California · Executions · Newspaper clippings

Man executed for the rape, murder, and mutilation of two women

January 7, 1898
San Quentin, California
Theodore Durrant is executed for the rape, murder, and mutilation of two women

William Henry Theodore Durrant, a 23-year-old medical student and Sunday school assistant superintendent, had killed Blanche Lamont (20) and Minnie Flora Williams (21) within nine days of each other in April of 1895. Williams’ body was discovered on April 13, the day after her murder, left in the Emmanuel Church’s library closet. As a search was conducted for clues regarding Williams’ murder, Lamont’s body was found hidden in the church’s belfry.

Williams had been raped, her clothing torn or cut from her body, and a scrap of clothing was shoved “so tightly into her mouth it required considerable effort to remove.” She had been stabbed repeatedly and forcefully enough to break the knife off in her breastbone. Lamont was found nude but, due to decomposition, her autopsy could not prove conclusively if she had been raped. The medical examiner was able to determine her cause of death, however: strangulation.

Suspicion fell on Durrant immediately, who had been seen by multiple witnesses with the victims shortly before their disappearances, and who had been seen by the church organist coming down from the church belfry looking visibly disturbed at the approximated time of Lamont’s murder. Furthermore, Lamont’s body had been laid out with a wood block under her head and her arms crossed over her chest similar to cadavers used by medical students, and Williams’ purse was found in his possession.

During trial, several women came forward testifying Durrant had invited them into the church’s library. One stated she had run from the building after Durrant excused himself temporarily only to return completely naked, while another was asked into the library for a “physical examination” which she refused.

Durrant’s defense team claimed the real murderer was Rev. J. George Gibson, pointing to a chisel in the pastor’s toolbox which matched chisel marks on the belfry door. Another piece of evidence presented was handwriting on a package — containing Lamont’s rings and sent to her friend shortly after her murder — matched Gibson’s.

The jury seemed to lean towards the prosecution and their witnesses, over 50 in total. Durrant was convicted of Lamont’s murder in December of 1895 after five minutes of deliberation. The sentence handed to him was death. (The prosecution opted to only try him for Lamont’s murder at first, believing its case against Durrant was stronger.)

After more than two years of appeals and delays, Durrant was executed for the murders on January 7, 1898. He went to his death “without a tremor or without the quiver of an eyelash,” making no eleventh hour confession, and professing his innocence to the end.

Sources:
“Psycho-Sexual Killer Theodore Durrant, 1895.” Historical Crime Detective. Accessed January 7, 2019. http://www.historicalcrimedetective.com/killer-theodore-durrant/
“Unflinchingly the Emmanuel Church Slayer Goes to His Death on San Quentin’s Gallows.” The San Francisco Chronicle. January 8, 1898
“The Doom of Durrant.” The Examiner [San Francisco, California]. December 11, 1893
“Counsel for Durrant Point the Finger of Suspicion at Gibson.” The San Francisco Chronicle. September 26, 1893

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