The CRIMES OF DR. CREAM
Seldom has the law encountered so diabolical and cold blooded a murderer as this educated fiend who scattered death over two continents
W. STEWART WALLACE
OF THOSE murderers who have killed for the mere pleasure of killing, out of a sort of “motiveless malignity,” there are few more striking examples than Dr. Thomas Neill Cream. If Dr. Cream, instead of using pills and capsules to accomplish his ends, had used a sharp knife, he would probably have been as famous as his counterpart, Jack the Ripper. But Jack the Ripper was fortunate or clever enough to preserve his anonymity, while Dr. Cream, despite the fact that he masqueraded for a time as Dr. Neill, was finally brought to book for his crimes.
Thomas Neill Cream was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1850, but was taken to Canada by his parents when a child of four or five years of age, and in Canada he obtained his education and began his career. His father, whose name was William Cream, became manager of a shipbuilding firm in Quebec, which was then at the height of its reputation as the home of clipper-built ships. Later William Cream went into business as a merchant in lumber and in his fatner’s lumber yards young Thomas Neill served his apprenticeship to life.
The dull grind of business had, however, no attraction for him; and in 1872, not long after he had come of age, he persuaded his father to send him to McGill College in Montreal to study medicine.
McGill was then developing into one of the most famous schools of medicine in North America, and here young Cream obtained what was probably a first-rate training. His father supplied him with generous funds, and it is said that he spent money freely on clothes and jewellery, and even on a “stylish carriage and pair”—though one may be permitted to suspect that if a medical student at McGill in the 1870’s was seen driving a carriage and pair, the equipage was hired and not owned. But apparently the young medical student did not neglect his studies, for he graduated with the degree of M.D. on scheduled time in 1876; and it is said that he achieved some academic fame in connection with a thesis which he composed on the subject of chloroform.
So far his career had been apparently blameless. But shortly after his graduation there appeared the first evidences of a criminal tendency in his character. In 1874 he had taken out, with the Commercial Union Insurance Company of Montreal, a fire insurance policy of $1,000 on his personal belongings in his lodging house; and only two or three weeks after he graduated from McGill, a fire
occurred in his rooms which did a little damage. He put in a claim for virtually the whole amount of the insurance, but the insurance company was suspicious that the fire had an incendiary origin and declined to pay the sum asked for. Eventually young Dr. Cream accepted $350 in full quittance of his claim.
Shortly afterward he found himself again in trouble. Early in 1876 he met in Montreal the daughter of a prosperous hotelkeeper in the village of Waterloo, Quebec, and it was understood that the two had become engaged to be married. Early in September, Cream’s fiancée was taken ill, and the family doctor, after examining her, informed her father that she had been subjected to an illegal operation. The irate father repaired post haste to Montreal and demanded that Cream should marry his daughter, threatening to shoot him if he did not do so.
Cream, unwilling to become a target, returned with his future father-in-law to Waterloo and there married his fiancée. But the next morning he left Waterloo, announcing that he was going to England to complete his medical education; and about nine months later his unhappy and unfortunate bride died, apparently of the ravages of consumption. In view of Cream’s subsequent record, one cannot help wondering whether her death was due to natural causes or whether he implanted in her the germs of disease.
From 1876 to 1878 Cream, as the saying is, walked the London hospitals. He was attached to St. Thomas’s Hospital as a postgraduate student, and acted for a time as a temporary obstetric clerk in this hospital. He failed to pass his preliminary examinations for the Royal College of Surgeons, but in 1878 succeeded in obtaining his diploma as a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons at Edinburgh, and he might thereafter have embarked on a career as a medical man of exceptional qualifications had he been able to run straight.
But running straight was apparently an accomplishment of which he was not capable. He returned to Canada and began to practise medicine in London, Ontario, opening an office on Dundas Street, the principal thoroughfare. For a time all went well. A doctor with English postgraduate training was naturally in demand in a small Canadian city. Then an incident occurred which ruined his practice. The death took place, under mysterious circumstances, of a chambermaid in a London hotel. She was found dead, with a bottle of chloroform beside her, in an outhouse behind the
premises occupied for professional purposes by Dr. Cream.
An inquest was held, and it appeared in evidence that the dead woman had visited Cream in order to have an illegal operation. It appeared also that she could not have committed suicide by chloroforming herself; and there were on her face the marks of some chemical which had disfigured her. The jury brought in a verdict that she had died from the effects of chloroform “administered by some person unknown.” The evidence was not strong enough to warrant an accusation against Dr. Cream, but the finger of suspicion pointed so strongly toward him that he found himself without patients, and shortly afterward he pulled up stakes and departed for the United States.
Ten Years in Prison
T_IE OPENED an office in Chicago, and here, too, it was ^ not long before he found himself in difficulties with the law. In the summer of 1880 he was arrested on the charge of having performed an illegal operation on a Canadian girl in the house of a colored woman in Chicago, but the evidence was inconclusive and he escaped conviction. A few months afterward a patient of his died after taking medicine
Continued on page 52
Continued from page 13
prescribed by him, and on this occasion he attempted to blackmail the druggist who had made up the prescription he wrote for his patient. But before this matter was cleared up, a more serious charge was preferred against him. one which resulted in his conviction for murder in the second degree and his sentence to life imprisonment.
This was the charge of having compassed the death of Daniel Stott of Grand Prairie, Illinois. Daniel Stott was a man of sixty-one years of age who suffered from epilepsy. Cream had been advertising a remedy for epilepsy, and Daniel Stott had sent his wife, who was only thirty-three years old and attractive, to see Cream and obtain the prescription from him. Mrs. Stott fell a victim to Cream’s blandishments, though it is difficult to understand what she saw in him, since he was cross-eyed and not otherwise particularly personable. Under Cream’s treatment Daniel Stott seemed to improve in health; and his wife made repeated trips to Chicago to obtain the medicine which seemed to do him so much good. On June 11, 1881, she obtained a prescription from Cream which she had made up at a druggist’s; and on June 14 she gave it to her husband, with the result that he died in twenty minutes.
Had Cream been able to let well enough alone, it is possible that there might never have been any investigation into the death of Daniel Stott, since the death might naturally have been attributed to a fit of epilepsy. But Cream could not resist the temptation to improve on the situation by attempting to blackmail the druggist who had made up the prescription for Mrs. Stott. He maintained that there was nothing in the prescription to cause death, and that the druggist must have put into the medicine too much strychnine. The druggist, however, refused to be blackmailed and turned the matter over to the police.
This brought Cream under the scrutiny of the police, and it was not long before they discovered some suspicious circumstances. The body of Daniel Stott was exhumed and his stomach was found to contain nearly four grains of strychnine, an amount sufficient to cause death. In view of the fact that the prescription called for only a little over half that amount, it was strange that Cream should apparently have known beforehand that the death of Daniel Stott would be found to have been caused by an overdose of strychnine. A witness was found, moreover, who swore that on the night when Daniel Stott died Cream had told her that he expected to hear of his death, as he knew he had been poisoned. The relations between Cream and Mrs. Stott were investigated and were found to have been, to say the least, irregular. Cream had gone into a hat shop with her to help her choose a bonnet ; he had on several occasions accompanied her to the railway station to say good-by; and her little daughter testified that Cream had said he loved her mother and “would like her as his own.” Finally, Mrs. Stott, faced with the prospect of being arrested as Cream’s accomplice, turned State’s evidence and told the whole story of her criminal relations with him. She swore that after the prescription had been made up Cream had put something more in it.
Cream was arrested on a charge of murder and tried in the Circuit Court at Belvidere, Illinois, in September, 1881. After the witnesses for the prosecution had been heard, Cream himself went into the witness-box and testified on his own behalf. He denied that he had had the prescription in his hands after it was made up. and stated that he had not directed Mrs. Stott to get the prescription filled at any particular drug-store.
“After I heard of Mr. Stott’s death,” he testified in an apparently straightforward way, “1 suspected foul play, as he was improving under my treatment and I understood he died quite suddenly and I suspected Mrs. Stott had poisoned him. I had several reasons for so thinking. The first one was that some time ago she wanted
to get a prescription from me for strychnine. She said she wanted to give it to her husband to fix him. The second reason was that I was not notified of Mr. Stott’s death until after he was buried, and they asked me for no certificate of death. The third reason I suspected Mrs. Stott was that I had heard her make several threats against her husband. For these reasons I thought there had been foul play. I never made love to Mrs. Stott, and never had a criminal connection with her. I have been a practising physician in Chicago for two years.”
Two or three other witnesses appeared for the defense, one of whom testified that she had never seen any sign of improper relations between Cream and Mrs. Stott; but this evidence was immaterial and the trial really hinged on the word of Mrs. Stott against that of Dr. Cream. For Mrs. Stott’s evidence there was some corroboration; for that of Dr. Cream there was virtually none. The jury, therefore, after a deliberation which lasted four hours, brought in a verdict against Dr. Cream of “guilty of murder in the second degree” and he was sentenced to imprisonment for life in the penitentiary.
It is one of the peculiarities of the American system of justice that a life sentence seldom means imprisonment for life.' In Cream’s case it meant imprisonment for something less than ten years. First of all, the governor of Illinois commuted Cream’s sentence to one of seventeen years, and this term was further reduced as a reward for good conduct in prison. Cream entered the Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet on November 1, 1881, and was released on July 31,1891, when still only forty-one years
Murders in London
SELDOM, if ever, has the executive clemency of a State been exercised with more disastrous results. Far from being taught by his long imprisonment the error of his ways, Cream now embarked on a carnival of crime in comparison with which his earlier career paled into insignificance.
When he had been convicted of murder in 1881, his name had, of course, been struck off the register of McGill University, and he was no longer qualified to practise as a physician. But in 1887 his father had died and left him a legacy of $16,000—sufficient to enable him to begin life anew under new surroundings. It did not take him long to shake the dust of North America from his feet. After spending only a short time in Quebec in order to interview the executors of his father’s estate, he set sail for England.
He arrived in London on October 5, 1891, and he had not been there more than eight days when he apparently murdered a street walker named Ellen Donworth. This unfortunate girl, who was aged only nineteen years, left her lodgings off the Westminster Bridge Road between six and seven o’clock on the evening of October 13, in order to keep an appointment with a man at the York Hotel, off Waterloo Road. About an hour later she was found in her death agony outside a publichouse near the hotel and was taken home to die. To her landlady, in a lucid interval, she said, “A tall gentleman with cross eyes, a silk hat, and bushy whiskers gave me a drink twice out of a bottle with white stuff in it.”
After her death a post-mortem examination revealed the presence of strychnine in her stomach, and a coroner’s jury brought in a verdict of death by poisoning at the hands of some person unknown. That this unknown person was Thomas Neill Cream or, as he now called himself, Dr. Thomas Neill, may be deduced from the facts that the murderer had cross eyes, that Cream, as was afterward proved, had whiskers which he assumed as a disguise, and that the coroner received at the time the following extraordinary letter in a handwriting afterward shown to be that of Cream himself:
“I am writing to say that if you and your satellites fail to bring the murderer
of Ellen Donworth, alias Ellen Linnell, late of 8 Duke Street, Westminster Bridge Road, to justice, I am willing to give you such assistance as will bring the murderer to justice, provided your Government is willing to pay me £300,000 for my services. No pay if not successful. A. O’Brien, Detective.”
Afterward, if we are to trust the evidence of handwriting, Cream wrote a blackmailing letter to a Member of Parliament, accusing him of the murder of Ellen Donworth; and when this produced no results, he wrote to the police magistrate at Clerkenwell, making the same accusation.
A week later Cream perpetrated the second of his London murders. The victim on this occasion was another unfortunate named Matilda Clover.
Matilda Clover, who was twenty-seven years of age, lived with her illegitimate child in a lodging house on the Lambeth Road. On the evening of October 20, she brought to the house with her a man whose appearance corresponded with that of Cream, and about three o’clock in the morning the house was aroused by shrieks of agony from Matilda Clover’s room. She died in convulsions such as might have been caused by strychnine poisoning, but the medical men, called in to treat her, thought that she was suffering from delirium tremens since she was known to be an “alcoholic,” and one of them gave a certificate to the fact that death had been due to delirium tremens and syncope. Matilda Clover was buried in a pauper’s grave, and it was only when her body was exhumed many months later that the fact of her death having been caused by strychnine poisoning was established.
But here, too, Cream overreached himself. On his first night in London he had met two “ladies of the street” named Eliza Masters and Elizabeth May who lived near Matilda Clover, and these two had actually seen him enter Matilda Clover’s lodging house in her company. Before anyone, moreover, had any suspicion that Matilda Clover had been murdered. Cream, under the name of “M. Malone,” had written a blackmailing letter to a reputable physician in London named Broadbent, accusing him of poisoning her with strychnine and demanding £2,500 as the price of silence.
“Answer by personal on the first page of the Daily Chronicle any time next week,” he wrote. “I am not humbugging you. I have evidence strong enough to ruin you for ever.” The very day after the death of Matilda Clover, Cream attempted to poison still another “streetwalker.” On the evening of the day Matilda Clover died, Cream picked up at the Alhambra Theatre an acquaintance with a lady whose real name was Louisa Harris, but who was known as Lou Harvey since she lived at a house in St. John's Wood with a man named Harvey. Cream took her to a hotel in Soho where he spent the night with her. In the morning he made an appointment with her for eight o’clock in the evening, in order that he might give her some pills which would remove some spots she had on her forehead. She met him in the evening on the Embankment—with her friend Harvey hovering in the oiling—and Cream gave her the pills. She pretended to swallow them but actually dropped them on the ground, and showed him her empty hands when he asked her if she had swallowed them. Cream then rather hastily bade her good-by, saying that he had an appointment at St. Thomas’s Hospital. He promised to meet her at eleven o’clock at a music hall but did not do so; and she thought nothing more of the matter until the details of Cream’s other crimes were made public, when she very properly communicated with the police. Incidentally, it should be observed here that Cream gave himself away by making references later to the “death” of Lou Harvey. Evidence of this was subsequently produced at his trial.
After his attempt to poison Lou Harvey, there was a lull in Cream’s warfare on street walkers. This was due apparently to a love affair which resulted in his engagement, in December, 1891, to a young lady named Laura Sabbatini, who lived at Berkhamstead
with her widowed mother. He still continued 1 to write, under assumed names, blackmailing letters to various people, accusing them of having killed either Ellen Donworth or Matilda Clover; but he did not follow up any of these letters, and the only result of this I phase of his activities was to place later in the hands of the police a number of specimens of his handwriting.
Additional Grimes And Arrest
rT'HEN, in January. 1892, Cream went to America, with the object apparently of obtaining the English agency of an American drug company. His movements in the United States are uncertain, but toward the end of February he was in Quebec, and here he made, in Blanchard’s Hotel where he was staying, the acquaintance of a commercial traveller named John Wilson McCulloch, who represented the firm of Robert Jardine and Company, Toronto, dealers in coffee, spices, baking powder and extracts. To McCulloch, who afterward went to England to testify against Cream. Cream made a number of statements which were strongly incriminating. He showed McCulloch some “whitish crystals” in a bottle, which he said he put in capsules and gave “to the women to get them out of trouble.” He showed him some false whiskers which he said he used “to prevent identification when operating;” and he finally went so far as to express regret that he had not given a certain American, who carried a large sum of money, “a pill to put him to sleep.” These evidences of the criminal tendencies of Cream’s character, when adduced at his trial, undoubtedly went far to strengthen the case for the prosecution.
By April Cream was back in London, and again he embarked on his campaign of murdering women of the underworld. On the evening of April 11, 1892, he paid a visit to two girls of this description, Alice Marsh, aged twenty-one, and Emma Shrivell, aged eighteen, who had come from Brighton and occupied rooms at 118 Stamford Street, near the Waterloo Road. About a quarter to two in the morning, when he left, he was seen by a police constable on his beat; and the description which the constable later gave of him tallied closely with his appearance. About half-past two the house was aroused by the screams of Marsh and Shrivell, who were found in great agony Marsh died on her way to the hospital, but Shrivell survived until eight o’clock in the morning and was able to give the police a statement. She said that she and Marsh had spent the evening with a man named “Fred” who had said that he was a doctor The description she gave of him was identical with that of Cream. They had eaten a meal of tinned salmon and bottled beer; and then their visitor had given them each three long, thin pills or capsules. The tinned salmon, when analyzed, was found to be innocuous, but it was established that the capsules had contained strychnine.
A month or more later, on May 17, when paying a call upon a woman of easy virtue named Violet Beverly, in North Street, Kennington Road, Cream tried to persuade his friend of the evening to take what he described as “an American drink.” but she, fortunately for herself, declined to do so.
Meanwhile, Cream had resumed his attempts at blackmail. On April 26, he wrote a letter under the name "W. H. Murray” to a Dr. Joseph Harper at Barnstaple, accusing Dr. Harper’s son of having murdered the two girls in Stamford Street and demanding £1,500 as the price of suppressing the evidence.
It was this letter really w'hich was Cream’s undoing. The police had become, as the result of certain unguarded statements made by Cream, suspicious about him and had been watching him; but they had nothing definite against him, certainly not enough to warrant arrest. On June 1, however, a police inspector went to Devonshire to see Dr. Harper and his son, and when shown the letter Dr. Harper had received, immediately recognized it as being in Cream’s handwriting. This was the definite and tangible evidence of Cream’s
connection with the murders for which the police had been looking, and two days later Cream was arrested on a warrant charging him, not with murder as yet, but with blackmail.
“You have got the wrong man,” he said when arrested. “Fire away."
But once the police had him in their toils, evidence against him began to accumulate. Cream was identified by Masters and May as the man whom they had seen entering the house of Matilda Clover. Matilda Clover’s body was exhumed, and she was found to have died of strychnine poisoning. An inquest was held, and the jury found Cream “guilty of wilful murder.” Cream was arraigned at the Bow Street Police Court before Sir John Bridge on this charge, and during the proceedings the magistrate received a letter from Louisa Harris alias Lou Harvey, giving an account of the narrow escape she had apparently had from death at Cream’s hands.
'“PHIS accumulation of evidence was 4sufficient to convince the presiding magistrate that a prima facie case had been made out against the prisoner, and Cream was committed to stand trial for the murders of Matilda Clover, Ellen Donworth, Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, as well as for the attempted murder of Louisa Harris and for attempted blackmail.
But whether the evidence was sufficient to ensure conviction before a jury was
another question. It was highly circumstantial; its weight lay in its cumulative effect rather than in conclusive details. In some respects, indeed, it was conspicuously weak. Neither the servant girl who had admitted Cream to the house of Matilda Clover, for instance, nor the police constable who had seen him leave the house could positively swear to his identity, though they both thought the prisoner was the man they had seen. Any one of the charges against Cream, if taken separately, might have been very difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt. The only hope of the prosecution lay in being permitted to place on record the evidence with regard to all the crimes of Dr. Cream ; but it was doubtful if the court would allow this, for it is a salutary rule of British justice that, when a prisoner is on trial for his life, no evidence may be brought against him which does not bear directly on the particular charge for which he is being
Fortunately for the prosecution, Cream’s trial took place at the Old Bailey in October, 1892, before Sir Henry Hawkins, a famous English judge who had his own ideas with regard to the admissibility of evidence. Cream was tried first on the charge of murdering Matilda Clover. The attorneygeneral, Sir Charles Russell, afterward Lord Russell of Killowen, who conducted the prosecution, argued in his opening speech that evidence with regard to the cases of Ellen Donworth, Alice Marsh, Emma Shrivell and Louisa Harris, should be
admitted, since it showed that the prisoner “was in possession of and was dealing with strychnine,” and that he had adopted a “systematic and deliberate mode of procedure.” This view was combatted by the defense, but Mr. Justice Hawkins ruled without hesitation that “it is impossible on the present occasion to keep separate and distinct the various cases, or rather it is impossible to exclude the evidence offered on the subject.”
“It would be the height of absurdity,” he exclaimed, “to say that we should never in any circumstances allow two crimes to be investigated at the same time, because, if so, we would very often fail to offer to the jury that which was essential to the case.”
This decision probably sealed the fate of Thomas Neill Cream. The prosecution brought forward a flood of witnesses whose examination lasted a good part of four days. As had been anticipated, the combined effect of the evidence of these witnesses was overwhelming; and the counsel for the defense—who did not call any witnesses for the simple reason that there were none to call—had a hard time making out a case for the prisoner. The judge’s charge to the jury was, in its masterly analysis of the evidence, most unfavorable to the prisoner; and the jury, on retiring, took only ten minutes to make up its mind. The foreman of the jury, when interrogated by the clerk of arraigns, uttered only the one word, “Guilty,” and the judge pronounced upon Cream the dread sentence of the law.
On November 15, 1892, less than a year and a half after he was released from the Illinois State Penitentiary, Thomas Neill Cream paid the penalty of his crimes at Newgate.
Various theories have been advanced to explain the motive or motives that had impelled him on his murderous career. It was suggested by Sir Charles Russell during the trial that Cream had murdered his victims in order “to create an opportunity of making false charges against other persons; “in other words, in order to be able to levy blackmail. But there is nothing to show that Cream ever succeeded in his attempts at blackmail, and ,t does not seem that his attempts were calculated to succeed. They have the appearance rather of afterthoughts, embarked upon in a spirit of bravado.
Another theory is that he had a grudge against the class of unfortunate women whose deaths he specialized in; and there may be something in this theory. But the opinion of Mr. Teignmouth Shore, who had edited the verbatim report of Cream’s trial, is that “his actions were probably governed by a mixture of sexual mania and sadism.” There is little doubt that Cream was in some respects a madman. He was not, however, so mad that he did not know what he was doing, or could not plan in a very astute way to cover up the tracks of his crimes. He was not insane in the legal meaning of that term, and no murderer ever met a doom more justly deserved.