Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Mad Gasser of Botetourt

The Mad Gasser of Botetourt, VA (and Mattoon, IL)

The unexplained "Mad Gasser" attacks began on December 22, 1933, in Botetourt when the home of Mrs. and Mrs. Cal Huffman, near Haymakertown, was attacked by a mysterious figure. At around 10:00 p.m., Mrs. Huffman grew nauseated after smelling something strange that apparently had been sprayed into her home.

A half-hour later, another wave of gas filled the house and Mr. Huffman went to the home of his landlord, K.W. Henderson, where he telephoned the police. Officer Lemon responded. After he left, another gas attack hit the Huffman home, filling both floors of the house. All eight members of the Huffman family, along with Ashby Henderson, were affected by the gas.

According to reports, the gas caused the victims to become very nauseated, gave them a headache and caused the mouth and throat muscles to restrict. No one could determine what kind of gas was used or who could have sprayed it into the house. The only clue that Lemon found at the scene was the print of a woman’s shoe beneath a window.

From then on, similar attacks occurred in Cloverdale (about 10 miles away)  on Christmas Eve;  December 27 in Troutville (also nearby); January 10, again in Haymakertown as well as one in Troutville; January 16 in Bonsack; January 19 in Cloverdale, January 21 (Cloverdale); and three more on January 22 in the Carvin's Cove area over a two-mile area.

On January 23, an attack occurred in the Pleasant Dale Church area (Lee's Gap). Other attacks occurred in Nace and Lithia, but after about 20 more reports in nearby Roanoke County, police decided that only the original few incidents were real and the rest hysteria. Newspapers reported the the unconvincing theory that faulty chimney flues and wild imaginations had caused the entire affair. Those who were attacked and police officers involved, like investigator Lemon, never accepted this explanation.

Similar attacks occured in Mattoon, IL, in 1944.

(As an aside, my great aunt, Ruth Harris Morris, remembered this incident, as one of the "gassing attacks" occurred in her neighbor's home).

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