Claim: Robbers in shopping mall parking lots are using ether-filled perfume bottles to render their victims unconscious.
PLEASE PASS THIS ALONG TO YOUR WOMEN FRIENDS!!!
I was approached yesterday afternoon around 3:30pm in the Wal-Mart parking lot at Forest Drive, by two males, asking what kind of perfume I was wearing. Then they asked if I'd like to sample some fabulous scent they were willing to sell me at a very reasonable rate. I probably would have agreed had I not received an email some weeks ago, warning of a "wanna smell this neat perfume?" scam.
The men continued to stand between parked cars, I guess to wait for someone else to hit on. I stopped a lady going towards them, pointed at them, and told her about how I was sent an
THIS IS NOT PERFUME - IT IS ETHER!
When you sniff it, you'll pass out. And they'll take your wallet, your valuables, and heaven knows what else. If it were not for this
PASS THIS ALONG TO ALL YOUR WOMEN FRIENDS, AND PLEASE BE ALERT, AND AWARE!!
[Collected via e-mail, 2000]
I WAS SENT AN E-MAIL AT WORK ABOUT SOMEONE WALKING UP TO YOU AT MALLS OR PARKING LOTS AND ASKING YOU TO SNIFF PERFUME THEY ARE SELLING AT A CHEAP PRICE. THIS ISN'T REALLY PERFUME BUT ETHER, AND YOU WILL PASS OUT AND THEY TAKE YOUR WALLET AND ALL YOUR VALUABLES. THIS IS NOT A PRANK
A MAROON CAR PULLED UP TO ME WITH TWO FEMALES. THE FEMALE ON THE PASSENGER SIDE ROLLED DOWN THE WINDOW AND ASKED ME IF I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN "SNIFFING" SOME PERFUME THEY WERE SELLING. I REMEMBERED THE
Origins: The scenario described above isn't a real danger. No one has reported having been robbed in this manner, save for one woman in 1999 whose claim was suspect (for reasons we discuss below). This legend doesn't even describe a plausible scenario because, despite what books and television shows may depict, rendering a person unconscious from a mere sniff or two of some substance is not easy to do. Ether is nasty, volatile stuff that requires a great deal more than a few brief inhalations to knock a person out. In fact, it's hard to think of any substance that could produce the instant unconsciousness described here.
This legend appears to have begun in late 1999 with a widely-circulated Internet message that used one specific news report as a basis for implying that ether-wielding robbers were a potentially widespread menace:
I just heard on the radio about a lady that was asked to sniff a bottle of perfume that another woman was selling for $8.00 (In a mall parking lot). She told the story that it was her last bottle of perfume that regularly sells for $49.00 but she was getting rid of it for only $8.00, sound legitimate?
That's what the victim thought, but when she awoke she found out that her car had been moved to another parking area and she was missing all her money that was in her wallet (total of $800.00). Pretty steep for a sniff of perfume!
Anyway, the perfume wasn't perfume at all, it was some kind of ether or strong substance to cause anyone who breathes the fumes to black out.
SO, Please beware . . . Christmas time is coming and we will be going to malls shopping and we will have cash on us.
Ladies, please don't be so trusting of others and beware of your surroundings-ALWAYS! Obey your instincts!
Bertha Johnson, a 54-year-old Mobile woman, maintained that at about
- Ms. Johnson was allegedly robbed on her way into a bank. How did the robber know she had a significant amount of money on her? Not everybody walks into a bank with a wad of cash — was the robber simply choosing random victims in the hopes of hitting on one who did? If so, how come no one else has reported being the victim of such a robbery attempt? We have to assume that this is a brand new crime scheme, and that the perpetrator hit the jackpot on the very first try (and apparently hasn't used it since).
- As Dr. Matthew Barnhill, a toxicologist with the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences noted, it's difficult to imagine what substance could have been used to cause someone to pass out so quickly from a single sniff. Any drug or chemical that could immediately knock a victim out merely through his inhaling it (rather than ingesting or injecting it) would have to be quite potent indeed.
- We might also consider that
Ms. Johnsonwas carrying money belonging to her employer at the time of the alleged robbery, and that pretending to be robbed while carrying someone else's money is a classic theft scheme. As well, when she allegedly "came to" following the assault, she was not sitting in her car, but "standing up" with her "keys in her hand." Maybe she did regain consciousness in stages, passing through a state similar to sleepwalking before becoming fully aware again. On the other hand, waking up in a car isn't likely to draw much attention; but showing up in a parking lot, wandering around in a dazed state, will almost certainly create a few believable witnesses who will remember having "found" a crime victim.
Now, in true urban legend fashion, this tale has gone from a news report of an alleged victim's unsubstantiated story to a general warning that this sort of thing might happen to you to a specific warning that this type of robbery is actually happening. It isn't happening though, and it probably never did, not even once.
It's interesting to see how little occurrences that aren't even part of the scenario described are now being reported as evidence of narrow brushes with these non-existent robbers. For example, the following was prefaced to the example cited at the top of the page:
Indeed, we routinely receive e-mails from women who have had encounters with folks vending perfume in parking lots and who have concluded (based on nothing but spurious rumor) that they were about to be robbed. They write to report we're all wrong about this sort of robbery not taking place because hadn't they themselves almost had it happen to them? That no "knockout potions" were offered to them and no robberies (completed or attempted) took place does little to dissuade them from their certainty that they came within a hair's breadth of harm at the hands of some innocent freelance perfume sellers.
We wrote the original article about this rumor in 2000. As far along as April 2006, Alabama police were still having to field reports on this non-existent form of crime and inform the public that it's a hoax:
Capt. Huey Thornton said the report, generated in an
Thornton said the people named in the e-mail asserted their daughter was approached by a man outside the mall, but that details of the e-mail have been "significantly embellished."
The e-mail states that investigators told the couple a man posing as a perfume salesman had asked other young girls to "smell the perfume on his hand," which turned out to be ether.
"The Montgomery Police Department is not familiar with any cases in the city where a subject matching the description in the e-mail has approached anyone posing as a perfume salesman or any cases where ether has been involved."
In Houma, Louisiana, a woman named Patches Wegmann was arrested after two men she plied with cologne claimed to have suffered ill effects from what she'd had them breathe in. The first said she accosted him, sprayed a cologne sample on a piece of paper, and waved it under his nose. Subsequently, after he returned to work, he passed out, his symptoms including dizziness, shortness of breath, and numbness in his extremities. The second said the cologne's fumes left him feeling light-headed, and it irritated his skin.
Wegmann was charged with second-degree battery and unlawful solicitation, but the battery charge has to do with forcing perfume samples upon unwilling parties, not because there was anything necessarily noxious in the substance she forced upon them. The incident remains under investigation, and authorities say it’s not clear that anything other than perfume was sprayed on either man.
Update: In 2001 a false Internet rumor about seven women having died after sniffing perfume samples sent to them in the mail spread in the wake of the
|Victim Didn't Detect Any Strange Odor
|Woman Dazed After Being Asked to Smell Unknown Substance
(Mobile Police Department)