Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Theo Durrant

"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.

Sketch: Theo Durrant led to the hangman
Sketch: Theo Durrant led to 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."

Sketch: Theo Durrant's parents dine after his execution
Sketch: Theo Durrant's
parents dine after his
execution

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.

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