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(3) When the Minnie Williams body was found on Saturday night, the police officer did not search the belfry that night because the door was locked (!); and the search of the rest of the church was made with candles. (4) After the body was removed from the belfry, the place was left open and accessible to anybody; and the search for clothing was joined in by a number of casual visitors. Footprint evidence became impossible, and other serious risks were incurred. (5) The blocks supporting the head in autopsy fashion were found on April 14, but were left there and not marked for identification till August; the school books found there were not marked till April 18 or 20. (5) Shoes were found — “a couple of pairs or more,” they could not remember how many - in the pastor's study on April 14; and were left there (where other persons had access ) for some time, because the police, after examining the brown spot on one shoe, concluded that it was not blood! Afterwards one of the shoes was taken away by the police. (6) The note-book of Durrant (it seems fair to believe) would have gone far to settle the result beyond doubt, at any rate if it had contained no notes at all; yet though Durrant was arrested on the 14th, and though an alibi at the college was his claim from the beginning, the note-book remained at his house till the 17th, and was then taken by his father to his attorneys, in whose possession it remained for several weeks at least.
These are only some of the many instances of a mode of search and preparation which is common enough everywhere, but is none the less unworthy of a modern police and detective force.
It is one of the notable excellencies of the San Francisco force that; amidst the troublous vicissitudes of municipal politics, its present heads (Chief Crowley, of the police, and Captain Lees, of the detectives) have maintained their positions for nearly a generation; and in the Durrant case the zeal and the industry of the force were severely tasked and were found amply equal to the occasion. But integrity and industry, rare as they may be, are not everything. Acuteness and thoroughness, a general appreciation of the professional nicety and minuteness of which the art of detection seems capable, may fairly be demanded on the part of a modern detective organization. It might seem amateurish
to recommend that copies of the Sherlocke Holmes stories and of Poe's “ Murders in the Rue Morgue” be placed in the hands of every policeman and detective. But when we find police officers leaving spotted shoes behind because the spot seems to them not to be blood; failing to mark a murderer's apparatus for identification until four months after the murder; leaving a note-book, which almost certainly contained the solution of the problem, in the hands of the accused for many weeks; when we find a policesergeant, as in the Borden case, taking a list of the accused's dresses, one of which must bave contained blood if she was guilty, and then losing the list and having no copy, — when such plain indiscretions, such important omissions, are of common occurrence, the time has come when the professional detective cannot afford to sneer at the closet-studies of the amateur and the hints of art to be found in them.
In interesting rulings upon evidence the Durrant trial was fruitful; but, as the rulings were made upon little or no argument, their consideration here is hardly profitable. A few incidents of special interest must, however, be noted.
First, as to the Minnie Williams murder. On April 12, Friday, nine days after Miss Lamont's disappearance, Miss Minnie Williams, an acquaintance of Durrant's, came over the bay from Oakland, where she had been living, to stay in San Francisco with relatives. After supper she left the house to attend a meeting of the Christian Endeavor Society — the same one to which Durrant and Blanche Lamont belonged - at the house of Dr. Vogel. She never reached the meeting. About 9:30 o'clock, Durrant arrived at the meeting, considerably later than the time for opening, and, after washing his hands, joined the others. On Saturday morning the body of Minnie Williams, as already related, was found in the church-library, outraged, strangled, and badly cut with a knife from the church washroom. On searching Durrant's house the officers found the dead girl's purse in his overcoat pocket. Witnesses were ready to
say that they saw Durrant meet Miss Williams on that same Friday afternoon as she landed at the ferry. Durrant explained his tardiness at the meeting by having missed car-connections,
etc., and his possession of the purse by having picked it up on the street. The prosecution expected to show a motive for the murder in the fact that Miss Williams had said " she knew too much about Blanche Lamont's disappearance; " and her knowledge was supposed to have been gained by meeting Durrant and Miss Lamont at the corner of Market and Powell streets when they changed cars there on April 3, — a conversation which would have accounted for the 10 or 15 minutes, tardiness in the time at which the couple should have reached the church. It was this Williams meeting that the prosecution had in mind when they examined Durrant so rigorously as to the reason for his presence at the ferry on Friday afternoon, April 12; for their theory was that his real reason for waiting there was to meet Miss Williams, and not, as he claimed, to look for Miss Lamont. His reason, whatever it was, would have little bearing in the Lamont case, but would be of the greatest consequence on the charge of the Williams murder, for which also he stood indicted. But the court at the outset ruled out (and it would seem very properly) all allusion to the charge of the Williams murder with reference to Durrant.
It fell to the court to administer a deserved rebuke to the irresponsible and jocular attitude so frequent nowadays on matters over which, it would seem, none could have any but serious thoughts. Mr. H. J. McCoy, Local Secretary of the Young Men's Christian Association, in passing one of the jurors (a friend of his) one day in the cars, said to him: “ If you don't hang Durrant, we shall hang you.” The offender admitted his fault, and pleaded that he had spoken only jokingly and had regretted the speech as soon as made. But, with a just sense of the perniciousness of the mental attitude that could joke upon such a subject, the court imposed a fine of $250 for contempt of court and accompanied its action with a well-worded rebuke. It is a matter of congratulation that our judiciary includes officers who are alive to the danger of so irresponsible a condition of mind and are ready to do what they can to impress upon the public a sense of the peril it threatens to justice.
The same unpleasant necessity for guarding the administra
tion of justice against what is so weakly and inadequately termed "contempt of court” was also illustrated by two incidents involving questions of newspaper ethics. First, at the outset of the trial, and while the jury was being impaneled, the defense asked for an order in contempt restraining the local journals from attacking the character of jurors and witnesses. The order was refused, partly because of the delay necessary to adjudicate a merely incidental matter, partly because the adjudication might result in giving a bias beforehand to the proceedings, and partly because (as the court thought) a hint to the editorial sense of propriety would be sufficient. Whether the particular offense charged by the defense was repeated does not appear. But certainly the newspapers did not cease to do that which would seem to present itself to the ordinary intelligence as grossly unfair and beyond the limits which even the mercenary sense allows itself. The issue being mainly one of alibi, each additional witness was of consequence and a new one might naturally appear at any time; and the newspapers amused themselves and excited the community by bringing out from time to time supposed new witnesses, who saw this, that, or the other, and who would testify to it; while on the next day it appeared that this person did not after all see this, that, or the other and could not testify to it, and on the day afterwards the character of this person was exploited and the chances of his testimony discussed; until a new sensation was invented. In a similar way, the genuine witnesses, who afterwards took the stand, were badgered by reporters so assiduously that their full testimony was often published beforehand in a shape which differed materially from what they afterwards said on the stand. One consequence of all this was that a good deal of the cross-examination consisted in confronting the witnesses with the reporters' fictions of what these persons had said, and a good deal of the re-examination was taken up with denials of the various fictitious sayings attributed to them by reporters. Another and more serious consequence was that the public mind was kept in a constant state of morbid excitement over these sensational promises and prognostications. So far as the leading
newspapers were able to affect it, the attitude of the community during the trial was of the sort usually found on the turf or in the stock-exchange, and was far removed from the serious, unprejudiced, responsible state of mind which ought to and would - normally prevail in considering such a trial.1 If great newspapers are to throw aside all sense of responsibility and propriety at such times, the law must come to our aid. If there is one point at which it is easiest and most important for the community to take steps to check the degradation of justice, it is in assuming the control of the newspapers. The good old traditions of journalistic decency still obtain in England, where editorial good sense, and if not that, the courts, avail to check such deplorable methods. But the time has come here when the legislature must restrain in some way two practices which are forbidden by the commonest principles of fair play: (1) Editorial comment during a trial on the issues of fact or of law; (2) Reports during a trial about any witness
a trial about any witness or juror, or about any witness' story, except by way of a report of the proceedings in court.
The other matter in which the press was concerned was the refusal of a woman-reporter to disclose, at the request of the defense, the source of her information about Mrs. Leake's story, the substance of whose intended testimony she was the first to furnish to a pleased employer and a surprised community. She refused to answer; and when the judge declared that he would make out an order for her commitment to jail, she still refused. It is related that several persons, upon adjournment, at once crowded round the “ plucky little woman,” and commended her“ bravery.” Her reason was that she had given her word of honor not to reveal the source of information; yet as it appeared later that she had solemnly promised Durrant not to “ publish ” a damaging admission which he made in answer to her inquiry, and then found it morally possible to take the stand and reveal it because that was not " publishing
1 A theatrical representation, entitled “The Crime of the Century," and dealing with the Durrant Case,
had to be enjoined by the court during the trial.