The Murder of Widow Duren

The Murder of Widow Duren


     In the summer of 1857,  a widow named Mrs. Adaline Duren and her two children moved to Garnett from Louisville, Kentucky. She resided on Fifth Avenue between Oak and Walnut Street which is one block over from the Garnett House Hotel. She supported herself and her children Junius and Mary through her own business.

      In August of 1864, there was a lecture in the town on the science of phrenology and most of the citizens attended the lecture including Mary. Widow Duren stayed behind at home by herself reading alone since her son Junius was away on business. After the lecture, Mary returned home to find all of the doors and windows open and the lamps burning bright. On the floor lay the book that her mother had been reading when she left. Near the book there was also a large pool of blood. Mary quickly retreated from the house and began to alert all of her neighbors who quickly began a search for Widow Duren. In the northwest corner of the home, the body of Widow Duren was found and she was horribly mutilated and had been defiled.

      A coroner’s jury was brought together and an investigation was begun the next day. It was determined that she had been struck on the head with a sharp object which had nearly crushed her skull and severed her neck. In the house they found several bloody hand prints scattered about the crime scene.The investigation began to turn up some potential suspects but none could be connected to the bloody murder.

     Later that afternoon, a set of bloody clothes belonging to a free African-American man named John Warren were found by one of the investigators. John Warren was working for D. W. Houston who was the original builder of The Garnett House Hotel. Mr. Warren was living in a room in the attic of the Garnett House Hotel and was quickly found and dragged to Mohler’s Hall to face the town committee.

      During questioning, Mr. Warren tried to give several stories as to why his clothing was bloody. All of these explanations were quickly dismissed when more blood was found on his legs and shoes after an examination. It was at this time that Mr. Warren confessed to this brutal crime.

     According to his testimony, John Warren went to Mrs. Duren’s house on the night of the murder and found her sitting in her bureau reading. As she tried to stand up, Mr. Warren struck her in the head with an axe knocking her unconscious out of the chair and to the floor. He then raped her before she could regain consciousness. Just after this brutal act, she regained her senses and stood up and tried to leave out of the west door. Mr. Warren quickly then went around and met her before she could escape and struck her several more blows from the axe nearly severing her head. He then threw out the axe and went back to his room at the Garnett House Hotel and went to bed. 

     It was decided that with little doubt of his guilt and since there was no jail as of yet in Anderson County that John Warren should be taken and hanged as quickly as possible. The town jail was under construction at the time and was not yet complete. The following day at 1:00 PM, Mr. Warren was taken to the scaffolding of the jail and executed by hanging in front of the largest public crowd that Garnett had seen at that time. The band stand at the center of town sits where Mr. Warren was hanged.

     While it can be construed that John Warren was the victim of mob violence, it is important to remember that the majority of the men in Anderson County were away fighting in the Union Army and that the town was at a heightened state of alert due to the presence of the Confederate Army at Mine Creek just to the East at the exact same time of the murder.

     When you enter the attic at the Garnett House Hotel, remember this incident as part of the darker history of this historic building.