Will DNA Find the Lost Sodder Children?

There has been quite a bit of news lately about criminals being identified because one of their relatives sent their DNA test results to one of the many growing public DNA databases.  For those who don’t know, these databases are open for anyone to try to find family connections.  This is especially useful for people who were adopted or somehow lost contact with relatives.  The most famous of the criminal cases is the arrest of Joseph DeAngelo, suspected to be the Golden State Killer.

It occurred to me that these databases could do more than find criminals.  They could solve mysteries.  Gentle readers, let me tell you about the tragedy of the Sodder children.

On Christmas Eve, 1945, the home of George and Jennie Sodder burned to the ground.  They had ten children.  One was away in the military, and the four older children managed to escape the house with their parents.  The five younger children, ranging from fourteen to five years of age, were never found.  No trace of their bodies was in the ruins of the destroyed West Virginia house.

I will cover the suspicious circumstances surrounding the fire in another post, because that is not the focus of this one.  Their parents believed that the children had been kidnapped before the fire was started, and were still alive somewhere.  Years after the fire, they received a letter with a photograph, and on the picture was written a message identifying the young man as one of their sons, grown to adulthood.  They hired an investigator to see if the letter had any truth to it, but they never heard from him after that.

If, as their parents and many others suspected, the five children did not die in the fire, might they have grown up not realizing the truth behind their change of family?  This was before the internet, even before easy searching of newspaper archives.  The children could have been told the rest of their family died, or that they were being sent to ‘live with relatives’.  George was an immigrant from Italy, and there is some reason to believe the kidnappers were Italian.  Might they have been taken to Italy, where no news would have reached them about the fire?

The surviving Sodder children had families of their own, and I truly hope that they contribute their DNA samples to at least one database.  Perhaps someday a person researching their family history will be shocked to learn that they are connected to a nearly century old mystery.

This was originally posted on my old blog, Middle Class Poor.

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