The Phantom Barber: The Strange Crime Spree That Will Have You Scratching Your Head

Black-handled scissors on white surface. (Naomi O'Hare/Unsplash)

In 1942, the coastal town of Pascagoula, Mississippi was the site of a strange and creepy series of crimes that left police pulling their hair out. The "Phantom Barber of Pascagoula" didn't rob, kill, or assault anyone—he just cut off their hair.

The Phantom Barber

The Phantom Barber's first attack took place at the convent of Our Lady of Victory, where two young girls, Mary Evelyn Briggs and Edna Marie Hydel, were awoken by the sound of a man crawling out of their bedroom window. Neither girl was injured, but they were horrified to find that locks of their hair had been cut and taken. Briggs described the man to police, but just a few days later, six-year-old Carol Peattie awoke to discover that much of her hair was missing. When her parents and the police investigated, they found that Carol's bedroom window screen had been cut.

Sign on U.S. Route 90 when entering Pascagoula, Mississippi. (Staecker/Wikimedia Commons)

The Attacks Continue

The next incident was even more bizarre. A few days later, Terrell Heidelberg and his wife were woken in the night by an intruder who Mr. Heidelberg attempted to fight off, but the criminal struck the couple with an iron pipe and escaped without any hair. The attack was blamed on the Phantom Barber, though it could very well have been an unrelated crime. Finally, the Phantom Barber definitely struck a Mrs. R.E. Taylor, who was subdued with chloroform while her hair was cut. No one but Briggs ever saw the Phantom.

Prison cell. (Grant Durr/Unsplash)

William Dolan

After weeks of terror, police homed in on William Dolan, a German-born chemist. According to reports, he'd had had a recent disagreement with the Heidelbergs, which may have led to their attack. Police also discovered human hair near his home, and while there was, of course, no DNA testing available in the 1940s to determine the hair's origin, its presence was enough to cast suspicion on Dolan. He was arrested and charged with assault and attempted murder, but he maintained his innocence, insisting that, as an outspoken German sympathizer, he was targeted for his political views. It's true that many in Pascagoula suspected he was a Nazi operative sent to sabotage American infrastructure, though it's unclear how clipping little girls' hair would disrupt the American war effort.

With Dolan behind bars, the Pascagoula community breathed a sigh of relief, though perhaps prematurely. Dolan was only ever linked to the Heidelberg incident, and although the attacks ended after his arrest, it's possible that the real Phantom Barber was simply scared off by it.