On a cold, drizzly Christmas Eve in 1945, a modest home just outside Fayetteville, West Virginia belonging to George and Jennie Sodder was set ablaze. The Sodders and nine of their ten children were at home asleep when the fire broke out. Mrs. Sodder was awakened by the smell of smoke and quickly woke her husband and her eldest daughter, 17 year-old Marian. The three escaped the blaze, as did their eldest sons John and 16 year-old George Jr., and the youngest child, 3 year-old Sylvia. The rest of the children had been playing downstairs and were unaccounted for. By the time the local fire department arrived at 7am the next morning, there was nothing left but ashes and rubble. Five of the Sodder children, Maurice, Martha Lee, Louis, Jennie, and Betty, were gone. The ruins of the Sodder home were searched until 11am that Christmas morning, but not a single trace of any of the children was ever found.
Despite the lack of any remains and the presence of suspicious evidence at the site of the home, local authorities assumed the children had died in the fire, and refused to investigate further, despite an innkeeper's claim that she had seen four of the five Sodder children in the company of four adults in her inn the week following the fire.
Death certificates were issued on December 30, 1945, just five days after the fire, despite the fact that not one trace of human remains had been found at the home. The surviving Sodder family members staunchly believed that the children had been abducted, but were thwarted in their every effort to solve the mystery. In 1952, George and Jennie placed a large billboard at the site of the fire advertising a $10,000 reward for information relating to the children's disappearance. It remained on that spot until Mrs. Sodder's death in 1989. Although the land has since been sold and the billboard torn down, many in Fayetteville still wonder what became of the five Sodder children on that cold Christmas Eve over sixty years ago.