By Site Contributor Frank Statler
‘The Anesthetic Prowler’, the ‘Mad Gasser of Roanoke’, or simply the ‘Mad Gasser’, was the nickname of the person or persons responsible for a series of attacks in Matton, IL and Botetourt County, VA in the 1930’s and mid 1940’s.
A lot of people think that these encounters are nothing but mass hysteria.
According to persons who had seen the masked assailants describe him/her/them as being tall, thin, dressed in in black clothing and wearing a tight head covering.
It was said that the attacker used what is called a flit gun. A flit gun is a pesticide sprayer used in agriculture. This instrument is what the mad gasser used to expel his noxious fumes.
The First Attack
The first attack occurred in Botetourt County, VA. These attacks occurred between the dates of December 22 1933 through February 1934.
It was the home of Cal Huffman of Haymakerville, VA., that was struck first.
At 10pm on December 1922 Mrs.Huffman was overcome by a strong smell. She also speaks of a powerful feeling of nausea and dread. This passed, however, a half of an hour later the strong odor returned and Mrs. Huffman felt compelled to call the police.
What happened with the police call is not known, but, there was a third attack that night at the Huffman house.
It occurred at 1am in the morning and affected the entire household. Most heavily affected was the Huffman’s daughter Alice. She complained of shortness of breath, nausea and a swollen tongue that made it hard to breathe.
She was looked at by the town doctor and found to be alright after a few hours and some fresh air. Alice Huffman complained of dizzy spells for several weeks. However, the Doctor chalked it up to anxiety from the event.
The Next Attack
The next attack was in the town of Cloverdale, VA on December 24th. A Mr. Hall, his wife and two children had returned from church around 9 am in the morning.
Upon entering the domicile a strong odor was detected and the family immediately felt nauseous. The local police were called and a nail was found to be pulled out of the back window. Police suspected that this may have been where the gas was injected.
The Third Incident
A third attack took place on December 27 1922 in Troutville. Where a man and his Mother smelt a strange odor and reported the same symptoms.
After this, several more attacks were recorded. Although people still talk about it in those parts these were the last recorded reports in Virginia.
The Second Wave of Attacks
The small town of Matton ,IL was the site of the second wave of attacks.
The first attack in this cluster took place in a home on Grant St. in the summer of 1944. A gentleman by the name of Urban Reaf was the first victim of the second spate of attacks.
He awoke smelling the strong odor of gas. This made him violently ill and he vomited several times. He and his wife were concerned that there was a leak in their heating system. However, upon looking found no leak and no cause for the putrid smell.
On September the first there was another compliant of a gas attack. A woman on Marshall Ave. in Matton revealed that around 11:00am on that day she smelled a sickly sweet odor.
At first she believed that it was the scent of flowers growing outside in the garden. Soon however the odor grew quite strong and she started losing feeling in her lower extremities. Her sister, who was in the house too, came running after hearing her sister cry out. Her sister insisted that the toxic smell was coming through the open window.
Police were called but no perpetrator was found. About an hour later as her Husband was returning home from his job, when he spotted a prowler outside of the house. He chased the stranger from the home but he was not apprehended.
The stranger was described at that time as tall and slender wearing a tight black suit and a black cap. This is the description that everyone who saw the stranger would give.
The Mad Gasser would strike 15 more times in a ten day period after this second attack. Sadly, the attacker was not seen clearly in these incidents.
Physical evidence was found at the next home affected. A handkerchief was found and after it’s handling by the lady of the house she supposedly grew ill and lost feeling in her legs, not unlike the previous occurrences. The last reported sighting was a woman by the name of Bertha Burch and she claimed that the Gasser was a woman dressed as a man.
Was this just a case of mass hysteria? Or was it some type of industrial accident? Or was there really a mad gasser in these two areas? The world may never know.