It had been three years since Jack The Ripper terrorised Victorian London. And now it seemed another murderer stalked the streets…
October 1891. Soon after Jack the Ripper vanished into the fog for the last time, another a serial killer was at work and, again, the victims were prostitutes. But this time they weren’t butchered but poisoned.
Their killer was captured and identified as Dr Thomas Neill Cream, who’d already convicted of murder by strychnine in the US. In fact, had he not been released early from prison there, four young London women would probably have avoided an excruciating death.
Dr Cream, dubbed by the Press at the time as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish-Canadian who’d claimed his first known victims in the US and the rest in England – and possibly others in Canada and Scotland.
Born in Scotland in 1850, Cream was the oldest of eight siblings. The family moved to Canada four years later. In 1872, Cream registered at medical college in Montreal and graduated with honors in 1876. With his above-average looks, intelligence and a promising profession, he was popular with young women.
Soon after his graduation, he met Flora Brooks, daughter of a prosperous hotel owner. When she became pregnant with his child, Dr Thomas Neill Cream performed an abortion, nearly killing Flora. Her furious father insisted they marry – at gunpoint.
The Canada killings
However, Dr Thomas Neill Cream fled his marriage and began a private medical practice in Ontario. In May 1879, his patient Kate Gardener was found dead from an overdose of chloroform near his office. At the inquest, her roommate said Kate had been pregnant and had gone to Cream for a termination.
Unbelievably, Cream claimed her death was suicide. But a doctor testified no-one could commit suicide by holding a chloroform-soaked sponge over their own nose. The coroner’s jury ruled the death was murder by persons unknown.
Although there wasn’t enough evidence to convict Dr Thomas Neill Cream, his reputation was further damaged when a woman testified that he gave her medication to aid a termination, and also suggested they blackmail a wealthy resident of her boarding house by claiming he’d fathered the child.
Dr Thomas Neill Cream quickly left for America…
The US Killings
By 1880, Cream was known to Chicago police as an abortionist, sometimes assisted by African-American midwife Hattie Mack. That August, after Mack hastily moved out of her apartment, the decomposing body of a young woman named Mary Ann Faulkner was found there.
Mack was arrested and told police that Dr Thomas Neill Cream had performed as many as 15 abortions from a single brothel – and that he’d told her he’d undertaken at least 500 abortions in total. Mack claimed Cream had forced her to take in Mary Ann while she recovered.
Cream was tried for murder, but it seems the jury was unwilling to take the word of a woman against the handsome young doctor. With the luck of the Devil, again Cream was not charged with murder, despite the harrowing evidence against him.
Later that month, another of Dr Thomas Neill Cream’s patients died after taking pharmaceuticals which he’d prescribed. Cream blamed the chemist who filled the prescription, but the investigation was inconclusive.
Now Cream decided to market a preparation to combat epilepsy, and built up a following of loyal patients. One of them, Daniel Stott, made the fatal mistake of sending his wife to Cream’s office for his medication.
Julia Stott began a steamy affair with the doctor and, when her husband became suspicious, Dr Thomas Neill Cream added strychnine to his medication. Daniel Stott died on 14 June 1881, from a presumed complication of his epilepsy.
And now, had it not been for a stroke of unbelievable stupidity and arrogance, Cream may have again got away with murder.
Cream contacted the coroner, saying the real cause of death was an error made by the pharmacist who filled the prescription. Daniel Stott was exhumed and found to have enough strychnine in his body to kill him three times over. This time, Cream was charged with the murder.
He managed to flee to Canada, but was arrested in Ontario and returned to stand trial.
The US trial
In September 1881, Julia Stott testified as a witness for the state and told the court Cream had seduced her. She said it was his plan to poison her husband and blackmail the drug company. She claimed he’d tampered with her husband’s pills and, when Stott took them, he died almost instantly.
Unsurprisingly, the jury found Cream guilty of murder.
Dr Thomas Neill Cream was sentenced to prison ‘for the rest of his natural life.’ But, in 1891 after serving 10 years, his sentence was reduced to 17 years and, with time off for good behaviour, he was released soon after.
The London killings
Now Cream moved to England. But prison had left him obsessed with women and he’d picked up a severe drug habit.
Later, an acquaintance of his in London said of him, ‘Women were his preoccupation and his talk of them far from agreeable. He carried pornographic photographs, which he was ready to display.’
‘He was in the habit of taking pills, which, he said, were compounded of strychnine, morphia, cocaine, and of which effect, he declared, was aphrodisiac. In short he was a degenerate of filthy habits and practices.’
On 13 October, 19-year-old prostitute Ellen Donworth died of strychnine poisoning after going for drinks with Cream.
On 19 October, a week later, 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover died of what was believed to be alcoholism, but had been seen with Cream the night before.
After a trip back to Canada, where he bought 500 strychnine pills, he returned to London and the poisonings resumed.
On 2 April, prostitute Lou Harvey went with Cream to a hotel. They arranged to meet again later that evening for drinks. Cream gave Lou two pills he claimed would improve her complexion and insisted that she take them. She pretended to swallow them and when Cream wasn’t looking tossed them away. Her instincts saved her life.
On 11 April, Cream met prostitutes Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell, 18, and talked his way into their flat, where he have them bottles of beer. He was long gone by the time the strychnine he’d added to the drinks took effect. Both women died in agony.
Cream’s attempt to blackmail two innocent doctors for Matilda Clover’s murder brought him to the attention of the police. Scotland Yard put Cream under surveillance, soon discovering his habit of visiting prostitutes. They also liaised with the police in the US and learned of their suspect’s conviction for a murder by poison.
The London trial
Dr Thomas Neill Cream went on trial on 17 October 1892, charged with Matilda Clover’s murder. He showed little emotion in court, convinced he would be cleared of the charge. He was convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.
Cream went to the gallows at Newgate Prison on 15 November 1892. His behaviour peculiar and inexplicable to the last, as the noose tightened round his neck, he is said to have cried, ‘I am Jack…’.
With the Ripper murder scare still in full force, the obvious assumption was that Cream was confessing to being Jack the Ripper. However, when the Ripper was murdering girls in London, Cream was in prison in the US, so his claims were dismissed.
Still, ultimately, Dr Thomas Neill Cream was responsible for more deaths than even the infamous Ripper…