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  • Hair Harvests and Hair Theft February 27, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    stealing hair

    The hair harvest was the trick of selling your beautiful head of hair, an option open to hirsute young women, to the local barber for a sovereign (or somewhat less). The practice was common enough in Victorian Britain that it appears in a Hardy novel, The Woodlanders, where Marty lops off her hair and sells it to a local well-to-do after being disappointed in love. However, sometimes hair, as a valuable object was stolen, particularly if we are to believe a British newspaper (Linc Chron, 5 Oct 1900, 7) in France: of course, you should never believe a British newspaper on the subject of France…

    At one time, however, hair stealing was a common thing in France, particularly in Brittany, where, owing to the leniency with which the magistrates dealt with the matter, seeming to regard it more in the light of practical joke than cruel theft, it threatened to extinguish the trade by stopping the supply altogether [don’t quite get the logic here]. Often a poor girl trudging from village to town in search of the merchant to sell her hair was stopped on the way by band of roughs and denuded of this marketable commodity; and such crimes did not cease until a law was passed inflicting punishment of no light order on these most despicable of robbers.

    There had allegedly been a hair crime in Paris as recently as 1898:

    One evening a lady, accompanied by a daughter sixteen years of age, entered the church of St. Honore d’Eylan. They had scarcely installed themselves in one of the side chapels when two women took up position behind them. The lady’s attention for the instant was attracted to them, and she noticed that the younger of the two wore a blue apron with particularly large pockets. The mother and her daughter rising from their devotions left the church; the other pair had preceded them. The lady noticed nothing amiss until she arrived at the Place Hugo, when, her daughter hurrying in front, she saw to her horror that the magnificent plait of hair bad been cut off close to the neck. In an instant she realised that the theft had been accomplished while she was praying in the church by one of the females behind. She communicated with the police, but nothing came of the matter, and when the poor girl was interrogated she declared that she had felt nothing all the time she kneeling beyond at one moment a slight tickling in the neck, which had passed so rapidly that it had made no lasting impression on her mind. This points to the fact that the thieves were old hands in the business, and light-fingered in more senses than one.

    So did the daughter place a feather on the neck while the mother cut the hair? Can anyone help with any more hair thefts? It seems a fertile field: drbeachcombing At yahoo DOT com

    Note that the same article claims: ‘Thefts of children’s hair are not unknown here, but such outrages are happily no means frequent.’ Beach has found one example from 1872 of a woman’s hair being stolen in Manchester: the woman was drugged and the hair was cut off.

    27 Feb 2015: Jack and Jacqueline hair stealing from Haunted Ohio Books and Chris and Chris added a couple of stories.

     (‘At the time I wrote the post, I didn’t know of any other women hair thieves, but here is one, although I suspect the Rush assailant was a man in disguise.’ Chris)


    Waco, Jan. 4. A woman entered the home of J.M. Pittillo, editor of a local labor paper, last night and clipped the hair of his 16-year-old daughter, Leta Rush, close to the scalp.

    The girl was awakened in time to see a woman hastily climb through the window. The family are at a loss to understand the “hair theft.”

    Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 4 January 1921: p. 12


    Willie May Stone is only 11, but her hair of glossy, dark brown reached almost to her knees. Not a day passed but someone praised her beautiful hair.

    For two weeks a mysterious prowler had been noticed around the Stone home at 1215 North Main Street. Twice he had been seen; at other times he had been heard, but each time he had been scared away.

    Then Saturday morning the little girl began to cry when she woke up. She felt for the long braid of hair and it wasn’t there. Still crying she ran into the dining room to shoe her mother. A “Jack the Clipper” had cut off her hair during the night.

    Screen Pried Open.

    With her older sister, Hassie, the girl had slept with her head next to the window. Investigation showed where the “Clipper” had pried open the screen, raised the window and reached through to cut off the hair, which was in one long braid.

    “This was not for revenge, because we haven’t an enemy in the world,” declared Mrs. B.F. Stone, the mother, Saturday morning. “Her hair was worth $15 or $20. The man who stole it expects to sell it. I have my suspicions as to who did it, too.

    “We have been living at this house only two months. Everybody in the neighborhood were raving over Willie May’s hair. Even men talked about it.”

    The “Clipper” is thought to have been the prowler who had been seen at the home during the past two weeks. Mrs. Stone first saw the man two weeks ago walking through the yard about midnight. She aroused her husband, but the prowler escaped. Then on two other occasions noises thought to have been made by a burglar were heard by members of the family. Each time the lights were flashed, but nothing was found.

    Then Tuesday night Miss Lois Stone, 17, who slept in the front room, awoke at midnight to see a man standing at her front window. His form was plainly visible in the glare of the electric light on the corner. She aroused the family, but the man fled.

    The family retired at 9:20 o’clock Friday night. The clipper is thought to have worked during the hard rain when the noise of the wind drowned out the noise of his own operations. Willie May said she did not feel or hear a thing during the night.

    Fort Worth [TX] Star-Telegram 25 March 1916: p. 1


    Montreal, Feb. 3. Two women went to the home of Mrs. Margaret Kenley, cut off her hair and stole $20.

    Macon [GA] Telegraph 4 February 1923: p. 12


    Fiend Clips Girl’s Silken Locks and Escapes.

    Sioux City, Ia., Sept. 15. A strange, rough-looking man called at the home of Mrs. Elizabeth Murray on Sioux street Saturday afternoon and when Lottie Murray, 15 years of age, opened the door he entered the house. The girl was alone and the man seized her and threw her violently to the floor. He took a pair of scissors and cut off her hair, which was very long and of a pretty silken brown shade. He threw a rug over the girl and proceeded to ransack the house for valuables. The girl remained in a faint on the floor. The man departed with nothing. The child was discovered a half hour later by a brother.

    Omaha [NE] World Herald 16 September 1901: p. 5

    Bobbing wasn’t in fashion at the time Miss Murray was assaulted or we might suspect her of cutting her own hair off. Like this young lady:


    Alice Beals of Pittsfield Tells Story, But Father Finds Her Hair in Bed.

    Pittsfield, Dec. 31. Miss Alice Beals, 18, pretty blonde daughter of Mr. and Mrs. William J. Beals of the Cheshire Road, wanted to bob her long and beautiful brown hair so much despite parental objection, that she slashed off two feet herself and hit it, with her diamond ring, between the mattress and springs of her bed. This happened Thursday night in the absence of her parents, upon whose return home she told a lurid story of two men entering the house and grabbing and holding her, while a woman companion mutilated her tresses and stole her diamond.

    Inspector Daniel J. McColgan scouted her story and told her father to search the house. Yesterday he discovered the ring and golden locks. Now the parents agree with Alice that she must be bobbed in the regular way. She works at the government note paper mill of Crane & Co in Dalton.

    Springfield [MA] Republican 1 January 1923: p. 1

    27 Feb 2015: Nene has this more recent example.

    21 Mar 2015: Miss Fine writes in with a grotesque example of hair growing which includes hair stealing attempts.