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William Henry Theodore DURRANT

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


A.K.A.: "The Demon of the Belfry"
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Rape - Mutilation
Number of victims: 2
Date of murders: April 3/12, 1895
Date of arrest: April 14, 1895
Date of birth: 1871
Victims profile: Blanche Lamont, 20 / Minnie Flora Williams, 21
Method of murder: Strangulation
Location: San Francisco, California, USA
Status: Executed by hanging at San Quentin State Prison on January 7, 1898
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Theodore Henry Durrant was born 1871 in Toronto, Canada to William Durrant a shoemaker and his wife Isabella Hutchenson Durrant.

The family immigrated to San Francisco, California, USA in 1878. He had one sister Beulah Maud Durrant born in 1873 who later changed her name to Maude Allan and became an actress and interpretive dancer.

Durrant was a twenty three year old medical student at Cooper Medical College in San Francisco, assistant superintendent of the Sunday school at the twenty first street Emanuel Baptist Church and a member of the California Signal Corps.

Disappearances

On April 3, 1895 Theodore Durrant met twenty year old teacher Blanche Lamont, who had recently come to San Francisco to study at the Normal School, at the Polk Street electric trolley stop just after two pm. They rode together to the twenty first street stop.

Other people on the trolley stated that they were very close and that Durrant was whispering into Lamont's ear and tapping at her lightly with her leather gloves. They got off at their stop and were seen by a Mrs. Mary Noble walking down twenty first street to the Emanuel Baptist Church. A Mrs. Caroline Leak saw them enter the church together. Mrs. Leak, who later testified at Durrant's trial, was the last person known to see Blanche Lamont alive.

George King, the church choir director and organist who was practicing hymns on the organ, testified that Durrant came downstairs at five p.m. looking pale and shaken and asked him to go get a medicine at a nearby store.

Blanche Lamont

Blanche Lamont (1875-April 3, 1895 Montana) was a twenty year old who had been teaching at a one room school in Heckla, Montana. She had moved to San Francisco to further her education at Normal School and was living with her aunt Mrs. Tryphenia Noble. Mrs. Noble came to the church looking for Lamont a few hours later during the evening prayer service.

Durrant approached Noble and inquired about Blanche who told him that she was worried about her. Durrant told Noble that he was sorry that Blanche was not there but that he would come to her house later to bring a book for her. Mrs. Noble said that he did come by later with the book and suggested that Lamont might have been kidnapped to be forced into prostitution.

Police investigation

The next day Durrant had tried to pawn some women's rings in the San Francisco Tenderloin district. That same afternoon Noble received a package with the name George King, who was the church choir director, written on the wrapper with Blanche's rings inside.

It was three days after Blanche's disappearance before Mrs. Noble had reported her missing to the police. Police questioned Durrant because he was the last person she was seen with and also because a young woman of the church said that she had once came upon Durrant nude in the church library. Police did not have a body or any evidence that anything had happened to Blanche so she remained listed as a missing person.

Minnie Williams

During this time Durrant began focusing his attentions on twenty one year old Minnie Flora Williams (August 1873- April 12, 1895) also an Emanuel church member. On April 12, 1895 nine days after Lamont disappeared which was Good Friday at seven p.m.

Williams told her friends at her boarding house that she was going to a church member meeting at the home of a church elder named Vogel who's wife Mary had seen Durrant walking with Blanche Lamont the day she disappeared. A few minutes after seven p.m. Williams was seen in a heated discussion with Durrant in front of the church. It was loud enough to alert a passer by named Hodgkins to stop and intervene.

Hodgkins later testified that his manner was not becoming to a gentleman and that the pair did calm down and enter the church door together. At nine pm that evening Durrant arrived at the church elders house for the scheduled meeting.

Finding the bodies

On Saturday April 13 the women of the church were decorating the church for Easter Sunday. One of the ladies went to a cabinet to get cups and when she opened the door she found a mutilated female body inside. The police were called and the body was identified as Minnie Williams. The church and grounds were searched for any clues and for Blanche Lamont whom police now suspected to be there.

Nothing was found until a church member remembered that they had not searched the belfry. Police went up into the belfry and found Blanche Lamont. She was badly mutilated and nude with her head wedged between two boards. Police immediately began a search for Theodore Durrant who was the last one seen with both murdered woman.

Trial

Durrant had left town to join his Signal Corp unit where he was apprehended the next day, Easter Sunday. He was charged with the murders of Blanche Lamont and Minnie Williams.

The trial was covered by major newspapers all across the US. His attorney defended him by citing lack of blood on him or his clothes and shifting blame to the church pastor, but Durrant was convicted and sentenced to be hanged. Durrant never confessed to the murders and stated he was innocent to his death. The execution was carried out in January 7, 1898 at San Quentin prison.

 
 

William Henry Theodore Durrant (1871 – January 7, 1898) was a man convicted and hanged for two murders at Emanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco in 1896.

In April 1896, the bodies of two young women were discovered in Emmanuel Baptist Church where Durrant was the assistant Sunday School superintendent. The grisly murders, which were compared to the crimes of Jack the Ripper, received sensational and sometimes speculative coverage in the California press.

Over 3,600 potential jurors needed to be examined before twelve could be chosen to hear the case. Durrant was found guilty in November 1896 and hanged at San Quentin State Prison on January 7, 1898.

He maintained his innocence. His sister was the dancer Maud Allan.

Early life

Theodore Durant was born in Toronto, Canada to William Durrant, a shoemaker, and his wife Isabella Hutchenson Durrant. The family emigrated to San Francisco, California, USA in 1879. He had one sister, Beulah Maud Durrant, born in 1873, who became an actress and interpretive dancer and later changed her name to Maude Allan.

At the time of his arrest, Durrant was a twenty-three-year-old medical student at Cooper Medical College in San Francisco, assistant superintendent of the Sunday school at the twenty-first street Emanuel Baptist Church and a member of the California Signal Corps.

Blanche Lamont

Blanche Lamont (1875-April 3, 1895) was a twenty-year old who had been teaching at a one-room school in Hecla, Montana. She had moved to San Francisco to further her education at Normal School and Lowell High and was living with her aunt, Mrs. Tryphenia Noble, on 21st street in the Mission district.

On April 3, 1895, Durrant met Lamont at the Polk Street electric trolley stop just after 2:00 p.m. They rode together to the twenty-first street stop. Other people on the trolley stated that they were very close and that Durrant was whispering into Lamont's ear and tapping at her lightly with her leather gloves. They got off at their stop and were seen by a Mrs. Mary Noble walking down 21st street to the Emanuel Baptist Church. A Mrs. Caroline Leak saw them enter the church together. Mrs. Leak, who later testified at Durrant's trial, was the last person known to see Blanche Lamont alive. George King, the church choir director and organist, who was practicing hymns on the organ, testified that Durrant came downstairs at 5:00 p.m. looking pale and shaken and asked him to go get a medicine at a nearby store.

Mrs. Noble came to the church looking for Lamont a few hours later during the evening prayer service. Durrant approached Noble and inquired about Blanche, who told him that she was worried about her. Durrant told Noble that he was sorry that Blanche was not there but that he would come to her house later to bring a book for her. Mrs. Noble said that he did come by later with the book and suggested that Lamont might have been kidnapped to be forced into prostitution.

The next day, Durrant tried to pawn some women's rings in the San Francisco Tenderloin district. That same afternoon Noble received a package with the name George King, who was the church choir director, written on the wrapper with Blanche's rings inside. It was three days after Blanche's disappearance before Mrs. Noble had reported her missing to the police.

Police questioned Durrant because he was the last person she was seen with and also because a young woman of the church said that she had once came upon Durrant nude in the church library. Police did not have a body or any evidence that anything had happened to Blanche so she remained listed as a missing person.

Minnie Williams

During this time Durrant began focusing his attentions on twenty-one-year-old Minnie Flora Williams (August 1873 - April 12, 1895) also an Emanuel church member.

On April 12, 1895, nine days after Lamont disappeared, which was Good Friday at 7:00 p.m., Williams told her friends at her boarding house that she was going to a church member meeting at the home of a church elder named Vogel, whose wife Mary had seen Durrant walking with Blanche Lamont the day she disappeared.

A few minutes after 7:00 p.m., Williams was seen in a heated discussion with Durrant in front of the church. It was loud enough to alert a passerby named Hodgkins to stop and intervene. Hodgkins later testified that his manner was not becoming to a gentleman and that the pair did calm down and enter the church door together. At 9:00 p.m. that evening Durrant arrived at the church elder's house for the scheduled meeting

Conviction

On Saturday April 13, the women of the church were decorating the church for Easter Sunday. One of the ladies went to a cabinet to get cups and when she opened the door she found a mutilated female body inside. The police were called and the body was identified as Minnie Williams. The church and grounds were searched for any clues and for Blanche Lamont whom police now suspected to be there.

Nothing was found until a church member remembered that they had not searched the belfry. Police went up into the belfry and found Blanche Lamont. She was badly mutilated and nude with her head wedged between two boards. Police immediately began a search for Theodore Durrant, who was the last one seen with both murdered women.

Durrant had left town to join his Signal Corps unit, where he was apprehended the next day, Easter Sunday. He was charged with the murders of Blanche Lamont and Minnie Williams.

The trial was covered by major newspapers all across the US. His attorney defended him by citing lack of blood on him or his clothes and shifting blame to the church pastor, but Durrant was convicted and sentenced to be hanged by Judge Carroll Cook. Durrant never confessed to the murders, and stated he was innocent to his death. The execution was carried out on January 7, 1898 at San Quentin prison.

Wikipedia.org

 
 

DURRANT, William Henry Theodore

At first glance, Theodore Durrant appeared to be what well-placed women and their single daughters would call a "good catch." Still in his twenties, courreous, weil groomed, a doctor in training at San Franciscos Cooper Medical College, he was also devoutly religious, serving as assistant superintendent for the regular Sunday school at Emmanuel Baptist Church.  Unknown to those around him, though, the young man had a darker side.  His dual obsessions were religion and sex, although in the latter field, he would confide to a fellow med student, "I have no knowledge of women."

That didn't stop young ladies from being drawn to Durrant like moths to a flame, however, and one of his strongest admirers was 18-year-old Blanche Lamont, a parishioner at Emmanuel Baptist.  On April 3, 1895, they were seen together by numerous witnesses, making their way toward the church, where Blanche was last seen alive on the sidewalk outside.  She had been missing severas days, curiously unreported by her family, when Durrant began dropping broad hints that she might have "gone astray." On the side, he was pawning her jewelry and pocketing the cash.

Police were clueless as to Blanche's whereabouts, but another young woman at Emmanuel Baptist, 21-yearold Minnie Williams, was talking her head off, telling friends that she "knew too much" about the case, hinting darkly that Blanche had met with foul play.  On April 12, Minnie was s en arguing with Theo Durrant on the street outside the church, but they seemed to patch things up, and she was holding his arm, cuddling close, as they went back inside.

Next morning, a Saturday, members of the church Ladies Society were stunned to find Minnie's lifeless, blood-smeared body wedged inside a church cupboard.  Half naked, she had been stabbed in both breasts, her wrists slashed, and her own underwear jammed in her mouth.  Police waited a day before searching the rest of the church, thereby disrupting Easter Sunday services, but it was worth the effort.  Once they forced the boarded-up door to Emmanuel Baptist's 120-foot be¡fry, they found Blanche Lamont's body; she was naked, strangled, raped after death, her clothing packed into the belfry rafters.  Her corpse had been arranged so neatly, head propped up on wooden blocks, that police immediately cast about for "someone who knows something about medicine."

Theo Durrant was a natural suspect, all things considered, and he was swiftly indicted for Blanche Lamont's murder.  Conviction for the "Monster of the Belfry" was even more rapid, jurors setting a new record with deliberations lasting barely five minutes.  Durrant was sentenced to die, and while appeals delayed his execution for nearly two years, he was finally hanged on April 3, 1897-the very anniversary of Blanche Lamonts brutal murder.

Michael Newton - An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers

 
 

January 7, 1898:

The execution of Gilded Age San Francisco’s most notorious criminal

Sure, Jack the Ripper had set a certain tone for serial killing just a few years earlier, but the crimes of Theodore Durrant were even more shocking. See, Jack’s victims had been prostitutes, but San Francisco’s “Demon of the Belfry” had murdered a pair of girls who were respectable churchgoers. In his very own church.

On the day before Easter Sunday, 1896, a group of women held a meeting at the Emmanual Baptist Church in the Mission District. As they bustled about the small kitchen preparing tea, one woman reached towards a cupboard, looking for teacups. As the door swung open, she shrieked in horror and fainted — crammed inside was the butchered and violated body of Miss Minnie Williams.

Minnie had been a devoted church-goer, and the police quickly connected her death with the case of another young woman who’d gone missing two weeks earlier. The vivacious Blanche Lamont had also been a member of the church, so the grounds were searched from bottom to top. The body was found in the dusty, disused bell tower — two weeks dead, arranged like a medical cadaver, and brutalized in an equally horrifying way.

Suspicion fell upon a young medical student and assistant Sunday School superintendent who had been close to both women — Theo Durrant. News of the police’s interest in Durrant spread through the Mission and then infected all of San Francisco. By the time he was actually picked up, only a massive police presence prevented the angry mob from stringing him up on the spot.

San Francisco’s “Crime of the Century”

Bankers, judges, hack drivers and bootblacks gossiped about little else, and people lined up for blocks to view the victims’ identical white coffins at a local funeral parlor. The City’s many newspapers were absolutely thrilled with the story, of course — during the next couple of years, well over 400 articles about it would appear in the San Francisco Chronicle alone.

It wasn’t just that the two young women were such “upstanding citizens” — the angle that made it horrifying and captivating to San Francisco was the fact that Theo Durrant was such a nice, normal guy. He was a handsome young man, friendly and open in demeanour, well-liked, of excellent reputation, and (again) the assistant superintendent of a Sunday School. Our modern cliché of the serial killer as the “guy next door who wouldn’t hurt a fly” was still a long way off. It seemed absolutely incredible to San Francisco that such a — well, such a ‘gentleman’ could be capable of such bestial and savage acts.

As Virginia McConnell points out in her excellent book on the case, Sympathy for the Devil, the murders played upon deeper fears in the gaslit City, conservative anxieties about certain changes sweeping through society. The era of Emancipation was beginning to emerge, a time of ripening feminine independence signaled by bloomers, bicycles — and the sudden presence of young women without chaperones. Could it be that the horror and sexual violence of these murders was the inevitable result of … modernity?

In any case, attempts to explain Durrant’s behaviour abounded — and his stone-faced composure drove San Francisco into a frenzy of speculation. Modern psychology wasn’t available yet — Freud was in Vienna inventing it at the time of the murders — so newspapers expounded theories about secret Barbary Coast orgies, racially-tainted blood, exposure to perverse German medical literature, even that the shape of Durrant’s ears somehow predicted his monstrousity. And though most of what was written was nonsense or circulation-boosting fiction, it was almost universally agreed that the man was guilty.

By the time the trial began, the case was so over-exposed that — reminiscent of the OJ Simpson case — 3,600 potential jurors needed to be examined to come up with a final twelve

Durrant’s Trial

The trial lasted three weeks, and San Francisco hung on every word. Page after page of courtroom dialogue was published, complete with detailed illustrations and interviews with anyone even remotely connected with the case.

Human nature being as weird as it is, the handsome Durrant received lots of attention from young woman, including a number of marriage proposals — and a pretty blonde dubbed the “sweet-pea girl”, brought him a bouquet of flowers every morning.

Durrant’s insistance upon his innocence never wavered — and it is quite true that the evidence against him was entirely circumstantial. But it was also overwhelming. Durrant had been involved with both of the victims, had not only been placed at the scene of both crimes, but was apparently the last person seen in the company of each girl. The day that Blanche Lamont vanished, he had been spotted downtown attempting to pawn several women’s rings, and a medical school classmate testified that Theo had confided certain sexual preoccupations.

And there was plenty more. Durrant’s conviction in the newspapers was upheld by the jury and the court, and he was sentenced to death by hanging. Though the case was appealed, allowing the circus to continue for several months, eventually Durrant’s legal options just ran out. The execution was set for January 7th, 1898.

Cool as a cucumber

In a typically poetic passage, a Chronicle reporter set the scene the night before the hanging:

“Meanwhile the town of San Quentin … partook of the subdued excitement which had stirred San Francisco all day and which extended more or less all over the State. In every house windows burned brightly. Doors were flung open suddenly and voices rose and fell. The entire place was seething. The moonlit bay was calm and cold enough, but at every step toward the prison the atmosphere was more heavily charged with electricity. Never did San Quentin look so much like a Norman castle.”

Throngs of people gathered around the prison on the day of the execution. Horse-drawn buses rattled back and forth, delivering loads of curiousity-seekers. Boys on bicycles had been hired to patrol the telegraph wires leading to San Quentin, making sure that no one could clip the lines to prevent a possible gubernatorial pardon from coming through.

That pardon never came. But even after two years of suspense and morbid anticipation, inside the execution chamber before an amphitheatre of onlookers, Theo Durrant was still as cool as the proverbial cucumber.

Though interrupted by the imposition of the hangman’s hood, he began to speak:

“I now go to receive the justice given to an innocent boy who has not stained his hands with the crimes that have been put upon him by the press of San Francisco…”

Then, with the noose actually around his neck, he declared his blamelessness for the final time.

“I am innocent. I say now this day before God, to whom I now go to meet my dues, I am innocent…”

And that was that.

The Chronicle reported the next day that this performance had given the hangman a nervous breakdown, and one of the death row guards confessed that “All through the case I believed Durrant to be guilty and thought he would break down at the last, but the coolness he displayed on the gallows and the speech he made declaring his innocence … fairly made me tremble”.

Was Durrant guilty?

Well, probably. And if he hadn’t been caught, those two poor girls would probably not have been the last of his victims.

On the other hand, the evidence was circumstantial, and there is the tiniest sliver of an outside chance that someone else was responsible. The pastor of the church had certainly behaved in an odd and suspicious manner. And what’s more, an old miner had ridden into town a week or two before the hanging and told anyone who would listen that he’d run into a man on the trail who’d confessed to the whole thing, in detail. Who knows? All I will say is this: capital punishment is pretty damn final.

The scene of the crime

The scene of the crime, the Emmanuel Baptist Church, is long gone. It stood in the Mission District, on Bartlett Street between 22nd and 23rd — according to one source, more or less where the apartment building at 155-165 Bartlett stands today.

After the murders, police on the neighborhood beat are said to have dreaded night duty, swearing that they could hear the dead girls’ screams.

The church had something of a cursed history anyway, with one pastor a suicide, another disgraced by sexual impropriety, and a third — you may actually remember the Reverend Isaac Kalloch — was shot by Charles De Young. In any case, it was ripe for removal from this planet, and a few years later, it burned — or was burned — to the ground.

One final note — after Durrant’s execution, no cemetery in San Francisco would accept the murderer’s remains. The problem was finally solved by shipping the body down the coast — to Los Angeles.

Sparkletack.com

 
 

Theo Durrant

By Mark Gribben


The Origin of Monsters

The macabre scene in the little room off to the side of the death house at San Quentin was a fitting end to a gory and violent series of crimes. Even the actions of Theo Durrant's parents shed little light on what had caused the handsome, polite medical student to turn into a monster and violently murder two young women with whom he attended church.

As the recently hanged body of William Henry Theodore Durrant lay in repose in the state-issued coffin not four feet from their table, his parents sat down to a sumptuous meal of roast beef, fruit salad and tea, enjoying the repast as if they hadn't a care in the world.

Perhaps they took solace in their only child's strenuous assertion that he was innocent of the heinous murders of two young women with whom he attended church, Minnie Williams and Blanche Lamont. Their naked, ravaged bodies were found tossed aside like so much soiled linen.

If the parents believed that their son was innocent, then they were the only ones in San Francisco who did, for as the date of his execution neared, Durrant converted to Catholicism when his Baptist minister admitted he had trouble believing Durrant's claim of unjust prosecution.

The jurors who convicted medical student Theo Durrant certainly had no trouble with the state's case -- they took just five minutes to return with a guilty verdict.

Maybe the question of why Theo turned into a sexual sadist was too perplexing for the Durrants and they simply chose to ignore it. No one ever asked them.

Theo Durrant went to meet his maker without admitting guilt and nothing in his many statements to the press during his incarceration and on the day of his execution shed any light on the one question that no scientist or philosopher seems able to answer: From where do such monsters come?


Theo and Blanche

Blance Lamont, 18, was the epitome of late 19th century femininity and sexuality. She was probably very pleased when the handsome 24-year-old Theo Durrant started courting her. Durrant, the assistant superintendent of the Sunday School at Emanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco, was certainly a catch. Everyone thought he was quite handsome, gallant and gentlemanly. He was courteous to ladies young and old, and as a medical student at nearby Cooper Medical College, his future appeared bright.

For her part, Blanche was also a prize. A photograph of her shows a dark-eyed beauty with creamy skin, tightly-coiffed raven hair and a slender neck; contemporary reports took note of Blanche's long doe-like eyelashes.

Born in Montana, but living with her aunt and uncle near the church on 21st St., Blanche was young, but she was not naive. Elizabeth McConnell reports in Sympathy for the Devil that Blanche knew she was attractive and she took care to keep herself that way. Blanche dressed well and was studying to be a teacher at the Normal School just up the road from Cooper Medical College.

So it's hardly surprising that Theo and Blanche met up with each other at the electric trolley stop near their homes as they traveled to their respective schools on a crisp April morning in 1895. Trial testimony reported in the newspapers of the day attests that each of them was well noticed by the other riders on the tram that morning. Blanche wore a billowing black skirt topped with a fashionable Basque jacket and a wide-brimmed hat that tied beneath her chin with a bright yellow ribbon.

She stared ahead with a knowing smile as Theo whispered in her ear and playfully slapped at her with the kid gloves she had removed upon boarding the tram.

Very likely Durrant was making arrangements to meet Blanche later that afternoon at the Emanuel Church, but neither of them had religion on their minds. It had become "fashionable" for young people to meet for clandestine sexual rendezvous in empty church rooms and Emanuel Baptist had apparently seen its share of such blasphemies. Recently, one of the church elders had mentioned this to fellow leaders, bemoaning, "I have heard stories of strange actions on the part of some of the young people of the church," Harold Schechter writes.

Durrant and Lamont parted at the Polk St. stop and bade farewell as they went to their respective schools. Each spent a presumably nondescript day in their studies, and before 2 o'clock that afternoon, Durrant was pacing anxiously near the Polk St. trolley stop. Witnesses said he nearly flew down the street as he saw young Blanche Lamont walking up the hill from the Normal School. They boarded the tram together, joined by May Lannigan, who later testified that she remembered the meeting vividly because "it was the man's hair which attracted my attention as it struck me as unusual to see a gentleman with such long hair," McConnell reported.

Another witness would be able to place the two walking purposefully toward Emanuel Church a short time later. This time, the woman's Victorian sensibilities were disturbed by the way the wind pressed Blanche's dress tightly to her full-bodied form.

A third witness, Mrs. Caroline Leak, saw Durrant open the heavy oak door in the center of the three Gothic arches that adorned the church and hold it as Blanche entered. Mrs. Leak was the last person other than Durrant to see Blanche Lamont alive. The wind blew the solid door shut, sealing in any noise from the sanctuary.

Schechter writes that the newspapers that covered the murder of Blanche Lamont state that the young lady, worldly yet demure, did not part "with life and honour without a struggle," and that "a sexual outrage had probably occurred after death."

None of that was known to church choral director George King as he entered the sanctuary about three hours later. King was in the sanctuary to practice organ sonatas and he had barely seated himself at the instrument before a very pale and somewhat disorganized Durrant appeared.

"I've been fixing a gas jet upstairs," Durrant explained. "Be a good fellow and go to the drug store and fetch a Bromo Seltzer."

King complied and within moments of his return with the tonic, color had returned to Durrant's face and his features took on their normal, handsome appearance. Durrant said goodbye and strode out into the cool evening air.

King practiced his Bach, not knowing that the naked corpse of Blanche Dumont lay hidden high above him. Durrant had propped Blanche's head between two blocks of wood -- just as medical students were taught to do to cadavers they were examining. Durrant had also folded Blanche's arms across her naked breasts as if in preparation for burial.

He left the bell tower through a seldom-used trap-door, leaving his grisly work to the dust and flies.

Durrant returned that same night to the Emanuel Baptist Church for the evening prayer service. There he spotted Mrs. Tryphena Noble, Blanche Lamont's aunt. He inquired about the student teacher.

Tryphena looked worried as she told Theo that she had hoped Blanche would be at the prayer service because the girl had not returned home from school that day and her absence was most disturbing.

Schechter reports that Durrant had brought a book he wanted Blanche to read. "I regret she is not with us," Durrant replied sympathetically. "I have a copy of The Newcomes by Thackery for her. I will drop it off at the house."


Suspicion

For some unknown reason, Tryphena Noble waited three days before she reported Blanche's disappearance to the police. Immediately, suspicion fell on Theo Durrant, who, upon closer examination, seemed to be preoccupied with sex. Schechter and McConnell agree that Durrant had confided in a fellow student that he "had no knowledge of women." Another account of the crime, in "Crimes and Punishment," recounts how police learned that another young lady of Emanuel Baptist Church had once been accosted in the library of the church by Durrant in, as she delicately put it, "his birthday suit."

In contradiction to the claim that Durrant was a virgin, "Crimes and Punishment" claims Theo bragged of his exploits in the brothels of Carson City and once boasted that he had raped an Indian woman, although McConnell -- who wrote the most in-depth study of the crime -- makes no mention of this.

Regardless, Durrant did little to allay suspicions of his involvement in Blanche's disappearance.

"Perhaps," he told police. "She has wandered from the moral path and gone astray."

Later, he appeared at Tryphena Noble's home with his copy of Thackery for Blanche and spoke of his fear that her niece had been kidnapped and would be forced into a life of prostitution. He vowed to rescue her from this horrid fate.

Down in the city's Tenderloin district, Durrant attempted to pawn some women's rings, but was unable to strike a deal with a pawnbroker. Shortly afterward, Mrs. Noble received three rings belonging to Blanche in the mail. They were wrapped in a paper bearing the name George King, she would later testify in court.

But without a body and no sign of foul play, the police could only file away the disappearance of Blanche Lamont and hope that either the young woman would turn up alive or that more clues to her fate would reveal themselves.

In the meantime, Theo Durrant began paying attention to another church-going young lady, Minnie Williams, 21. It was on Good Friday, April 12, 1895 that Minnie bade farewell to her boardinghouse companions and headed off to a Christian fellowship meeting at the home of an Emanuel Baptist Church elder. That was at 7 p.m.

A few moments later, Minnie was observed speaking sharply with Theo Durrant in front of the church. Their conversation was so heated that a man named Hodgkins who was on his way home down Bartlett St. stopped to intervene.

"His manner was unbecoming to a gentleman," Hodgkins recalled later, according to Schechter. The peace restored, Minnie and Theo entered the church together and Hodgkins went on his way.

Two hours later, Durrant arrived at the home of Mrs. Mary Vogel, whose husband was in charge of the Christian fellowship meeting. Mrs. Vogel was one of the witnesses who saw Theo and Blanche Lamont go into the church nine days before.

Testimony at his trial revealed that Durrant appeared shaken and disheveled at the Vogel house and that before joining his friends in the meeting, announced that he had to wash his hands. He did so and by the time the meeting broke up at close to midnight, he appeared to be no longer upset. The only odd thing anyone noticed was that upon leaving the Vogel home, Durrant mentioned that he had to return to the church because he had "left something."

As he was a member of the California Signal Corps, the precursor to the National Guard, Durrant left San Francisco on Saturday, April 13 and headed to a bivouac on Mount Diablo.


Minnie Williams

In preparation for the Easter Sunday service, several of the ladies of Emanuel Baptist gathered in the church on Saturday to decorate the pews with flowers. The work wasn't difficult and it didn't take long for the Ladies' Society to finish.

With a few moments to spare, the group decided to take a bit of refreshment in a room off the church vestibule which was used as a library.

No one was paying much attention when one of the women opened a cupboard door in search of teacups. With a horrible shriek, the woman took a step back and promptly fainted.

The others in the room turned to look. What they saw sent the lot of them screaming into the street.

Their agonies prompted calls to the police who were directed into the library where they found the naked, brutalized body of Minnie Williams.

Minnie had been crammed into the cupboard, her wrists had been slashed, her breasts stabbed repeatedly and her underclothes had been forced down her throat. Blood had seeped out of the cupboard on to the library floor.

A description by the San Francisco Examiner that Schechter included in his book conveys the brutality of the slaying:

"She had been gagged, and that in a manner indicative of a fiend rather than a man," the paper reported. "A portion of her underclothing had been thrust down her throat with a stick, her tongue being terribly lacerated by the operation."

The cuts on Minnie's arms were so deep that not only had the monster cut her arteries, but the tendons had been severed, as well. The stab wounds to her breasts were made with a dull table-knife,"one of those used in the church at entertainments where refreshments are served," Schechter wrote.

There was some difference of opinion as to whether Minnie had been stripped by the killer as a prelude to sex or to facilitate the fatal stab wounds.

"It appeared that the cold-blooded wretch had deliberately unfastened his victim's dress that the knife might penetrate her flesh," The Examiner reported, while the San Francisco Call hinted that Minnie had been a cooperative partner to intercourse before her death.

Eventually, the coroner ruled that Minnie had been raped after death.

Police had but one suspect -- Theo Durrant, and the San Francisco Chronicle led its Easter Sunday edition with a proclamation that not only had Durrant killed Minnie Williams but that he had probably slaughtered Blanche Lamont as well. The paper goaded the police into searching the church for clues to Blanche's disappearance.


A Gruesome Discovery

The authorities made a perfunctory search of the church grounds Easter Sunday morning, not expecting to find much. After all, this was a church and Lamont had been missing for nearly two weeks. It would be pretty hard to hide a body in a church for that long, especially the two weeks before Easter.

Then someone remembered the belfry. The church tower was largely ornamental as there was no bell there and no one had reason to go up into the cupola. A close examination of the belfry trap door showed that it had recently been opened, and there were signs that whoever had done so had forced the hinges against the rust.

Reopening the door, investigators were met by the smell of death and the buzzing of flies. A policeman hoisted a lantern up into the steeple and peered in.

The bloated, decaying corpse of Blanche Lamont greeted the police. She lay naked and dead, her "face was fearfully distorted, the mouth being open, exposing the pearly teeth and attesting the terrible death the poor girl had died," Schechter quotes a paper as reporting.

Word of the horrific discovery spread fast and soon a crowd had gathered outside the church.

"Thousands crowded around the church, while the streets in front of the newspaper offices were packed with masses of humanity, all struggling to get a view of the bulletin boards," Schechter wrote.

Immediately, the search began for Theo Durrant, the suspect the newspapers and the angry throng decided had committed the murder.

"Telegraphs were dispatched to every sheriff's office in the vicinity of Mount Diablo," Schechter writes.

By the end of the day a detective from the San Francisco police department had reached the Signal Corps camp and apprehended Theo Durrant.

Schechter reports that the gruesome discovery provoked rage on the part of the people of San Francisco. An angry throng was down at Fisherman's Wharf to meet the ferry carrying Det. Anthoney and his suspect, Durrant.

"Only the presence of a large police contingent prevented a lynching," he writes.


Durrant on Trial

Theo Durrant's trial began in the fall of 1895 and was front-page news in every big city newspaper in the nation. The mustachioed medical student yielded excellent copy for the penny papers which reported daily on the exploits in the San Francisco courtroom.

Like so many other brutal killers, Durrant drew his share of admirers and was besieged by marriage proposals and love letters. He was gentlemanly and gallant to his female admirers. Every morning during the three-week trial Durrant accepted a bouquet of flowers from a pretty blonde woman. The press dubbed her "The sweet pea girl of San Francisco."

While the prosecutors believed they had an open-and-shut case, the defense tried to shift suspicion from Durrant to the Emanuel Baptist Church pastor, the Rev. John George Gibson, who spent hours alone in the church and had access to all parts of the building.

They pointed out that no blood was ever found on Durrant or any of his clothing, and that there was no indication the young man had destroyed any clothes.

Prosecutors proposed that Durrant was naked during the murder of Minnie Williams, lending credence to the belief that Williams had been a willing sexual partner prior to her slaying.

Durrant's soundness of mind was probed by doctors working for the prosecution as well as for the defense.

"It was not claimed that Durrant was insane," wrote Matthew Worth Pinkerton in his contemporary account of the case, Murder in All Ages (1898). "Yet that there was something morally defective in his makeup is apparent."

The psychologists who examined Durrant labeled him a "moral idiot," but could not speculate on what caused Durrant's sudden murderous outbreak. The only clues had to be wrenched from Durrant himself, who in between claims of innocence announced that he was suffering from nightmares and hallucinations. Durrant put these down to stress from his unjust prosecution, but modern neuro-psychological theories have more plausible explanations.


Competing Theories

There are several competing schools of thought as to what creates a monster like Theo Durrant. Pinkerton's statement that the criminal is one who "flings aside conscience" represents the view that criminal behavior, including violent crime, is a chosen lifestyle.

This theory, developed by Dr. Samuel Yochelson and further refined by his protégé, Dr. Stanton Samenow, believes that "criminals choose to commit crimes."

"Crime resides within the person and is 'caused' by the way he thinks, not by his environment," writes Samenow. "Criminals think differently from responsible people."

Samenow's theories argue that focusing on forces outside the criminal -- environment, society, poverty -- is futile and will do nothing to reduce criminal activity. The change must come from within.

Another school takes a more neuro-psychological view of the causes of crime.

Dr. Jonathan Pincus, a Georgetown neurologist, in Base Instincts has proposed a three-pronged theory of mental illness, physical brain damage and psychological trauma such as abuse which produces people like Theo Durrant.

"Abusive experiences, mental illness and neurological deficits interplayed to produce the tragedies reported in the newspapers," Pincus writes. His theory explains not only lust murders like Durrant's but the seemingly random acts of violence that fill the pages of the local papers.

"The same complex of factors underlies the act of homicide," Pincus said. "Attacks on strangers are substantially the same, etiologically, as attacks on friends. Regardless of the classification of killing, I believe most killers kill for the same reasons."

Pincus based his theories on the research he conducted with Dr. Dorothy O. Lewis who spent considerable time studying violent juveniles in search of a causal theory of crime. Lewis's theory is that violence is displaced rage against an abusive authority figure that is "vented" on an innocent victim.

But what causes this rage? To Lewis, the rage is the final stop in a long process: "First, physical abuse often causes central nervous system damage, thus contributing to impulsivity, attention disorders and learning disabilities," she writes. "Second, it provides a model with which to identify. Finally, it engenders rage toward the abusing parent, rage that can be then displaced onto authority figures and other individuals."

A final theory of the origin of killers is the one proposed by criminologist Dr. Lonnie Athens. He takes a position similar to Samenow's in that "violent criminals know what they are doing when they decide to act violently," according to his biographer, Richard Rhodes.

"Athens' discovery...means that murders are never senseless from the murderer's point of view; that motives, however 'trivial' and 'apparently unimportant' they may seem to psychologists do inform violent criminal acts; that violent criminals do not 'snap' but make decisions and act on them" and that if a criminal will answer honestly, it is possible to know why the act was committed.


"An Innocent Boy"

Durrant's jury had no need of complex psychological theories. The doctors who examined the young man didn't offer much. The defense merely took the position that their client was not guilty by reason of the fact that he didn't kill the women. They made no attempt to justify the crimes by explaining that Durrant's repressive home life, combined with his paranoid personality filled him with rage.

Instead, the lawyers pointed out that Durrant had plenty of reason to be in the church between the time that witnesses saw him enter with Blanche Lamont and when he left after his encounter with George King. Further, the argument with Minnie Williams was merely a lover's quarrel and Minnie was a hysterical woman anyway. After all, she had been acting strangely between the time of Blanche's disappearance and her own murder. Witnesses came forward who said Minnie told them "I know too much about the disappearance of Blanche. I fear she has met with foul play."

But the defense's efforts were in vain. The jury had barely settled in for their deliberations before the members came back with the guilty verdict and the judge sentenced Theo Durrant to hang.

The appeals process slowed the wheels of justice somewhat. It was nearly three years before Theo Durrant faced the hangman.

In the intervening time, his attorneys spared no effort to save his life, bringing up the details of his sordid sex life, drunken debauches on the Barbary Coast and twisted fetishes. Still, court after court found the man to be sane and reaffirmed the death penalty. Finally, after the Supreme Court upheld the verdict and sentence, Theo announced that he was "ready to die like a Durrant."

He took the opportunity to parry with reporters who filled reams of notebooks with his quotes. "It is not so awful to go to such a death," he said as the January 1898 execution date neared. "Such a death as mine may be the means of abolishing capital punishment in this state."

On the morning of his hanging, he declined to confess his sins to his priest "because I am not guilty." Then he climbed the gallows, his arms strapped to his sides and proceeded to begin a lengthy oration professing his innocence, blaming his conviction on the newspapers.

"I now go to receive the justice given to an innocent boy who has not stained his hands with the crimes that have been put upon him by the press of San Francisco," he said. But as he gathered his energy to continue his rant, the hangman slipped the hood over his head.

From beneath the white bag, Durrant's muffled voice could still be heard.

"I do not look upon people now as enemies," he continued, oblivious to the hemp noose which the hangman had slipped over the hood. "I forgive them as I expect to be forgiven for anything I have done..."

His voice paused briefly as the executioner slid the knot down the rope just behind his right ear. Then Theo Durrant continued.

"I am innocent. I say now this day before God, to whom I now go to meet my dues, I am innocent..."

With his last breath, Durrant asserted his blamelessness, but the words had barely left his lips when the hangman sprang the trap and Durrant dropped the three feet below the gallows.

The short drop snapped his neck and the body hung there for several minutes gently swaying like a pendulum before two convicts were brought in to lower it down. The hood still covering Durrant's face, the doctor pronounced him dead and the body was placed in the black lacquer coffin. Theo Durrant's handsome features were marred by the hanging. His blue eyes which some people claimed were pale to the point of glassiness bulged from his face and his blackened tongue protruded from between his lips.

It was thus that his parents received him in that small white room off the San Quentin execution chamber, and he remained that way as they enjoyed their afternoon meal.

As the prison officials withdrew from the side room to give the grieving parents time with their dead child, Mrs. Durrant was heard to say, "please papa, give me a little more of the roast."

The story of Theo Durrant did not end there, however. His crimes were so heinous and the public so outraged that no cemetery in San Francisco would accept his bones. His parents finally had Theo cremated and buried his ashes in Los Angeles.

Whatever motivated Theo Durrant to kill two women in the space of nine days was never explained. His parents' behavior after his death was suggestive of a coldness and distance that may have pervaded the Durrant house.

Undoubtedly Theo Durrant would have continued to kill had his first two victims not been discovered so soon. His crimes have all the earmarks of the standard lust murderer who is driven to kill over and over until he is finally brought to justice.

The great lengths he went to to ensure his victims' sufferings, the lack of care he demonstrated once he was finished and the denial or lack of remorse could only mean that Theo Durrant would not have stopped with just two victims. Like Bundy, Durrant was charming and handsome and, on cursory examination, the last person anyone would expect to be pegged as a homicidal maniac. But unlike Bundy, Durrant was not able to move outside his social circle to find his victims. Bundy was able to charm strangers into trusting him, knowing that if he killed too close to his home he could be caught.

This brings up an interesting aside. Since Durrant's killings were clearly sexual in nature, what if he had lived in a more permissive society, say for example late 20th century rather than 19th century San Francisco. Was it the fact that there were no Victorian singles' bars the thing that kept his body count down? Thankfully, these questions need not be answered.


Bibliography

  • Athens, Lonnie. 1997. Violent Crimes and Criminals Revisited. University of Illinois Press

  • Hall, Angus. Crimes and Punishment: A Pictorial Encyclopedia of Aberrant Behavior. London: BBC Publishing. 1973.

  • Hare, Robert D. 1995. Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us Pocket Books; Reprint edition.

  • Lewis, Dorothy O. 1999. Guilty by Reason of Insanity: A Psychiatrist Explores the Minds of Killers. Ivy Books.

  • McConnell, Virginia A. 2001. Sympathy for the Devil: The Emmanuel Baptist Murders of Old San Francisco. Praeger Publishers.

  • Pincus, Jonathan. 2002. Base Instincts: What Makes Killers Kill? W.W. Norton and Co.

  • Rhodes, Richard. 2000 Why They Kill: Discoveries of a Maverick Criminologist. Vintage Books.

  • Samenow, Stanton. 1984. The Criminal Mind. Times Books.

  • Schechter, Harold 1999. Bestial New York. Pocket Books.

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