You smell gas, your legs no longer work, your husband sees a dark stranger outside, a neighbour picks up a cloth, sniffs it and keels over . . . . Pretty scary, uh?
This was the experience of residents in Mattoon, Illinois, during the mid-1940s. Those attacked by the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, notably Mr and Mrs Bert Kearney, the victims of the first Mattoon case to be reported by the media, described the gasser as being a tall, thin man dressed in dark clothing and wearing a tight-fitting cap.
Victims reported smelling an unusual odour, being overcome by nausea and being unable to use their legs. When police arrived, however, they could smell nothing.
The police increased patrols, the FBI was called in and citizen vigilantes roamed the streets.
Now it’s accepted there was no Mad Gasser of Mattoon and that it was all a case of mass hysteria. Oh, those wacky people of small town America in 1944.
Except: England 2015. Gangs of mystery men no-one has seen roam the land, looking for victims. None are ever spotted, but, like the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, the modern bogeymen leave behind panic and small clues.
Yes, it’s the Mad Markers of Mansions, the ghostly beings who are reported to be leaving chalk marks on houses (we only said “mansions” because it was alliterative) across the area, indicating a wide variety of targets: people without dogs, people with dogs, people with old dogs, people with corn dogs, vulnerable people, old people, rich people, gullible people who believe whatever they read on Facebook….
No-one has seen anyone make a mark but everyone seems to believe the markings are being left by dognappers or burglars or gypsies. Or even burglarising gypsy dog thieves.
As you can tell, we don’t believe a word of it. It just doesn’t seem logical.
Think about it:
• It means burglars/dog thieves — we’ll just call them bogymen from now on — are casing out houses twice, once armed with chalk making obvious marks outside houses, and running the risk of being caught, and once when they come back and actually break in.
• Talking of which: there hasn’t been an epidemic of break-ins or dog thefts.
• It would mean the bogymen ran a hugely organised operation — there are chalk marks all over the place. Yet bogymen by nature tend to operate alone. You do get gangs, but most are loners.
• No-one has ever seen anyone making a chalk mark.
• It’s pointless (i): Bogymen aren’t stupid — mobile phones and the like offer the technology to mark houses. Why risk being caught when you can use Google maps?
• It’s pointless (ii): marking houses with chalk only makes sense in the absence of other identifying features. Unfortunately for the bogyman theory, we already identify houses quite well, giving most of them street names and numbers.
• Finally, myth-busting website snopes.com reports that warnings about bogymen tagging homes with coloured stickers, stealing of canines for the use of, was originally circulated in the suburbs of Perth, Australia. Strewth!
In February 2013 it moved to the UK — many people in Perth are of UK origin. But animal welfare authorities in Perth, inundated with phone calls, said the warnings were “completely unfounded.” Similarly, in March 2013 officials in Yorkshire denied that bogymen were placing stickers or other markings on vehicle tyres.
By this year the bogymen had crossed to the US, where they were tying plastic bags to trees as a harbinger of doom, or at least dognappers.
According to Facebook, criminals marked dog-owning homes by tying grocery bags to trees, but no-one stopped to think how the bogymen would know the difference between dogfight bags put there on purpose and bags that had simply blown there.
Clearly there are some sort of chalk marks appearing, but whether it’s kids or workmen, we don’t know.
The Yorkshire warning over marks on tyres arose because of the red and yellow dots/stickers put on tyres by manufacturers (red dots denote the heaviest part of the tyre and a yellow dot the lightest, usually by the valve, apparently).
Does anyone know who would leave chalk marks on footpaths? Email us (no questions asked!)
Someone does appear to be leaving chalk marks, but we’d guess it’s a mixture of pranksters and assorted workmen.
As in 1944 in Mattoon, Illinois, imagination does the rest.