The Unexplained: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon

The tall, thin, stranger left no clues except cut window screens and dazed and sickened victims who couldn’t move a muscle.

In the world of crime, “mad” offenders have always gotten my attention – mad bombers, maniac throttlers, whacking fiends.  Criminals that strike in a frenzied spree, then disappear, unknown, forever have a similar fascination.

My eyes did bug out, then, when I an across an article with this headline:  The Mad Gasser of Mattoon.  Some have dubbed him The Anesthetic Prowler or The Phantom Anesthetist.  His mysterious crimes happened in 1944, when a good portion of American men were off at war.

The bizarre activity happened in Mattoon, a small town in central Illinois.  The spooky man, dressed all in black, struck in a two-week-long binge.  He went to the homes of unsuspecting residents, in the wee hours, and sprayed a paralyzing gas into their windows.

Who has the scientific knowledge to concoct such a potion?  What was his reasoning?  Attacks seemed to be random.

The tall, thin, stranger left no clues except cut window screens and dazed and sickened victims who couldn’t move a muscle.

A whole town was actually paralyzed by panic.  He could not be caught, despite aggressive patrols put into place.

Reasons for The Mad Gasser’s heinous crimes have been offered up by armchair detectives:  was it an eccentric inventor, testing a new device?  Was it a government agent testing a combat weapon?  Was it an extraterrestrial visitor experimenting with Earthlings?

Skeptics have labeled the whole Mad Gasser episode a case of mass hysteria or an urban legend gone wild.

It is not.  During that two week period there were over two dozen gassings with corresponding police reports filed.  The victims detected strange odors followed by paralysis of the legs, nausea, vomiting , and coughing.  No one died or had lasting medical conditions, but the physiological and psychological trauma were real.

There were sightings of the phantom assailant all over the area–tall, thin, dark clothing, a cap, and using an apparatus similar to that used for agricultural spraying, a hand pump device. This is a macabre mental picture, indeed.

Sara Marie Hogg

Attacks began on August 31, 1944.  Urban Raef was awakened by a strange odor.  It made him ill.  His wife tried to go check the pilot light on the stove, but she was paralyzed and could not move from the bed.

A little later, a young woman nearby heard her daughter coughing in another part of the house, but was too paralyzed to get out of bed.

The next day Mrs. Kearney was attacked.  She and her sister both noticed a strong odor and contacted police.  Mrs. Kearny’s husband arrived home from his taxi driving job to discover The Mad Gasser outside a window and gave chase.  He could not catch him but got a good description.  The women got sore throats as a result of the attack.

A half dozen more attacks happened with odors, paralysis, and nausea.

On September 5, Beulah and Carl Cordes returned home at ten p.m. after an outing and noticed a white cloth on the porch.  Beulah picked it up and took a whiff.  She became violently ill–then her legs became paralyzed, her façe red and swollen.  The family surmised The Mad Gasser was going to knock out their barking dog with the cloth.  An odd skeleton key was found nearby.  The cloth was analyzed but no chemicals could be identified.

Later, Mrs. Leonard Burrell reported a stranger trying to gas her.  He came in through the bedroom window.

Police activity picked up and the FBI was called in.  The citizens were panicking and toting guns wildly about.  Torn window screens and footprints were documented.  People reported smelling gas, everywhere.

Maybe because of all the increased attention, The Mad Gasser disappeared from the scene.  There were no more attacks.

The last reported sighting was well after September 12, when Bertha Bunch reported seeing The Gasser.  She said he was a woman dressed like a man.  Nothing was ever seen of The Gasser, again.  He was never identified.

A book written by Troy Taylor discusses this weird mystery in detail, One Dark Night.  It also covers other sinister strangers.  There is another book by Scott Maruna who thinks he knows who The Mad Gasser was:  The Mad Gasser of Mattoon:  Dispelling the Hysteria.

A Mad Gasser – what a mystery!

Please click HERE to find Sara Marie Hogg’s collection of true stories about the bizarre and unexplained on Amazon.

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