|Mad Gasser of Mattoon|
An artist's depiction
|Theories|| · Hoax|
· Mass hysteria
The Mad Gasser of Mattoon was a mysterious humanoid entity blamed for a series of nocturnal, gas-related attacks that plagued the town of Mattoon, Illinois in the mid-1940s.
Most contemporary descriptions of the Mad Gasser are based on the testimony of Mr. and Mrs. Bert Kearney of 1408 Marshall Avenue, the victims of the first Mattoon case to be reported by the media. They described the gasser as being a tall, thin man dressed in dark clothing and wearing a tight-fitting cap. Another report, made some weeks later, described the gasser as being a female dressed as a man. The Gasser had also been described as carrying a flit gun, an agricultural tool for spraying pesticide, which he purportedly used to expel the gas.
There are several explanations as to what the creature could be. Theories include:
- A hoax
- Mass hysteria
The first of the 1944 gasser incidents occurred at a house on Grant Ave., Mattoon, on August 31, 1944. Urban Raef was awakened during the early hours of the morning by a strange odor. He felt nauseated and weak, and suffered from a fit of vomiting. Suspecting that he was suffering from domestic gas poisoning, Raef's wife tried to check the kitchen stove to see if there was a problem with the pilot light, but found that she was partially paralyzed and unable to leave her bed.
Later that night, a similar incident was also reported by a young mother living close by. She was awakened by the sound of her daughter coughing but found herself unable to leave her bed. (due to differing depictions of the night of the 31st and the morning of the 1st, some contemporary accounts list the second attack as having occurred the following day).
The next day, September 1, there was a third reported incident. A Mrs. Kearney, of Marshall Avenue, Mattoon, reported smelling a strong, sweet odor around 11:00 pm. At first she dismissed the smell, believing it to be from flowers outside of the window, but the odor soon became stronger and she began to lose feeling in her legs. Mrs. Kearney panicked and her calls attracted her sister, Mrs. Ready, who was in the house at the time. Mrs. Ready also noticed the odor, and determined that it was coming from the direction of the bedroom window, which was open at the time. The police were contacted, but no evidence of a prowler was found. At around 12:30 am, Bert Kearney, Mrs. Kearney's husband (a local taxi driver who had been absent during the time of the attack), returned home to find an unidentified man hiding close to one of the house's windows. The man fled and Kearney was unable to catch him. Kearney's description of the prowler was of a tall man dressed in dark clothing, wearing a tight fitting cap. This description was reported in the local media, and became the common description of the gasser throughout the Mattoon incident. After the attack, Mrs. Kearney reported suffering from a burning sensation on her lips and throat, which were attributed to the effects of the gas.
In the days following the Kearney attack, there were half a dozen similar attacks (See table), though none of the purported victims were able to provide a clear description of the prowler, and no clues were found at the scene of the attacks. The first specimen of physical evidence was found on the night of September 5, when Carl and Beulah Cordes of North 21st street returned home around 10:00 pm. After spending a few minutes in the house they noticed a piece of white cloth, slightly larger than a man's handkerchief, sitting on their porch next to the screen door. Beulah Cordes picked up the cloth and smelled it. As soon as she inhaled, she became violently ill. She described the effect as being similar to an electric shock. Her face quickly began to swell, she experienced a burning sensation in her mouth and throat, and began to vomit. As with other victims, she also reported feeling weak and experiencing partial paralysis of her legs. Beulah Cordes later hypothesized that the cloth had been left on the porch in order to knock out the family dog, which usually slept there, so that the prowler could gain access to the house unnoticed.
In addition to the cloth, a skeleton key, described as looking "well used," was reportedly found on the sidewalk adjacent to the porch, along with a large, almost empty, tube of lipstick. The cloth was analyzed by the authorities, but they found no chemicals on it that could explain Beulah Cordes' reaction.
The same night a second incident was reported, this time in North 13th Street, at the home of Mrs. Leonard Burrell. She reported seeing a stranger break in through her bedroom window and then attempt to gas her.
- Similar attacks were reported in Botetourt County, Virginia during the early 1930s.