One of U.S. history’s strangest crimes was a streak of sneaky haircuts that took place in 1942 Mississippi. The Pascagoula criminal was nicknamed “The Phantom Barber” for his creepy habit of cutting locks of hair off young girls while they slept.
The first victims of the nighttime barber were Mary Evelyn Briggs and Edna Marie Hydel. The two shared a room in Our Lady of Victories convent and woke in time to see a man crawling out the window. Mary was the sole victim to give a description of the perpetrator:
A few days later, six-year-old Carol Peattie awoke to find much of her hair missing. The screen on her window was cut. An adult woman, Mrs. Taylor, also fell victim to the unusual crime, and her account led to suspicions that the criminal used chloroform to keep the girls from waking.
The intruder didn’t injure these girls. His break-ins consisted of slicing open window screens, cutting off the hair, and slipping away unseen. He did occasionally leave behind footprints, but they weren’t enough to secure his identity.
The Heidelberg Incident
Quite suddenly the Phantom’s escapades went from bizarre to brutal. He broke into the home of Terrell Heidelberg and attacked him and his wife with an iron pipe. In the face of such violence the search for the Phantom Barber increased.
At last a suspect was found. A man named William Dolan was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Human hair was found near his home, and he had some disagreement with the Heidelbergs that gave him motive for the assault.
Dolan, called a “Nazi saboteur,” was known for having German sympathies during a time when war hung heavily on the public mind. Most were happy to see him arrested and slept soundly knowing the Phantom Barber was behind bars. But Dolan always maintained his innocence and was released early after passing a lie detector test. Early doubts about his true guilt have only grown in the years since. It is hard to say whether the real Phantom Barber was ever caught.
In 1872, six Boston businessmen got together to start a
newspaper, The Boston Globe. The
first issue hit the presses on March
4, 1872, and sold for just 4 cents. The paper was published six mornings
a week and in 1877, a Sunday
edition was added. About a decade later, an
afternoon edition called the Boston
Evening Globe began and remained in publication until 1979.
The Globe is an
award-winning publication that has covered historic events like the Great
Boston Fire of 1872. On the morning of November 9, 1872, the Globe released its usual morning edition.
Local news included the Harvard
Fall Regatta scheduled for that afternoon and the daily report of marriages
and deaths. Nobody realized they were on the verge of what would
become the largest fire in the city’s history.
About 7:20 p.m. that evening, a fire began in the basement
of a warehouse on Summer Street. Before it was contained, it had consumed 65
acres and 776 buildings. Firefighters stopped the flames before they consumed
the colonial era Old
South Meeting House (the church was also saved
from flames in 1810). The Globe
did not publish the next day, but on November 11th, the headline
read “Devastation!” and detailed the spread of the fire, the businesses
and homes destroyed, and injuries
and deaths incurred.
In 1901, the Boston
Americans baseball team was organized in the newly formed American
League. In 1907 they changed their name to the Boston
Red Sox and by 1912 Fenway Park
opened to house the team. Fenway is the oldest ballpark in the Major League
Baseball. The relationship between Boston and sports runs deep and young people
celebrated in 1920 when a new law passed allowing them to play
recreational sports on Sunday.
Boston’s love of sports extends beyond team sports. The
first Boston Marathon was held in 1897 and the Globe reported that the
race was a great success and should be “an annual fixture.” It was
117 years later, in 2014, after coverage of the tragic Boston
Marathon bombing that the Globe
was awarded one of its 26 Pulitzer Prizes for breaking news coverage of the incident.
Boston has a rich immigration history. The city has welcomed
immigrants from Ireland,
among others. If you had an immigrant ancestor that arrived in Boston, you may
be able to find them mentioned in the paper. You can also search for the name
of the vessel for reports
of births and deaths during voyages.
If you have ancestors from Boston or are interested in
historical events from the Boston area, our Globe
archives are rich in content and contain nearly 150 years of papers from
1872-2019! Start searching The
Boston Globe archives today!
Nancy Drew, Miss Marple, Veronica Mars, Lis Salander, Jessica Fletcher, Dana Scully, Clarice Starling . . . Female detectives are relatively easy to find in fiction. There’s even a brand-new Nancy Drew movie out.
But for all their growing prevalence on screen and in literature, women detectives are hard to find in history books. So we searched the historical papers on Newspapers.com to bring you the amazing stories of 3 real-life female detectives you’ve probably never heard of.
Maud West was a well-known private detective in London in
the early decades of the 20th century. Reputed
to be London’s only female detective, West opened her
agency in 1905 and hired both male and female detectives. For the next 30
years, she investigated a host of crimes, from blackmail and theft, to cheating
spouses and even German spies. She claimed
to have investigated cases around the world, including in Paris, the South of
France, Monte Carlo, Nairobi, and New York.
Famous as a master of disguise, West went undercover as a servant, society woman, nurse, secretary, waitress, fortune teller, and more. She excelled at disguising herself as a man and impersonated everyone from a lowly sailor to a titled Englishman. West reportedly said that she frequently took on male disguises because “A woman […] cannot stand about like a man may.”
In an article that ran in multiple newspapers in 1926, West recounted a case in which a young American woman hired West to investigate her husband. West, using various disguises, trailed him on a long journey that stretched from Paris, to Dover, to London, and then all the way to New York. In New York, she discovered that the “strange American’s eccentricity had turned to medical surgery,” and he had in fact traveled to New York to participate in an illegal human dissection.
Isabella Goodwin was New York’s first
woman police detective. The widow of a policeman with four children to raise,
Goodwin was hired
as a police matron in 1896. Sometime around 1910, Goodwin was transferred to
the detective bureau to assist in investigations, though there is newspaper
evidence that she was already helping with investigations by 1902.
In the detective bureau, Goodwin primarily focused on
investigating charlatans and swindlers, including fortune tellers, healers,
spiritualists, mediums, and astrologers, sometimes going
undercover. After proving instrumental in solving a robbery case in 1912,
Goodwin was promoted
to detective sergeant, first grade, and became the first woman in the New York
police department to hold this position. She later also served as assistant to
the Special Deputy Commissioner in charge of the Women’s Precinct.
in 1921, and in 1924 resigned
from the police department after 28 years of service.
case that made Isabella Goodwin famous occurred in 1912. A group of
so-called “taxicab bandits” attacked two bank messengers in Manhattan in broad
daylight and got away with $25,000 (more than $600,000 today). Goodwin went
undercover as a servant in a boarding house and was able to gather the
information needed for the police to arrest the men.
~Read more about Isabella Goodwin in the newspaper~
Frances Benzecry was
a detective for the medical societies of Brooklyn and Manhattan. A graduate of
New York Normal College, Benzecry was hired as a medical detective sometime
around 1905. She investigated all manner of fake medical practitioners and
healers, who were often suspected of operating without a license.
To catch them, she frequently submitted
to their phony treatments and thus gained a reputation as the “most
doctored woman in New York.” Benzecry reportedly
had more than 75 aliases, but her best known one was “Belle Holmes,” and she
was sometimes mentioned
in the newspapers by that name. Since her cases occasionally overlapped with
those of Isabella Goodwin, the
two worked together
on multiple occasions.
In 1911, Frances Benzecry (along with Isabella Goodwin) gathered
evidence and testified against Willis Vernon Cole, who was arrested and
tried for practicing Christian Science healing without a medical license.
Benzecry visited his office pretending to have trouble with her eyes and back
and paid Cole to cure her through prayer. Cole was initially found guilty, but
after a series of high-profile trials, he won on appeal, setting a legal
precedent for religious healing.
~Read more about Frances Benzecry in the newspaper~
Young Frances Slocum
was just 5-years-old when she was kidnapped from her home by Native Americans in
1778. She was living near modern-day Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in a valley
primarily inhabited by the Shawnee and Delaware tribes.
Her father and brothers were working outside when Delaware
warriors entered the family home in broad daylight and carried
In January 1835, Col. George W. Ewing was conducting
business at an Indian Trading Post in Indiana. Darkness forced him to lodge for
the night at the home of Maconaquah,
a white woman living among Native Americans. After dinner, Maconaquah shared an
story. She remembered being taken when she was young and knew her
father’s name was Slocum.
Her story intrigued Col. Ewing and he became determined to
reunite Maconaquah with her family. He had the story published
in a newspaper, a copy of which made its way to the Slocum family.
Frances’s siblings immediately
set out for Indiana to determine if their sister was alive. Isaac
Slocum, the younger brother of Frances, remembered
a scar his sister received when they were playing as children. He wanted
to see if Maconaquah shared the same scar.
reunited. They determined that Maconaquah was really Frances, their
long, lost sister! They urged her to return with them, but she
didn’t want to. Frances’s desire was to remain with her people. By
of Congress, Frances was granted a square mile of land in Miami
County, Indiana, where she remained until her death on March 9, 1847.
The story of the Bell Witch doesn’t appear in papers until 1894, decades after the original incident. A man named Martin Van Buren Ingram published An Authenticated History of the Famous Bell Witch. His (not especially authenticated) account of the spooky tale created the foundation for the legend that survives today.
Whatever her origins, the Bell Witch was the hit of the county. People came from miles away to see signs of her existence and be pranked and pinched by the famous entity. The Bells were said to have even had a visit from none other than Andrew Jackson, future president of the United States.
The witch seemed to be fond of Lucy Bell, and never bothered her. John Bell, however, found himself the target of her most upsetting behavior. Their daughter Elizabeth, nicknamed “Betsy,” was also frequently pestered by the witch, though mostly in the role of an aggressive matchmaker.
With John’s death and Betsy’s broken engagement, the Bell Witch was satisfied. She left the family alone (more or less) after that. But even today she’s said to still be making trouble in her old Tennessean haunts.
March is Irish-American Heritage Month, but for many
Americans with Irish ancestry, tracing family lines back to Ireland can be
difficult. Take a lack of Irish genealogical records and add an abundance of
individuals with the same name, and you have an almost certain recipe for
hitting that infamous brick wall. If
traditional genealogical records haven’t turned up the answers you’re looking
for, newspapers can be another avenue to explore.
Many people’s first step when using newspapers for family history is to search for the names of their ancestors. Newspapers.com is especially helpful when it comes to searching for individuals, as our search filters for date, location, and more make narrowing down your results easier than ever.
But what if your
ancestor’s name doesn’t turn up in a newspaper search? Or what if you can’t
be sure that the Michael Kelly you found mentioned in a newspaper is actually
the Michael Kelly you’re related to? One of the wonderful things about
newspapers is that they can help you learn about your ancestor’s life even if
you don’t find them mentioned by name.
Here are 3 ways you
can use newspapers to learn about your Irish immigrant ancestors.
1. Newspapers can
help you learn about your ancestor’s life back in Ireland.
Understanding what conditions were like in Ireland at the time your ancestors immigrated may help you understand why they left.
A good place to start is by looking at Irish newspapers. Newspapers.com currently has more than a dozen Irish papers, primarily from Dublin but encompassing some other counties as well. We also have papers from Northern Ireland. Publication years for our papers from both these areas range from the late 18th to the late 19th century.
So if your ancestors were living in Ireland during that time, try browsing one of these newspapers to read articles and see ads showing what life was like back then. Find out about conditions for tenant farmers, learn what the Irish were saying about the issue of home rule, and much more. You can also look through our collection of newspapers from England, as they also commonly carried news from Ireland.
One of the primary reasons immigrants left Ireland was the Potato Famine, which lasted roughly 1845 to 1849. If your ancestors were in Ireland during this devastating time, learning about this tragedy can help you understand more about what your relatives likely experienced. One way to do this is by searching for articles related to the famine on Newspapers.com. Or, for a shortcut, head to our Irish Potato Famine Topic Page, which is a free curated collection of newspaper clippings related to that topic.
2. Newspapers can help you learn about your ancestors’ lives in their destination city.
Do you know where your Irish ancestors lived after immigrating to the United States? If so, you can explore newspapers from that city or state for the time period your ancestors lived there to get a sense of what their life may have been like after their arrival. From our Newspapers Map, you can see which papers are available on the site for a certain date and location.
Once you’ve found the newspaper you want to use, pick some
issues of the paper to look at. The more issues you look at, the more detailed
your understanding of the city will be. But if you feel overwhelmed, start by
looking at just one.
From images, to weather reports, to police blotters, to letters to the editor—practically every part of the newspaper can help you envision what the city was like when your ancestor lived there. If you’re lucky enough to know the name of the street where your ancestors lived, search the newspaper for that street name to build a picture of what their neighborhood was like.
If you aren’t sure where in the U.S. your Irish ancestors immigrated, you can look at newspapers from common port and destination cities for Irish immigrants. These include places like Boston, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Canada was also a popular destination, since it was cheaper to sail there, so some Irish landed in Canada before eventually moving to the United States. This means a search through the Canadian papers on Newspapers.com may provide additional insights into your Irish immigrant ancestors.
If your Irish ancestors came through Ellis Island, as many later immigrants did, you can visit our Ellis Island Topic Page to explore newspaper clippings about this busy immigration station.
3. Newspapers can
help you learn about the Irish immigrant experience.
Newspapers are also helpful for learning about the Irish immigration experience in general. Even a simple search on our site for phrases like “Irish immigrant” or “Irish immigration” returns thousands of search results that you can comb for information and experiences. For instance, if you have ancestors who came over around the turn of the 19th century, this article excerpt from 1900 New York may give you some insight into what it was like for them:
Newspapers will show you both the lows and highs of being an Irish immigrant in the United States. You’ll see articles about discrimination, poverty, and poor living conditions, but also about immigrants coming together to celebrate Irish traditions, building a community in a new country, and finding success. This kind of color will help bring your ancestors’ experiences to life.
We’ve been focusing on immigrants to the United States in this post. But if your Irish ancestors immigrated to England, Canada, or Australia instead, you can use these same methods to learn about their life in those locations. Just use our newspaper collections from those countries!
These tips are also useful even if you’ve already found vital records for the ancestor you’re
looking for. Names and dates are essential to genealogy, but the journey
doesn’t stop there. Newspapers can help you find the stories that will really
flesh out your understanding of what your ancestor’s life may have been
Do you have any tips for finding Irish ancestors? Share them
with us in the comments! Or start looking for your Irish immigrant ancestors on