So it gets better, as the story below describes. What is even weirder is that I ride past the jail he is imprisoned in almost every day...
Arrest of Alleged 'Hair Bandit' Startles Friends.
Michael Howard's arrest New Year's Day has confounded his relatives and business partner, especially because of the charge: that a hair fetish allegedly drove him to chop off women's hair on the streets.
"It's very bizarre," said Howard's older brother Jack, a Los Angeles County probation officer. "We don't really understand it."
He described his brother as a family man and bicycle shop owner who had lived a stable life and had never been in trouble with the law. However, he said, family members noticed a dramatic personality change in mid-December that they believe was triggered by drug abuse.
Jack Howard said he called authorities after the "Hair Bandit" attacks were reported in the media, but would not say why he suspected his brother.
"That was not an easy thing to do," he said. "But given my position and experience, I've got to think about victims."
Police say Michael Howard, 47, attacked six women and a young girl in the Long Beach area and East Los Angeles in the last two weeks of December. He is accused of grabbing them from behind as they sat or walked along major streets, then shearing their hair with scissors or a knife.
Gian Simonetti said his friend and business partner never mentioned any fascination with hair in the 25 years they worked together.
"He surprised everybody," said Simonetti, who owns Simo Cycle--a custom bicycle shop in Huntington Beach--with Michael Howard. "I thought it was crazy, and feel sorry for him."
Howard, who lives in Norwalk, had been struggling recently with drugs and had not worked a full week in six months, Simonetti said.
He Likes the Sound of Scissors
"He was always coming in late," Simonetti said. "I've been going to his house, trying to get him to come out."
Though Howard's brother and Simonetti did not learn about the suspect's alleged hair fetish until recently, a woman who described herself as a longtime friend said she knew Howard had paid women as much as $200 to let him cut their hair.
"He liked playing with it, brushing it, everything about it," said 51-year-old Vicki Parker, who said she had been a prostitute in the past. "He says he likes the sound of scissors cutting hair."
Howard was ashamed and didn't know what to do, she said. But she called him a "wonderful person" and said she never felt threatened.
The suspect had been depressed over his father's death and his failing business, she said.
"He was just not in his right frame of mind," she said.
Raised in Inglewood, Michael Lynn Howard became interested in bicycles as a boy working a newspaper route. He started fixing and building his own bikes, and teamed up with Simonetti soon after high school.
A stocky man with a rough complexion and goatee, Howard was married for several years but never had children, his brother said. More than 10 years ago, the suspect purchased a clay-colored stucco house with a manicured lawn in Norwalk.
His neighbors said Howard is quiet
"It was mostly 'Hi' and 'Bye' with him," said Hector Montenegro, who has lived next door to Howard for four years.
"He's very private," said Christene VonRavensberg. "I don't think he liked the neighbors."
On New Year's Eve, a sheriff's deputy spotted Howard as he was allegedly holding a woman in a chokehold at a pay phone in East Los Angeles. The deputy chased Howard, who climbed into a nearby car and tried to run him down, authorities said. The deputy responded by firing several shots, but the suspect drove away, police said.
Police arrested Howard the next day at an apartment building on Pine Avenue in Long Beach, where he had gone to see a friend.
The victims ranged in age from 12 to 45, and all but two were Latinas, police said, adding that some of the women suffered neck injuries.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Scott Carbaugh said Howard is a dangerous criminal whose alleged crimes were sexually motivated.
Howard was charged Thursday with six counts of second-degree robbery, one count of committing a lewd act on a child and one count of assault on a police officer. If convicted, he could be sentenced to 15 years in state prison.
He is in Los Angeles County Jail in lieu of $500,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court for arraignment Jan. 17. Authorities say they are still checking for additional victims.
Deputy Public Defender Michael Concha said prosecutors have taken a leap by charging Howard with a lewd act on a child in addition to the robberies. "There's no sexual molestation here at all," Concha said.
Sheriff's Det. Joe Purcell said he believed that violence might have occurred if an arrest had not been made.
"It's a strange case," the detective said. "It's the first time I've ever heard of something like this."
Many Fetishes Grow Over Time
Hair fetishes are rare, but people who engage in them could collect hair for sexual gratification, said Al Cooper, a Stanford University psychologist and clinical director of the San Jose Marital & Sexuality Centre.
"There are a million different kinds of variations, whether it's fingernails, hair or underwear," he said. "Hair is not the most common, but it is not unheard of."
Cooper added that fetishes escalate over time in about half the cases.
Some women in the Long Beach area were relieved at the arrest. With her long chestnut hair pulled into a knot behind her head, housewife Veronica Alvarez waited for a bus Thursday on Long Beach Boulevard.
"I'm glad they caught him," she said. "I don't know what I would do if he came up to me. I would scream, and I would fight him