Monday mystery-The Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

In June 1942, the population of Pascagoula swelled as increased demand for warships and supplies drew large numbers into the town. The local economy was booming, but in the long shadows of a wartime summer, something haunted the streets at night.

The man nicknamed the Phantom Barber by newspapers worked in the darkness. This was made easy by army blackout regulations, which left whole areas of the town without light for several hours at a time.  On Monday or Friday evenings, he slit a window screen to gain access to a house, crept inside, and cut the hair of sleeping occupants, particularly blonde girls. Not satisfied with only a lock or two, he sometimes pushed so far as to shear a whole head of hair. He took nothing else from the home except his prize, left his victims sleeping and unharmed.

He began with two young girls in the convent of Our Lady of Victories, followed by a six year old female child visiting another family. That time, he left a clue—the print of a man’s bare foot in sand on an unoccupied bed in the room. The police were baffled. Three hundred dollars was put up as a reward for information that might help catch the phantom. The public was in a panic. Women refused to go outside at night. Men applied for pistol permits. Bloodhounds were brought in to track the bizarre intruder, but the efforts failed.

At last, the phantom broke his pattern, or so it seemed. A window screen was slit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Terrell Heidelburg, and the intruder came inside their bedroom. However, rather than cutting hair, he brutally assaulted the couple. Mrs. Heidelburg lost her front teeth and was knocked unconscious, while her husband was beaten with a metal bar. Both survived the attack. Two months later, the police chief announced the arrest of a suspect, William A. Dolan, a chemist, who was charged with attempted murder.

A connection between Dolan and the Phantom Barber came with the discovery of human hair allegedly found near his residence. He continued to deny he was the phantom, and while convicted of the attack on the Heidelburgs—he bore a grudge against Terrell’s father, a judge—was never charged with the phantom’s acts. Since the Phantom Barber never touched his victims other than their hair, it would seem no meaningful tie exists between Dolan and the Phantom Barber, whose break-ins ended as mysteriously as they began.

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