Battle of the Beards: Amish Feud Leads to Spate of Hair Stealing

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Amish families in Ohio have suffered a number of unwanted close shaves in recent weeks, after shunned members of the community devised a bizarre form of retaliation, the Associated Press reports.

The beard bandits have taken revenge by scalping the hair of a half-dozen or more men and women who ostracized them, as well as chopping off the males’ facial hair.

The attacks, which first started in the heart of one of America’s largest Amish settlements three weeks ago, are intended to be insulting and degrading, according to Jefferson County Sheriff Fred Abdalla.

Despite several victims suffering minor injuries, police have so far failed to charge anyone as they struggle to overcome the traditional “wall of silence” Amish communities adopt when dealing with the authorities.

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“You see this crime being committed, and I’m sitting here with my hands tied,” said a frustrated Abdalla. “I can’t do a thing.”

Amish-on-Amish violence “is extremely rare,” according to Donald Kraybill, a professor at Elizabethtown College and an expert on Amish life. He explained in an email that the Amish often shun modern conveniences as a matter of spiritual principle and said it’s common practice for married Amish to have beards, adding “Likewise, women do not cut their hair based on biblical teaching,”

As for the catalyst of these attacks, Abdalla speculates that it may be down to unspecified religious differences involving 18 Amish families, 17 of them related. Although police have yet to receive a complaint, he indicated that the families under investigation live in Bergholz, a small community located in farmland 10 miles west of the Ohio River, where they do carpentry and run a leather shop.

Meanwhile, a woman was forced to wear a bandana to cover bald patches on her scalp after she and her husband fell victim to the attacks. The 57-year-old claimed the assault was carried out by her sons and a son-in-law, who she said are involved in a cult.

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Jak Phillips is a contributor at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @JakPhillips. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.