Dr. Thomas Neill Cream: “I am Jack…” the Ripper?

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1850. He was the oldest of eight children. His family moved to Canada when he was 4 or 5 years-old, where in Quebec his father managed a shipbuilding and lumber firm. In 1872, Cream enrolled in McGill University in Montreal. He graduated in 1876 with a Doctor in Medicine degree. His thesis, chillingly enough, was on the effects of chloroform. 

Around this time, he became engaged to Flora Eliza Brooks, whose father owned a successful hotel in Waterloo, Quebec. Flora soon became pregnant. Not wanting the child, Cream subjected her to a botched abortion—which he performed himself. When her father caught wind of this, he threatened to shoot Cream if he didn’t marry his daughter. Cream and Flora married in September 1876, but he quickly departed for England before there was a chance to honeymoon. 

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream. (Credit: McGill Library)

Nine months later his bride passed away from consumption. He’d fall under for her death years later. He had prescribed medicine to Flora before leaving for England and told her to take no other medications. 

From 1876 to 1878, Cream attended St. Thomas’s Hospital Medical School in London. He failed his examinations for the The Royal Colleges of Surgeons, but he was able to obtain his diploma from The Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh in 1878. Cream returned to Canada to start his own practice in London, Ontario. 

In August 1879, Kate Gardener, a young chambermaid, was found poisoned in the alleyway behind Cream’s offices. She was pregnant and poisoned by chloroform, the chemical Cream had studied for his thesis. It’d been rumored that Cream was the father. An inquest was held, but there was not enough evidence, surprisingly, to prove Cream was the murderer. 

With a cloud of suspicion looming over his head, Cream fled to the United States. He opened up a medical practice in Chicago, Illinois near the city’s red light district. Cream worked as an abortionist for prostitutes and was sometimes assisted by an African American midwife named Hattie Mack. In 1880, another woman turned up dead in his offices. Mary Ann Faulkner died by chloroform poisoning. 

Hattie Mack, the midwife, was arrested and questioned. She informed police that Cream had performed over 500 abortions and that Cream forced her to care for Faulkner when the abortion operation failed. Cream countered this by saying that Mack had come to him after she tried to perform an abortion on Faulkner. The jury decided to believe the word of a white doctor over an African American midwife and acquitted him. This would prove to be a horrible mistake. 

Dr. Thomas Cream. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

The tides turned on Cream in 1881 when Mrs. Julia Stott came to his office seeking a prescription for her husband’s epilepsy. Mrs. Stott began to pick up the prescriptions regularly, but unbeknownst to her husband, she began an affair with Cream. On July 14, 1881, Mr. Daniel Stott died. Originally the coroner wrote Mr. Stott’s cause of death as natural causes, but Cream wrote to the coroner blaming the pharmacist for an error made in filling the prescription. Cream pointed the finger at the pharmacist after a failed blackmail attempt. 

The coroner was skeptical of these claims. He decided to take the prescription and give a dose to a dog. The poor dog passed away minutes later. The coroner had Mr. Stott’s body exhumed and found enough strychnine to kill three men in his stomach. Cream was arrested for the murder after trying to flee for Canada. 

On hearing about his son’s latest legal troubles, Cream’s father disowned him. Cream didn’t have the financial means to hire the legal counsel that had helped him escape prison in the past. Mrs. Julia Stott admitted guilt and testified against Cream in exchange for avoiding a prison sentence. Mrs. Stott said she’d been seduced by Cream, and he’d come up with the plan to murder her husband and blackmail the pharmacist for money. Another witness, Mary McClelan, corroborated this story, saying she’d overheard Cream discussing the murder before it was reported to police. 

Cream tried to finagle his way out of this one by claiming that it was Mrs. Stott who’d threatened her husband, said disparaging things about him, and tampered with the medication without his assistance. This time the jury didn’t believe him. It took the death of a man, not of a woman, to convict him of murder. Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment in Joliet Prison in Joliet, Illinois. 

Joilet Prison in Illinois where Dr. Cream was incarcerated for the murder of Mr. Daniel Stott. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Daniel Schwen, CC BY-SA 3.0)

This story should have ended there. This murderer should have remained behind bars until his last breath, but this was not the case. The world is filled with injustice, but after serving ten years, Cream was released in 1891. This would be an injustice for the victims to come. 

Cream had a heart filled with vengeful lust. He tried tracking down Mrs. Julia Stott by employing the Pinkerton Detective Agency, but this led to nothing. He gave up and funded a move to England with the $16,000 inheritance he’d received on his father’s death. He settled in Lambeth, a district in southern London diseased with poverty, prostitution, and corruption. Soon the bodies of prostitutes started turning up. 

Jack the Ripper had plagued London only years earlier in 1888. It’s possible Jack the Ripper was active into 1891 until his crimes stopped, but London had been in fear of an unknown serial killer for some time. When Ellen Donworth, a 19 year-old prostitute, turned up dead from strychnine poisoning on October 13, 1891, it seemed as if Jack the Ripper hadn’t gone away—or there was a new killer stalking the streets of London.  

One week later, 27 year-old Matilda Clover died. It was thought that alcoholism was the cause. On April 11, 1892, Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, two more prostitutes, died by strychnine poisoning. All four women had one man in common, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream.

Another prostitute, Lou Harvey, encountered Cream before the deaths of Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell. When Cream gave her pills to take, Lou was suspicious of his behavior. She pretended to swallow the pills, then tossed them over a bridge into the Thames River when he wasn’t looking. She survived the encounter. This episode gives insight into the man who was dubbed the “Lambeth Poisoner” by the press.  

Each of the four women who did die, Ellen Donworth, Matilda Clover, Alice Marsh, and Emma Shrivell, met Cream before passing. He offered them strychnine pills, which caused their deaths. 

But Scotland Yard weren’t yet aware of the identity of this new serial killer. What caught Scotland Yard’s attention was an anonymous blackmail letter turned over to them by physician Dr. William Broadbent. The composer of the letter accused Broadbent of murdering Matilda Clover, but her cause of death had been cited as alcoholism. Whoever wrote the letter was the “Lambeth Poisoner.” 

Dr. William Broadbent in a 1902 caricature from Vanity Fair. Dr. Cream had tried blackmailing him anonymously by accusing him of the murder of Ellen Donworth.
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)

Scotland Yard were pointed in Cream’s direction after an American policeman visiting London indicated him as a person of interest. Cream had shown the American around London, giving him a tour of where the victims of the “Lambeth Poisoner” had lived. Cream’s interest in the case disturbed Scotland Yard. They surveilled him for a time, learning he enjoyed cavorting with prostitutes. They also contacted police in America and learned about Cream’s history as a convicted murderer who had used strychnine poisoning on his victim.

On July 13, 1892, he was arrested for the murder of Matilda Clover. On October 21, 1892, he was convicted and sentenced to hanging, and on November 15, 1892, he was executed at Newgate Prison. However, Cream made a chilling confession before the hangman’s noose snapped. According to the executioner, James Billington, Cream uttered, “I am Jack….”

But then the noose cut him off. 

Had Cream confessed to being Jack the Ripper? It’s possible, but only to toy with a public still frantic with fear over the Ripper murders. When Jack the Ripper started murdering in 1888, Cream was in Joliet Prison in Illinois serving out what should have been a life sentence for the murder of Mr. Daniel Stott. If Cream had never been released, there would have been no “Lambeth Poisoner.” There would have been four women still alive. 


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Further Readings: 

The Crimes of Dr. Cream by W. Stewart Wallace

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream on Murderpedia

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (1850-1892) from Casebook: Jack the Ripper

The Evil Deeds of Dr. Cream by Jill Foran

The Lambeth Poisoner on Murder by Gaslight

Thomas Neill Cream on Vauxhall History Online Archive

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