Sep 04, 2022 I Nick Redfern

M.I.B., the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, and Shadow People: The Same Sinister Creatures?

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. Notably, the Slenderman is very often described as exuding odors – sometimes of a nauseous and foul nature and, on other occasions, of an oddly entrancing type. Mind-controlling, even, it’s fair to say. 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. 

(Nick Redfern) Sinister creatures in black.

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, who also wears a suit

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 [italics mine]. He was gone by the time that Bert had jumped out of his car and raced in the direction of the “man.”

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. Now, onto the Men in Black. 

There is no doubt that the one person, more than any other, who brought the Men in Black to the attention of the UFO research community in the early 1950s was Albert Bender. He was a devotee of all things UFOlogical, a big fan of the writings of H.P. Lovecraft – interestingly enough - and someone who created a successful UFO research group called the International Flying Saucer Bureau. At least, it was successful until late one night in 1953. That was when a trio of gaunt, emotionless Men in Black materialized in Bender’s bedroom, in his hometown of Bridgeport, Connecticut. Echoing the saga of the Mad Gasser of Mattoon of a decade earlier, Bender was overcome by a powerful smell of brimstone, and plunged into a dizzy, light-headed state which left him feeling distinctly ill. Bender was near-immediately rendered immobile on the bed. 

The semi-physical Men in Black telepathically warned Bender off his UFO research. It didn’t take long before Bender got the bleak message. He quickly quit Ufology, only briefly returning to the scene in the early 1960s to write a book on his encounters with the MIB – Flying Saucers and the Three Men – and then leaving the subject behind him for good. Bender died in 2015, at the age of ninety-four.  Had he not quit the UFO scene when he did, and instead continued to be supernaturally attacked by the Men in Black, one has to wonder if Bender would even have come close to living to that impressive, old age. Very possibly not. Of course, there are other creatures similar to the MIB, the Mad Gasser, the Slenderman (of course) and the Shadow People.

In the last decade or thereabouts, a great deal of research has been undertaken into a phenomenon that is known as the Shadow People. Their title is most apt, as they appear in the form of a one-dimensional, flat shadow – and usually in peoples’ bedrooms while they sleep. Many of these entities – but certainly not all of them – have one thing in common: they wear an old-style fedora hat and a black suit. In that sense, there are deep similarities between the Shadow people and the Men in Black of UFO lore. It’s fair to say though that, for the most part, that’s where the similarities end. Apart from one important, extra thing: like the MIB, they are intent on terrorizing those who they maliciously target. And, they do an extremely good job of it, too – unfortunately for us. 

Precisely who or what the Shadow People are, is a matter of deep debate. Jason Offutt is an expert on the subject, and the author of a 2009 book on the subject titled Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us. He says there are eight different kinds of Shadow People – at least, they are the ones we know about. He labels them as benign shadows, shadows of terror, red-eyed shadows, noisy shadows, angry hooded shadows, shadows that attack, shadow cats, and the hat man. Certainly, the latter category – that of the Hat Man – is the one which is most often reported, and from all across the planet. Imagine a silhouetted character that had stepped out of a 1940s / 1950s-era piece of black and white film-noir, and you’ll have a good idea of what the Hat Man looks like. That he is entirely shadow-like in nature only adds to the menace. Heidi Hollis is an expert on this topic, too, having penned a 2014 book on the subject titled The Hat Man: The True Story of Evil Encounters. She has collected literally hundreds of reports of encounters with this particularly dangerous shadow-thing. Now, onto the Women in Black.

Within the world of UFO research, the Men in Black are about as legendary as they are feared. These pale-faced, ghoulish entities have for decades terrorized into silence both witnesses to, and researchers of, UFO encounters. Theories for who or what the MIB might be are legion. They include: extraterrestrials, government agents, demonic creatures, vampires, time-travelers from the future, and inter-dimensional beings from realms that co-exist with ours. There may very well be more than one explanation for the unsettling phenomenon. While much has been written on the sinister and occasionally deadly actions of the MIB, very little has been penned on the subject of their equally bone-chilling companions: the Women in Black. Make no mistake: the WIB are all too real. And they are as ominous, predatory and dangerous as their male counterparts. In the same way that the Men in Black don’t always wear black, but sometimes wear military uniforms or specifically beige-colored outfits, so do the WIB, who are also quite partial to white costumes. In that sense, “WIB” is, just like “MIB,” a term that is somewhat flexible in terms of actual nature and description.

(Nick Redfern) Look out for the Women in Black.

The WIB may not have achieved the iconic status of the MIB – until now - but these fearsome females, and their collective role in silencing those that immerse themselves in the UFO puzzle, as well as in the domains of the occult and the world of the paranormal, are all too terrifyingly real. Not only that: the WIB have a long and twisted history. A definitive WIB surfaced in nothing less than a piece of publicity-based footage for a Charlie Chaplin movie, The Circus, which was made in 1928. The footage, undeniably genuine and shown not to have been tampered with, reveals what appears to be an old, short lady, wearing a long black coat and a black hat pulled low over her face, while walking through Los Angeles in west coast heat. If that was not strange enough, she is clearly holding to her ear what appears to be a cell-phone and is talking into it as she walks. Weirder still, the Woman in Black sports an enormous pair of black shoes, which look most out of place, given her short stature. She also seems to be taking careful steps to avoid her face being seen clearly. Might she have been connected to the Woman in Black? Maybe. Whatever your thoughts might be, the fact is that throughout history there have been multiple "figures in black" - and they are all dangerous and sometimes even deadly. Stay away from them.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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