The Demon of the Belfry

Investigating the Evolution of the Penny Press and the Emmanuel Church Murders

  • Elements Editor
  • Sean Stebbins


The Penny Press' sensational coverage of the 1895 Emmanuel Church Murders (committed by San Francisco Medical zstudent Theofore Durrant) highlighted their obsession with deviant sexuality and gruesome violence. Contemporary newspapers continually cited Durrant's lack of romantic success, highlighted his peculiar medical background, speculated about his intimate relationship with his mother, and emphasized the maidenhood of his two young female victims - all while engaging in what scholar Karen Haltunnen terms the 'Pornography of Violence'. Scholars have not sufficiently studied how newspapers and other media during this time romanticized traditional sexual relationships while simultaneously fetishizing violence - especially if that violence was sexual in nature. This paper will argue that rapidly changing conceptions of sexual normativity during the Gilded Age - and the conflict between representatives on both sides of that fierce debate - manifested themselves in the implicity, and often these explicity sexualized coverage of Durrant.

How to Cite
Elements, & Stebbins, S. (2022). The Demon of the Belfry. Elements, 17(1), 41-56.