|The Rose Files
True Scary Stories from Life
| The Mysterious Mad Gasser of Mattoon!
~ Rose Titus ~
Let us think back to a simpler time in America, a time when although there was a war raging overseas,
things at home were quiet and peaceful. It was the 1940’s: World War Two. Women entered the
workplace to build the weapons of war while the men enlisted to fight Hitler. Families at home worried
about “their boys” who were “over there.” There was no television and no Internet. Most people got their
news from either the radio or from newspapers. And of course, most of the important news was about the
And in one typical American town, Mattoon, Illinois, there was suddenly a crisis event that got everyone’
s attention. Suddenly, life was no longer simple, peaceful, and dull in Mattoon!
Mattoon was now under attack from an enemy so terrifying and mysterious that many people back
then – and even today - actually thought the whole tragic event was “made up,” or simply “mass hysteria,”
and that the innocent victims just imagined it all…
But no! They did not imagine it. And it was not mass hysteria.
The people of Mattoon were under attack from “The Mad Gasser!”
Summer, 1944: A man woke up feeling ill and asked his wife if she had absentmindedly left the stove
on. His wife was feeling unwell, also, and there was a strange odor. She did not leave the stove on, she
insisted, and she was correct. It was not the gas stove. The man and his wife soon were vomiting. They
went out of their room to some fresh air and soon felt better, wondering if maybe it was something they ate.
The next night, two sisters who were residing together were getting ready for bed. One of them
noticed a strange, sweet odor, and first thought it might be the smell of the flowers outside the window.
Then her throat became very dry, her lips began to burn, and her legs felt weak. She screamed for her
sister, who went to a neighbor for help. The police were called, but they found nothing.
The husband of the sister who fell ill came home from his shift as a taxi driver, and when he drove up to
the home, he saw a man all dressed in black. He attempted to chase the prowler, but the strange man
Soon after, another home was gassed. A housewife informed her husband on his return from work
that she noticed a strange smell and their two children were nauseous. She also began to vomit and felt
Other homes all around town were experiencing the same horror, there was the awful “sickly sweet”
smell, lightheadedness, vomiting – four homes attacked within 48 hours, all homes nearby each other.
The police were on the alert, but found no perpetrator or motive. Nothing was stolen, so the motive was
These attacks continued, hitting house after house. The mad gasser seemed unstoppable.
One woman actually saw blue smoke coming through her window. Another found a strange cloth
outside the home that had been soaked in some strange chemical. She swiftly became ill after handling
it. Some people would report seeing a man “dressed in black,” but he was never caught. Mobs of angry
men patrolled the streets like vigilantes carrying shotguns while the police continued to find nothing. The
town was filled with paranoia, panic, and fear. It was a hot summer, but people began to sleep with the
windows shut tight.
No one knew who, what, or why, it was all happening. Some people believed the “prowler” was a Nazi
spy. Some people suspected it was all a secret government military experiment gone wrong. Experts
were called in, but since no one was captured, and no proof could be found, the “experts” came to the
conclusion that “mass hysteria” was all to blame, and that it was simply a case of nervous housewives
feeling jittery because their men were at war instead of at home to watch over them. This of course was all
nonsense, but probably a conclusion that was typical for the time period.
One night a large cloud of gas caught a crowd that included two newspaper reporters from Chicago.
About seventy people also reported the symptoms after inhaling.
The gas attacks later expanded to areas outside of town. Homes in rural areas nearby Mattoon were
also under attack.
Meanwhile, back in Mattoon, after getting done with his job out in the countryside, the gasser hit some
of the same homes twice, with people suffering the same effects of nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness,
and sometimes the feeling of being temporarily paralyzed. The Mad Gasser of Mattoon was working
House after house, victim after victim… the once normal town was in the grip of terror.
And still, local police could not figure it out.
Or… were they actually protecting someone?
The strange tale of the “Mad Gasser of Mattoon” went down in history as a case of “mass hysteria.”
But decades later, a chemist, Scott Maruna, decided to travel to Mattoon to try and investigate and find out
what actually happened way back then.
And finally, people who remembered the strange occurrence, now elderly, felt that they could now
reveal the sad truth. This was not a case of mass hysteria. People did not imagine it all. The gas attacks
The perpetrator was an angry young man named Farley who was venting his misery at society. Farley
was brilliant, and his hobby was chemistry. He lived in trailer and neighbors once saw that an explosion
happened inside his trailer, a result of one of his “experiments” gone wrong. Farley never quite fit in; he
probably had very few if any real friends. His family, especially his two sisters, looked after him, and
covered up for his eccentricities. Feeling like an outcast, Farley lashed out at the community the only way
he knew how.
And why did those “in the know” about Farley keep quiet about it? Because his father was a kind and
decent man who did as much as he could to help out the needy during hard times. Farley’s family owned
the local grocery store, and during the war, times were hard. Farley’s dad forgave people’s debts, brought
groceries to struggling families, and was loved by all in the community.
Unlike poor Farley, the local nutcase.
The “Mad Gasser” attacks suddenly stopped around the time that Farley entered a mental hospital,
where he remained.
Today Mattoon is a normal community, and many of the younger people don’t even know about the
events that happened in the 1940’s. The building that was the grocery store owned by Farley’s family is
still there, however it’s no longer a grocery store. Homes that were hit with the gas attacks are still there.
Once again, Mattoon is a quiet, peaceful community.
But the town went down in history as being the headquarters of the mysterious “Mad Gasser of
If you want to learn more about the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, then check out these resources:
1. Maruna, Scott, The Mad Gasser of Mattoon, Swamp Gas Book Company, 2003 (a great book
if you can find a copy).
2. Downes, Jonathan, “In Search of the Mad Gasser,” Fortean Times December 2006 (FT is a
crazy British magazine that has all you need to know about the scary, spooky, and strange!)
3. Coleman, Loren, Mysterious America, Paraview, 2001 (the same Loren Coleman who runs the
International Cryptozoology Museum which has a life-sized stuffed Bigfoot there to greet you).