News & Tall Tales. 1800s.
On the day before Easter Sunday 1895, four women entered the Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco's Mission District to decorate the altar with flowers. When they opened the door to the little room containing the library, they were greeted with a horrible sight: the stabbed and strangled body of 21-year-old Minnie Williams, her blood coating the floor and spattering the walls. A search of the church revealed another grisly discovery in the belfry: the decomposing body of another young woman, reported as missing ten days before. She, too, had been strangled. But unlike the victim in the library, Blanche Lamont was lovingly laid out as if for burial.
April 16, 1895, Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California
Durrant's Vile Proposals to Miss Williams.
She Once Had an Encounter With Him at Fruit Vale.
The Terrific Strain Is Beginning to Tell on the Prisoner.
When Morning Dawned He Was Fretful and Showed Signs of Breaking Down.
SAN FRANCISCO, April 16. Durrant passed a restless night.
His slumbers were broken by an almost continuous nightmare. Several times he startled the other prisoners by his shrieks and cries for help.
At daybreak he was in a cold perspiration, but soon he became more composed.
Those who supposed last night Durrant would make a confession within a brief period were surprised at his demeanor today. He showed that nothing was further from his mind than to admit guilt. He reiterated his attorney's caution to make no statement.
In addition to A. W. Thompson, he has retained Eugene Deuprey and John H. Dickinson. He said this morning: "General Dickinson will tell you anything he may think it advisable to make known. I hope you will not think me impolite in refusing to talk of the case with you. I am acting on the advice of others and mean no discourtesy."
Later, however, he denied he had ever seen any of the girls who yesterday identified him as being with Blanche Lamont on the afternoon of April 21.
"I never saw one of these girls before," he said, "and have no recollection of such a meeting with Blanche Lamont."
Then Durrant checked himself. Before he started for the morgue he was required to dress himself in the costume he had worn on the night when Mizzie Williams was supposed to have been killed. He dressed nonchalantly in a blue overcoat and slouch hat.
HE PRETENDED TO READ.
Durrant carried into the inquest chamber a book on medical jurisprudence which which he affected to read. He held the book in his left hand but seldom turned a page. As the evidence progressed, he frequently glanced up from the book and finally closed, devoting his attention to the proceedings.
As the appearance of the murdered girl was described by the witnesses, Durrant began to look haggard. His eyes became heavy and red and he drummed nervously with his fingers.
STORY OF THE INQUEST.
The Coroner began the inquest upon the remains of Marian Williams at the morgue this morning. The surrounding streets were packed with a crowd of morbidly curious people.
Among them were many fashionably attired women, the latter being especially bitter against the fiend of Emmanuel Church. Last night Durrant said he would not attend the inquest, although his attorney would be present to protect his interests. This morning, however, Durrant concluded it was better for him to attend the inquest.
He was brought to the morgue and followed by an immense crowd.' A strong guard of police mingling with the crowd suppressed every attempt at demonstration. Pending the commencement of the inquest Durrant was temporarily lodged in a cell of the old City Prison.
He was calm on his arrival and did not seem a bit perturbed by his hurried trip from the New City Hall. He passed through the people with his head bowed down.
He was a trifle pale, but displayed the same coolness and ability to control his feelings that have characterized his actions since his arrest at Mount Diablo.
Durrant senior, the father of the accused, arrived early at the inquest. He declined to make a statement, but seemed anything but nervous.
The older Durrant's face wore a troubled expression, however, and he showed signs of sorrow. He retired to an obscure corner of the room awaiting the summons to the witness stand.
The names of the jurors were then called and ten answered the roll call. Then Durrant Jr. was brought into the room by two detectives and was seated beside the prosecuting attorney at a desk in front of the Coroner's stand.
The prisoner kept his eyes on the floor as he entered the room. His appearance seemed to encourage silence.
Nothing but subdued whispers could be heard in the room.
Policeman Riahl, the first witness, told how, on hearing the dead body was discovered, he had gone to the church and found the body lying in a book closet, the floor and walls of which were stained and splashed with blood.
The most sensational testimony of the day was given by Clark H. Morgan, at whose house in Alameda Miss Williams resided.
Morgan had refused to be interviewed, and his statement to the jury contained startling accusations against Durant. Morgan said Durant had made insulting proposals to Miss Williams, who had repulsed him.
Several times Durant had tried to decoy Miss Williams, with a view of betraying her.
Morgan said last summer Durrant had taken Mariah out to Fruit Vale, and when in a lonely spot he tried to reason with her with the intention of betraying her.
Morgan said Miss Williams, for whom he had a paternal feeling, confided freely to him her suspicions of Durrant of whom she was in mortal fear.
Durrant seemed to possess great influence over her, but she both feared and disliked the prisoner. During his testimony .organ identified the purse found in Durrant's pocket through a car ticket found in the article. This ticket, he said, has been in his possession for nineteen years. A short time ago Minnie asked him to allow her to take it, for the was going to see if she could use it in Oakland.
"Take it along," I replied, said Mr. .organ. "The ticket, I afterward was informed, was found in the inner pocket of the purse."
The Coroner then resumed his questions.
"Did Durrant ever call on Miss Williams?"
"I don't know."
"Did he ever call on her at your factory?"
"I do not remember."
"Did you ever see see Durrant?"
"Did she say anything about the young people meeting in Emmanuel Church?"
"She said that she was going to have a new dress for her reception."
"Did you see Durrant at your house at all?"
"I never did."
"How did you know that he was at your house?"
"I have good information, because Miss Williams said that he wanted her to go to San Francisco with him."
Southern Pacific Detective Chappelle told of seeing Durrant at the Oakland ferry at 3 o'clock on the fatal Friday afternoon. Durrant, said Chappelle was watching the people get off the boat.
THE JANITOR'S TALE
Frank E. Saederman, janitor of Emmanuel Baptist Church, took the stand and in a straightforward manner told his story. He said that he never noticed Durrant in the church late at night, but often saw him in the church during the daytime. Had seen King and Durrant in the church together during the daytime. Did not know positively whether Durrant had a key to the place, but had heard King say that Durrant had one.
Saederman was not certain whether the pastor had a key to the church or not. He explained that to open the front door required two keys.
Witness seldom went into the belfry. Thought that the last time he was there was about thirty days ago. He remembers locking the door at the time. The lock was in perfect order. The knob of the door was not broken. No one else had any keys to the belfry that he knew of.
Electrical wires are strung about the building. The wires do not run into the belfry. Durrant used to attend to the electrical work of the place. He had attended all along.
Mr. Saederman said that King and Durrant had been working together in the library of late. No young ladies, to his knowledge, had assisted in arranging the books in the library. They had no keys to the place as far as Saederman knew. When anything was going on in the church the back door was generally left open.
The janitor saw the prisoner last in front of the ticket office at the ferry. Durrant said that he had been at the ferry nearly all the afternoon. Durrant said that he had a clew to the whereabouts of Miss Lamont; had a clue that the girl was to leave the city with some friends.
DR. GIBSON'S EVIDENCE
Dr. Gibson, pastor of the Emmanuel Baptist Church, was called. The preacher was calm and answered more clearly than any other witness the queries put to him by the Coroner. He studied some when asked when he last saw Theodore Durrant, but finally answered concisely, "at about half-past nine."
Dr. Gibson said he was acquainted with Miss Williams and the last time he saw here alive was at my reception. He did not see her that evening with Durrant. The last time he saw Durrant was at Dr. Vogel's on the Friday evening in question, about 11 o'clock. He was unable to state definitely when Durrant left Dr. Vogel's house.
The testimony became somewhat mixed and the preacher seemed for a few minutes to be rattled. He declared that he had no knowledge of Durrant's going in the house. Then after pausing, he thought that he saw Durrant in the house about 9:30.
He said Durrant was secretary of the Christian Endeavor, but he was not present at the business meeting that was called during the early part of the evening. He had no especial talk with Durrant. Durrant made no excuses for his tardiness to him. A secretary protem was appointed to perform the young man's duties.
"I walked along Twenty-second street when the electric car passed. I heard some young people shouting. A car came along and some of our young people boarded. I then went down Valencia street to my home. That is all I saw of them that night," concluded Dr. Gibson in stating the events that transpired at Dr. Vogel's house.
The witness was not certain whether Mr. Durrant had keys to the church or not. He never went to the study of the church with Theodore Durrant. He did not know how the prisoner entered the church, but supposed that he had a key.
Dr. Gibson said that he did not like the way the questions were put to him. Coroner Hawkins asked the preacher to please let the investigation go on as it should without interference. Gibson's replies were guarded. He evidently feared that he might be entangled.
Only on one occasion when Gibson went to the church and found Durrant there was the door unlocked. He never made a statement to anybody that he was in his study between the hours of 7 and 9 p.m. Friday night.
"What did you do when you heard the noises in the library Friday morning?" asked Hawkins.
"I did not pay much attention to the sounds.
"I discovered the body of Marian Wilson on Saturday morning at 11 o'clock." The story of the finding of the corpse was then retold. It did not differ except in minor details from that already published. Several jurors questioned Dr. Gibson about the broken lock of the library door. The witness then stated that the janitor's boy first informed him of I he fact. He said to the boy: "Do not say anything to any one in the church until I have investigated."
"I went to the library and found the place in perfect order. The furniture was in place and no papers were disturbed. I examined the closet door and then left the place."
After other witnesses had testified to Durrant's visits to the church and other matters previously published the inquest adjourned for the day.
A CONNECTING LINK
The police hove learned of further information connecting Durrant with the murder of Miss Williams.
Last Friday evening, Mrs. McKay, a washerwoman, was passing Emmanuel Church with a bundle of clothes at the time when Durrant and his supposed victim were described by another witness as being in front of the side gate to the church.
When Mrs. McKay passed the couple, she says the man was urging something and the girl shaking her head disapprovingly. The man said: "You're afraid. Come, don't be a coward."
She thought it was a lover's quarrel and passed on, thinking no more of the incident until the account of the murder was published. Her description of the couple tallies exactly with that of Durrant and Marian Williams.
ARRAIGNED IN COURT
Durrant was arraigned in the Police Court at 1 o'clock this afternoon for the murder of Marian Williams.
Hearing was set for next Monday at 11 o'clock.
Blanche Lamont's shoes and her schoolbooks were found this afternoon in the rafters of the church by the police.
SAW DURRANT LAST FRIDAY
An Oakland Man Now Figures in the Case.
Among the number of witnesses who are constantly pressing forward to show the whereabouts of Durrant, the alleged murderer of Blanche Lamont and Minnie Williams, Oakland will have at least one individual who will figure strongly in the case.
This witness is A. A. Hobe, a mine owner residing at 530 Jones street. Hobe went to San Francisco this morning for the purpose of informing the authorities what he knows of the case. Hobe could not be seen at his home this afternoon when called upon by a Tribune reporter, because he had not yet returned from the metropolis.
His wife, however, was seen and displayed no reluctance in telling all that her husband had told her as to what he knew regarding the principal suspect in the case.
"It was last Friday night, Good Friday," said Mrs. Hobe, "my husband was returning from San Francisco, when, at the Market street ferry, he saw Theodore Durrant talking to a young woman right near the ferry. They were standing there and were seemingly interested in the talk as my husband passed within six feet of them. Durrant noticed my husband and bowed to him. The young lady, my husband thinks, was dressed in a dark cape and a dark dress. He does not remember what kind of a hat she wore. In complexion, my husband thinks the girl was dark and it seemed to him that she was rather of a brownish tint. My husband did not know the girl. He could not have been mistaken because he knew Durrant well. He went to school with him in the Lincoln School in San Francisco several years ago, and both knew each other well.
My husband says that the hour at which he saw Durrant was 5 o'clock in the evening, because he was on his way home and reached here in time for dinner at about 5:45 p.m. On the following Sunday morning be picked up the Chronicle at home here to read it. One of the first things to attract his attention was a picture of Durrant which appeared in that paper that morning. As soon as he saw the picture, my husband said: 'Well, I saw Durrant at the ferry last Friday night, and now here he figures in this murder case.' He then told the story I have told you."
This story of Mr. Hobe corroborates that of Janitor Sademan of the Emanuel Baptist Church and Detective Chappelet, both of whom have already gone on record of having seen Durrant at the ferry at nearly the same hour on the same day.
Sympathy for the Devil: The Emmanuel Baptist Murders of Old San Francisco
Clues led the police to a friend of both victims, a medical student who was also the assistant superintendent of the church's Sunday school. But those who knew Theo Durrant denied that this highly respectable young man could have had anything to do with these horrible crimes. The young man who committed these two apparently motiveless murders was depicted by the popular press at the time as a monster, a devil in disguise, only pretending to be religious. McConnell demonstrates that he was exactly what he seemed to be: a genuinely good man whose life went terribly wrong because of the biological, genetic, and mental problems from which he suffered -- problems he was not even aware of. Sympathy for the Devil examines the extensive and sensational press coverage of the case (criticized by the Governor and by the California Supreme Court), the effect of the murders on San Francisco, and also analyzes what turned an apparently upstanding young man into a vicious murderer.
The Bloody Century: True Tales of Murder in 19th Century America
A murderous atmosphere pervaded nineteenth century America unlike anything seen before or since. Lurid murder stories dominated newspaper headlines, and as if responding to the need for sensational copy, Americans everywhere began to see murder as a solution to their problems. The Bloody Century retells their stories; some still famous, some long buried, all endlessly fascinating. The Bloody Century is a collection of true stories of ordinary Americans, driven by desperation, greed, jealousy or an irrational blood lust, to take the life of someone around them. The book includes facts, motives, circumstances and outcomes, narrating fifty of the most intriguing murder cases of nineteenth century America. Richly illustrated with scenes and portraits originally published at the time of the murders, and including songs and poems written to commemorate the crimes.
Black Fire: The True Story of the Original Tom Sawyer -- and of the Mysterious Fires That Baptized Gold Rush-Era San Francisco
The first biography of the little-known real-life Tom Sawyer (a friend of Mark Twain during his brief tenure as a California newspaper reporter), told through a harrowing account of Sawyer's involvement in the hunt for a serial arsonist who terrorized mid-nineteenth century San Francisco. When 28-year-oldSan Francisco Daily Morning Callreporter Mark Twain met Tom Sawyer at a local bathhouse in 1863, he was seeking a subject for his first novel. As Twain steamed, played cards, and drank beer with Sawyer (a volunteer firefighter, customs inspector, and local hero responsible for having saved ninety lives at sea), he had second thoughts about Shirley Tempest, his proposed book about a local girl firefighter, and began to envision a novel of wider scope.
Author Robert Graysmith worked as an artist at The San Francisco Chronicle during the years of the Zodiac Killer; he wrote "Zodiac" and "Zodiac Unmasked" about those murders.