I've spent half a century (yikes) writing for radio and print—mostly print. I hope to be still tapping the keys as I take my last breath.
Since Jack the Ripper did his dreadful work in the East End of London in 1888 there have been more than 100 people identified as possible suspects, including Queen Victoria’s grandson, the Duke of Clarence and the author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll. And, at least five men have confessed to being Jack the Ripper, perhaps including Dr. Thomas Neill Cream who was also known as the Lambeth Poisoner.
An Abortionist Goes to Work
The Scotsman says Thomas Cream was “Born in Glasgow in 1850, the eldest of eight children. The family moved to Canada when he was four …”
In November 1872, he began studying medicine at McGill University in Montreal, graduating four years later with honours.
After getting a woman pregnant and then aborting the fetus, he took off for England the day after marrying the unfortunate lady. He continued his medical studies in London before returning to Canada where he carried on a lucrative business in providing abortions.
Casebook.com, a website devoted to Jack the Ripper, says that Cream’s “reputation was quite promising until the body of a young chambermaid named Kate Gardener was discovered at Cream’s office, a bottle of chloroform lying beside her. Luckily for Cream, he was not charged with murder, despite the harrowing evidence against him.”
Dr. Cream Moves to Chicago
Probably feeling the heat was getting a little too close, Cream left Canada in August 1879 and set up his business near Chicago’s red-light district. The location provided a steady supply of prostitutes in need of an abortion. One or two of them didn’t survive the procedure, but the police were not able to make any charges stick. The investigations were probably not that thorough anyway. The prevailing ethos then, as now, was that sex workers are not worth the bother.
One of his sidelines was selling an elixir he claimed cured epilepsy and one of the people he was treating with this was a Mrs. Julia Stott. The two crossed the patient/doctor boundary and began an affair, which the unfortunate Mr. Daniel Stott discovered.
Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias records that “On July 14, 1881, Daniel Stott died of strychnine poisoning at his home in Boone County, Illinois. Cream was arrested, along with Mrs. Julia A. (Abbey) Stott, who had obtained poison from Cream to do away with her husband. Stott turned state’s evidence to avoid jail …”
Cream got a life sentence for murder but only served ten years in Joliet Prison. He got out, writes Joseph Geringer, (Murderpedia), “through political chicanery.” More on that later.
Poisoning Prostitutes in the United Kingdom
After his release from prison, Cream went back to England. As in Chicago, he set up shop in a seedy area of London’s East End, and soon women started to die.
Casebook reports that Cream had only been in England two days when “he met a prostitute named Matilda Clover, who was later to die from nux vomica (strychnine) poisoning. The same fate befell an Ellen Donworth. But, as in his first two murders, Cream was uncharged.” Two other women, Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, soon died on the same night, but again Dr. Cream escaped prosecution.
They all died of strychnine poisoning, an agonizingly painful way to go out, marked by violent convulsions and an inability to breath. It seems Cream persuaded them to take the poison by promising the pills he gave them would protect them from the occupational hazard of venereal disease. His murder method had the advantage of allowing him to be far away from the scene by the time the first symptoms showed up.
Scotland Yard Becomes Suspicious
With a cluster of similar killings on their hands, police started to suspect a serial killer was on the loose. Despite a vigorous investigation, Dr. Thomas Cream did not turn up as a suspect until his own bravado caught him out.
Joseph Geringer tells how Cream had become friends with a “good-natured former detective from New York, John Haynes.”
The double murders of Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell were the talk of the neighbourhood and, as an ex-policemen, Haynes had taken a professional interest in them. He and Cream started talking about the killings and Haynes was struck by the depth of the doctor’s knowledge of the crimes. Cream even took Haynes on a tour of the places where the murders had been committed.
Haynes took his suspicions to Scotland Yard and surveillance of Cream began.
Dr. Thomas Cream’s Murder Rampage Ends
Police arrested Dr. Cream in early June 1892. Prostitutes with whom he had consorted but had not been murdered came forward and his past in Canada and Chicago was brought to light.
In October, Cream faced trial for the murder of Matilda Clover. After five days of testimony it took the jury just ten minutes to pronounce the verdict of guilty.
TruTV notes that “In passing the death sentence, Justice [Henry] Hawkins told the prisoner that his willingness to murder was ‘so diabolical in its character, fraught with so much cold-blooded cruelty (that it could) be expiated only by your death.’ ”
Jack the Ripper Claim
The end came for Dr. Thomas Neil Cream, on November 15, 1892 when he was hanged inside Newgate Jail. Capitalpunishment.org writes that “Cream waited till the very last moment as he felt the mechanism under the trap begin to move to utter the words, ‘I am Jack ...’ ” The rest of the sentence, if there was to be any more, was choked off by the noose.
Writing for The New York Daily News, Mara Bovsun comments that “It seems unlikely that Cream committed the Ripper slayings, since he was in jail in another country at the time. Some maintain, however, that there is evidence that Cream paid a double to serve his sentence in Chicago, and that he actually made it to London in the mid-1880s.”
Another explanation offered by enthusiasts of the Cream theory is that he bribed prison guards to let him out but they still recorded him as an inmate. He had come into a large inheritance in 1887 and Joliet Prison, where he was held, was notoriously corrupt at the time.
It is typical of a Ripper theory that once it is suggested its adherents won’t let it die. So it is with Dr. Cream, however, at the Casebook website he is listed as the 17th most popular choice for a Ripper suspect among 22 listed.
Apologies for the Somewhat Irritating Voice over
- James Billington, the executioner who hanged Cream, swore to the end of his life that his client’s last words were “I am Jack …” This is where we meet Sir Edward Marshall Hall, the English barrister who defended Cream at his final trial. He gives us the doppelganger theory; there were two men who looked alike and used the name Thomas Neill Cream when it proved useful.
- Earlier Hall had defended Cream in a bigamy case. Cream’s defence was that he could not be guilty because at the time of the alleged bigamous union he was in prison in Sydney. Inquiries revealed there was indeed a Thomas Neill Cream under lock and key in Australia and that his description fitted that of the man charged with bigamy.
- So, Marshall Hall believed the two men used each other’s incarceration as unbreakable alibis for the crimes they committed. The theory extends to Cream’s hanging. Knowing there was no way out for himself he falsely confessed that “I am Jack …” so his doppelganger, the actual Jack the Ripper, would no longer be pursued. Now, there’s a tangled web for you.
- “The Man Who Would Be Jack the Ripper.” The Scotsman, October 14, 2005.
- “Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850-1892).” Casebook.org, Undated.
- “Thomas Neill Cream.” Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopedias, undated.
- “Dr. Thomas Neill Cream: Shades of Nightshade.” Joseph Geringer, Murderpedia, undated
- “English Hangmen 1850 to 1964.” Capital Punishment U.K., undated.
- “Doctor Death.” Mara Bovsun, The New York Daily News, August 26, 2007.
- “The Madman of McGill.” Jackie Rosenhek, Doctor’s Review, June 2005.
© 2017 Rupert Taylor
Jo P on October 08, 2019:
It has been proved beyond all doubt that he as not Jack the Ripper. He was most definitely in prison in Illinois at the time of the Ripper murders. However I think he is a very fascinating person n his own right. Clearly had some mental issues!
Louise Powles from Norfolk, England on February 11, 2017:
That was really interesting. Jack the Ripper has always intrigued me. And I've never heard of Thomas Cream before.