Do burglars really use gas to put the occupants to sleep?

This story was in the Daily Mail today (a UK newspaper).

Does this really happen? I was always under the impression that this sort of thing was a bit of an urban myth, but in the comments to that article there’s a lot of people who claim it’s true.

(I thought we had a thread recently debunking this, but I can’t find it).

I was pretty skeptical about the story in the article - one, the whole gassing to rob thing (nitrous oxide, apparently), and then the claim that the son was sedated via injection. That is another hugely risky thing to do, injectable sedatives are really hard to come by, and much harder to use - how did the robbers moderate the dose for a kid grabbed at night as opposed to an adult.

They may have been robbed, but I suspect that the reason they slept through the thing was due to self-administered C[sub]2[/sub]H[sub]6[/sub]O, and that the robbers were “ami de la journée” or just entered when no-one locked up. I certainly doubt that the insurance will be payed out. The kids story was coached after the event for the insurance claim.


I don’t have facts but have had nitrous oxide in a dentist’s chair. It is administered in a very regulated way, and I am highly skeptical that the volume of nitrous needed to fill an entire house and render the occupants unconscious would be readily available (BTW knocking people out is not how it is normally used, IME).

Have you ever taken an 8-year-old to the doctor’s office? I have. I am also skeptical that you can inject an 8-year-old who doesn’t want to be injected.

There was a Doper who seemed sincere in the belief that he/she was gassed on a trip. You can make up your own mind about the claim. Most of us thought it sounded a little odd to say the least but then again so do conspiracy theories and crop circles and plenty of people claim those are real too.

To be fair, crop circles are in fact real… back in college we did a few of them.

My understanding is that the Daily Mail is pretty much the National Enquirer of Briton. As such, anything they publish should be taken with a giant grain of salt.

It was in the Daily Mail, so it’s very likely to be untrue.

This was the newspaper that reported the “kid left 20 feet up a tree by school, stop member of the public ‘rescuing’ him; it’s health and safety gone mad” story, which was total nonsense.

It’s a newspaper designed to whip up the right wing middle classes into a frenzy to sell more newspapers, and they are very good at it.

That’s unfair - the National Enquirer is relatively respectable.

That is true in a way. The National Enquirer has blown the cover off of good stories sometimes when nobody else could. They are generally correct and had the money and sources to pay for it. The National Enquirer is extremely sleazy but they are good journalists in one sense of the word.

I am a Weekly World News man myself though. That is where you find the cutting edge stories. Who knew Abraham Lincoln was really a woman in drag? The exploits of that damned Bat Boy slay me every time!

People being gassed in trains is a very common urban legend over here.

However, I’ve read some years ago an account of an actual such incident in a very reputable paper (note that the urban legend is older than this incident). I can’t remember if it happened in France or Italy (because in the urban legend it generally occurs in Italy and sometimes in France, and I mixed up it and the real incident. Also, I can’t remember if it had been a whole carriage or a single compartment for the same reason).

Also, though I don’t remember what gas was used, but it wasn’t nitrous oxide, because it appeared quite dangerous to me, and I wouldn’t have thought that about nitrous oxide.

From James Thurber’s My Life and Hard Times (1933):

“(…) Then there was Aunt Sarah Shoaf, who never went to bed at night without the fear that a burglar was going to get in and blow chloroform under her door through a tube. To avert this calamity-for she was in greater dread of anesthetics than of losing her household goods-she always piled her money, silverware, and other valuables in a neat stack just outside her bedroom, with a note reading: ‘This is all I have. Please take it and do not use your chloroform, as this is all I have.’”

It certainly is possible. There have been a handful of robberies on professional soccer players where police suspect thieves pumped some type of soporific gas into the air conditioning system before robbing the house. These are the BBC and Times links to reports about this happening to then-Juventus player Patrick Vieira at his house in the French Riviera. The Times article just cited suggests this type of burglary is increasingly common on the Cote d’Azur (although to be fair, they don’t seem to have any conclusive evidence for it):

How much gas would you need to pump into the airconditioning system of a luxury home in order to ensure that the inhabitants sleep through a burglary?

How would you keep yourself from falling asleep as you moved through the house?

Has anyone been found dead after a gas-burglary? If not, how do the burglars manage to keep everyone alive? Recall that nearly all who died in the Moscow theater siege died of the gas, either directly or indirectly - how do these burglars manage to do what the Spetsnaz could not?

What about pets in the house, have any of them been killed?

How does the gas leave the house after the burglary? Have police investigators ever found traces of any chemicals they could identify?

The “gas” explanation just doesn’t make sense to me.

Pump a small amount of gas into the house. Nowhere near enough to kill any humans or pets, and not even enough to guarantee the occupants don’t wake up, but enough to have a chance of having some sort of effect. The intruders would need to be as quiet as possible anyway but the gas is just a potential bonus. Then the intruders wear gas masks (you can buy them online fairly cheaply). The gas would diffuse out of the house the same way air does.

I’m no expert but it doesn’t seem all that counter-intuitive to me, and if police investigators not only think it’s possible but suspect that it has actually happened then I think that’s a good argument that it’s not out of the realms of possibility.

Evidently, I posted to the wrong thread.

Short story is that I have worked in maintenance for apt. buildings. You would be surprised what people can sleep through without gas or drugs.

Doesn’t most burglering go on while people are not at home?

The people who do know about gases and sleeping (i.e. the ones who study for many years to do so safely without killing people) suggest that there is no known anesthetic gas that has that sort of safety margin - either some people suffer no effects and some will be mildly impaired, or some people will be impaired and some people will be dead, and small animals with vanishingly small tolerances for toxins are guaranteed to be dead (think canaries in mines). The robbers would not need gas masks (as stated in the linked thread), they would need air tanks. As for diffusing out, most anesthetic gases are denser than air - they would sink and collect in the lower reaches of the house, and at effective levels, are generally flammable. Dense gas is surprisingly persistent.

But the experts who do know about such things dismiss the idea. Police investigators (and spokespersons) are not experts, and often repeat ideas that have currency, but are not actually correct. The victim is robbed Saturday night, they didn’t wake up, and they have a headache on a Sunday morning. Hmm, what could explain that.

There are cases (such as TV personalities Trinny and Susanna) who were robbed after being subdued with chloroform. But that was a physical assault with injuries, and still very risky for all concerned. Without that sort of evidence, I need a lot of convincing.


Why would you leave a patio door open if the air conditioner is running?

This is the first thing that came to mind while reading the OP.

It’s incredibly unlikely burglars would employ gassing. Very few want any part of entering a dwelling when they know people are there, and there’s so much uncertainty about what dosage you’re giving and whether the occupants would be rendered unconscious (or dead).

I’d bet on tabloid hysteria.