The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream – Dean Jobb

Also known as the Lambeth Poisoner, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream spent the better part of a year hunting and eliminating prostitutes in and around London in the early 1890s.  Once Scotland Yard narrowed in on who they believed to be their suspect, Inspector Frederick Smith Jarvis was sent to North America to dig into Cream’s past. What he would uncover would lead Scotland Yard to believe Cream was their man.

Through interviews with key figures in Cream’s past as well as good, honest, boots-on-the-ground investigative work, Jarvis was able to paint a clearer picture of the man Doctor Thomas Neill Cream had been before arriving in England.  Uncovering blackmail schemes, multiple murder trials and a stint in an Illinois state prison, Inspector Jarvis had no doubt Cream was the man behind the recent poisonings in London.

Author Dean Jobb actually stumbled upon Thomas Cream during research for another project and decided to see where it would take him.  As Cream’s murders happened shortly after Jack the Ripper’s killing spree, Cream appeared to be largely forgotten.  While his victims died in a less sensationalistic way than those who fell under Jack, Cream’s murders were no less cruel.  Targeting his victims through strychnine – a deadly poison that went hand-in-hand with an agonizing death – Cream took advantage of his standing as a medical professional, allowing his victims to trust him when prescribing medication.

Throughout the book, I never understood how Cream stayed on the lam for as long as he did.  Even before being locked up in the 1880s, he had left several paper trails that could have easily led back to him, as he appears to have been completely disorganized at times.  It certainly helped that the justice system in the Victorian Era was less than perfect, so it made it easy for someone to slip through the cracks.  However, like all serial killers, Cream was arrogant, which led him to believe he likely wouldn’t be caught.  It’s amazing that even after two murder trials (only one of which led to a conviction) in the United States, Cream was released and allowed to leave the country and start up again across the Pond.  Jobb exposes the faults in the US criminal justice system that allowed this to happen through political pressure and alleged bribes after Cream had originally been sentenced to life behind bars.

As much as this book is about the crimes of Dr. Cream, it is also about an era in time in which someone like this could move around so freely.  As the justice system evolved (at one point, Jobb discusses the practice of measuring body parts of criminals as a means of identifying repeat offenders), it was only a matter of time before Cream’s past would catch up with him as he continued along this path.  Dean Jobb’s exhaustive research paints a portrait of a career criminal who wrote a prescription for his own downfall.

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