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October 30th, 2005

Murder Billboards

As a last resort, some families put up billboards asking for information and offering rewards. I’m collecting pictures of these kinds of billboards for a presentation. If you have pictures to share, thank you, and please email me.

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Below is a more homemade version. Five children went missing from the West Virginia home of the Sodder family in 1945. I’m working on a story about this. The family kept the billboard up for 44 years, and only took it down when both parents were dead. People who grew up in the area still talk about what happened. The Sodder children are the West Virginia version of Etan Patz, a 6-year-old boy who went missing in New York in 1979. If you grew up seeing the signs asking for information, you never forgot it.

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A police poster for Etan Patz (still missing, presumed dead).

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Melanie // Nov 13, 2005 at 10:22 pm

    If you go to the site I listed. You can find links to Missing Persons and UID’s from through out the United States. The cases are from 1996 and date all the way back to 1920’s. If you need anything else feel free to email me, I happen to be the NY Area Director of Research for the Site the Doenetwork. It should help you with your report and also show you just a fraction of how many people go missing through out the United States.

    Melanie

  • 2 Stacy Horn // Nov 20, 2005 at 8:40 am

    I just added a post about this subject and about the Doe Network. It’s a horrible and haunting thing, missing persons and unidentified bodies. Thank you for the work that you do.

  • 3 sue // Dec 10, 2005 at 1:27 pm

    I just stumbled upon your postings regarding the Sodder children while checking out my hometown newspaper site. I am a 48 yr old attorney living in Knoxville, TN. I grew up in Longacre, WV, the “coal company town” part of Smithers. Our family often drove past the Sodder place and I remember my father telling and retelling the chilling story about what happened that Christmas Eve. That billboard (and the story) certainly made an idelible impression on me. I recall that the Charleston Gazette has revisited the event several times over the years. You may find their archives more professional and detailed than those of the local Fayetteville or Montgomery newspapers.

    The Mafia connection to the abductions/murders is not a new angle. The idea that there is/was Mafia in Smithers is again not news. There was a large influx of Italian immigrants to Smithers in the early 1900’s. In fact, I often felt a minority at Oakland Grade School because I was not of Italian descent. While not all Italians are connected with organized crime (there are many fine Italian families still living in and around Smithers) I feel strongly that the Mafia had a strong base there. In college I conducted an oral history project by which I interviewed several elderly Italians in Smithers about their immigrant experience. I was surprised to discover that one common memory was the Ku Klux Klan opposition to the Italian immigrants. One man vividly remembered standing on a street corner as a small boy watching the KKK parade in protest of the Italians and throwing rocks and tomatos at the Klansmen. It was about that time, I believe, that organized crime emerged there. I remember the Cipriani family, but by the time of my memory, there was no store or business run by them. The family I recall is the “Big Al” Falbo family. As late as the early 80’s, and especially in the 60’s and 70’s, it is believed that Mr. Falbo ran the illegal gambling, prostitution and drugs traffic in the Smithers area. Upon his death, I believe in the early to mid 80’s, the “feds” came immediatley to Smithers to shut down and even padlock his legitimate business (a restaurant/bar/club). Several people (all non-family) did jail time. No one bothered Mr. Falbo while he was living.

    I would be very interested in your findings from your visit to WV Please let me know when your feature will be broadcast on NPR.

    Knoxville has it’s own unsolved billboard murder. The victim, a young woman named Johnna Berry (Barry?), was stabbed to death in her apartment. A detailed description of her possible assailant was compiled from witnesses, but no arrests have been made to date. Her family has posted a billboard on I-40, which runs through Knoxville, requesting the public’s assistance in solving her murder. The first anniversary of her death has just passed and the local law enforcement officials and the media has revived their attention to the case.

  • 4 Deborah Newcomb // Dec 23, 2005 at 6:46 pm

    I live in Knoxville TN also. We have family that live in West VA and we would visit them most Summers. I was 6 yrs old in 1966 when I remember all of us getting out of the car with mouths agape reading the billboard. This has haunted me since and tonight I was watching old 8mm movies that we transferred to VHS and there was the billboard that we filmed. I just had to get on the internet and find the REAL story. I knew something would be on the Internet.