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.
Unsettling illustration of the Phantom Barber Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com
The Phantom Barber Strikes
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:
Mary Evelyn Bridges [sic] describes Phantom Barber encounter Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 9 · The Greenville News (Greenville, South Carolina) · Newspapers.com
Mary Evelyn Briggs and her sister Laura (Phantom Barber) Sun, Aug 30, 1942 – 59 · The San Francisco Examiner (San Francisco, California) · Newspapers.com
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.
Mrs. Taylor the final victim of the Phantom Barber Wed, Jun 24, 1942 – 1 · The Tribune (Scranton, Pennsylvania) · Newspapers.com
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.
Heidelbergs attacked by the Phantom Barber Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – Page 19 · The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware) · Newspapers.com
An Arrest is Made
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.
William Dolan arrested as the “Phantom Barber” Fri, Aug 14, 1942 – 1 · The Daily Times (Davenport, Iowa) · Newspapers.com
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.
Find more on the Phantom Barber with a search on Newspapers.com.
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One thought on “The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula”
Truly a bizarre story. I guess the barber was as weird as the criminals that like to steal women’s under garments. No one likes their space violated, especially when asleep in their homes. The story also gave insight on the mindset of Americans dealing with the war. Fear of those that sought to do harm to our nation was forefront on their minds. Unlike today when we are told to embrace those who openly state the intent to destroy our way of life, our faith, and our lives. Being diverse should not mean committing suicide as a nation. As a child I was taught to avoid peer pressure. Today peer pressure has become the only acceptable way of life. I can now see the danger of such ignorance.
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