The Hunt for the Victorian-era Serial Killer Who Terrorized England and America
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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 does go 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 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 as many as ten people in three countries, a rampage that eclipsed the crimes of the notorious Jack the Ripper.
This is the true story of a Victorian-era monster, immortalized as the “Lambeth Poisoner.” The Murderous Doctor Cream is the first complete account of his crimes, his victims, and how Scotland Yard’s best detectives struggled to end his final and deadliest attacks on women in 1890s London. It explores why the authorities in the United States, Canada and Britain failed to identify and stop one of the earliest and most prolific serial killers of modern times. It exposes the flawed police investigations and primitive forensic tests that enabled him to evade suspicion and detection, how he was convicted and imprisoned in the midst of his poisoning spree, and why he was freed to kill again. And it shows how the stifling morality and hypocrisy of Victorian society allowed him to prey on vulnerable and desperate women, many of whom had turned to him for medical help.
The Glasgow-born son of a wealthy Quebec City timber merchant, Cream earned a medical degree from Montreal's McGill University in 1876 and almost 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 became an abortionist and murdered three more women before he was convicted of poisoning his lover’s husband, Daniel Stott. After serving ten years in an Illinois prison, Cream was set free in 1891 – and headed for England to unleash his wrath on the prostitutes of London. To the Chicago Tribune, his crimes were “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.” Decades later, when George Orwell compiled a list of the most notorious killers in British history, Cream was among the first to spring to his mind.
This dark tale of murder and madness, flawed detection, and official indifference is told against the backdrop of the birth of modern policing and forensic methods and Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation of Sherlock Holmes, the iconic sleuth who transformed crime fiction. In a remarkable coincidence, Conan Doyle was studying medicine in Edinburgh when Cream visited the city in 1878, to obtain a license to practise as a physician and surgeon. And one of the renowned doctors who oversaw Cream’s examinations and granted that license was Joseph Bell, whose uncanny ability to deduce facts about people after a lightning-fast study of their appearance inspired the creation of Conan Doyle’s super-sleuth.
The Murderous Doctor Cream takes readers on a journey through Canada and the U.S. and on to 1890s London, on the trail of one of history's most callous serial killers – a cold-blooded fiend as brazen as Jack the Ripper. It brings 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.