Where are the Sodder children?
The next unsolved mystery is similar to the Pollocks. George and Jennie Sodder of West Virginia were forced to cope not only with the immeasurable loss of their children but also with the mysterious circumstances surrounding that loss. After the Sodder home burned to the ground on the night before Christmas in 1945, five of the ten Sodder children were still alive and accounted for. But what about the other five? From all accounts, it would seem that they had vanished into thin air.
Notice how we don’t say “vanished into smoke”? That’s because, in the ruins of the fire, zero physical evidence of the children could be found, which is virtually impossible from a scientific standpoint. But that wasn’t all that smelled off about the events of that night. Apparently George tried to save the children who he believed were still trapped inside by using his coal truck, which strangely, was inoperable; the phone lines to the house were found to have been cut; a woman claimed to have seen all five missing children peering from a passing car while the fire was in progress; and a woman at a Charleston hotel who saw the children’s photos in a newspaper 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 the Italian extraction,” she said in a statement. “I tried to talk to the children in a friendly manner, but the men appeared hostile… and wouldn’t allow it.”
The Sodder family theorised that the children had been kidnapped, perhaps in an attempt to extort money, perhaps to coerce George into joining the local mafia (the Sodders were Italian immigrants), or perhaps in retaliation for George’s outspoken criticism of Mussolini and Italy’s fascist government. From the 1950s until Jennie Sodder’s death in the late 1980s, the Sodder family maintained a billboard on State Route 16, with pictures of the five vanished children and offering a reward for information. The last (known) surviving Sodder child, Sylvia, 69, still doesn’t believe her siblings perished in the fire.
What really happened to young Walter Collins?
In 2008, Clint Eastwood’s film Changeling re-awakened interest in one of the most bizarre and tragic crime stories of the 1920s. Single mum Christine Collins (pictured) reported her nine-year-old son, Walter, missing in March 1928 from their home in Los Angeles. Five months later, the police brought “Walter” back to Christine, except it wasn’t Walter, and Christine knew it. But the LA police dismissed Christine’s concerns, going so far as to accuse her of terrible mothering and having her committed to a mental hospital. The real Walter Collins was never found, and over time, authorities came to believe he was one of the victims of convicted child-murderer Gordon Stewart Northcott, although Northcott’s mother offered a confession for killing Walter. Whatever happened to Walter Collins, his body was never found, and no one ever learned what really happened. Nor has it been established with any certainty why the police were so invested in covering up the boy’s disappearance that they brought a different child back to Christine and tried to convince her and the rest of the world that it was Walter.
The Disappearance of Paula Jean Welden
Paula Jean Welden, 18, was a sophomore at Bennington College on December 1, 1946, the day she told her roommate, Elizabeth Parker, she was going for a long walk but failed to return. A search focused primarily on Vermont’s Long Trail (a 435km trail that cut through Vermont to the Canadian border), where local witnesses reported having seen her.
The trial yielded no clues, however, and soon, what the Bennington Banner refers to as “tantalising and unquestionably strange leads” began to materialise. These include claims by a Massachusetts waitress that she’d served an agitated young woman matching Paula’s description. Upon learning of this particular lead, Paula’s father disappeared for 36 hours, supposedly in pursuit of the lead, but it was nevertheless a strange move that led to his becoming a prime suspect in Paula’s disappearance. Soon stories began circulating that Paula’s home life was not nearly as idyllic as her parents had told the police. Apparently, Paula had not returned home for Thanksgiving the week prior, and she may have been distraught about a disagreement with her father. For his part, Paula’s father posited a theory that Paula was distraught about a boy she liked and that perhaps the boy should have been a suspect.
Over the next decade, a local Bennington man twice bragged to friends that he knew where Paula’s body was buried. He was unable to lead the police to any body, however, let alone Paula’s, and with no evidence of a crime, no body, and no forensic clues, the case grew colder, and the theories grew stranger, including those linked to the paranormal. New England author and occult researcher Joseph Citro came up with the “Bennington Triangle” theory, which explained the disappearance as linked to a special “energy” that attracts outer space visitors, who would have taken Paula with them back to their world.