The Incredible Reddit Carbon Monoxide Story, as Told by Our Apex Chimney Contractor 

December 10, 2019

As a chimney inspection and repair company, we spend a significant amount of time educating our clients on the dangers of carbon monoxide, a deadly substance which can be produced if a chimney system is broken or poorly ventilated. For today’s post, we thought we’d have some fun and share the most fascinating carbon monoxide story we’ve ever heard. Below is the now-infamous story of the time a stranger saved another stranger’s life—all through the power of the internet.

The Post-It Note Mystery 

It all began when a Reddit user named u/RBradbury1920 posted a question in r/LegalAdvice, a popular online message board wherein real attorneys advise laypeople about the court system. The message read as follows: 

On the 15th of April I found a yellow post-it note in a handwriting that wasn’t mine on my desk reminding me of some errands I had to do, but told literally nobody about. While odd, I chalked it up to something I did in my sleep, thinking maybe in my half-awake state I scrawled it so it didn’t appear to be my handwriting. I threw it out and thought little of it.

On the 19th, I found another post it note on the back of my desk chair, in the same handwriting as the previous note, telling me to make sure I “saved my documents”. I was freaked out, but there were no other signs of a break-in, so I set up a web-cam in my house aimed at my desk and used a security-cam app for it to record after detecting movement.

On the 28th, I woke up to find another post-it note, this one saying, “Our landlord isn’t letting me talk to you, but it’s important we do.” I immediately checked the webcam’s folder on my computer and found nothing from the night before, but my computer’s recycling bin had been emptied, which I am certain I did not do recently, indicating someone had noticed the webcam and deleted the files. (They were just saved straight to a folder on my desktop called “Webcam”.)

Today, on the 1st of May, I found another post it note, this time on the outside of my door, with nothing written on it– and there also appeared to be post-its on many other doors in my apartment complex, all blank, in varying colors.

Do I have any legal recourse here? I have no proof except for the post-its, but those are written by my pen and on my post-it notes, so conceivably I could have faked them. Would contacting the police get me into any trouble, if they can’t determine an outside source for this? I just want to make sure I’m not wasting anyone’s time.”

A few commenters agreed that RBradbury1920 might just be sleepwalking. But Dr. Tom Scammell, a director at The Sleep Disorders Clinic at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, rejected that idea. “Writing would be an unusual thing to happen, because writing is a very high-level cognitive function,” he told WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station. “Fully-formed and good-looking sentences like ‘Our landlord isn’t letting me talk to you but it’s important we do,’ that’s pretty sophisticated.”

Solving for X 

It was Ken Roach, an engineer, who solved the mystery. At first, upon reading the post, Roach suspected that the poster had an undiagnosed mental illness, such as schizophrenia. This would not be unheard of for the r/LegalAdvice forum, which has on occasion received posts from people who believe they are being watched, or that the FBI has placed a tracking bug in their arm. 

The Reddit website is somewhat unique among social sites, in that it allows members to browse all the messages a user has made in the past. Roach was therefore able to comb through RBradbury1920’s post history, searching for clues that the user did indeed have a mental illness. The user’s other posts, seemed to be lucid and articulate.  

It was one post in particular, though, that struck a match. “There was a post where they were asking in an interior design [forum] about how to fit a desk and a bed into a really, really narrow apartment that they were moving into, that didn’t have any windows,” he told WBUR. “That got me thinking. Gosh, an apartment in Boston, with no windows. Of course, they’re hallucinating. Their landlord is not coming in and writing notes. But why are they hallucinating?” 

Roach himself had once inadvertently killed himself, his wife and their dog after leaving the stove on in their live-aboard boat, causing deadly carbon monoxide to flood the cabin. He advised RBradbury1920 to check for carbon monoxide poisoning, as this could be causing the hallucinations. The poster updated a few weeks later with the following message

“Thanks to everyone who sent suggestions and gave advice on how to proceeded– especially to those who recommended a CO detector… because when I plugged one in in the bedroom, it read at 100 ppm. TL;DR: I had CO poisoning and thought my landlord was stalking me.”

And, just like that, the mystery that would live on in infamy as the biggest example of an internet messaging board solving real-life problems, was closed.

The Takeaway: Get Your Chimney Inspected

There are several good takeaways here, but from our perspective, the biggest one is: have your chimney inspected! A chimney safety inspection can ensure that your chimney and fireplace system was well-constructed, well-ventilated, and hasn’t developed cracks or other types of damage over the year. And, of course, make sure carbon monoxide detectors have been installed in your home and recently tested! You never know when a very simple, relatively inexpensive thing could save your life.