Who or What Was the Mad Gasser of Mattoon?

During the months of August and September of 1944, there were a series of attacks in Illinois that were thought to be the handy work of a mysterious assailant. Local newspapers called this nuisance: The Mad Gasser of Mattoon. Other names associated with this figure included the Anesthetic Prowler, the Mad Anesthetist, as well as the Phantom Anesthetist.


All of the attacks were meticulously similar, where individuals reported an oddly sweet scent entering their nostrils, which could sometimes be strong enough to wake a person out of their slumber. After inhaling the odor, the person became nauseas and dizzy. Headaches would follow and their breathing became labored. Sometimes a feeling of being paralyzed accompanied the attack. Some victims reported that they heard a buzzing sound or saw a bluish-colored vapor. Various victims claimed to have seen a tall image leaving their property after the attacks, which was always dressed in black.


Word spread quickly about the town of these attacks, which caused quite a stir. The city reacted by utilizing more police and neighborhood watchers to patrol. The weather was quite unbearable during this time of the year and the humidity began to make some stir crazy because windows were being closed to cease the attacks of the Gasser.


The Gasser attacked about 15 separate times during the first week and a half of the month of September. After September 13th, the attacks ended without warning. By that time, the state and federal law enforcers had given significant man-hours towards apprehending someone, but no suspects were ever accused. This led some police officials to dismiss the attacks as mass hysteria, stating that they believed women who were living alone caused the panic. Oddly enough, most of the victims were men.


Although mass hysteria is one of the main theories regarding the gassing incidents, other theories existed including industrial pollution, as well as someone on the loose causing the attacks. The theory of mass hysteria was widely accepted because most of the documentation regarding the attacks came during the increase of panic throughout Illinois. Another similar occurrence in Virginia was reported and involved weird fumes. The same pattern was noted.


In Mattoon, many factories and industrial plants could be found in the area. Some believed it was the presence of toxic waster or other pollutants that could be the cause of the odd odor, but this theory did nothing to prove why the fumes were encountered in some houses and not in surrounding households.


The theory that deals with an actual attacker involves a local man, who was a former student, Farley Llewellyn at the University of Illinois. A little before the first attack, the chemistry lab at his house exploded and was looked down upon by the locals, who tried to drive him out of town. He was quite capable of creating the gas that was used in the attacks and it was even said the first victims of the attacker were also former high school classmates of Llewellyn. The attacks were also reported to have occurred close to his home.


It is also said that Llewellyn was working on a way to create nitromethane bombs, which utilized a sweet-smelling compound. The symptoms that the bomb would cause are the same experienced by the attack victims. Some dismiss this belief that Llewellyn was the culprit because during the attacks, there were no fires or explosions experienced. Although the mystery as never solved, shortly after the last attack, Llewellyn was committed to a mental institution.