The South has its fair share of haunted lore. From the long-held haunted reputations of cities like Savannah, New Orleans, and Charleston to the many unexplained and unsolved horror stories that are passed down through the generations, the South is no stranger to a little hair-raising fright every now and then. Southern Gothic literature tells these types of tales more poetically and disturbingly than we might at bedtime, with the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and William Faulkner; but the inspiration is the same. In a region where history and tradition reign, there’s bound to be some skeletons in the closet. In this Southern horror tale, meet a legendary haunt known as The Phantom Barber who terrorized a small Mississippi community during World War II. And be prepared to see a small inkling of how our history is just full of gruesome mysteries that live on unexplained and unclosed in our own Southern hometowns.
Forget scary movies, this real life horror story happened right in Pascagoula, Mississippi. In 1942, small towns across America were transforming into weapons manufacturing centers for WWII. Because of its coastal location, Pascagoula became a place for building warships, and its tiny population increased by 300 percent. During the summer of 1942, strange home invasions began to occur on the quiet streets of the town. The break-ins began at a local convent and continued in neighborhood homes. But what tied these invasions together? The intruder took locks of hair from each of the people whose homes he broke into, which earned him the name “Phantom Barber.” The Phantom Barber even took a lock of hair from a 6-year-old girl.
Although stealing people’s hair is downright creepy, the Phantom Barber became violent in regards to one couple, beating them with an iron bar. The couple survived, but following their gruesome attack, the town panicked. Men wouldn’t work night shifts at the ship factories because they felt they should stay home and protect their families, so production for the war effort was down. After yet another victim’s hair was taken following an attack made with chloroform, the police arrested a retired chemist who attended school in Germany and was allegedly a Nazi sympathizer. Although the man went to jail for attempted murder of the couple, he was never officially charged as the Phantom Barber. He was released years later based on a lie-detector test that he passed. Some say the man was an innocent victim of German phobia, while others still believe him to be the Phantom Barber. We may never know the answer to this real life scary story.