Phantom Barber of Pascagoula

The first known Phantom Barber attacks were reported on the night of June 5, 1942. Mary Briggs and Edna Hydel had settled into bed for the night at Our Lady of Victories convent. A strange noise stirred the young women from their beds just in time to see a man climbing out of their bedroom window. The two girls were unharmed, but noticed that a single lock of hair had been missing from both of their heads. Since it was dark they weren’t able to provide a detailed description. Briggs was only able to tell investigators that he was “Sorta short, sorta fat and he was wearing a white sweatshirt.”

Investigators were working diligently to piece together the string of bizarre attacks, but had no solid leads. A week after the first attack, the Phantom Barber struck the home of David G. Peattie, shearing his daughter Carol’s hair. The parents found a bare footprint near the window. The following Friday, the attacks became violent: the Phantom allegedly entered the house of Mr. and Mrs. ST Heidelberg, and proceeded to beat them with an iron bar.

The police deputized six men and brought in bloodhounds to pick up a scent. The dogs followed the trail to a pair of bloodstained gloves in the nearby woods, but that was as far as they got. The police theorized that the assailant might have stashed a bicycle in the woods to make his escape.

The final attack happened on a Sunday, two weeks later. The Phantom clipped a two inch lock of hair from the head of Mrs. RR Taylor. Mrs. Taylor reported a sickening smell and something being pressed to her face, which authorities assumed to be a chloroform rag. All told, about ten homes were broken into during the Phantom Barber’s reign of terror.

In August, the police apprehended a suspect that they concluded was the Phantom Barber. His name was William Dolan, a 57 year old German chemist with reported German sympathies and a grudge against the Heidelbergs. Mr. Heidelberg’s father was a local judge who had refused to lower Dolan’s bail on a trespassing charge several months before. Dolan was charged with the attempted murder of the Heidelbergs, but curiously he was never charged with one of the Phantom Barber attacks, despite the FBI finding a bundle of human hair behind his house, some of which belonged to Carol Peattrie, one of the Barber’s victim. However, Dolan had always denied being the Phantom Barber and many in the area believed that police had the wrong man. Though no attacks occurred after Dolan’s arrest, some believe that the Phantom Barber moved on to another area.

Despite his insistence of innocence, Dolan was quickly found guilty of attempted murder and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was never charged with any crimes related to the hair snatching incidents, but in the eyes of the public he was the Phantom Barber.

Six years later, Mississippi Governor Fielding Wright reviewed the case and asked that Dolan take a lie-detector test. Upon passing, Dolan was given a limited suspended sentence and then eventually set free in 1951.

It isn’t clear whether Dolan really was the Barber though. His attack was uncharacteristically violent compared to the Barber’s attacks. It could be argued that the Barber attacks were practice runs leading up to the assault on the Heidelberg’s, but if that were the case, why do another Barber-style attack after the Heidelberg assault? Also, if they were practice runs, why cut hair? It sounds like something sexually motivated, a hair fetish perhaps.  If that were the case and Dolan were the assailant, why keep his prizes in the back yard? Also, it doesn’t seem that the footprint in Carol Peattrie’s room was ever analyzed, a definite oversight on the part of the police.


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The Devil's Armchair

In 1550, a doctor named Alfonso Rodríguez arrived in the city of Valladolid to teach at the University of Valladolid’s Faculty of Medicine. Alfonso had learned medicine in Italy. He was a specialist in anatomy and became one of the best doctors of the time and was known in many places in Europe. Alfonso was a doctor so well known that the course attracted many doctors, graduates, students and apprentices from all over the country and even from abroad. Of all the students of the course, one especially emphasized: Andres de Proaza. Andres was 22 years old and had come to Valladolid from Portugal. Andres seemed to have a natural talent for anatomy and excelled above all his peers. Andres had such extensive knowledge and technique so refined that he even surpassed his master. 

During the months in which the course was given, they reported the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy. Although that was the most famous disappearance case, other people disappeared mysteriously. No one seemed to associate the young Portuguese student with these disappearances, but the neighbors denounced that from the place where he lived he heard people cry and shout frequently. The neighbors began to suspect him. Some rumors said that Andres de Proaza made deals with the devil.

Andres de Proaza lived near the Esgueva River, one of the two rivers that pass through Valladolid. The suspicions of the neighbors were confirmed when they saw that from time to time, the river was stained red by the area where the student lived. Neighbors denounced the case and authorities decided to go and investigate Proaza's house to clarify what was happening.

When they entered his house, what they found was terrifying. They found the body of the missing child, he was dismembered. The student had dismembered the child and pinned the different pieces on a wooden board. In addition to the body of the child they found animals, also dismembered, and the remains of other people, although they did not know from whom.

The whole house was filled with medical material, blood, human bodies, animal bodies. Some of them were still alive.

Evidently they stopped him immediately. He stated that in order to learn medicine he had to practice vivisection. Vivisection is to perform medical operations on the body while the person or animal is still alive to see how the body reacts.

The court in charge of judging Andres de Proaza was the tribunal of the Inquisition. During the trial, the people who went to investigate their home explained everything they had seen there and the people were horrified. Everyone thought he was crazy, so they would condemn him to die. However, Andres de Proaza made a statement that scared the people even more. The doctor declared that a necromancer had handed him an armchair, a cursed chair. A necromancer is a magician who practices black magic, that is, magic related to evil. The necromancer gave him the chair because Andres saved his life. According to the necromancer, this armchair had been made by the devil himself.

By sitting on the chair, Proaza gained all the advanced medical knowledge he wowed his classmates and professors with. He also told the authorities that only well-qualified doctors could sit in his eternally damned armchair. Anybody else who sat in the chair would die three days later, ditto for anybody stupid enough to destroy it.

For his crimes, the Inquisition sent Proaza off to the gallows. An auction was held to sell off Proaza’s belongings, but surprisingly few people were interested in buying furniture associated with child murder and Satanism. For this reason, the chair and everything else Proaza owned were moved to a warehouse at his old university.

Years passed, and the story behind the chair was forgotten. In the 19th century, an exhausted beadle stumbled on the chair and slumped down for a rest. True to Proaza’s warning, the beadle was found dead in the chair three days later. The university’s next beadle was no less cautious; he sat in the chair and died as well.

After taking the lives of two good beadles, the chair’s thirst for blood had to be stopped. To ensure that it didn’t take any more lives, the chair was hanged upside down from the university chapel. It remained here until 1890, when it was moved to the Museo de Valladolid after the chapel was demolished.

At its new home, a red ribbon has been tied across the Devil’s Armchair to keep visitors from sitting in it. This was not done to prevent bright med students from making Faustian pacts, but to protect what’s actually a rare 16th century chair.


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The Mystery of Margate’s Shell Grotto

The Mysterious Shell Grotto was discovered in 1835. It is an ornate subterranean passageway shell grotto in Margate, Kent that remains unsolved today. Almost all the surface area of the walls and roof is covered in mosaics created entirely of seashells, totalling about 190 square metres of mosaic, or 4.6 million shells. However, no one knows who cut through Kent’s underground chalk deposits to create this astonishing subterranean cavern with its 70 feet of winding walkways leading to a large chamber. Nor is it clear how they transported some 4.6 million shells and painstakingly adorned nearly every surface — the walls and arched ceilings, all 2,000 square feet of them — with exquisite, enigmatic symbols and designs.

Was it an ancient temple used for pagan rituals? A meeting chamber for a secret cult

The Grotto has traditionally been divided into five named sections comprising: Entrance Passage, Rotunda, Dome, Serpentine Passage and Altar Chamber.

The latest researcher is Mick Twyman of the Margate Historical Society who has recently published the results of several years study and believes the Grotto may have been associated with the Knights Templar with a construction date of mid 12th century. His conclusions are based on the careful measuring of angles within the Grotto and the observance of the position of projected sunlight onto the inside of the dome. He has also identified design features which he suggests points to the Altar Chamber being an early temple for Masonic rituals.

There are conflicting accounts of the Grotto’s discovery, although most agree on a date of 1835. The earliest reference to the discovery appears in an article in the Kentish Gazette of 22 May 1838, announcing its forthcoming opening as a public attraction. It has remained in private ownership ever since.


The Margate Shell Grotto written by R.F.LeGear

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