Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Theo Durrant

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.

 Blanche Lamont, victim
Blanche Lamont, victim

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.

Elizabeth McConnell's Sympathy for the Devil
Elizabeth McConnell's
Sympathy for the Devil

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 two 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."

Sketch: Durrant head shot
Sketch: Durrant head shot

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."

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