Thomas Neill Cream
|Thomas Neill Cream|
Dr. Thomas Neill Cream
27 May 1850|
|Died||15 November 1892
Newgate Prison, London, England
|Cause of death||Execution by Hanging|
|Other names||Dr. Thomas Neill, The Lambeth Poisoner|
Span of killings
|State(s)||Chicago, Illinois, and
|13 July 1892, in London, England|
Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (27 May 1850 – 15 November 1892), also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, was a Scottish-Canadian serial killer, who claimed his first proven victims in the United States and the rest in England, and possibly others in Canada and Scotland. Cream, who poisoned his victims, was executed after his attempts to frame others for his crimes brought him to the attention of London police.
Born in Glasgow, Cream was raised outside Quebec City, Canada, after his family moved there in 1854. He attended McGill University in Montreal and graduated with an MDCM degree in 1876 (his thesis topic was chloroform) and he then went for post-graduate training at St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, London; he had an added incentive for crossing the Atlantic to England, since he had just married Flora Brooks, whom he had impregnated and almost killed while aborting the baby: the bride's family forced him to the church at gunpoint. Flora died, apparently of consumption, in 1877, a death for which he would later be blamed.
Murder in Ontario
Cream went to London in 1876 for post-graduate study at St. Thomas' Hospital and later obtained additional qualifications as a physician and surgeon in Edinburgh in 1878. He then returned to Canada to practise in London, Ontario. In August 1879 Kate Gardener, a woman with whom he was alleged to have had an affair, was found dead in an alleyway behind Cream's office, pregnant and poisoned by chloroform. Cream claimed that she had been made pregnant by a prominent local businessman but then, after being accused of both murder and blackmail, fled to the United States.
Murder in Chicago
Cream established a medical practice not far from the red-light district in Chicago, offering illegal abortions to prostitutes. He was investigated in August 1880 after the death of Mary Anne Faulkner, a woman on whom he had allegedly operated, but he escaped prosecution due to lack of evidence.
In December 1880 another patient, Miss Stack, died after treatment by Cream, and he subsequently attempted to blackmail a pharmacist who had made up the prescription.
The death was attributed to natural causes, but Cream wrote to the coroner blaming the pharmacist for the death after again attempting blackmail. Cream was arrested, along with Mrs. Julia A. (Abbey) Stott, who had become Cream's mistress and procured poison from Cream to do away with her husband. She turned state's evidence to avoid jail, laying the blame on Cream, which left Cream to face a murder conviction on his own. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet Prison. One night unknown persons erected a tombstone at Mr. Stott's grave which read,
Daniel Stott Died June 12, 1881 Aged 61 Years, poisoned by his wife and Dr. Cream.
Using money inherited from his father, who had died in 1887, Cream sailed for England, arriving in Liverpool on 1 October 1891. He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road. Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.
On 13 October 1891, Ellen "Nellie" Donworth, a 19-year-old prostitute, accepted a drink from Cream. She was severely ill the next day and died on 16 October from strychnine poisoning. During her inquest Cream wrote to the coroner offering to name the murderer in return for a £300,000 reward. He also wrote to W. F. D. Smith, owner of the W H Smith bookstalls, accusing him of the murder and demanding money for his silence.
On 20 October, Cream met with a 27-year-old prostitute named Matilda Clover. She became ill and died the next morning; her death was at first attributed to her alcoholism.
On 2 April 1892, after a vacation in Canada, Cream was back in London where he attempted to poison Lou Harvey (née Louise Harris) who, being suspicious of him, pretended to swallow the pills he had given her. She secretly disposed of them by throwing them off a bridge into the River Thames.
On 11 April, Cream met two prostitutes, Alice Marsh, 21, and Emma Shrivell, 18, and talked his way into their flat where he offered them bottles of Guinness. Cream left before the strychnine he had added to the drinks took effect. Both women died in agony.
The motivation for the series of poisonings has never been settled. It has generally been assumed that Cream was a sadist who enjoyed the thought of the agonies of his victims (even if he was not physically present to witness these). However, Cream was always greedy: from the start of the series of crimes Cream wrote blackmail notes to prominent people; and the poisoning of his one known male victim, Daniel Stott, was in the hopes that Stott's wealthy widow would now share the deceased's estate with him.
There are only three people whom he is known to have attempted to blackmail, although there may have been others who were approached. First was Frederick Smith, the son of the former First Lord of the Admiralty and member of the House of Commons, William Henry Smith. Fred Smith had just been elected to the seat in the House of Commons his father had held for decades, and he received a letter accusing him of poisoning Ellen Donworth. There was a demand for the hiring of an "attorney" in order to prevent Smith being ruined by release of the evidence. Smith sent the letter to Scotland Yard. Next Mabel, Countess Russell, in the middle of a messy series of civil actions against the Earl Russell that would culminate in a controversial divorce in 1900, received a letter that her estranged husband was responsible for the poisoning and evidence of this could be purchased. This was a variant on the normal blackmail notes, for if it had been true the Countess would have been overjoyed to have had such information in her hands. She claimed she showed the letter to her solicitor Sir George Henry Lewis but after he returned it she lost it. There may be a chance she actually met Cream and had to return the letter to him, but nothing came of his "evidence" against the Earl. Finally Cream wrote a note to the prominent physician Dr. (later Sir) William Broadbent. The note accused Broadbent of poisoning Matilda Clover. Broadbent sent his letter to Scotland Yard.
Cream's downfall came through an attempt to frame two respectable and innocent doctors. He wrote to the police accusing these fellow doctors of killing several women, including Matilda Clover. Not only did the police quickly determine the innocence of those accused, but they also realised that there was something significant within the accusations made by the anonymous letter-writer: He had referred to the murder of Matilda Clover. In fact, Clover's death had been registered under natural causes, related to her drinking. The police quickly realised that the false accuser who had written the letter was the serial killer now referred to in the newspapers as the 'Lambeth Poisoner'.
Not long afterwards, Cream met a policeman from New York City who was visiting London. The policeman had heard of the Lambeth Poisoner, and Cream gave him a brief tour of where the various victims had lived. The American happened to mention it to a British policeman who found Cream's detailed knowledge of the case suspicious.
The police at Scotland Yard put Cream under surveillance, soon discovering his habit of visiting prostitutes. They also contacted police in the United States and learned of their suspect's conviction for a murder by poison in 1881.
On 13 July 1892, Cream was charged with murdering Matilda Clover. From the start he insisted he was only Dr. Thomas Neill, not Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, and the newspapers usually referred to him as Dr. Neill in their coverage of the proceedings. His trial lasted from 17 to 21 October that year. He was convicted and sentenced to death.
Less than a month after his conviction, on 15 November, Dr Thomas Neill Cream was hanged on the gallows at Newgate Prison by James Billington. As was customary with all executed criminals, his body was buried the same day in an unmarked grave within the prison walls. His name does not appear in later McGill graduate Directories.
"I am Jack The..."
Billington claimed that Cream's last words on the scaffold were "I am Jack The..." Billington promoted this alleged incident as proof that he was responsible for executing the notorious Victorian serial killer Jack the Ripper. These claims remain unsubstantiated, as police officials and others who attended the execution made no mention of any such event. Records show Cream was in prison at the time of the Ripper murders in 1888, so it would have been impossible for him to be the culprit. However, Donald Bell suggested that he could have bribed officials and left the prison before his official release, and Sir Edward Marshall-Hall suspected that his prison term may have been served by a look-alike in his place. Such notions are unlikely and contradict evidence given by the Illinois authorities, newspapers of the time, Cream's solicitors, Cream's family and Cream himself.
One of Cream's biographers suggested that Cream, on the scaffold and about to be hanged, was so frightened that he lost control of his bodily functions and stammered "I am ejaculating", which could have been mistaken for "I am Jack".
- Shore (1955) p.15
- Shore (1955) p.16
- McLaren (1995) pp.38–39 and note on p.156
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- "Farmer in spring, award-winning writer in winter". Ottawa Citizen. 15 June 1989.
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- Bloomfield, Jeffrey: "Gallows Humor: The Alleged Ripper Confession of Dr. Cream." Dan Norder (ed.) Ripper Notes, July 2005, Issue #23
- Bloomfield, Jeffrey: "The Dr Wrote Some Letters." R.W.Stone, Q.P.M. (ed.), The Criminologist, Winter 1991, Volume 15, Number 4
- Jenkins, Elizabeth: "Neill Cream, Poisoner." Readers Digest Association, Great Cases of Scotland Yard, Readers Digest, 1978
- Jesse, F. Tennyson, Murder and Its Motives, Chapter V: "Murder for the Lust of Killing: Neill Cream", p. 184-215, Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Co., Inc. – Dolphin Books, 1924, 1958.
- Lustgarten, Edgar, The Murder and the Trial, "3. Neill Cream", pp. 59–62, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1958.
- Rumbelow, Donald, The Complete Jack the Ripper (True Crime), Penguin Books Ltd: 1988. ISBN 0-14-017395-1
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