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The Lambeth Poisoner: Victorian London's 'Doctor of Death'

Thomas Neill Cream
Image Credit: Pictorial Press Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo | Above: The doctor and serial killer, Thomas Neill Cream (1850 – 1892)

Thomas Neill Cream was a qualified doctor in the 1800s who used his advanced medical knowledge to carry out callous murders that were driven by sadism and greed.

Doctor of Death

Born in Glasgow in 1850, Thomas Cream’s family emigrated to Canada where later he studied at McGill University and obtained a degree in 1876. He particularly impressed his tutors with an essay on the uses of chloroform.

Cream’s murder footprint over 11 years covered three countries, starting with his private medical practices in Canada and Chicago. As an illegal abortionist, he was responsible for the death of several pregnant women during surgery. In some cases, he exploited his murders by sending blackmail letters to men he accused of being the fathers of the unborn children.

Despite being tried twice on charges of murder, he was acquitted in both cases on lack of evidence. Ironically, it was the death of his only male victim, Daniel Stott, where Cream planned to benefit from Stott’s widow, which led to imprisonment. Intending to pass off Stott’s death as natural causes, Stott’s wife, who was Cream’s mistress at the time, blamed her sociopathic lover. Cream was sentenced to life imprisonment but was released after only 10 years on grounds of good behaviour.

Flush with inheritance after his father’s death, Cream left for England, arriving in Liverpool on 1st October 1891.

London poisonings

On 13th October 1891, 19-year-old prostitute Ellen ‘Nellie’ Donworth staggered on Waterloo Road. Reeling in agony she managed to reveal that she had been in the company of a man with a thick moustache and wearing a tall silk hat who she met in the nearby York Hotel. The man she referred to was Thomas Neill Cream, who she said offered her a drink from a bottle that contained ‘white stuff in it’. This substance was strychnine, a poison, and she died before reaching a hospital.

Seven days later, 27-year-old prostitute Matilda Clover took Cream back to her house. The maid, Lucy Rose, described the guest as being tall with a heavy moustache and a silk top hat, who left at 10pm. At three in the morning, Matilda Clover was screaming in agony and dead by 8.30am.

Around this time, Louisa Harvey, who lived with a labourer and worked as a prostitute, had a narrow escape when Cream offered her pills. She didn’t like the look of them and only pretended to swallow them. By this time the press had coined a moniker for London’s latest serial killer, calling him ‘The Lambeth Poisoner’.

Phantom blackmail letters

While Cream returned to America and Canada, he ordered 500 circulars to be handed to visitors at the Metropole Hotel in London, notifying them that the poisoner of Ellen Donworth was employed by the hotel. These actions, along with him sending accusatory letters to innocent men to extort money, alerted Scotland Yard. In one case, Cream demanded £25,000 from a prominent physician, William Broadbent, for his silence. The bogus blackmailing letters only succeeded in drawing attention to himself.

Final murders

At the beginning of April 1892, Cream was back in London in his old lodgings in Lambeth Palace Road. Early one morning, a police constable patrolling Stamford Street noticed Emma Shrivell, an 18-year-old streetwalker outside her lodgings saying goodbye to a man with a thick moustache and a tall silk hat. The constable was later called back to the same address where Shrivell and her co-tenant, Alice Marsh, were screaming in agony. Both died while being rushed to St Thomas’s Hospital. Cream had left the girls his deadly pills with a tin of salmon.

In May, the sociopathic Cream went to another prostitute’s lodgings and tried to persuade her to take a pill and what he described as ‘The American Drink’, but she showed no interest in either. This failure seems to have discouraged him and is believed to have been his last attempt at murder.

Capture and trial

Cream’s habit of writing blackmail letters led Scotland Yard to believe his murders were all the work of ‘The Lambeth Poisoner’. But it was Cream’s attempt to blackmail two doctors for the murder of Matilda Clover that brought him to the attention of the police. Thought to have died from natural causes, Clover’s case was reopened, and Cream was charged with murder. On 21st October 1892, he was convicted and sentenced to death

On 15th November 1892 at Newgate Prison, as Cream was about to be hanged, he was heard to have uttered his last words muttering, ‘I am Jack the….’ as the trap fell.

The motives underlying the crimes of Thoman Neill Cream are unknown. It is believed he simply derived some kind of vicarious sadistic satisfaction from inflicting agonising deaths on women without watching the results and profiting from such obscene deaths through bogus blackmail letters.