The children who went up in smoke

The Children Who Went Up In Smoke

A tragic Christmas mystery remains unsolved more than 60 years after the disappearance of five young siblings

For nearly four decades, anyone driving down Route 16 near Fayetteville, West Virginia, could see a billboard bearing the grainy images of five children, all dark-haired and solemn-eyed, their names and ages—Maurice, 14; Martha 12; Louis, 9; Jennie, 8; Betty, 5—stenciled beneath, along with speculation about what happened to them. Fayetteville was and is a small town, with a main street that doesn’t run longer than a hundred yards, and rumors always played a larger role in the case than evidence; no one even agreed on whether the children were dead or alive. What everyone knew for certain was this: On the night before Christmas 1945, George and Jennie Sodder and nine of their 10 children went to sleep (one son was away in the Army). Around 1 a.m., a fire broke out. George and Jennie and four of their children escaped, but the other five were never seen again.

George had tried to save them, breaking a window to re-enter the house, slicing a swath of skin from his arm. He could see nothing through the smoke and fire, which had swept through all of the downstairs rooms: living and dining room, kitchen, office, and his and Jennie’s bedroom. He took frantic stock of what he knew: 2-year-old Sylvia, whose crib was in their bedroom, was safe outside, as was 17-year-old Marion and two sons, 23-year-old John and 16-year-old George Jr., who had fled the upstairs bedroom they shared, singeing their hair on the way out. He figured Maurice, Martha, Louis, Jennie and Betty still had to be up there, cowering in two bedrooms on either end of the hallway, separated by a staircase that was now engulfed in flames.

He raced back outside, hoping to reach them through the upstairs windows, but the ladder he always kept propped against the house was strangely missing. An idea struck: He would drive one of his two coal trucks up to the house and climb atop it to reach the windows. But even though they’d functioned perfectly the day before, neither would start now. He ransacked his mind for another option. He tried to scoop water from a rain barrel but found it frozen solid. Five of his children were stuck somewhere inside those great, whipping ropes of smoke. He didn’t notice that his arm was slick with blood, that his voice hurt from screaming their names.

His daughter Marion sprinted to a neighbor’s home to call the Fayetteville Fire Department but couldn’t get any operator response. A neighbor who saw the blaze made a call from a nearby tavern, but again no operator responded. Exasperated, the neighbor drove into town and tracked down Fire Chief F.J. Morris, who initiated Fayetteville’s version of a fire alarm: a “phone tree” system whereby one firefighter phoned another, who phoned another. The fire department was only two and a half miles away but the crew didn’t arrive until 8 a.m., by which point the Sodders’ home had been reduced to a smoking pile of ash.

George and Jeannie assumed that five of their children were dead, but a brief search of the grounds on Christmas Day turned up no trace of remains. Chief Morris suggested that the blaze had been hot enough to completely cremate the bodies. A state police inspector combed the rubble and attributed the fire to faulty wiring. George covered the basement with five feet of dirt, intending to preserve the site as a memorial. The coroner’s office issued five death certificates just before the new year, attributing the causes to “fire or suffocation.”

But the Sodders had begun to wonder if their children were still alive.

George Sodder was born Giorgio Soddu in Tula, Sardinia in 1895, and immigrated to the United States in 1908, when he was 13. An older brother who had accompanied him to Ellis Island immediately returned to Italy, leaving George on his own. He found work on the Pennsylvania railroads, carrying water and supplies to the laborers, and after a few years moved to Smithers, West Virginia. Smart and ambitious, he first worked as a driver and then launched his own trucking company, hauling dirt for construction and later freight and coal. One day he walked into a local store called the Music Box and met the owners’ daughter, Jennie Cipriani, who had come over from Italy when she was 3.

They married and had 10 children between 1923 and 1943, and settled in Fayetteville, West Virginia, an Appalachian town with a small but active Italian immigrant community. The Sodders were, said one county magistrate, “one of the most respected middle-class families around.” George held strong opinions about everything from business to current events and politics, but was, for some reason, reticent to talk about his youth. He never explained what had happened back in Italy to make him want to leave.

The Sodders planted flowers across the space where their house had stood and began to stitch together a series of odd moments leading up to the fire. There was a stranger who appeared at the home a few months earlier, back in the fall, asking about hauling work. He meandered to the back of the house, pointed to two separate fuse boxes, and said, “This is going to cause a fire someday.” Strange, George thought, especially since he had just had the wiring checked by the local power company, which pronounced it in fine condition. Around the same time, another man tried to sell the family life insurance and became irate when George declined. “Your goddamn house is going up in smoke,” he warned, “and your children are going to be destroyed. You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini.” George was indeed outspoken about his dislike for the Italian dictator, occasionally engaging in heated arguments with other members of Fayetteville’s Italian community, and at the time didn’t take the man’s threats seriously. The older Sodder sons also recalled something peculiar: Just before Christmas, they noticed a man parked along U.S. Highway 21, intently watching the younger kids as they came home from school.

Around 12:30 Christmas morning, after the children had opened a few presents and everyone had gone to sleep, the shrill ring of the telephone broke the quiet. Jennie rushed to answer it. An unfamiliar female voice asked for an unfamiliar name. There was raucous laughter and glasses clinking in the background. Jennie said, “You have the wrong number,” and hung up. Tiptoeing back to bed, she noticed that all of the downstairs lights were still on and the curtains open. The front door was unlocked. She saw Marion asleep on the sofa in the living room and assumed that the other kids were upstairs in bed. She turned out the lights, closed the curtains, locked the door and returned to her room. She had just begun to doze when she heard one sharp, loud bang on the roof, and then a rolling noise. An hour later she was roused once again, this time by heavy smoke curling into her room.

Jennie couldn’t understand how five children could perish in a fire and leave no bones, no flesh, nothing. She conducted a private experiment, burning animal bones—chicken bones, beef joints, pork chop bones—to see if the fire consumed them. Each time she was left with a heap of charred bones. She knew that remnants of various household appliances had been found in the burned-out basement, still identifiable. An employee at a crematorium informed her that bones remain after bodies are burned for two hours at 2,000 degrees. Their house was destroyed in 45 minutes.

The collection of odd moments grew. A telephone repair man told the Sodders that their lines appeared to have been cut, not burned. They realized that if the fire had been electrical—the result of “faulty wiring,” as the official reported stated—then the power would have been dead, so how to explain the lighted downstairs rooms? A witness came forward claiming he saw a man at the fire scene taking a block and tackle used for removing car engines; could he be the reason George’s trucks refused to start? One day, while the family was visiting the site, Sylvia found a hard rubber object in the yard. Jennie recalled hearing the hard thud on the roof, the rolling sound. George concluded it was a napalm “pineapple bomb” of the type used in warfare.

Then came the reports of sightings. A woman claimed to have seen the missing children peering from a passing car while the fire was in progress. A woman operating a tourist stop between Fayetteville and Charleston, some 50 miles west, said she saw the children the morning after the fire. “I served them breakfast,” she told police. “There was a car with Florida license plates at the tourist court, too.” A woman at a Charleston hotel saw the children’s photos in a newspaper and said she had seen four of the five a week after the fire. “The children were accompanied by two women and two men, all of Italian extraction,” she said in a statement. “I do not remember the exact date. However, the entire party did register at the hotel and stayed in a large room with several beds. They registered about midnight. I tried to talk to the children in a friendly manner, but the men appeared hostile and refused to allow me to talk to these children…. One of the men looked at me in a hostile manner; he turned around and began talking rapidly in Italian. Immediately, the whole party stopped talking to me. I sensed that I was being frozen out and so I said nothing more. They left early the next morning.”

In 1947, George and Jennie sent a letter about the case to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and received a reply from J. Edgar Hoover: “Although I would like to be of service, the matter related appears to be of local character and does not come within the investigative jurisdiction of this bureau.” Hoover’s agents said they would assist if they could get permission from the local authorities, but the Fayetteville police and fire departments declined the offer.

Next the Sodders turned to a private investigator named C.C. Tinsley, who discovered that the insurance salesman who had threatened George was a member of the coroner’s jury that deemed the fire accidental. He also heard a curious story from a Fayetteville minister about F.J. Morris, the fire chief. Although Morris had claimed no remains were found, he supposedly confided that he’d discovered “a heart” in the ashes. He hid it inside a dynamite box and buried it at the scene.

Tinsley persuaded Morris to show them the spot. Together they dug up the box and took it straight to a local funeral director, who poked and prodded the “heart” and concluded it was beef liver, untouched by the fire. Soon afterward, the Sodders heard rumors that the fire chief had told others that the contents of the box had not been found in the fire at all, that he had buried the beef liver in the rubble in the hope that finding any remains would placate the family enough to stop the investigation.

Over the next few years the tips and leads continued to come. George saw a newspaper photo of schoolchildren in New York City and was convinced that one of them was his daughter Betty. He drove to Manhattan in search of the child, but her parents refused to speak to him. In August 1949, the Sodders decided to mount a new search at the fire scene and brought in a Washington, D.C. pathologist named Oscar B. Hunter. The excavation was thorough, uncovering several small objects: damaged coins, a partly burned dictionary and several shards of vertebrae. Hunter sent the bones to the Smithsonian Institution, which issued the following report:

The human bones consist of four lumbar vertebrae belonging to one individual. Since the transverse recesses are fused, the age of this individual at death should have been 16 or 17 years. The top limit of age should be about 22 since the centra, which normally fuse at 23, are still unfused. On this basis, the bones show greater skeletal maturation than one would expect for a 14-year-old boy (the oldest missing Sodder child). It is however possible, although not probable, for a boy 14 ½ years old to show 16-17 maturation.

The vertebrae showed no evidence that they had been exposed to fire, the report said, and “it is very strange that no other bones were found in the allegedly careful evacuation of the basement of the house.” Noting that the house reportedly burned for only about half an hour or so, it said that “one would expect to find the full skeletons of the five children, rather than only four vertebrae.” The bones, the report concluded, were most likely in the supply of dirt George used to fill in the basement to create the memorial for his children.

F

The Smithsonian report prompted two hearings at the Capitol in Charleston, after which Governor Okey L. Patterson and State Police Superintendent W.E. Burchett told the Sodders their search was “hopeless” and declared the case closed. Undeterred, George and Jennie erected the billboard along Route 16 and passed out flyers offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of their children. They soon increased the amount to $10,000. A letter arrived from a woman in St. Louis saying the oldest girl, Martha, was in a convent there. Another tip came from Texas, where a patron in a bar overheard an incriminating conversation about a long-ago Christmas Eve fire in West Virginia. Someone in Florida claimed the children were staying with a distant relative of Jennie’s. George traveled the country to investigate each lead, always returning home without any answers.

In 1968, more than 20 years after the fire, Jennie went to get the mail and found an envelope addressed only to her. It was postmarked in Kentucky but had no return address. Inside was a photo of a man in his mid-20s. On its flip side a cryptic handwritten note read: “Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. A90132 or 35.” She and George couldn’t deny the resemblance to their Louis, who was 9 at the time of the fire. Beyond the obvious similarities—dark curly hair, dark brown eyes—they had the same straight, strong nose, the same upward tilt of the left eyebrow. Once again they hired a private detective and sent him to Kentucky. They never heard from him again.

The Sodders feared that if they published the letter or the name of the town on the postmark they might harm their son. Instead, they amended the billboard to include the updated image of Louis and hung an enlarged version over the fireplace. “Time is running out for us,” George said in an interview. “But we only want to know. If they did die in the fire, we want to be convinced. Otherwise, we want to know what happened to them.”

He died a year later, in 1968, still hoping for a break in the case. Jennie erected a fence around her property and began adding rooms to her home, building layer after layer between her and the outside. Since the fire she had worn black exclusively, as a sign of mourning, and continued to do so until her own death in 1989. The billboard finally came down. Her children and grandchildren continued the investigation and came up with theories of their own: The local mafia had tried to recruit him and he declined. They tried to extort money from him and he refused. The children were kidnapped by someone they knew—someone who burst into the unlocked front door, told them about the fire, and offered to take them someplace safe. They might not have survived the night. If they had, and if they lived for decades—if it really was Louis in that photograph—they failed to contact their parents only because they wanted to protect them.

The youngest and last surviving Sodder child, Sylvia, is now 69, and doesn’t believe her siblings perished in the fire. When time permits, she visits crime sleuthing websites and engages with people still interested in her family’s mystery. Her very first memories are of that night in 1945, when she was 2 years old. She will never forget the sight of her father bleeding or the terrible symphony of everyone’s screams, and she is no closer now to understanding why.

My Investigation

The case has been told and re-told since that tragic night in 1945, and as such when researching this case you’ll find yourself reading the same thing over and over. What bugged me was that I felt there were holes in the story that were never filled up, missing details to fill in. It is unfortunate certain people were not considered valid suspects when they certainly should have been, and devastating to think the Sodders were forced to face corruption at every turn.

ROSSER LONG

The first logical suspect should have been Rosser Long, the insurance salesman who threatened George two months before the fire, telling him that his children would die in a housefire as a consequence for speaking out against Mussolini. In some sources, Long has been referred to as ‘Russell Long’, however this is a mistake. His real name appears to have been Armstead Rosser Long Jr. (b. 12 Oct 1907, d. 29 May 1986). He was President of Rosser Long Insurance Inc. Here is what I have found out about him so far:

  • Long graduated from Purdue University.
  • On September 29 1947 Long’s mother, Martha McCauley Long, died aged 69 in Fayetteville.
  • On April 19 1950 he presented a film titled ‘Live and Let Live’ which demonstrated safety measures while motoring at a meeting of the Oak Hill Rotary Club at the Hotel Hill. He also showed scenes of ‘the ground-breaking ceremonies at the site of the Fayette County Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Building at Fayetteville’.
  • Along with Fiorenzo and Cleante Janutolo, he was a member of the Fayetteville Rotary Club. All three also served on the coroner’s jury which was held immediately following the fire.
  • On 14 January 1951, it was reported that he appeared before the Fayette County Board of Education along with three others asking them to ‘accept a voluntary assessment of $1,330 to be applied towards Fayetteville’s fire fighting equipment. […] They stressed the fact that the present fire fighting equipment is so obsolete.’
  • On 28 February 1952, it was reported that he won a ‘complementary prize’ at a Mixed Bridge Session at the White Oak Country Club.
  • On the 8 July 1956, he received ‘an exact replica of one of the unique Fire Marks, which were placed on the houses of policy-holders in the early days of the Republic. […] It represents, in this case, a badge of honor for excellence in West Virginia.’ In the same article, we learn that ‘Long is chairman of the executive committee of the West Virginia Association of Insurance Agents. He has been a member of the board for a number of years. A graduate of the Aetna [sic?] Casualty and Surety intensive sales course, he has also completed the Hartford Fire Insurance advanced fire school, Hartford, Conn. Long has received awards for leading the company nationally. He is secretary of the Rotary Club, past president and secretary of the Business Men’s association, a member of the executive committee of the Buckskin Council, Boy Scouts of America, and was instrumental in promoting the organization of the United Fund.’
  • On 22 January 1958, it was announced that Governor Underwood appointed Long to the three-member State Board of Insurance. In the same article, Long was described as a Democrat.
  • On 23 September 1959 it was reported that Long’s company was one of 15 companies selected to sell insurance in Fayette County.
  • On 19 October 1961 it was reported that was a guest speaker for the regular meeting of Lafayette Post No. 149, where he presented information on the finances of the Fayette County Library and also information on the formation of a ‘Friends of a Library’ organisation. He stated a campaign for support of the library is being organised in the county.
  • On 20 March 1962, he attended a Fayetteville Rotary Club meeting along with the Janutolo cousins.
  • On the 4 March 1963, at a Thursday meeting of the Fayetteville Rotary Club, Rosser long was present along with J. H. Allen as guests of James E. Cottle. The Janutolo cousins were also present.
  • On 11 August 1967 it was reported that he was elected as a director of the RDC.
  • On 20 May 1969, it was reported that as president he would head a group from ‘this area attending the 59th Annual Meeting of the Boy Scouts of America in Boston’.
  • He was on the Huse Memorial Park Board, and on the 10 April 1971 it was reported that his request to purchase a 100-ft strip of land for construction of a mausoleum was approved. The land would cost $1500.

It baffles me to know that Long was running an insurance company in Fayetteville and was never questioned or approachedThe police obviously didn’t want the Sodders to know that Long was on the jury. Did the Sodders ever manage to track him down? It seemingly shouldn’t have been difficult considering how engaged he apparently was in the community.

F. J. MORRIS

The next curious figure is F. J. Morris, who was the Fayetteville Fire Chief from 1937-1947 and plays a large role in the story. He arrived seven hours late to the fire, and the reason he gave for this was that he didn’t know how to drive the fire truck. This struck me as very odd. In 1945 he had been the Fire Chief for eight years, and he couldn’t drive a fire truck?

  • In 1943, two years before the fire, his daughter and two other women joined the failing and understaffed Fire Department after a fire caused $75,000 in damages. Even with his daughter’s help however, it did not stop him from failing the Sodders that night.
  • By 10:00 a.m. the next morning, Morris informed the Sodders that no trace of their children’s bones had been found and suggested that they may have been completely cremated in the fire.
  • Along with Rosser Long and Cleante Janutolo, Morris was part of the Coroner’s Jury conducted that morning. They all deemed the fire to have been caused by faulty wiring.
  • C. C. Tinsley, the private investigator the Sodders hired, was told by the local minister that Morris had buried a heart in a dynamite box in the ashes of the burned home. Tinsley told George of this, and together they went with Morris to dig it up. They took it straight to a mortician who deemed it to actually be beef liver, untouched by fire. It was thus likely that Morris buried the beef liver in the hope that finding any remains would placate the family enough to stop the investigation, however there is no record of him saying whether or not this was the case.
  • Morris refused to cooperate with further questioning by the Coroner and other officials. Morris’ strange behaviour and the lack of remains at the site were largely what caused the family’s grief to grow in suspicion.

Was he simply incompetent? Was his attempt to convince the Sodders of remains just that, or was something else behind it? Could he have been receiving instructions from someone else? And if you’re going to bury a ‘heart’, why put it in a box first?

FIORENZO JANUTOLO

The third suspect is Fiorenzo Gambel Janutolo (b. 22 September 1889 in Piedicavallo, Italy, d. 30 May 1966). Janutolo was very successful and well-respected in Fayetteville. Many people saw him as benevolent and helpful, and there is a park dedicated to his honour in town.

  • Director of the Fayette County National Bank (which he inherited from his father). He was the co-signer on a loan to George, and a listed recipient of a $1,500 (about $20,000 in today’s money) insurance policy in a mortgage clause on the Sodder’s property.
  • Also owned a hauling company where George had previously worked – the Janutolo Construction Company
  • Manager of the Fayetteville Jewellery Company
  • Worked with his cousin and business partner Cleante Janutolo, who was on the Coroner’s Jury
  • Janutolo may have been irritated that the Sodders hadn’t settled the estate of Jennie’s deceased father.
  • Some sources report it was Janutolo, not Long, who threatened George (however the majority of sources list Long as the man who threatened him).

Janutolo had multiple possible motives and connections to others involved in the crime. Could he be the mastermind behind the fire? Was he enraged at George’s anti-Mussolini sentiments? Was it because George rebuffed Long? Was it because of Jennie’s father’s unsettled estate? For how long was George in his employ? Was he ever questioned about the fire, or the insurance settlement he received afterwards? Did the Sodders ever consider him a suspect?

C. C. TINSLEY

Not a suspect, but a key figure in the story and a very mysterious one at that. There is almost no trace of records for a ‘C. C. Tinsley’ that I have been able to find, however this is likely because ‘C. C.’ was a nickname. His real name was Oscar C. Tinsley, and he was from the nearby town of Gauley Bridge, where his wife and parents lived.

  • He attended West Virginia Institute of Technology in Montgomery.
  • On 20 February 1952 it was reported that Tinsley was accepted for Artillery Officer’s Candidate School. In December 1952 he went to Japan as a supply clerk in the First Cavalry Division’s 70th Tank Battalion. On 1 November 1953, he returned to the US to attend Artillery Officer’s Candidate School.
  • The Sodders also appeared to have hired a private investigator by the name of George Swain, who was quoted as saying he believed the children might have been kidnapped and put up for adoption on the ‘baby black market’. He said the children could have been lured from the house on promises of attending a Christmas party. Swain said he had asked witnesses who were at the fire early weather they had smelled burning flesh or heard outcries from the upper part of the house where the children were supposed to have been sleeping. He said none recalled experiences.

LONNIE JOHNSON

I found an article about the man who stole the automobile chain blocks from George’s hauling company (which was close-by to the house) the night of the fire. His name was Lonnie Johnson. I have yet to find any other records about him, or any other information about why he was not considered a suspect. The BuzzFeed Unsolved video talks about the possibility that Johnson used the chain blocks to either tinker with or completely remove the engines of the coal trucks so that the Sodders would not be able to use them during the fire. Was it ever confirmed that George’s coal trucks were sabotaged in any way? I have not been able to find a reliable source detailing any connection between Johnson/the theft of the chain blocks and the sabotaged coal trucks. But it’s possible one exists.

BUZZFEED UNSOLVED VIDEO ERRORS

As mentioned before, the BuzzFeed Unsolved video on the case has some holes in it.

  • Where was that photo/sketch of George they used taken from? I can’t find any photos of him that look like that – the only photo of George Sodder I have been able to find is a very grainy one of him and Jennie standing in front of the billboard. The photo/sketch used in the video looks suspiciously like Robert de Niro and out of all the photos I’ve seen, I haven’t yet seen a close-up of the real George Sodder’s face.
  • The video mentions there is the theory that George was ‘previously involved in some shady business in Italy’ before he immigrated to the US. George was only 13 when he moved to the US in 1908, so if this is true, he would have had to be quite young.
  • The video says ‘in the days leading up to the fire, two of the surviving Sodder sons witnessed a man watching the younger Sodder children come home from school on Highway 21.’ I have not seen any reliable information saying that this sighting was by John and George Sodder Jr. (the surviving sons).

OTHER QUESTIONS

  • What was the name of Jennie’s firefighter brother? Was he a volunteer too or just a regular fireman?
  • Who is currently in possession of the objects salvaged from the fire (the coins, phone book etc.)?
  • Who was the Coroner in 1945/1946?
  • Who else was on the Coroner’s Jury?
  • Are there any actual connections to the Mafia in this case apart from speculation?
  • There are conflicting reports about whether it was a man or a woman who called Jennie in the middle of the night.
  • Why was Fiorenzo G. Janutolo’s cousin, Cleante G. Janutolo, on the jury? Why was he the informant on the death register?
  • Where was the ‘Highway 21’ the children saw people watching them from?
  • When exactly was Oscar C. Tinsley hired as a PI for the Sodders? How long did he work with them for? How did the Sodders get in contact with him?
  • Who is currently in possession of the letter and photograph possibly of Louis sent to Jennie? Was a handwriting analysis ever performed?
  • Who spotted the men stealing the automobile chain blocks? What was their name(s)? Did the thief ever give a reason for stealing the chain blocks? Why were they never investigated thoroughly?
  • What was the name of the bus driver who saw ‘balls of fire’ being thrown at the house? When did he come forward? Did he tell the police first or the Sodders first? Did he ever write an affidavit?
  • ‘The mother herself called the police on her brother, and sent them to his house, thinking he had the children. The police showed there to find there was another “Martha Lee” living there, the mom’s brother had a daughter also named Martha Lee…’ – Laura_Bean, WebSleuths. Did Jennie really call the police on her brother for thinking he had her kids? If so, why did she think this? Are there any reliable sources for this information?
  • How long had the Sodders lived at that house for?
  • Are there any reliable sources that prove the house’s basement contained coal and thus may have fuelled the fire?
  • What exactly was the ‘bomb’ that was found in the rubble? Some sources, such as the Buzzfeed video, refer to it as a ‘pineapple bomb’, and use pictures of a BLU-3 cluster bomblet. However, if it was a BLU-3 pineapple bomb (which were dropped from planes to fragment and disperse steel pellets at high velocity), would it have been able to set a house on fire? Would someone have been able to throw it from ground level up to a second-floor roof for it to then detonate on impact? Or, on the other hand, was it an undetonated hand grenade (which also resembles a pineapple)? If it was simply a hand grenade, why not simply call it that instead or calling it a pineapple bomb? Was it ever photographed or brought to the police? Where is it now? When it was found, was it live or disarmed (i.e. when Sylvia found it, could it have exploded there and then?)
  • Did the Sodders ever face any repercussions for using the billboard to place the blame on the ‘law officers involved’?

My current suspicions are that Janutolo was behind the fire. He was the only one who directly benefited from it, both through his insurance claim (which he likely dealt with through Long‘s insurance company) and through the detriment of George’s rival trucking company. He may not have intended for the Sodders to die in the fire: the bump on the roof and the phone call may have been attempts to wake them before the fire started. As of now, I am not sure whether the children were kidnapped or if they died, but I think it’s more likely they perished in the fire. Unless someone was planning on selling the children into slavery of some kind and going to the trouble of concealing their identities, I don’t think it’s likely they survived. I’m also not convinced by the photo supposedly of Louis received by the family in 1967, and think it was likely it was a cruel prank rather than proof.

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