This week’s 250th Celebration Facts is another mysterious event that has brought attention to Botetourt County over the years. Ian Kyle and William Stowell are working on “The Mad Gasser” feature film, which is now a year behind schedule because of world events. Kyle and Stowell also produced a Mad Gasser film short for this article.
In the early morning hours of December 22, 1933 an unseen figure released a barrage of hallucinogenic gas on a family in the Haymakertown section of Fincastle in Botetourt County. No one at the time could have suspected that this was just the beginning of 54 nights of madness and terror.
By the time it was over it had involved five law enforcement agencies, two medical doctors, the Botetourt Board of Supervisors and the Virginia General Assembly; not to mention the scores of victims that had fallen prey to the unseen psychedelic gas.
The Mad Gasser was at large!
Each morning The Roanoke Times would detail the previous night’s attacks with alarming headlines ‘Gasser Busy In West Botetourt’…’Troutville Home Has Gas Attack’…’Ghostly Gasser Operates Again’…’Four More Homes In Botetourt Visited By Gasser.’
Yet despite the warnings from the paper, the $500 reward and the hyper-vigilance of well armed citizens, The Mad Gasser could not even be slowed down. Each night The Gasser would descend on rural homes, some times filling entire neighborhoods with his hallucinogenic vapor.
But to what end? How many did he kill? How much did he steal? The answer to both is zero. The story of The Mad Gasser is all the more unsettling when we consider that this Gasser was not a predator, a killer or a thief – the usual motivators of crime. What then drove him to pump people’s homes full of hallucinogenic vapor? What was he trying to do to – or for – the people of Botetourt?
The full story will likely never be known but the case of The Mad Gasser ensures that Botetourt will always have a place in American Folklore in addition to our unique place in American History.
~ William G. Stowell and Ian Kyle