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The Killing Season - Websleuths

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    26

    Night of the fire

    Hello Sleuthers,

    I have been conducting research and a few thoughts/ideas popped up and was curious what you thought about them.

    The first is that from all indications, after the fire started, Jeannie and/or George were the first ones out of the house. If not the very first, they were out there very quickly after that (within seconds). If there was any "unusual" activities (i.e. kidnappers, abductors, etc.), it would have been very difficult for someone to grab the children without being seen by George or Jeannie or anyone else for that matter.

    The next idea is that Marian (sp?) ran to a neighbors to call the fire dept. That means the neighbors were alerted very quickly after the fire started so if any illegal activity was happening, it would be increasingly more and more difficult as more and more people were around. So if there was an abduction, it would have had to have been all planned out and completed before the fire. And that means not alerting the balance of the family (assuming of course there was a plan or kidnappers at all).

    OK, lets assume there never were any outsiders involved. The kids perished in the fire. What happened to the bodies? If George removed them, it would have been stunningly difficult, if not impossible to do before the fire dept arrived. Not to be gruesome but sifting through a pile of still very hot ashes would have been a very horrible (again, almost impossible) task. He would have most likely had to do this in the dark or at a minimum, with a lantern or some device from the barn. And how do you explain that to your family? And why would he do it? Where did the family go immediately after the fire during the night? Neighbors? I think I read where they spent some time in an outbuilding or barn structure after the fire. I cant imagine how awful that had to be only from living that close to the fire scene.

    Lets say George somehow felt guilty for whatever reason and decided to relocate the bodies. It would have been stunningly difficult to do this because of the people around that would have been "on the scene". I'm sure an investigation of his property was conducted at some point.

    Does anyone know if there was any kind of insurance pay out? Would there be records of this?

    If there was an abduction, it seems odd (at a minimum) that it would have been conducted on Christmas Eve. It seems like an abduction would have been easier to do while the kids were walking home from school, etc. If Im planning this out, I would plan this to have as little "interference" as possible.

    Also, the state fire marshal declared the fire started in the office next to the parents bedroom. Does anyone know what led them to this conclusion? I know they later recanted their statement but to be blunt, how could they know this? They are looking at a smoldering pile of ashes, how can you tell exactly where the fire started? I wonder if they had a clue like a penny in the fusebox (a relatively common practice back then). That would have been a tell tale sign. With the Christmas lights possibly overloading a circuit, George puts the penny in place and goes to bed. Didnt Jeannie said she was surprised to find the lights on (and blinds not drawn) after the phone call and before she went to sleep? And what led the fire dept to recant the statement? Was it an insurance matter? Was there some other motivation?

    The local fire dept didnt do itself any favors by placing a beef liver in an ammo box and planting it in the crime scene. Was there any backlash to this? Did he lose his job because of this? Seems like someone should have held him accountable.

    I have more questions but I was curious what the fellow sleuthers thought about this?

    Thanks,

    Dan

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
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    26
    More ponderings,
    i read that the house was heated with 2 coal stoves which burn hotter than traditional wood heat. Has anyone confirmed this? Also, let's look at the timeline of events. If the house burns down, the FD shows up, douses the ashes and the inspector examines it the next day (Christmas Day) and then George bulldozes it in the span of a week, this now has the possibility of an obviously un-controlled crime scene BUT if the fire chief has already declared the children have perished in the blaze, than no crime was theoretically committed (as long as the origin was declared electrical in nature) so therefore, it is not a crime scene since there was no crime.

    Is it just me or does the local fire chief appear grossly incompetent? He can't muster a fire crew, he personally can't drive the fire truck, he places beef liver in an ammo box, tosses it into the remains of the house and then admits it. What the ???? Whatever happened to this guy and I wonder if anyone contacted him beyond the initial investigation. It would be very interesting to hear what any relatives of his would have to say about it.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2012
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    542
    wood burns at about 1100F and coal burns at about 3500F. coal stoves were very common at the time.

    the problem with this whole scenario is we really don't know much that can be substantiated. we know there was a house fire. we know after the fire children were missing. as far as phone lines being cut, mystery phone calls, underworld dealings, threats, the nature of the inspection, etc most of that stuff is rumor and conjecture. we're getting so far removed from the time of this event that it's even starting to get hard to understand how basic life worked at the time (i.e. - how did the phone system work). what we really need is someone from town who was old enough to remember the event as it happened to tell us what they remember, not only about the fire but about the town at the time. unfortunately that person would have to be at least in their 80s at this point, which makes it unlikely that they're wsers. just my thoughts.

  4. #4
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    Mar 2010
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    Very good points: I could not agree more. There has to be someone from that time frame who would remember some details.

  5. #5
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    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
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    I did some research on the fire chief and I found some of his relatives on Ancestry.com still living in Ohio. I found some pictures of him and everything. I also found that he was very active in the Masons (along with about 25 others who are part of this case) and the American Legion. If he were here today, he would have a lot of explaining to do.

  6. #6
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    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
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    52
    Also, there was an insurance payout. but it didn't go to any of the Sodders. when George bought the house, he had his employer at the time co-sign the mortgage for him, Cleate Janutolo. Janutolo was paid $1,750 from the insurance company. But, newspaper stories of the time say that Janutolo also was planning to build the Sodders a small new house after theirs burned. No word on if that happened or not.

    the whole insurance thing, not only on the house but when another Janutolo requested that the Sodders take out life insurance policies on their children, seems odd. But, my research has also shown that the organization , The Sons of Italy, which many Italian Immigrants belonged to, strongly encouraged their members be fully insured. No confirmation as to whether there was an active chapter in the Fayetteville area. There was a chapter in the area of the Town of Alloy, about 15 miles away.

  7. #7
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    Mar 2010
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    Wow, good find. That does seem quite odd that an employer would co-sign a mortgage for an employee especially in light of the fact that this area was more or less ground zero for coal mine owners to do everything in their power (some less than legal methods) to keep their employers in debt to them and "under their thumb". That would have been a progressive practice at that time unless George Sodder had close ties or was an amazing employee.

    Somewhat related was the fact the guy offered $10,000 reward for info. Was this the Sodders money? I think I crunched the numbers and $10K back then equated to $100,000 to $500,000 today. It seems weird to me that a guy with a small business (plus a wife and 10 kids) would have that much cash to put up as a reward. Then again maybe he was only offering the money with the idea that if anyone came forward they were probably the guilty part and George would not have to pay out the cash.

  8. #8
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    Mar 2010
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    I went to see the existing house and get a "feel" for the area. What strikes me was:

    While the house is in a relatively remote part of WV, it's not as if the neighbors are miles away. There are houses on both sides of the road and close to the highway. So help would have been theoretically available if nothing else, to aid the family with a place to stay, clothing, etc.

    The property abuts the New River Gorge and that means a few different things. The first is that there would have meant access to mines. This also means the land is somewhat rugged and not easy to traverse. While the river is close, access is to it is difficult (the gorge is around 1,000 feet in elevation).

    For the privacy of the family, I will not disclose the address.

    Another theory:
    It was not unusual for people to distill their own liquor (even though it would have been legal). Could George have had a still? Could he have stored moonshine in the attic or the basement? Did a liquor dispute lead to a confrontation with someone?

  9. #9
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    Mar 2010
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    It was also no secret that George more or less pursued every last lead and tried to tell the story to anyone who would listen (the FBI, his congressman etc.). Initially after the fire, it appears as though there was an outpouring of sympathy for the family including the local fire dept. (and chief for better or worse). Yet at some point the relationship seems to have soured based on the verbiage of the sign.

    There seems to be a specified lack of accountability on the part of the local fire dept but as was pointed out earlier in this thread, plenty of this is speculation and nothing more.

    So my question is this: Did George become disillusioned with the lack of progress of the local fire dept. or did he have a falling out with them? Was there an event that precipitated this event? Quoting the Billboard:"What was the motive of the law officers involved? What did they have to gain by making us suffer all these years of injustice? Why did they lie and force us to accept those lies?".

    It somewhat sounds like a guy who got cheated in a poker game. It would be interesting to know the relationship between George and the cops.

  10. #10
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    Jun 2010
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    38
    I don't think it's out of the realm of possibility that George hid/disposed of the bodies to keep the premise alive. Maybe to protect his wife, maybe just...well have you seen the end of "Memento"?


  11. #11
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    Mar 2010
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    26
    I really have a hard time that George had anything to do with hiding/disposing of the bodies. Many of his actions seem to contradict this theory. It doesnt make sense that George would pursue this to the extent that he did. Everything from hos letter writing campaign(s), hiring detectives, travelling the country pursuing leads, offering rewards, contacting the FBI, excavating the site (twice), etc. Why draw attention to himself? I am not 100% convinced George is without blame in some capacity but his actions (to me at least) dont seem to shout abduction.

    Here's something that leaves me curious about George. There seems to be conflicting reports (par for the course in this story) as to exactly when George and Jenny became convinced of the kidnapping theory. I've read reports from 6 months to one year. I've heard from a source that the kidnapping theory existed the day of the fire. Whenever the time, this seems to be the trigger that lead George (and Jennie) to actively pursue the kidnapping theory (and began the cycle of hiring/firing private investigators).

    Fire Chief Morris (probably the least competent "player" in this story) 2 years after the fire is overheard by a local pastor that he planted a heart in the remains. Morris admits his actions and then dodges George who obviously wanted answers. Morris stated he did indeed plant the matter and marked it with a metal stake at the exact spot.

    So Morris, George, a couple of guys that work for George and a private investigator began to dig for the matter. They find the notorious wooden box deep int he basement reportedly under a piece of roofing tile. Not only was the situation absurd, but it raises many questions.
    Why didn't George report this to the cops or the fire dept?
    Why didn't George insist they be present for this dig?
    Why did they stop digging? They were seemingly at the basement floor level. To excavate down this much, it couldnt have been a straight hole (especially if they were digging into fire debris). They would have had to angle the hole (to prevent the hole from caving in).
    Was any other relevant objects discovered?

    Now lets look at Morris' actions during this dig..
    For some reason, Morris demanded a receipt(?) for the matter buried there.
    How did Morris know where to plant the metal stake (after the hole was backfilled)?
    When did Morris plant the stake without being discovered?
    Morris gave contradictory statements if bodies were discovered the day of the fire. Why not admit he buried matter sooner than 2 years down the road?

    So all we have to do is answer all these questions and this should pretty much wrap this little story up. It would be great to find out more of Morris' actions/motivations for this.

  12. #12
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    Dec 2013
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    South Charleston, WV
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    I have an unconfirmed report from someone who actually knew Morris who said he would do basically anything for money. and the other guy, who was the one who cut the phone lines the night of the fire, this source said he was known as a notorious liar and thief
    .

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
    Posts
    52
    Quote Originally Posted by Carnifax View Post
    It was also no secret that George more or less pursued every last lead and tried to tell the story to anyone who would listen (the FBI, his congressman etc.). Initially after the fire, it appears as though there was an outpouring of sympathy for the family including the local fire dept. (and chief for better or worse). Yet at some point the relationship seems to have soured based on the verbiage of the sign.

    There seems to be a specified lack of accountability on the part of the local fire dept but as was pointed out earlier in this thread, plenty of this is speculation and nothing more.

    So my question is this: Did George become disillusioned with the lack of progress of the local fire dept. or did he have a falling out with them? Was there an event that precipitated this event? Quoting the Billboard:"What was the motive of the law officers involved? What did they have to gain by making us suffer all these years of injustice? Why did they lie and force us to accept those lies?".

    It somewhat sounds like a guy who got cheated in a poker game. It would be interesting to know the relationship between George and the cops.
    George intended the billboard as a slap in the face to local officials who refused to help him.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Dec 2013
    Location
    South Charleston, WV
    Posts
    52
    Quote Originally Posted by masootz View Post
    wood burns at about 1100F and coal burns at about 3500F. coal stoves were very common at the time.

    the problem with this whole scenario is we really don't know much that can be substantiated. we know there was a house fire. we know after the fire children were missing. as far as phone lines being cut, mystery phone calls, underworld dealings, threats, the nature of the inspection, etc most of that stuff is rumor and conjecture. we're getting so far removed from the time of this event that it's even starting to get hard to understand how basic life worked at the time (i.e. - how did the phone system work). what we really need is someone from town who was old enough to remember the event as it happened to tell us what they remember, not only about the fire but about the town at the time. unfortunately that person would have to be at least in their 80s at this point, which makes it unlikely that they're wsers. just my thoughts.
    I found an early post from someone who actually interviewed Sylvia Sodder Paxton, the last living Sodder child. She said that the family did have coal burning stoves and they did store some coal on the property but she described it as being not more that usual.



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