Taussig, Jacob. Letter F, or, Startling Revelations in the Durant [sic] Case (1895) 151 pp.
A truly remarkable little volume based on the case of William Henry Theodore (“Theo”) Durrant who, in 1895, was convicted of raping and murdering two young women in Emanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco’s Mission District. The case shocked the nation by its brutality and was dubbed “the crime of the century” by the press. This book, published in May 1895, during Durrant’s trial, is divided into two parts. The first part (pp. 5-69) is a summary of the facts of the case (“As it is Said to Have Happened”) extracted from local newspaper accounts and testimony given at the preliminary hearing; the second part (pp. 70-151: “As it Could Have Happened”) is pure fiction. A group of gentlemen at the Pacific Smokers Club gather to debate the evidence presented in the case until one of them accepts a $20,000 bet to produce a plausible explanation of the facts that also exonerates Durrant (whom the book insists on “Durant”) of the crimes. As they leave the club, a young man approaches them, having overheard their conversation, and produces a manuscript of his confession. He then disappears. The stranger bears a remarkable resemblance to Durrant, is acquainted with the pastor of the church where the murders occurred, and is a career criminal, ladies’ man, actor, ventriloquist, and secret boyfriend of Minnie Williams, the second victim. All of these circumstances combine to point the finger of suspicion at the devout, respectable Theo. Possible? Sure. Plausible? Not.
The author somewhat conceitedly calls himself “the Emil Gaborieau of America” on the title page. This is a reference to the French novelist Emile Gaboriau (1835-1873), creator of Monsieur Lecocq, widely regarded as the very first fictional detective, and stems from this passage in the text: “If the late Gaborieau … lived and exercised his fertile brains for twenty years to conceive a plot covering all these points he would make a miserable failure of it.” Indeed.
San Francisco Murders, p. 107
Annals of Murder, 278