My new book project
The Case of the Murderous Doctor Cream
The Birth of Forensic Detection and the Hunt for the Serial Killer Who Terrorized London and Chicago
by Dean Jobb
Before Jack the Ripper, before The Devil in the White City's H.H. Holmes, the world's deadliest serial killer was the Canadian Doctor Thomas Neill Cream
“When a doctor goes wrong, he is the first of criminals,” Sherlock Holmes observed during one of his most baffling investigations. “He has nerve and he has knowledge.” Incredibly, as the words of the world’s most famous fictional detective appeared in print in the British magazine The Strand in the early 1890s, a Canadian doctor responsible for a string of murders in Chicago and Canada was preying on women in London’s downtrodden Lambeth neighborhood. Thomas Neill Cream killed at least ten people in three countries, a rampage that eclipsed the bloody crimes of the notorious Jack the Ripper.
The Case of the Murderous Doctor Cream tells the true story of this Victorian-era monster, immortalized as the “Lambeth Poisoner.” It recreates his crimes, explores his motives and methods and exposes, for the first time, the failure of police and courts in the United States, Canada and Britain to identify and stop one of the earliest and most prolific serial killers of the modern era. And it reveals how two women – Louisa Harvey, one of his intended victims, and Laura Sabbatini, a woman who almost married him – played key roles in bringing him to justice.
Cream, the son of a wealthy Quebec City timber merchant, earned a medical degree from Montreal's McGill University in 1876 and immediately employed his "nerve and knowledge" to lethal effect. His first victim was a young woman in Waterloo, Quebec, who fell ill shortly after their marriage that year. Suspected of killing a female patient in London, Ontario in 1879, he fled to Chicago, where he murdered three more women before he was convicted of poisoning his lover’s husband. After serving ten years in an Illinois prison, Cream was set free in 1891 – and unleashed his wrath on the prostitutes of London. To the Chicago Tribune, it was a case “without parallel in the annals of English criminal jurisprudence” and marked the emergence of a new breed of killer, one who operated without motive or remorse, who “murdered simply for the sake of murder.”
This dark tale of murder and madness, flawed detection and official indifference will be told in tandem with the birth of modern forensic investigation and Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes, the iconic sleuth who transformed crime fiction. (In a remarkable coincidence, Doyle was studying medicine in Edinburgh when Cream visited the city in 1878, to obtain a licence to practise as a physician and surgeon.) Cream’s rampage was “murder on almost a wholesale scale ... an Elizabethan tragedy of horrors,” in the words of one writer. It coincided with the birth of modern forensic science and an explosion of interest in tales of crime and detection. “Detective-fever,” an observer noted, “engulfed the Victorian reading public.” Fact mirrored fiction as Doyle’s detective methodically solved crimes on the page while police on two continents struggled to link a string of seemingly random killings to a single, mysterious suspect.
The Case of the Murderous Doctor Cream will take readers on a journey through Canada and the U.S. and on to 1890s London, on the trail of one of history's earliest and most callous serial killers. It is the first book to tell the full story of Cream's outrageous crimes, the role Canadian and American authorities played in freeing him to kill again, and Scotland Yard's desperate search for a cold-blooded murderer as brazen as Jack the Ripper. And it will bring to life a forgotten story of murder and suspense, recreating a lost world where evil lurked on the gas-lit streets of Chicago and London.
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