Between October 1891 and April 1892 a series of murders in London racked the city with a terror reminiscent of the fear surrounding Jack the Ripper’s murders, just three years earlier. Once again the victims were prostitutes but this time the method was poisoning. The killer was captured and identified as Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, who had already been convicted of murder by strychnine in the United States. In fact, if he had not been released early from Chicago’s Joliet Prison, four young London women would have been spared excruciating death.
Date: June 11, 1881
Victim: Daniel Stott and at least four others.
Cause of Death: Poisoning
Accused: Dr. Thomas Neill Cream
Thomas Neill Cream was born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1850 and emigrated with his family to Canada in 1854. His father, William Cream, became the manager of a lumber and shipbuilding firm in Quebec and was successful enough to send Thomas to McGill University in Montreal.
At McGill, Thomas studied medicine with an emphasis on pharmaceuticals. He graduated in 1876 after completing a thesis on the effects of chloroform. Around the same time he became engaged to Flora Eliza Brooks whose father, Lyman Henry Brooks, owned a small hotel outside Quebec City. That September Flora became ill and her father had her examined by a physician who told him that Eliza had recently undergone an abortion. Enraged, Lyman Brooks forced Thomas to marry his daughter at gunpoint.
Leaving his new wife behind, Thomas Cream went to the British Isles to further his studies. In 1878 he qualified for a license in midwifery from The Royal Colleges of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh. While he was away, Flora contracted bronchitis and in August 1877 died of consumption. Her death would later be viewed with suspicion since Cream had prescribed medicine for her before he left and told her to take nothing else.
Cream returned to Canada and began a private medical practice in London, Ontario. In May 1879, Kate Gardener, one of his patients was found dead in an outhouse behind his office. She had died of an overdose of chloroform. At the inquest her roommate, Sarah Long, testified that Kate had been pregnant and had gone to Dr. Cream to “bring her right.” Cream claimed he was treating her for “senescence” and had not given her an abortifacient. He concluded her death was suicide.
There was not enough evidence to indict Cream, but his reputation was damaged when Sarah Long testified that not only gave her medicine, but suggested that money could be made by accusing a wealthy resident of her boardinghouse of being the father of her child. A doctor testified that it would be impossible for a person attempting suicide to hold a chloroform soaked sponge over her own nose long enough to cause death. The coroner’s jury ruled the death was murder by persons unknown. Dr. Cream quickly left for America.
Cream moved to Chicago and set up a practice near the notorious red light district in the West Side. By 1880, Dr. Cream was known to Chicago police as an abortionist, sometimes assisted by an African-American midwife named Hattie Mack. In August of that year Mack hastily moved out of her Madison Street apartment; soon after the decomposing body of Mary Ann Faulkner was found in the apartment.
Mack was arrested and quickly turned on Cream. She confirmed that he was an abortionist who had performed as many as fifteen abortions from a single sporting house. He told her he had performed at least 500 abortions in total. Mack claimed that Cream had forced her to take in Faulkner while she recovered. Cream countered that Mack had come to him for help after she had tried an abortion with instruments on Faulkner. Cream was tried for murder, but the jury was unwilling to take the word of black woman against a handsome young doctor. Cream was acquitted.
Later that month another of Cream’s patients died after taking medicine he had prescribed. He tried place the blame and extort money from the druggist who filled the prescription, Frank Pyatt. Pyatt went to the police but the investigation was inconclusive. Cream had also tried to blackmail one of his patients who had not paid his bill.
Trial: September 1881