Most people are familiar with the infamous Jack the Ripper, who murdered prostitutes in and around the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. But another dastardly character, who showed up in 1891 in Brooklyn and Manhattan, N.Y., was known by a similar moniker: Jack the Snipper. His penchant was for following schoolgirls and lopping off their braids, then running away. He haunted the streets for three years, surfacing periodically and disappearing again. Two men were arrested, but police could never make any charges stick, so the case went unsolved.
In 1911, the Jack the Snipper story resurfaced in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Police arrested Frank Rickeri, who had for months been cutting off women’s hair in theaters and amusement parks. Eighteen locks of hair, each tied with a blue ribbon, were found in a trunk in Rickeri’s lodgings.
But the story wasn’t confined to the East Coast. On March 9, 1912, Mildred Finnel of Pendleton, a popular high school girl, decided to take in a moving picture show with a friend. As they sat in the theater, she felt someone behind her take hold of one of her long braids. Finnel gave her head a quick jerk, and a man got up from the seat behind her and hurriedly left the building. Finnel and her companion followed the man, and though he was able to disappear they did get a good look at his face. It wasn’t until she returned home that she realized that a small portion of her braid had been shorn off. The man was never caught.
“Jack the Snipper” was a familiar annoyance to police departments across the country in the early 1900s. It was unknown whether the attacks were for the purpose of selling the hair to wigmakers, or if their intent was simply malicious or obsessive. In some cases, like the original Snipper in New York, an incident of hair theft was followed by a rash of copycat cases, some of which were perpetrated by the girls themselves in order to see their names in the paper.