A number of mysterious gas attacks occurred in several Appalachian areas during the Twentieth Century. Intriguingly enough, despite numerous attacks, no culprits were ever found and few clues were ever left. Unfortunately, the authorities seemed as disinterested as possible and never devoted consistent attention to locating the culprits. Soon after authorities gave up, a few college professors also decided it was a hoax. So, what did happen during those attacks? We’ll never know.
The Mad Anesthetist, or Mad Gasser, was reported to be a tall, thin man in dark clothes. He often wore a tight-fitting cap. Some reports stated he was actually a woman dressed as a man. Other tales that state there were a group of culprits responsible for the damages. Still others put blame on government officials conducting secret weapons testing, or even extraterrestrial beings.
Such figures are often rumored to be in woods. The current generation knows the version called “Slenderman.” Whoever he, she, or it was, victims believed the anesthetic prowler carried a flit-gun, or hand-pumped insecticide sprayer, wherever he went.
The first wave of attacks happened in Botetourt County, Virginia, between December 1933 and February 1934. The first home attacked was in Haymakertown. Around 10 pm, Mrs. Cal Huffman noticed a strange odor that made her nauseous. The initial symptoms faded within minutes and she dismissed it. Thirty minutes later, the symptoms came and grew more severe. The family called the police.
Her symptoms passed and it everyone assumed it was just some minor incident. The authorities examined the home and couldn’t find anything suspicious. Everyone decided to get some rest and retired for the evening. No one knew precisely what happened, but it passed.
The next attack came at one in the morning. This time, the entire house was affected. Eight family members and one houseguest became sick with headaches, facial swelling, and constriction of the mouth and throat. Huffman’s daughter, Alice, was unconscious and had to be resuscitated when the authorities found her. She suffered convulsions for several weeks after.
Clarence Hall and his family came home from church on Christmas Eve. They entered their Cloverdale home around 9 pm to find a strong, sweet odor inside. No one really paid attention. They assumed something outside had just drifted in when they entered the home and would clear momentarily. The air didn’t clear and moments later, the family grew fatigued and nauseous. They summoned the authorities.
The police found a hole the size of a nail near their window. It was believed the gas was pumped into the home through the opening. The same sickness came to a Troutville household on December 27. The next attack was in Haymakertown on January 10, at Holmer Hylton’s residence. Mrs. Moore, a houseguest at the time, said she heard voices outside just before everyone grew ill. The authorities’ believed the gas came through a damaged window.
That same night, the Kinzie house, also in Troutville, was hit. There were 8 attacks before the gasser finished with this region, although older statistics place the numbers closer to 20 separate attacks. Several witnesses claim there were always multiple suspects in the vicinity before a house was gassed.
Dr. S. F. Driver, of Troutville, said he believed it was chlorine gas. Other reports claim the offensive fog was a different gas. Many witnesses saw someone near their home, but the authorities did not pursue the information. Even footprints and the sighting of strange automobiles did not arouse their interests. Women’s shoeprints were found at the scene of at least two homes.
A “Mad Anesthetist” hit Lake County, Florida, in November of 1935. This burglar rendered a home’s occupants immobile so he could collect valuables at his leisure. There were also implications he molested several victims. Fans of the “X-Files” series will recall an episode titled The Post-Modern Prometheus, which also used the act of gassing an entire home to render occupants immobile.
In August of 1944, similar attacks began in Mattoon, Illinois. There were 20 attacks within a few weeks. Victims reported being completely incapacitated by this point. This time, multiple houses were attacked at once. The victims of the Mattoon attacks reported a sweet odor that induced nausea, vomiting, paralysis, lingering burning of the lips and throat, the sensation of facial swelling, as well as other symptoms that seem to exist in the majority of attacks nationwide.
Rationalists have labeled the attacks as mass hysteria, but that really doesn’t explain anything. There had to be an original event for mass hysteria to ensue. It also doesn’t explain how many symptoms lingered for weeks at a time. It likewise doesn’t explain away strange footprints, tire tracks, strange persons witnessed fleeing the vicinity, or the number of witnesses who heard others outside.
The Mad Gasser has never formally been linked to the Flatwoods Monster, but the two are geographically close. There’s just a little over 160 miles between them. The “Flatwoods Monster” also operated in a similar manner to the Mad Gasser, it only attacked at night, and usually in more remote settings.
One of the differences was that the Flatwoods monster was somewhat visible. The creature was said to be extraterrestrial by some, while others believed it was the government. Whatever it was, the strange figure came to Braxton County, West Virginia, on the evening of September 12, 1952. There are varied descriptions as to who, or what, it was. Some accounts say it began as a red, pulsating ball of fire or light. Soon after, a few reported witnessing a massive green creature.
There were also reports of several encounters prior to that night, but never by so many people at once. Many witnesses claimed the creature gave off a burnt metallic odor that brought on a variety of health problems. As with the Mad Gasser, Flatwoods witnesses reported irritation of the nose and throat. It was now more severe and the usual symptoms were also accompanied by vomiting and stomach problems. One witness was hospitalized for 3 weeks. One of the physicians who examined the patients said the effects of the odor were similar to mustard gas exposure.
Again, the events were labeled as mass hysteria.
It seems no one will ever know what happened, or who could’ve been responsible. Those who should’ve been investigating quickly dismissed the events as mass hysteria. This is not to say with any certainty whom the culprit was or what their motive might have been, but more respect should have been given to people who were frightened and who had obviously encountered something suspicious.
These events take the spotlight when it comes to attacks via gas, but they’re far from the only ones.
In 1918, a company that made uniforms for the U. S. Army received a shipment of 200 bolts of khaki fabric. The packaging was opened and tens of employees suddenly became ill. Most fainted on the floor where the fabric was opened, and employees exhibited symptoms of poisoning as far as three floors above. Affected employees reported feeling a cold sensation in their throat just before they fainted. The company closed for 24 hours, but when the employees returned, the illness started all over again. No cause was ever found.
Two women were attacked in May of 1915, in Seattle, Washington. Mses. Jennie Gagner paid a visit to Mary Cutler. The two were friends and visited, as usual. They heard the rustle of skirts just before a strange odor emanated through the apartment.
Cutler was alarmed that the gas stove might be leaking. She ran into the kitchen with Gagner right behind. Unfortunately, that was the source of the gas and both women were overcome. Physicians had to work on both women for a number of hours. The authorities examined the scene and located a test tube of liquid in Cutler’s pantry. It was believed to be bromine gas, but no further details ever emerged.
It is peculiar that so many of these cases were met with such indifference and apathy, while authorities were aware of the weaponized gases used even as early as World War I, like mustard gas or Phosgene. If similar respect had been granted to the victims in Virginia and West Virginia, perhaps a similar source could have been found. Luckily, for Mses. Gagner and Cutler, there was no mention of mass hysteria.