The Mad Gasser (a.k.a. ‘The Anesthetic Prowler’ or ‘Mad Anesthetist’)
The case of the “Mad Gasser? serial killer is actually (well, probably) an extreme and outrageous case of mass hysteria. Despite not even existing (exactly), the Mad Gasser kept two entire cities paralyzed with very real fear, suspicion and dread during two separate periods of time. The first was in Botetourt, Virginia, during December 1933 to February 1934. The second wave of attacks happened in Mattoon, Illinois, during September of 1944. The Mad Gasser’s purported appearance and motive rivaled the most hair-raising villains in science fiction, crime fiction and comic book stories of the time - as well as melded traditional fears of ghouls-in-the-dark with more modern, subconscious apprehensions about changes in technology and medicine that were perhaps not tangible on the surface at the time.

The assailant was apparently a man dressed in a strange, “futuristic? black outfit (sometimes reported as ‘rubber’) with large eye goggles. He crept into unuspecting rural homes in the middle of the night and sprayed an unidentified gas into rooms, or actually on sleeping victims (or in some cases, just through the home’s open windows). The phantom was also sometimes witnessed in double disguise: as a woman in high heels, wearing the black outfit and goggles (there were many other wacky variations reported). The gas he used seemed to cause people to become very ill, or have symptoms common to an allergic reaction… supposedly. Samples of the gas were kinda-sorta obtained, but never really identified.

Was he real? The Gasser’s existence as a night-roaming death phantom, leaping across lawns and targeting random slumber victims in people’s very real homes and neighborhoods, had people very concerned. But much like the Loch Ness Monster or Chupacabra, the Mad Gasser’s fame relied solely on eyewitness accounts, rumors, accusations, paranoia, speculation and no real credible evidence. This was obviously compounded by lots of media snowballing, and perhaps a few overly enthusiastic pranksters.

The people that experienced the attacks or witnessed the phantom sprayer swore by what happened, but no real evidence, clues or real suspects were ever collected. The endless stream of local (and national) newspaper clippings from both time periods are plentiful and often hysterical.

Did all these shuddersome goings-on really happen? Was the Mad Gasser a deranged scientific serial murderer? A cocaine-crazed anesthesiologist? An insomniac exterminator with a mean streak? A bored perfume counter worker with weird ideas about fashion and a sick sense of humor? Was he actually a socially inept University of Illinois chemistry student named Farley Llewyllen, who had an inclination for fantastical revenge and the help of two bizarre sisters? Or was he really a super hero-like mad villain spreading unrest to good American citizens during the witching hour… or even someone who traveled from the future in a time machine to perform experiments on unwilling human guinea pigs… or perhaps even someone, something, from another planet? The case of the Mad Gasser will forever remain in the annals of creep-out lore. I’m hardly touching on the very Harry Stephen Keeler-esque details of this mind-bending legend. For everything and anything on the Mad Gasser legend, and the very real reports, I highly recommend reading everything starting here. Of course there’s lots and lots more here.

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Donald Harvey (a.k.a. the ‘Angel of Death’)
At the onset of his life, Donald Harvey earned the reputation of a friendly, quiet boy who liked to spend his time “…reading books, and thinking about the future,? according to his mother. After landing work as a nurses’ aide at a young age, he developed the same reputation as an employee… for a while.

Over the years of employment in hospitals (as well as other professions), he murdered approximately 30 to 70 patients, as well as other people in his life. His tool of the trade: secret cyanide poisonings placed in food (or sometimes other methods such as disconnecting life support, or injecting air into a patient’s veins). He began his anointed “mercy? murders on the feeble, terminally ill and dying. But it didn’t take long for his ego to get the best of him, as he took the leap from sainthood to All Knowing God And Ruler Of All Time And Space… killing anyone who annoyed him, got in his way, or that he simply disliked. Actually, Harvey’s habits of murdering patients apparently sparked with someone he considered an offensive “hassle.? His first killing was a stroke victim he spontaneously smothered after the patient smeared feces on Harvey’s face while under his care. Harvey had earned the nickname “Angel of Death? long before he was convicted (or even suspected) because he always seemed to be around when people passed on.

A gay man, Harvey actually tried to murder his own lover at one point. He even tried to secretly poison his lover’s parents after a squabble with them, which landed the father in the hospital with a stroke (which only allowed Harvey to secretly kill him again later with poisoned banana pudding) The mother miraculously survived, despite years of repeated poisoning attempts by him.

Despite several arrests and investigations over the years (and an ever-growing mountain of rumors and bad reputations in various cities), Harvey always lucked out and was able to continue his killings, leaping from location to location. He was not fully apprehended and convicted until 1987, when he confessed to everything during several trials and convictions. He is currently serving out four consecutive life sentences in Ohio, and avoided the death penalty via plea bargaining. He does not work in the prison cafeteria. Lots more here.

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The Axeman of New Orleans
Anti-black, anti-Italian, anti-German, anti-War, and most of all: anti-grocer…. the Axeman of New Orleans committed a string of brutally vicious axe murders in the 1910’s, with the hysteria surrounding the crimes prodding almost every area of public paranoia at the time.

The killer’s only real calling card was a hole chiseled out of his chosen victim’s kitchen doors. The hole would be whittled in the quiet of night… after which he would enter and attack his sleeping prey in their beds (usually starting right with the face). When authorities investigating the messy scenes began noticing that many of the kitchen door holes were a wee too small for a human to fit through, yet the doors had remained unlocked… anti-supernatural being, anti-zombie, anti-midget and anti-evil-super-intelligent-baby hysteria was added to the public’s list of gasping fears.

Despite being horribly maimed, many of the victims survived the attacks, at least for a while. However, theirs and many other eyewitness accounts got tangled in a maelstrom of warped speculation, finger-pointing, race-baiting, anti-American spy suspicion, adultery punishment, Mafia speculation, grocer competition, war-fueled anti-German hysteria, general witch hunt-mania and supposed opportunistic copycat-ing (even claims that it was the return of the real Jack the Ripper on American shores). The unsolved murders eventually stopped and, despite some specious theories, the killer …was never caught. More here.

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Paul Bernardo & Karla Homolka (’The Ken & Barbie Murder Team’)
Earning the nicknames “The Barbie & Ken of Serial Killers? deserves recognition in the annals of something, at least.

As usual in these kinds of stories, newlyweds Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka seemed the ideal pair in their friend and family’s eyes. Paul was a masculine, strapping, “take charge? entrepreneur who made friends easily. Karla was an outgoing person with a fun disposition and a reputation as a real party gal. Together they were seen by many as the perfect, “fun? couple.

During their relationship and marriage, they secretly and willingly tortured, raped and murdered several young girls (including Homolka’s own younger sister), videotaping all of the incidents.

The couple were eventually caught, and in 1995 Bernardo was convicted in one of the murders (he is currently in prison awaiting trial for the other killings). More on him here. Through a combination of plea bargains and extenuating circumstances, Homolka was able to wrangle free of any maximum conviction, and served 12 years. More on her here.

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Spring Heeled Jack
He’s tall and thin, wears an oilskin suit, helmet and a cloak, has pointy ears and nose, glowing orange eyes, claw-like hands that are as cold as ice, can spit blue flame, can’t resist goosing the ladies… and he leaves three inch-deep footprints in the dirt because he has the ability to jump great heights in the blink of an eye (which police at the time determined is the result of an ingenious pair of spring-like devices built into his shoes). Why it must be Spring Heeled Jack! Or, more boringly… S-A-T-A-N. This non-murdering but creepy legend, which could have been everything from an brainy inventor in a wacky outfit, to an actual supernatural anomaly… kept authorities and citizens in England looking over their shoulders at rooftops during the mid-1800’s. Of course lots and lots more here.

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Cameron and Janice Hooker
In 1977, timber mill worker Cameron Hooker and his wife Janice (with their 8 month-old daughter in tow) picked up the then 20 year-old Colleen Stan (a.k.a ‘Carrol Smith’) when she was hitchhiking. They drove her to a remote area and, at knife point, bound her hands and feet and placed a strange wooden sensory depravation box over her head that locked into place around her neck. They then casually drove to a local diner, where Stan sat in their car like that while the three members of the Hooker family ate lunch.

The Hookers kept Stan imprisoned as a ritualistic slave in their home, completely breaking her down and brainwashing her. Cameron Hooker, a fan of The Story Of O and sadomasochism culture, kept Stan locked away in a variety of small, home-constructed boxes and surreal, torture-like devices that were often hidden within the home itself. They would occasionally let her out to perform strange S&M rituals and weird, minuscule, repetitive tasks. Stan was informed that there was a national organization called “The Company? that was watching her, and would harm her family members if she did not follow their directions. Cameron and Janice had her sign a slavery “contract? they told her was from “The Company.? One of the compartments they kept her in was built under the bed that the Hookers slept in at night. She was held captive like that (mostly) for seven years, and was brainwashed to the point where they allowed her to leave for periods of time, and even hold down a part time job at a local hotel. But she always came back to the box.

Over time, things got complicated; Stockholm syndrome, poorly-constructed dungeons, spousal jealousy, male ambition, desperate Bible-thumping, Janice’s two young daughters’ questions, and guilt… began to weave until the whole deranged scenario imploded.

Stan gained enough mental clarity to escape in 1984. Cameron Hooker was eventually arrested, convicted and sentenced to several life terms for the kidnapping, and for the earlier murder of another woman in a similar, failed scenario (that of 18 year-old Marie Elizabeth Spannhake, a case that was never concretely proved but wrapped up for all intensive purposes due to Janice’s highly detailed confession), as well as the expressed intent to acquire more women like Stan. Janice Hooker escaped any conviction due to her help in getting Cameron caught and convicted, and her subsequent testimony. Stan obviously survived the weird ordeal, and is doing pretty OK today. The entire story can be followed here and here.