Mad Gassers

During the summer of 1944 in Mattoon, Illinois an unknown attacker was responsible for weird occurrences for two weeks.

For two weeks during the summer of 1944 in Mattoon, Illinois an unknown attacker struck randomly in this community.  The first reported attack occurred on August 31, 1944 when a resident of Mattoon woke up in the middle of the night feeling ill and vomiting.    The resident was concerned that the gas had been left on in the
kitchen.  When he went to investigate, he found that the gas was indeed off.  In the meantime, across town another resident was being faced with the same dilemma.  A mother heard her daughter coughing and crying that she was ill.

September 1, 1944 around 11 PM a young housewife smelled a sickening sweet odor in her bedroom.  The odor began to grow until she felt herself becoming paralyzed in the legs and lower body.  A short while later, unaware of what was happening, her husband came home and spotted a strange man at his wife's bedroom window.   The stranger was described as very tall and wearing dark clothes and a tight fitting cap.

September 5, 1944 a couple returned home from an evening out.  They found a white cloth near the front door.  The woman smelled the cloth and immediately began to feel a paralysis creeping over her body as well as feeling as if an electric current was racing through her body.  The police were contacted.  Upon their arrival, they found a skeleton key and an empty lipstick tube container near the spot where the cloth had been found.  The police were unable to determine the origin of the items.  Meanwhile, again another mysterious incident was occurring.  Another woman was having gas seeping into her room leaving her feeling immobilized.

September 10, 1944 there were two more attacks of mysterious gas involving five people. These two attacks were dismissed by the police as nothing more than mass hysteria. Police had begun to theorize that the odor was carbon tetrachloride carried by the wind from a local factory.  (Some problems with this theory: Why was the smell just now causing a problem? Why were only select houses and not all in a given area affected?  Where was the pattern to the incidents?) Needless to say, mass hysteria was not a popular theory.

The last attack occurred on September 13, 1944.  A witness to this attack reported seeing a woman dressed in mans wear spray gas through the window of a home.  The next morning the residents of this house, a mother and her son, found footprints.  The footprints were clearly high heels normally worn by a woman.

The police were busy trying to explain the gas attacks as mass hysteria or the fault of a local factory.  What the police did not know, nor did the residents of Mattoon was that December 1933 found similar problems in Botetourt [Bot-a-tot] County, in Virginia.

The first attack in Botetourt occurred on December 22, 1933 at the first farm near Haymakertown.  It was reported that there were 3 separate infusions of gas into the house where there were 9 occupants.  The gas caused extreme nausea, headaches, facial swelling, and for the nineteen-year-old occupant it induced convulsions for weeks afterwards.  The police were contacted and arrived after the second attack but prior to the third attack.  After the police did a quick check and took down a report, they left.  The third attack came shortly after they left.

Several victims reported hearing voices and noises immediately prior to the gassings and several witnesses saw men and women running away from the houses where the attacks had occurred.  After one attack a homeowner found women's footsteps leading from the house to the barn but none leaving the barn!

The Botetourt accounts were covered locally, which is why the residents and police of Mattoon thought their incidents were unique.

The theory of mass hysteria supported by the police in Mattoon does not have a lot of evidence to support it.  How is it possible that residents in two different states could experience the SAME mass hysteria?

The attacks could be a government experiment and cover up. Chemical warfare was beginning to be considered.  Also, it was close to this time period that the alien and UFO concerns were coming to the forefront. Either of these two possibilities could account for the gas attacks, but mass hysteria could not.