Mattoon Villain Anything but a ‘Gas’ for Scared Citizenry

Sightings of the dreaded Mattoon Monster, The Mad Gasser, began at Cal Huffman’s home in Haymakertown, Botetourte County, when three attacks were reported that first fateful night.  Cal lived with his family of eight, and as any family man, cared for their safety.  But then on December 22, 1933, he began to notice a strange odor emanating from an unknown location near the rear window of his house.  He, and several other family members began to be overwhelmed by an intense feeling of unexplainable nausea.  It left, but then again returned at 10:30 pm.  Ashby Henderson, a friend of the family staying with the Huffmans also reported to authorities that he was affected by nausea, constriction of his airways, and facial swelling.  Cal’s daughter, Alice, was probably most severely effected with difficulty breathing to the point where she had to be resuscitated.  She also had fits of convulsions for several weeks afterward.

No sightings were made at the time of the Mad Gasser, but there were several sightings later that would give a name and a face to this phenomenon.  For the three months starting December 1933 and ending in February of the next year, there would be a string of sightings that would baffle police to this day.  The phantasmagorical visage of the gasser would be seen by over eighteen people before his (or her, as some reports indicate) reign of terror would finally be over”¦ or so it would seem until ten years later in Mattoon Illinois where the Gasser would make a far greater impact on the hearts and minds of the general public and find itself cemented in the culture of the area.

At Urban Raef’s house on Grant Avenue, in Mattoon in 1944, Urban awoke with a start after sensing a strange odor.  The mysterious nausea familiar to this story gripped Urban as he got out of bed.  Suspecting a gas leak from the family’s stove in the kitchen, Urban summoned his wife to check on it.  She attempted to do so, but as she leaned herself up in bed, she found she was suddenly paralyzed.  The family soon after recovered and summoned the police who took down their report.  

The next report would finally put a face to the sinister gas attacks that had been happening sporadically across ten years.  Mrs. Kearney was in her home on Marshall Avenue when she became aware of a strange odor coming from outside the window.  At first she thought it was the flowers outside, but then the odor became more intense.  It soon overwhelmed her senses, and she began to lose feeling in her legs.  As she began to scream, her sister Mrs. Ready ran up to her and noticed the odor as well.  They called the police, but no one was seen until Mr. Bert Kearney came back from his job as a taxi driver and noticed a hunched figure hiding in the shadows close to one of the house’s windows.  He was wearing tight-fitting clothing, similar to a body-suit or jumpsuit, and a tight fitting cap.  As Bert approached, the man fled, outrunning Bert with surprising celerity.  The report was given to the local media and police and soon sightings were popping up all over town.

Over the next few weeks, several attacks would be reported with many similarities in them.  Ultimately, the public began to panic as gas attacks became more and more numerous.  it was the opinion of the police department that, though there were many genuine attacks by this mysterious prowler, there was also a sort of mass hysteria going about making tracking him down even more difficult.  No samples of the mysterious chemical were ever collected or analyzed.  The police, found no conclusive evidence, and little evidence at all aside from footprints (belonging to both genders), lipstick, a mysterious rag with what appeared to be chloroform on it, and a skeleton key which appeared to be “well used.”  They made a statement declaring that the gasser had likely left town and that now the townspeople were riding out a bad case of mass hysteria brought about by war-time anxiety.  The reports died down, but there was one more before the case was closed never to be solved.  Mrs. Bertha Burch was the last to ever see the gasser, and described it as a woman dressed as a man.  The town of Mattoon would soon recover, but no one would ever be able to fully explain what happened.  An interesting theory was posited by Scott Maruna, a former resident of Mattoon.  He accused a socially isolated man named Farley Llewellyn along with his two sisters of carrying out the attacks.  Llewellyn was an accomplished chemist studying at the University of Illinois, and may have had the know-how to concoct these gaseous potions, but would he have had the motivation to do it?  He reportedly went to high school with the first victims of the Mattoon attacks, and several of the attacks happened around his home.  Still others think it may have been something different entirely, perhaps even something from another world.