The Lambeth Poisoner
Dr. Thomas Neill Cream was born in Glacow on 27th May 1850 but 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 in London. Obtaining additional qualifications as a physician and surgeon in Edinburgh in 1878, he then returned to Canada to practise in London, Ontario.
In 1876 Cream married Flora Brooks, who became pregnant and was almost killed by him whilst aborting the baby. Flora died, apparently of consumption, in 1877, a death for which Cream would later be blamed.
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 after being accused of both murder and blackmail, fled to the United States.
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 Miss Stack, died after treatment by Cream, and he subsequently attempted to blackmail a pharmacist who had made up the prescription.
In April 1881, Alice Montgomery died of strychnine poisoning following an abortion in a rooming house barely a block from Cream's office. The case was ruled a murder but never solved.
On 14th July 1881, Daniel Stott died of strychnine poisoning at home after Cream supplied him with an alleged remedy for epilepsy. Cream was arrested, along with Mrs. Julia 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 him to face a murder conviction on his own. He was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet Prison.
Cream was released in July 1891 when Governor Joseph W. Fifer commuted his sentence after Cream's brother pleaded for leniency, allegedly also bribing the authorities.
Using money inherited from his father, Cream sailed for England, arriving in Liverpool on 1st October 1891. He returned to London and took lodgings at 103 Lambeth Palace Road. At the time, Lambeth was ridden with poverty, petty crime and prostitution.
On 13th 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 16th October from strychnine poisoning.
On 20th 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. Cream wrote a note to the prominent physician Dr. William Broadbent, acusing him of poisoning Matilda Clover and demanded cash, but Dr Broadbent sent the letter to Scotland Yard.
On 2nd April 1892, 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 11th 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.
Through his accusatory letters, Cream succeed in drawing significant attention toward himself. Not only did the police quickly determine the innocence of those accused, but they realised that there was something significant within the accusations made by the anonymous letter-writer H.
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 con- viction for a murder by poison in 1881.
On 3rd June 1892, Cream was arrested for the murder of Matilda Clover, and on 13th July he was formally charged with the murders of Clover, Donworth, Marsh and Shrivell, the attempted murder of Harvey, and extortion. His trial lasted from 17th to 21st October that year. After a deliberation lasting only twelve minutes, the jury found him guilty of all counts, and Justice Henry Hawkins sentenced him to death.
Less than a month after his conviction, on 15th November, 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.
Billington claimed that Cream's last words on the scaffold were “I am Jack The...” but this claim remain unsubstantiated, as police officials and others who attend the execution made no mention of any such event.