Another story from the files of my favorite (i.e. the strangest and most spine-gripping) unsolved murders in history: the stunning disappearance of not one, not two, but five children in a single night.

This is, in my opinion, one of the weirdest crime mysteries of all time.

At 1am on Christmas Eve 1945, the Sodder family woke up to find their home in West Virginia was on fire. They managed to get four of their nine children out of the house safely, but, before they could get to the others, the stairwell caught fire, cutting off the upstairs. The father, George Sodder, rushed to get his ladder so he could reach the second floor from the outside and rescue the remaining five children from their rooms.

The ladder was missing.

Switching tactics, he went to get his trucks, thinking he might back them up to the side of the house, so he could reach the 2nd story window.

They wouldn’t start, though they had been working just fine the day before.

The Sodders tried to call the fire department, but got no response. The water in their rain barrels was frozen solid. There was nothing they could do but watch their house, and their kids, burn.

Eventually, some neighbors saw the smoke and went for the fire department. Within 45 minutes of the fire beginning, the house was a pile of ashes, but help didn’t arrive for nearly 7 hours. Firefighters searched the home, but found no remains – not even bones – and declared the 5 children dead.

It is unclear whether a house fire can burn hot enough to completely consume bones – but that’s not the only reason the Sodder parents believed their children could still be alive. In the months leading up to the incident, not one, but two people had foretold that their home would burn down, including one who specifically threatened, “Your children are going to be destroyed. You are going to be paid for the dirty remarks you have been making about Mussolini.” The Sodder parents were both Italian immigrants and outspokenly anti-Fascist.

Additionally, one of the older boys remembered having seen a strange man lurking by the road, watching the younger children walk home after school. Then there was the bizarre phone call they received from an unknown person, the very evening of the blaze. Since the fire, they’ve received tips and letters from people around the United States claiming to have seen their children.

Photo Credit: Smithsonian Magazine

Over 70 years later, the story of the Sodder children is still unsolved, but the family has not given up hope. For more details on the Sodders’ ongoing investigation, go here.