A Sinister Invader in the Dead of Night: A Second World War-Era Mystery

It was in the 1940s, when the Second World War was still raging, that the people of the Illinois city of Mattoon found themselves terrorized by a malevolent entity that became known as the “Mad Gasser of Mattoon.” Just like the monsters that constantly tormented H.P. Lovecraft as he slept, the insane gasser, on a number of occasions, turned up while his victims slept. Most of those victims were women, home alone, and whose husbands were away fighting in the War, either in Europe against the Nazis or in the Pacific arena against the Japanese. Matters began when the Raef family had a most unwelcome visitor. The home was quickly overwhelmed by a sickening odor. It provoked instant illness: nausea, vomiting and breathlessness were at the top of the list. Urban Raef was practically rendered helpless by the smell. Meanwhile, his wife, in bed, found herself temporarily unable to move. In moments, however, the curious event was over.

This sounds very much like a condition known as “sleep-paralysis,” which many students of the supernatural believe to be caused by the presence and actions of paranormal creatures invading peoples’ minds and homes as they sleep. The official term for this undeniably frightening phenomenon is Hypnagogia. Basically, it describes the hazy and mysterious period between wakefulness and the sleep state – a period that may be dominated by a wide and infinitely varied body of alarming and weird experiences. Unusual voices – very often speaking in unintelligible tones – are commonplace, as are sightings of floating heads, and bizarre creatures ranging from extraterrestrials to demons, and monsters to ghosts. The big question is whether experiences such as mine, and those of many others, are solely provoked by the internal intricacies of the human mind, or by something external and supernatural that can psychically invade us while we are in the sleep state – such as the Slenderman.

 Barely forty-eight hours after the Raef family was descended upon by that mad and malevolent thing with a penchant for gas, the Kearney family found itself on the receiving end of a visit of the most unwelcome type. And they were hit hard. It was at around 11:00 p.m. that Mrs. Kearney, while lying in bed, dozing, felt a terrifying paralysis slowly creep up her legs. As the paralysis increased, a sweet smell – almost sickening in nature – completely enveloped the bedroom. She screamed for her sister, Martha, who also found herself overwhelmed by the almost-incapacitating smell. Who, or what, was responsible for the two attacks? An answer, of sorts, came when Mrs. Kearney’s husband, Bert – a cabdriver – came home not long after his night-shift was over. Just as he reached the family home, Bert saw, on the front yard and peering through the window of their bedroom, a tall, thin man dressed in black. He was gone by the time that Bert had jumped out of his car and raced in the direction of the “man.”

The FBI gets into the investigation of the Mad Gasser

In no time at all, and as a result of the profoundly weird nature of the attacks, the police and even J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation was on the case. As panic quickly gripped the townsfolk of Mattoon, the then-Commissioner of Health, Thomas V. Wright, issued the release of the following statement: “There is no doubt that a gas maniac exists and has made a number of attacks. But many of the reported attacks are nothing more than hysteria. Fear of the gas man is entirely out of proportion to the menace of the relatively harmless gas he is spraying. The whole town is sick with hysteria.” Theories for who, or what, the Mad Gasser was abounded. The suspects included a local young man named Farley Llewellyn. He was someone who knew several of the victims and who had a fascination for chemistry. Nothing incriminating was found, however, to conclusively say that Llewellyn was the mastermind behind the attacks. Robbers, teenage kids, and even aliens, have all since been put forward as potential candidates for the gruesome gasser. The answer to the riddle? There is none. Only an abundance of theories, many of them supernaturally-themed.

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