It began as a morbid sexual fantasy, hatched online between a pair of men working for two of the world’s most prestigious universities: Let’s kill. And then kill each other.
But the plan went sideways, ending with the gruesome death of an innocent young man, authorities allege. And, in a new twist, it led to a close call for a second person.
The gruesome details of 26-year-old Trenton Cornell-Duranleau’s demise finally surfaced Sunday when his boyfriend, 43-year-old Wyndham Lathem, who was fired by Northwestern University, joined 56-year-old Andrew Warren, of Oxford University, in front of Cook County Judge Adam Bourgeois at the George N. Leighton Criminal Court Building.
The judge listened as a prosecutor laid out the twisted tale — how Lathem allegedly paid for Warren to cross an ocean, asked him to record a murder, and then stabbed Cornell-Duranleau “over and over” with Warren until they broke a knife and nearly decapitated the cosmetologist from Michigan whose final words were, “Wyndham, what are you doing?”
When the prosecutor finished, Bourgeois ordered the two men held behind bars on murder charges, refusing them bail after their extradition from California.
“The heinous acts speak for themselves,” Bourgeois told the courtroom.
Lathem’s attorney, Barry Sheppard, asked the public “to patiently allow the legal system to work and not to engage in any rush to judgment based on conjecture and speculation.” He said the professor of microbiology has “led a lifetime of outstanding, unblemished citizenship.”
Meanwhile, police refused to write the crime off as a traditional “domestic” squabble or “love triangle.” The motive was “a little more dark and disturbing,” Area Central Detectives Commander Brendan Deenihan said.
Warren allegedly confessed that the “sexual fantasy” had been hashed out online. The pair planned to kill multiple people and then kill each other, authorities said. In the end, Warren planned to shoot Lathem, and Lathem planned to stab Warren.
The plot was set in motion when Lathem paid for Warren’s flight from London to Chicago and then picked him up at O’Hare Airport in late July, Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Natosha Toller said. Lathem also rented a room for Warren at the Hotel Palomar, not far from Lathem’s high-rise apartment in River North.
That’s where the men allegedly planned to kill Cornell-Duranleau, who lived in the Heart of the City neighborhood. Lathem allegedly lured Cornell-Duranleau to his apartment on July 26.
Then, with Cornell-Duranleau asleep in Lathem’s bed, Lathem told Warren by text “it was time to kill,” Toller said.
The pair prepped in Lathem’s bathroom, where Lathem unpackaged a new drywall knife saw with a 6-inch blade, Toller said.
Lathem allegedly gave Warren a cellphone and “told him to record the murder.” Warren stood in the doorway holding the phone, Toller said.
Then Lathem allegedly stabbed Cornell-Duranleau “over and over” in the neck and chest.
Cornell-Duranleau woke up screaming — and he began to fight back. As Lathem lost control, he allegedly yelled to Warren, “Help me! Help me!”
Warren put his hands over Cornell-Duranleau’s mouth, but Cornell-Duranleau bit him. So Warren grabbed a heavy metal lamp and hit him in the head with it, Toller said.
Then Warren grabbed two kitchen knives. Moments later, Lathem and Warren knelt over Cornell-Duranleau, stabbing him with so much force that Warren “broke the blade of one of the knives,” Toller said.
The men left Cornell-Duranleau to bleed to death while they showered and cleaned up the mess, according to the prosecutor.
Warren would later tell police they planned to kill a second person scheduled to arrive at Lathem’s apartment the next morning. But before the sun could rise, the men allegedly rented a car and fled to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
Meanwhile, the men made one anonymous cash donation of $5,610 in Cornell-Duranleau’s name to the Howard Brown Health Center, and another of $1,000 to Lake Geneva’s town library. They made the second donation when they arrived at the library asking to use the phone so Lathem could call his apartment building.
Lathem asked security to check his apartment, Toller said. A crime had been committed.
The pair ultimately fled to California and surrendered on Aug. 4 in the San Francisco Bay area.
Meanwhile, police found Cornell-Duranleau lying in a pool of blood in his underwear, Toller said. When authorities tried to move his body, they realized his head was “nearly decapitated,” she said.
The Cook County Medical Examiner found 26 stab wounds to his back and several defensive wounds to his hands and wrists. But those were a mere fraction of his injuries.
In all, Cornell-Duranleau had been stabbed 70 times.
Contributing: Jon Seidel