Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Thomas Neil Cream

A Beauty, Bane and Blackmail

"Many might go to heaven with half the labor they go to hell."

— Ben Jonson

Cream was back in London within four months. By April 2, he had taken up a suite at Edward's Hotel in Euston Square, and a week later resumed residency at his old address of 103 Lambeth Palace Road. It was as if he'd never been away.

He made immediate contact with the Sabbatinis at their home in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, pouring out his love for Laura and talking her into an engagement. Celebrating, they dined out, and over a course of Sundays he even accompanied his betrothed to church services. Galante to the core, he played the upstanding, outstanding gentleman of good will and total beneficence.

That was in the grassy climes of Hertfordshire. But, in London, he was the night prowler once again. Roaming Picadilly, he spotted an especially good-looking young woman with heart-faced shape and come-hither gaze outside St. James Hall. By her plumage and manner, he recognized her as a streetwalker in search of a client. Tapping her shoulder, he introduced himself as Dr. Thomas Neill from America currently practicing at St. Thomas' Hospital. She was impressed and followed him to the Palace Hotel on Garrick Street, where they dallied until morning.

Lou Harvey, drawn by the
Lou Harvey, drawn by
the "Illustrated Penny"
(The British Library)

Over dinner and a bottle of burgundy at the hotel, he had learned her name was Lou Harvey, who lived below Primrose Hill at 55 Townsend Road, St. John's Wood. She lied. Her real name was Louise Harris and lived at [44] Townsend with an omnibus conductor named Charley Harvey whose surname she had adopted. A cautious woman, and brighter than the dollies with whom Cream had played with thus far, Harvey looked before she leaped, especially when it came to men like this one who said he came from far-off America; she had been with enough cads and voyeurs — and high toners, too — to distinguish the gadabouts from the earnests. Something didn't match up here, she apprised.

That intuition saved her life.

When Cream was indicted for his crimes months later, she would recall her meeting with him: "He wore gold-rimmed glasses and had very peculiar eyes. As far as I can remember, he had a dress suit on and a long mackintosh on his arm. He spoke with a foreign twang (and) asked me if I had ever been in America. I said no. He had an old-fashioned gold watch with a hair or silk fob chain and seal. Said he had been in the army."

Before they left the Palace, she agreed to meet Cream again that evening for a drink and some theatre at Oxford Music Hall. They arranged a rendezvous for 7:30 p.m. at the Charing Cross underground railway station, adjacent to the Embankment. She was surprised, however, when he told her that he would bring along some pills for her to take in his company. "You are so beautiful, but your cheeks are too pale," he said. "That's what comes from living in misty London town. These pills will bring a blush of rose back into your face, my fallen angel."

His angel had not fallen so far off the scale that she couldn't smell a rat. She met Cream at the appointed time, but determined to be careful. The evening proved quite interesting, as recollected by Harvey: "(I) walked with him to the Northumberland Public-house, had a glass of wine, and then (we) walked back to the Embankment where he gave me two capsules. But, not liking the look of the thing, I pretended to put them in my mouth...And when he happened to look away, I threw them over the Embankment. He then said he had to be at St. Thomas' Hospital, left me, and gave me 5 shillings to go to the Oxford Music Hall, promising to meet me at 11 o'clock. But, he never came."

Cream had no reason to show, for at 11 o'clock he most certainly was elsewhere toasting to what he thought was the whore Lou Harvey's last night on earth. But, she had been more than lucky; the whore had been smart. Just how smart would not become evident for some time — when the "ghost" of Lou Harvey would hang him.

Cream handing out his deadly pills, from the
Cream handing out his deadly
pills, from the "Illustrated Police
News" (The British Library)

No hangman leered at Cream yet, though, and he considered himself a clever individual, erasing strumpets in a way that even Jack the Ripper would have envied. Cream mused: The Ripper soiled his evening clothes in blood, but he walked away spotless. The Ripper had to hide in shadows from police lanterns after every killing, but his method allowed him to put many a footfall between himself and his victims before the initial sign of foul play. In fact, he could literally employ his tool of destruction in broad daylight in the middle of Trafalgar Square had he the mind to do so. Slip'em the pill, tell'em now they'll feel better, and too-da-loo m'gal!

But... Master Jack still bested him, for didn't he kill two doxies in a single night?. Cream calculated: What prevented him from exacting — even exceeding — that achievement? All he needed to do was to locate two doves in a single cage idiotic enough to sample his pills for...whatever reason he could concoct. Ellen Donworth had swallowed. Matilda Clover had swallowed. And Lou Harvey had swallowed. All whores. Imagine... imagine... two trollops in one room — better than Jack the Ripper who had to leave the warmth of his own fireplace twice!

Two victims stirring at once. Coughing at once. Twitching at once. Dying at once.

Late on April 11, 1892, Cream followed Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, a pair he had just met loitering in St. George's Circus, off the dreary pavements of Stamford Street. Outside, a tug boat moaned as it crept down the Thames, rippling the dark waters, causing a succession of waves to slosh along the wooden pilings that paralleled Stamford. Ascending the squeaking steps of Number 118, the trio reached the landing where a hallway led to the girls' separate rooms. Key inserted, they stepped into Alice's flat, whiffing a strong surge of gas as she lit the jet beside the door. The cramped cubicle of a parlor took on a ruddy glow.

Cream grinned. Of course, they credited the bloke's good humor to his expectations of what was to come, alone with two young, nubile women — Alice was twenty-one, Emma was eighteen — in the inviting solitude of the apartment. They promised to drink with him, perhaps do more with him, then — and this was why he grinned — maybe sample one of his cute little pills that he carried in his polished leather Gladstone bag. The pills, he told them, prevented "the disease" so rampant and feared among the girls' profession.

They watched the man as he set the bag on the divan, so pedantically, a cute topper he, soft-spoken and even a little bit shy. Alice, in particular, felt sorry for this Dr. Neill, lonely, just come from America to work at St. Thomas, and still without friends in the city. They whispered and together decided to give the poor blighter some feminine fondling tonight.

"But we haf'ta be quoy'et like mice, so's we don' wyke up the oul' biddy lan'lord' Missus Vogt downstairs," was Alice's only request. "She thinks we're actresses in town! Wouldn't she be s'rproised!" And she dropped her blouse to the floor, revealing a curved torso of white frilly puffs and laces. She tossed a let's-give-the-doc-a real-show kind of wink to her friend.

The carousing over, they invited the trooper to partake of some malt beer and canned salmon that Alice had stored in her pantry. "On one condition, that you let me reward you with a gift," he answered, unlatching his satchel. "You will find them more precious than money." He motioned to the Queen's banknotes he flung on the tabletop beside the opened, foaming brown bottles of Guinness. "Let me be your personal doctor for the evening."

Cream's sample case (London Metro Police)
Cream's sample case (London
Metro Police)

"Woy not?" Emma chuckled. "You were a mite good patient of ours a few moments ago!"

Alice howled after her friend's wit and added, "Ver'ly, wasn't 'e now?"

Dr. Neill, their friend, threw open his case with the delight of an Irishman uncovering a leprechaun's pot of gold. The women marveled at the sight of little bottles tucked into little pockets inside the pouches; square bottles, rounded bottles, corked bottles, capped bottles, green bottles, and blue, and black, and white; ceramic bottles and glass bottles. Some had labels with odd words and strange equations; some were numbered with tape; others said elixir-this or elixir-that, others were bare. From one of the latter, Cream spilled six gelatin-covered white pills into his palm, handing each of the women three. "Take these before retiring," he told them. "I will give you more next time we meet."

"Are you sure these work?" Emma asked.

"Oh, you can count on it," he nodded. "Like nothing you've ever tried before."

It was the bewitching hour, about 2 a.m., when the doctor left Number 118 Stamford. Outside, he muttered a ga'evening to the local bobby, Officer Comley, who tapped his helmet in return. Each man went his separate direction along the Thames. Inside the home, all was quiet...

...Until about 2:30 a.m. The landlady, Mrs. Charlotte Vogt, awakened, half-conscious of a whimpering upstairs where her boarders lived. This was soon followed by groaning, then a terrible rhythm of screams attended by a horrendous banging noise. Mrs. Vogt stirred her husband and they both scrambled from bed and fumbled in the dark for their robes.

At the top of the stairwell the couple found Alice Marsh trembling on the hallway carpet, her body an amoeba, jerking in spasmodic gestures; her hands grappled at nothing above her open mouth as if trying to catch air in her fists to plunge down her gullet. Unable to swallow, she spat up bile. From inside Emma Shrivell's room, a banging continued. When Mr. Vogt broke in, he saw the younger girl enduring the same grotesque attacks, threshing in poses he didn't think the human body capable of. One foot slammed the wall as she, like her friend, groped for oxygen.

The Vogts fetched a policeman who, in turn, wired for an emergency wagon, but by the time it delivered the women to St. Thomas they were dead.

At first ptomaine was suspected, but that was quickly ruled out. An autopsy uncovered deadly doses of strychnine in both victims. The murders mirrored that of the "Lambeth Mystery" girl, Ellen Donworth six months earlier.

Scotland Yard took note. It believed it had a poisoner wandering the streets of Lambeth.

*****

That Thomas Neill Cream was an evil man, there is no uncertainty. Cream murdered, and he enjoyed it, thoroughly enjoyed it. And he didn't stop there. As proof that his crimes were premeditated, take his blackmailing efforts aimed at getting rich off his crimes while redirecting their blame to London's innocent. Don't forget, he had tried the same thing in Chicago when he had accused an uninvolved druggist for the poisoning of Daniel Stott.

It was to be Cream's greed that would bring about his eventual downfall. He took his machinations one step too far, and regretted it.

On the fifth of May, Deputy Coroner George Percival, in charge of the Shrivell-Marsh murder inquest, received a strange letter signed by one "William H. Murray". The handwritten piece subtly pointed to a Dr. Walter Harper of St. Thomas Hospital as being the killer of the two prostitutes on Stamford Street. At the same time, Dr. Joseph Harper of Barnstaple opened his mail to find a letter from this Murray accusing his son, Walter, of the same double murder. The author of the letter promised that for £156 he would destroy the evidence he had that conclusively linked Walter to the deaths.

The Harpers, a father and son team of surgeons who had an impeccable reputation as two of London's finest, hurriedly notified the police of the crackpot threat. The police, not in the least regarding the seriousness of both Murray letters, informed the accused Harpers not to worry, but to please notify them if the attempts at extortion continued.

Scotland Yard began wondering if this Murray might not be the same blackmailer who, under the pseudonym "A. O'Brien, detective," had written coroner Percival in October, accusing a popular Member of Parliament as the slayer of Ellen Donworth. Then, as now, the accused, Frederick Smith, also received a letter demanding a sum of money (£3,000) to stop him from taking his information to the Metropolitan Police.

Further investigation revealed that a phantom, "M. Malone," had tried, through the same form of arm-bending communication, to rouse £2,500 from two different people whom he defamed as the murderers of Martha Clover: a Dr. William Broadbent from Portland Square who practiced at St. Mary's Hospital, and a high-focus aristocrat, Lord Russell.

The only confusion the police felt was: Martha Clover wasn't murdered.

Or was she?

Because the handwriting and the tone of all the letters was curiously similar; the Yard, in re-examining them, strongly believed that they had been written by the same man. That being so, why would "M. Malone" regard Clover's death as anything but natural?

Unless... he knew better.

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