George Sodder, born Giorgio Soddu in Sardinia, emigrated to the United States in 1908 with his older brother. He settled down in the area around Fayetteville, West Virginia, which had a thriving Italian community. He opened his own business, which prospered, and he became respected as a prominent middle-class businessman. George married his wife, Jennie, and together, they had ten children between 1923 and 1943. This era was a particularly difficult time, as the Great Depression began in 1929 and was followed by World War II, which started in 1939 (though America did not enter for two years).
Much to the chagrin of the Italian Americans in his community, George Sodder was an outspoken detractor of Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator who led his country into an alliance with Nazi Germany. He got into some verbal altercations with people over the contentious subject. His unpopular opinions may have alienated him and his family from some of the people in their community. Some people speculate that George’s viewpoints may have led to the family home burning down and the mysterious disappearance of five of the Sodder’s ten children on the night of Christmas Eve, 1945.
At about 12:30 am on Christmas Eve night (early morning on Christmas Day), Jennie Sodder heard the phone ring and went downstairs to answer it. She did not recognize the voice of the woman on the other line, but she remembered a strange, cackling laugh. Perhaps the call was nothing more than a wrong number made by someone who had been drinking, but some people believe that it was connected to the fire that began an hour later. Also surprising was the fact that the window curtains had not been drawn, something that the children usually did when they went to bed after their parents.
Jennie claimed that an hour later, she heard something hit the home’s roof, emitting a banging noise, and then rolling down. Minutes later, the house was on fire. The fire was centered in George’s office, around his telephone system. She woke him up, and he hurried to wake up the children. He called up the stairs, and the groggy family began rushing down the stairs to escape the burning house. However, when they were outside, standing together in the cold and watching their house burn, they realized that only five of the children were out.
One of the older children rushed to a neighbor’s home to call the fire department, but the call wouldn’t go through. She called one of the firefighters, who placed a call to the others until the force was alerted and a team had assembled to put out the fire. In the meantime, George was trying to get back into the house to rescue his children. He broke through a window and slashed the skin off of his arm in an effort to get into the burning house. However, once inside, he couldn’t see anything because the smoke and flames were extremely thick.