Ice Ice Baby: Investigating Cold Cases

Get your amateur Sherlock Holmes feet wet with these unsolved mysteries.

Margeaux Perkins

May 16, 2016 | Crisis of Consciousness

The Reddit link flashed before my eyes:

“What is the creepiest/scariest unsolved mystery you have heard of?”

I clicked innocently, thinking it would be a brief, lunchtime reprieve from work.
But I scrolled for hours, opening Wikipedia tab after Wikipedia tab and delving deeper into the
lives of missing teens, mysterious murders, and theory forums for people hoping to gather their
own evidence and solve these crimes. A co­worker pulled me out of my internet K­-hole, and I
closed the remaining tabs, thinking I’d discuss it later with my mother, who’s an avid fan of
conspiracy theories and the SyFy channel shows Ghost Hunters, Paranormal Witness, and the
now­-defunct Beyond Belief.

unsolvedmysteries

Today, I’m still not entirely certain as to what extent my mother really believes in the programs
she watches. For me, indulging in supernatural phenomena has always been exciting, but I trust
the shows and eye­witness accounts as far as I can proverbially throw them. However, when
revisiting the Reddit thread to write this article, I found that I wasn’t so much interested in the big
time mysteries that have famously plagued police departments and the public for
generations—the Roanoke colony, Jonbenet Ramsey, the Zodiac Killer—but, rather, the small
mysteries that happened to people who never thought it would happen to them. I read accounts
of aunts being kidnapped into the Russian mob, of people being nearly murdered by prolific
serial killers but locking their doors just in time, of hitch­hikers that were saved by that tingly
feeling that something was off, only to find out later that the driver was, in fact, a wanted man.
Rather than reading urban legends or fake spooky stories (which I find wholly unreadable and
insulting to the genre of the unsolved), these Redditors used names, old newspaper articles,
and a plethora of other info to support their small­-time brushes with the unsolved. This
resonated with the thrill­-seeking, slightly self-­destructive part of me: I shuddered at the
smallness, the normality of these people, which made the crimes all the more real to someone
as small, as normal as me.

While these stories really pulled me in, the ones that kept me awake that night were the mid-
size tales that included Wikipedia articles. Clicking and reading and clicking and reading into
this vortex of the unknown became a new sort of “Unsolved Mysteries”. Without access to a
proper television and cable programs, I trusted the Internet as my new source for spookiness.
Instead of passively watching Robert Stack explain in vague terms what had happened when
the person of interest was last seen at a gas station in Tucson, then lie awake for hours, terrified
of going missing, I could google everything from suspects to video footage, entering the
metaphorical crime scene myself ­­ – perhaps to prevent it from happening to me.

So what lies before you is exactly that. Two unsolved mysteries that I’ve researched and
compiled for you here, to check out for yourselves. Both are quite different in nature, and have
terrified me to the core.

Z-STACK

 

The Sodder Family

The Sodder Family was comprised of Italian-­born father, George; mother, Jennie; and their ten
children aged 2–25 (the oldest was away in the Army and did not live at home). The family lived
in the small town of Fayetteville, West Virginia, where George owned a coal-­trucking business.
On Christmas Eve, 1945, George, Jennie, and the nine children went to sleep. At 1 a.m.,
George and Jennie awoke to find the house on fire. Four of the children managed to escape
and remained outside with Jennie while George tried to reenter the house to reach the second
floor, where he believed the other five children were hiding. The stairs were engulfed in flames,
his ladder had disappeared, his truck wouldn’t start, all of the water outside was frozen solid.
When he tried to phone the fire department, the line was dead.

The next day, the fire department finally arrived, after the house was reduced to ash. While
George and Jennie believed their children were dead, a sweep of the grounds concluded with
no signs of human remains. The fire was attributed to faulty wiring and the children were
declared dead by fire or suffocation. The local police and fire departments were uncooperative
in the investigation, leading the Sodder family to hire multiple private investigators.

After more than 60 years, the crime remains unsolved. The last of the living children is now 72
years old and does not believe her siblings died in the fire.

The mysterious bits:

  • A few months before the fire, a stranger appeared at the home requesting a job from George.
    He pointed to the fuse box and ominously said, “This is going to cause a fire someday.” George
    had recently had the wires checked, and the power company declared all fuse boxes in perfect
    working condition.
  • A few weeks later, another stranger appeared at the home trying to sell life insurance. He grew
    angry at George for not buying and said, “Your goddamn house is going up in smoke. Your
    children are going to be destroyed.”
  • Days before the fire, the two oldest sons of the Sodder family noticed a man parked across from
    the house, intently watching the younger Sodder children coming home from school.
  • On the night of the fire, the phone rang after everyone had gone to sleep. Jennie answered it and an unfamiliar female voice asked for an unfamiliar name. There was strange laughter and clinking glass sounds in the background. Jennie hung up the phone.
  • On her way back to bed, Jennie noticed the downstairs lights were on and the curtains were open. The front door was also unlocked. She turned off the lights, closed the curtains, and locked the door.
  • Just before the fire broke out, Jennie was awoken again by a loud banging sound on the roof, then a strange rolling sound.
  • After the fire, a telephone repair man said that the phone lines had been cut, effectively ruling out the idea of “faulty wiring” as cause for the fire.
  • A man came forward saying that he saw a hooded man removing George’s truck’s engine during the fire.
  • Upon revisiting the fire site months later, the youngest daughter of the Sodder family found a strange rubber object in the yard, later identified as a napalm “pineapple bomb” of the type used during the war.
  • There were numerous reported sightings of the children after the fire, with eye­witnesses saying that the children had been accompanied by a group of Italian men and women who appeared to be unfriendly in demeanor.
  • A private investigator discovered the insurance salesman who had threatened the family was a member of the coroner’s jury that deemed the fire an accident.
  • A minister came forward saying that the fire chief confessed to finding a human heart at the scene of the fire, but that he buried it inside a dynamite box.
  • After further investigation of this claim, it was discovered that the heart was, in fact, beef liver.
  • Other reports said that the fire chief had made up this claim, hoping it would placate the family enough to stop investigating.
  • Years later, George saw a photo of schoolchildren in Manhattan, and believed one of the children was his daughter. When he drove to New York, the girls’ parents would not let him see her.
  • Twenty years after the fire, Jennie received a letter in the mail, postmarked from Kentucky and addressed solely to her. There was a photo of a man in his mid­20s along with a note that read,

“Louis Sodder. I love brother Frankie. Ilil Boys. A90132 or 35.” The Sodders sent another private investigator to Kentucky to find the sender of the photograph, but the investigator was never heard from nor seen again.

sodder kids

Theories

The children were abducted by someone they knew. The abductor walked in through the
unlocked front door, told the children the house was on fire and that they would be safe.

The local mafia had attempted to recruit George, who refused. The mafia kidnapped the
children.

The fire did kill the children, but their bones were removed in order to cause the Sodder family
additional pain and suffering.

Parting Words

This scares me mostly because it was so long ago that it’s possible that so many things were
missed, messed up, or overlooked by police and the family. With today’s modern technology,
I’m certain the crime would be easily solved. I’m terrified of the thought that people were
complicit in covering up this crime and thereby causing the family more pain. As a final note, I
tend to think that the children were abducted by the mafia and raised to believe they were either
someone else, or told to forget their past identities if they wanted to live.

The Disappearance of Maura Murray

maura murray

Maura Murray was a nursing student at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, who
disappeared mysteriously one night in February 2004. In the months leading up to her
disappearance, Maura seemed to be having a rough time. She was arrested in November the
year before for stealing a credit credit. She had confessed to relationship problems with her
fiancé on multiple occasions to her various family members. Then, a few days before her
disappearance, she broke down in hysterical sobs at her campus job and had to be escorted
home by her supervisor, though she wouldn’t tell anyone what the breakdown was about. Two
days after her breakdown, her father arrived on campus to console her. Together, they shopped
for a used car and later spent time at her father’s motel. In the late evening Maura took her
father’s car and attended a party. On the way back to the motel, she struck a guardrail. The
police questioned her, but no charges were brought against her. Her father sent his car to the
shop and rented another for his and Maura’s use.

On the night before her disappearance, she agreed to speak to her father the following day to
discuss the insurance claim for the car accident. She also printed directions to The Berkshires
and Burlington, Vermont. She emailed her fiancé to say, “I got your messages, but honestly, I
didn’t feel like talking to much of anyone, I promise to call today though.”

The day of her disappearance, Maura made a lot of phone calls. She placed a phone call to a
condominium service in Bartlett, New Hampshire, a condo association her family had used for
vacations in the past. Later, Maura called a fellow nursing student for reasons unknown. She
also phoned her work supervisor to say that she would be out of town for a week due to a death
in her family (this proved untrue, according to her father). She also called a hotel service in
Stowe, Vermont. She called her boyfriend in the afternoon to tell him they would talk later.

In her car, she packed clothing, toiletries, and her college textbooks. Campus police
investigated her dorm room days after her disappearance to find that the majority of her
belongings were packed in boxes. At 3 p.m., the day of her disappearance, she left campus in
her car, a black Saturn sedan.

She stopped at various ATMS and convenience stores to withdraw $280 in cash and to
purchase $40 worth of liquor. Video footage indicates she was alone at all stops. She checked
her phone for the last time at 4:37 p.m. to call her voicemail. She did not notify any of her family
or friends as to where she was going nor why.

Around 7 p.m. in Woodsville, New Hampshire, a resident heard a loud noise outside of her
house. She saw a black Saturn sedan up against a snowbank. She called the police at 7:27
p.m.. Another neighbor also witnessed the incident and phoned the police, although this
neighbor also witnessed someone walking around the vehicle as if surveying the damage. The
first neighbor witnessed another vehicle pull up alongside the Saturn sedan to assess the
damages.

The person in the vehicle noticed a young woman in the car shivering (though seemingly
unharmed). The man offered to telephone for help. The young woman pleaded that he not call
the police and assured him that she had called AAA, though AAA has no record of this call. The
person drove home and phoned the police, as there was poor cell phone reception in the area.

At 7:46 p.m., a police officer arrived to find no one in or around the car. The windshield was
cracked and both airbags had been deployed. The police found several bottles of liquor, a AAA
card, blank crash report forms, gloves, CDs, makeup, Mapquest directions to Burlington and
Stowe, Vermont, a stuffed animal, and a book about mountain climbing in the White Mountains.
Maura’s debit card, credit cards, and cellphone were missing.

Around 8 p.m. a man witnessed a young woman moving quickly on foot eastbound, away from
where Maura’s vehicle was discovered. He did not report the incident to the police until months
later, when he realized the young woman matched Maura’s missing persons description.

The Mysterious bits

  • The search for Maura began the day after her disappearance, with police, family, and friends
    combing the area where her car was discovered. The evening after her disappearance, Maura’s
    boyfriend allegedly received a voicemail (now deleted), that he believes was the sound of Maura
    sobbing.
  • Towards the end of 2004, a man allegedly gave Maura’s father a rusted, stained knife that
    belonged to his brother. His brother had a criminal past and lived less than a mile from where
    Maura’s car was discovered. The man suggested that his brother and his brother’s girlfriend
    acted strangely after Maura’s disappearance.
  • In October 2006, cadaver dogs searched several houses near the crash site and allegedly “went
    bonkers” upon entering the closet of one house, identifying the possible presence of human
    remains.

Theories

Police believed that, given the many sets of directions and packed items, Maura was intent on
running away and beginning her life anew.

Police have also postulated that Maura believed herself to be in a bad way, and was therefore
suicidal. Investigators believed that Maura was either planning on committing suicide or
succeeded in doing so.

Due to no evidence of foul play, police believe Maura was not abducted. Maura’s family and
friends, however, have committed themselves to believing that Maura was kidnapped.

Final Parting Thoughts

According to various web searches, Maura’s disappearance has become something of a cult
obsession. People from all over the world have speculated theories as to what happened to her.
Her case is quite perfect for amateur sleuths to gather evidence and try to come up with
theories of their own, given the fact that no real, perfect theory currently exists. As with any
unsolved mystery, the less there is that is known, the more terrifying it is for readers like me,
and the more intriguing it is for detectives everywhere.

If you’d like to learn more about either of these cases please visit the Reddit page for The
Sodder Family and a blog by James Renner (which is rife with theories and extra info not
presented here). Particularly for a case like Maura’s, if you have any information, visit her
family’s website.

While on my strange and winding journey into the unknown, whether as a scared little girl
watching Unsolved Mysteries with my mother or as an adult combing Reddit for the scariest cold
case, I’ve learned quite a bit both about the nature of disappearances in the U.S. and about
myself. It’s hard to solve a disappearance, especially if the person doesn’t want to be found. It’s
even harder if the person who has caused the disappearance doesn’t want the missing person
to be found. And don’t even get me started on the times when the police will not cooperate with
you due to things like corruption. I’m a lucky girl. I’ve never been abducted. I’ve never known
anyone who has been abducted. I think the reason why I’m so attracted to unsolved mysteries is
because it’s fun to look in from the outside, where you feel completely safe from harm. But the
real truth is that these kinds of things can happen to anyone. Anyone can become an unsolved
mystery.

The one thing that remains uncertain for me, even after all my research and self­-reflection, is
whether it’s more terrifying to think of the plausible explanation for a disappearance (mob
abduction, planned escape to a new life, etc.) or to let your mind explore the more sinister
options.

 

Photos: Unsolved Mysteries, NBC

Margeaux Perkins has made it her life's mission to never be described with the terms "shy", "boring", or "quiet". She tries to find happiness in the little things in life, like making her boyfriend's lunch with the early morning sun peeking through the windows or going pee after holding it in for too long. Writing has been her thing since she wrote her first short story at age 12. It was an 18-page Microsoft Word Document about a 20-something New York gal who falls in love with her male best friend. She's been tickling the backlit Mac ebonies ever since.

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