Monday, July 27, 2009

After 37 years, a father knows a monster will never kill again

By Tom Hawthorn
Special to The Globe and Mail
July 27, 2009


This is how you find out the man who killed your daughter has himself been killed.

You do not get a call from the police.

You do not get a call from a reporter.

You get an item on the news.

In a moment, it all comes back. The shock of the horrible, unbelievable word of her death. The awful funeral service. A mother’s suffocating grief. A family never again to be together.

That the family had come to this country to escape the violence of their homeland seemed, in retrospect, to be an especially cruel irony.

On the news, it was learned a drifter known as the Cookie Bandit was killed in a police shootout.

Joseph Henry Burgess (aka Job, Job Week, Joe Henry Burke) got his cutesy nickname from breaking into isolated cabins in New Mexico to scrounge for food and clothing. He was intent on another burglary at a cabin in the rough mountain country outside Albuquerque when confronted by police on a stakeout. In the ensuing shootout, an officer received a fatal wound, the final victim of a demented murderer.

Geoffrey Durrant reacted to the news like few others could.

“I was relieved,” he said. He paused. “I might say gratified. Gratified that this fellow had been dealt with.”

On an early summer’s evening in 1972, in the bush next to the rugged beauty of Radar Beach, south of Tofino, a young couple had the misfortune of coming to the attention of a religious zealot.

He shot both in the head with a .22-calibre rifle. He is believed to have been offended by their having slept together without benefit of wedlock.

The Durrant family never recovered from the terrible news.

A murder claims a life. That is obvious. What is also too often lost is the person’s identity. Anne Durrant became a victim and even now, all these years later, that is all most of us know about her.

A father would like you to know a bit about his youngest daughter.

“She was a lovely young woman,” he said.

“She collected porcelain horses. She had a great number of them.”

A father can only remember fondly his indulgence of a daughter’s passion.

Mr. Durrant was an aspiring professor in South Africa when he married Barbara, an English-born emigre who trained as a nurse. She helped provide health care for poor black families. In time, social work led to political work, as the Durrants became active in the founding of the Liberal Party, organized in opposition to apartheid.

In 1955, Barbara Durrant joined the non-violent Black Sash movement, opposing pass laws and other racist legislation. She broadcast on Radio Freedom, a pirate station that aired news the state otherwise suppressed. Mr. Durrant, who was head of the English department at the University of Natal, a hotbed of opposition to the government’s policy of racial segregation, wrote news bulletins and pamphlets. Over the years, many of the Durrants friends were arrested.

In those tumultuous days, they also began a family. A son, John, was born in 1943, followed by Catherine, known as Kate, in 1950, and Anne, the baby, in 1952.

As their son approached the age in which he would drafted into the South African military, where he would be compelled to enforce laws the family found repellent, the Durrants decided to start anew in peaceful Canada.

The professor became head of the English department at the University of Manitoba, later taking the same position at the University of British Columbia.

He wrote two studies of the poetry of William Wordsworth, one of which was reissued this year as a digital edition on the 30th anniversary of its original publication by Cambridge University Press.

The academic life suited well the professor, who was invited to take part in the annual summer expeditions by the Harry Hawthorn Foundation for the Inclusion and Propagation of the Principles and Ethics of Fly-Fishing, a gathering of professors formed during a trip to Vancouver Island.

At home, however, all was not calm. After graduating from Point Grey High School, young Anne enrolled in the university’s Arts One, a fledgling integrated humanities program said to foster critical thinking.

Prof. Durrant feels even now his young, impressionable daughter drifted from her family after being led astray by a teacher.

“She was influenced by an instructor in Arts One into taking up the hippie lifestyle,” he said.

These days, the word hippie carries with it an innocent notion of peace and free love in a cloud of hemp smoke. Back then, for some, the hippies were dirty, zonked on drugs, and to be feared. To some, the hippies were not a beautiful dream; the hippies were a nightmare expressed as Charles Manson.

You can imagine the consternation of a father that his beautiful daughter, who in high school wore sundresses and allowed her silken, blonde hair to flow long past her shoulders, would fall in with people who lived rough as treeplanters when not collecting welfare while living on a commune near Hope.

Miss Durrant and a friend, Leif Carlsson, a Swedish exchange student, joined hundreds of other free spirits camping in makeshift lean-tos along the spectacular beaches on the west coast of Vancouver Island.

Father and daughter had a falling out. All those sacrifices, the moving to a new country, mocked by a girl’s selfish indulgences.

It felt like losing a daughter.

The pair had a reconciliation.

Then came news of the murders on June 21, 1972.

A funeral service remains in memory as being “truly awful. My wife was very upset by it.”

Barbara Durrant never recovered. She continued to garden,as she had done since childhood, even that soothing hobby failing to extinguish the guilt about having made the fateful move to Canada. She carried that feeling until her death in 1999.

The parents had their youngest child cremated, scattering the ashes of Anne Barbara Durrant along a wooded path in the University Endowment Lands, a forest that begins one block from the family home in westside Vancouver where the girl maintained her collection of porcelain horses.

Today, a father marks his 96th birthday, still grieving, but with the certain satisfaction of knowing the monster who murdered his daughter will kill no more.


mandolin said...

My name is Johan Carlsson, and I´m the brother of Leif, the Swedish guy who got killed together with Ann Durant. I recently learned about the killing of Burgess, and though I´m a peaceful guy, it pleased me. After 37 years of wondering, grieving, never coping with the fact that my beloved brother was dead, it feels rather good that the man finally got what he deserved.
And Mr Durant, if you read this, I want you to know that we, me and my family, has been thinking of you and your family a whole lot during the years. We never got to meet Ann, but Leif and I had a very close relationship and he wrote a lot about her. If you want to contact me, my email is:

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