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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
    Posts
    52

    The Phone Call the Night of the Fire

    I have been researching this case very heavily for about eight months now with the intent of possibly thinking about maybe writing a book about the whole thing. How's that for a definite maybe? While doing that research, and really looking at the whole thing, sometimes, something odd appears in the information available. One of those things has been the phone call placed to the Sodder house around 12:30 AM Christmas Day just before the fire. In using the information available, accounts of this call vary according to the various sources. It is generally accepted that the caller was a woman asking for someone that the Sodders did not know. Another account said the woman asked for someone “who had no reason to be there”, implying that the Sodders may have known this person. Either way, Mrs. Sodder told the caller the person they were looking for was not there. The woman, later identified by the State Police as Mrs. Frank Harding, apologized for calling. Mrs.Sodder accepted her apology and hung up. One interesting part of the call was just before Mrs. Sodder hung up, she said that a man in the background of the call let out a peculiar laugh or sound. Other accounts from the time say it was the woman caller who let out the strange laugh or sound, still other say “There was raucous laughter and glasses clinking in the background.“

    Mrs. Frank Harding was a local a local resident in the Fayetteville area. When questioned, she at first admitted to making the call saying that she simply called the wrong number. Later, when questioned further about why she called, Mrs. Harding denied that she even made the call. This became one of several reversals that would haunt this case. This phone call was suspected by some as being a warning to alert the Sodders as to what was about to happen to them. to get them up so they could get out of the house without being hurt.

    Later when the fire happened and different people were trying to reach the fire department by phone, they claim they cannot reach anyone because the local phone operator was not on duty or just didn’t respond. The phone system there was the type where an operator has to place the call for you. No Dialing. Kind of like on the old Andy Griffith show on TV when he would pick up the phone and ask "Sarah" to get him so-and-so's number. If this is the case, Mrs. Harding would have had to have specifically asked the operator for the Sodder home when she called at 12:30. She could not have dialed a wrong number because the phones did not dial. In other words, she had to have specifically told the operator with whom she wanted to speak. Then we are back to the original question, was her call a warning call to make the Sodders aware and awaken them before the fire? Who was Frank Harding??? What relation could he have had to this case, if any? Could Operator have made a mistake and placed the wrong call? Possibly, it was late at night. She may have been asleep and just woken up. With this kind of system, the chance of making a mistake is small but still possible.

    So, if someone knew in advance what was going to happen and someone else got a case of conscience and tried alert the Sodders, does this make a conspiracy?

    Other thoughts?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Posts
    26
    I was curious about this too. While on one hand, there is (and probably was) nothing completely odd about a wrong number but I agree it does not seem to "fit" into this story. But I have a hard time believing that someone could pinpoint exact background noises of a call especially if they have just been wakened from sleep.


    Do you know who recalled the details of the call? Was it the operator? Or Mrs. Sodder? If I was a local operator I might listen in on a call late at night especially if it was someone I knew. Was this detail revealed as part of a police investigation? Also, may I ask where you came across the name Mrs Frank Harding?

    My Mother was a phone operator back in the 50's and she said it was not unusual for the operators to listen to calls especially if the call was "juicy". I wonder if that detail came from the operator. Also, are you sure there was not a phone number system in place at that time? I do agree all you had to do was to ask the operator to connect you to a specific person but it would seem like they would need a number too (if not simply for organization, i.e. there had to be more than one "Mr. Smith").

    I was wondering if they kept a log of the calls. Was this somehow retained as part of the police investigation.

    For conversation sake, let's say it's Christmas Eve, the eggnog is flowing, glasses are clinking, people are laughing. One Mrs. Frank Harding tries to call someone to wish them a Merry Christmas, the operator misunderstands her and erroneously connects her to the Sodders. I would be curious who that part of the investigation was conducted.

    All good questions!

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
    Posts
    52
    Mrs. Sodder was the one who took the call and it was not until later,( not sure how long) that when she started thinking about the circumstances, and the fact that the call came within a half hour, or so of the strange noise she heard on the roof, and then a few minutes later the fire, that she believed the occurrences might be related.

    I don't know who the operator was but I would have hoped that someone took her statement at the time. I think it may have been either the state police or one of M.r Sodders private investigators who found the name Mrs. Frank Harding. the strange thing is why she, as with lots of other people associated with this case, would first admit to making the call, and then later, reverse herself.

    If I understand right, you did have to ask the operator to get the number for you. I think back in the day that the local operator actually had the switchboard located in her home rather than some place of business. Maybe that's why that later, they couldn't get the operator to respond when they were trying to report the fire. The operator had gone to sleep.

    I agree, this could just as easily be a wrong number, or the operator may have misunderstood when she connected them to the Sodders.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jan 2010
    Location
    In the backwoods of Virginia
    Posts
    1,444
    I was a little confused when I started reading this thread...without any news articles to read, I wasn't sure what case this thread was about so I googled "Sodder Family Fire" and this is what popped up.... http://unsolvedmysteries.wikia.com/wiki/Sodder_Family

    Is this what you're talking about?
    When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.

    Mark Twain

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
    Posts
    52
    Yes, this is it. But in a very small nutshell. I would suggest to anyone coming into this forum to search in Websleuths for the Sodder Children. over the past eight years, there have been some very seasoned investigators looking over this case and there has been some really good information. several good threads were started and many questions have been answered. Nearly any question you have about the case has been addressed at one time or another, maybe even what actually happened to the children.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Posts
    26
    I spoke with my Mother tonight who used to work as a phone operator back in the later 50's/early 60's. She said it would stand to reason that if one local person was calling another local person they probably did not need a phone number (and probably would not have used one). It would have made receiving a wrong number more difficult than it would be today.

    Again, not that it really means anything but adds to the overall complexity of the case.



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