bones did not have any signs of fire damage. It was suggested that they were planted at the site from a nearby cemetery, but there is no evidence to support this theory.
In 1968, George and Jenny received a photograph in the mail of a young man in his mid-twenties. The photograph is posted with this case summary. On the back of the photograph were these words: "Louis Sodder" "I love brother Frankie." "ilil Boys" "A90132" or possibly "A90135."
The Sodders believed it was a photo of their son Louis as an adult. They were unable to verify their theory, however. The man in the photo remains unidentified and it is unclear who sent the picture to the Sodders and why.
Jenny and George searched for their children for the rest of their lives, posting a billboard advertising a reward for their safe return. George died in 1969 and Jenny in 1989.
Many people theorize that the missing children were killed in the fire and their parents were simply unable to accept the loss, but others believe the children were indeed abducted and were possibly taken to Italy.
The youngest Sodder child, who was an infant at the time of the fire, is still trying to determine what really happened to her brothers and sisters.