Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Thomas Neil Cream

Strange Tales

"Just are the ways of God,
And justifiable to men."

— John Milton

With the murder of Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, the Metropolitan Police Force, assisted by Scotland Yard, resurged their hunt for the Lambeth Mystery poisoner. They studied chemists' records-of-sale for names of known criminals who may have purchased poisons before and during the target period; they ransacked lodgings of degenerates with a homicidal past, chiefly those with a record of drug-taking or woman-bashing.

In the Caledonia Road apartment of William Slater, a known thug with a gnarled face and a violent record, constables found nux vomica and morphine; Slater was promptly arrested. Investigators failed to connect him with either the Donworth or Marsh/Shrivell murders but, ironically, tied him to another killing, that of a girlfriend who jilted him, one Annie Bowden.

When suspects failed to surface in London, Scotland Yard entertained another thought. Because the murders occurred six months apart — October, 1891, and April, 1892 — the general belief at the Yard was that the murderer was a sailing man who killed between ports of call — perhaps a crew member of a cargo ship that carried medicinal drugs and apparatus to and from the British Isle.

Cream, by London photographer William Armstead (The British Library)
Cream, by London
photographer William
Armstead (The British
Library)

Dr. Cream probably would have gone on unsuspected had it not been for his own self-trumpeting. Studies of serial killers since that time have led to the hypothesis that many of them commit mistakes inwardly hoping to get caught. Valid or nay, Cream certainly proved to be the master of his own fate.

He had befriended a burly, good-natured former detective from New York, John Haynes, who lived over and hung about Armstead's Photographic Studio at 129 Westminster Bridge Road, where he had a profile taken in April, 1892. The talk of the town at the time was the Stamford Street murders, which had occurred only a few nights previously, and Haynes and Cream (under the pseudonym Neill) sparked dialogue on the subject. Haynes, because of his profession, had an interest in crime and had been following the strychnine murders closely, or so he thought, for he found his new friend Dr. Neill's knowledge of the subject extraordinary to his own. Over supper, the men compared notes and Haynes was very surprised to hear Cream mention details of the murders — and even the names of two victims — that he'd never read. Of the latter, they were a Matilda Clover and Lou Harvey.

After the meal, the two men walked through darkening Lambeth, Cream halting at one point to indicate the flickering transom over the address, 27 Lambeth. "There, John, see: the front door where they entered the night of October 20, Clover's final night. Clover, she was an imbecile letting a man she hardly knew into her house, but then again women of her dirt-cheap class do not live by brainpower, do they!" Cream snickered. "While she went out to fetch some porter, the killer obviously prepared his move. He removed the foil from the gelatin pills, three of them, and put them back in his vest pocket. When she returned from the tavern, he brought them out smiling, and announced, 'Here is what I promised you!' Well, he had told her he was a pill salesman from America and would bring her some medicine to prevent sexual disease, so she didn't question the surprise. She reached for them, but he closed them tight in his fist, saying, 'After we make love, my dear. I am clean, you shan't need them with me.' So — they cooed and spooned and, after the romancing was done, they sat down in her kitchen to enjoy the drink. 'Now, before I leave, let me watch you take these pills!' he told her. 'Don't bite them, they are bitter if you do; just swallow them whole with your beer.' He saw her gulp them down, one at a time. Then, tipping his hat, he told her he would stop by again the following evening. Of course, he knew better! Telling her to go to sleep now, he let himself out.."

"Amazing! How do you know all this?" Haynes wondered.

Cream cajoled. "All...er, surmise."

"Well, you're quite the surmiser, sir!" nodded Haynes.

"I know you detectives don't work that way — no assumptions, only facts. Please forgive the rambling."

"No, quite interesting. Don't forget, Neill, facts sprout from assumptions. Pretty much, I imagine, like a doctor's diagnoses."

"Precisely," Cream rolled a finger skyward to enunciate. "In fact, that's how I became interested in the case to begin with, by reading the victims' post-mortem reports in the British Medical Journal."

"I see. Please, go on, tell me about this — what was her name? Lois Harvey? I must have missed her story in the papers, too."

"Lou Harvey," Cream corrected. "I imagine snipped short off Louisa or Louise. Here's Waterloo Bridge, let's cross it and I will show you where he gave her the pills that killed her." He led Haynes over the span of bridge, explaining how he had met Lou Harvey — but, of course, relating it from a third-person angle. When they reached the northern shore of the Thames, he paused under a lantern beside the Embankment parapet immediately south of Charing Cross Station.

"Here they stood, right here," Cream posed, "just having finished a sip of the grapes at the Northumberland. They were supposed to be on their way to the Oxford for a respite of vaudeville that began at 8:30, but he detained her here admitting that he must leave her for a while, as rushing business called. He dropped into her small gloved hand some money for the show, where he promised to meet her by curtain call, and then two gelatins. 'For your color!' he told her. The stupid trollop believed him. And she swallowed them. Well, then he...er, I imagine he scooted after that pretty scene and left her standing there, at the threshold of hell."

Haynes had been watching Neill's eyes, glazed and transfixed by his own story-telling. "Where did she succumb?" the detective asked. "Was she taken ill at the Oxford?"

"I imagine so. She couldn't have lived but two or more hours."

"Terrible, terrible," Haynes shook his head. "Say, you've left my mouth parched with all your horror stories, Neill. Where might we imbibe?"

"The Northumberland is 'round the corner this way — come on, I will show you the booth where the murderer and his lady love sat while they had their last drink together."

Haynes followed, observing how this Neill shot from one street to another, maneuvering about the foggy, night streets of London with more agility than a native, following the poisoner's steps. As if he knew them by heart.

*****

Haynes' best friend in London, who had been trying to use his influence to get him a job where he worked, at Scotland Yard, was Inspector Patrick McIntyre. The day after his intercourse with Neill, he visited the investigator to spin his story of an eerie encounter.

"...I tell you, Paddy, he knew the places, the times, the whole commotion, even their conversations. Of course, he said he was merely conjecturing, but I watched his expression when he spoke and...well...I know this sounds dotty, but, well, I'd swear he was there! Like he'd known them poor girls intimately. I had the strongest urge to ask him what they looked like naked," he laughed, "but I was afraid that might be pushing it."

McIntyre, a huge man behind a huge desk, braced his huge chin on ten arched fingers, pursing his lips, listening, grimacing under the weight of huge thoughts. He mumbled, "Clover...Clover...Clover. And Harvey...Lou Harvey." He unloaded a cumbersome breath and sat back into his huge chair whose springs screeched as he did so. "I know the name Clover. Her name is involved with some rum-go who tried to blackmail an acquaintance of hers, saying he killed her. It seemed odd, because Clover, if it's the same one we're talking about here, is not considered a victim of foul play. Her doctor says she died of the drink."

He leaned over his desk, his chair grinding again, as he sketched a brief note to himself on a memo pad. "Matilda Clover you say?"

"Mm-hm. And Lou Harvey's the other one."

"Now her name doesn't ring a bell at all. I'll check with the coroner to see if such a person showed up in the morgue. I can tell you one thing, Johnny — where he got his information is beyond me. There is not nor has there ever been a Lou Harvey connected with our case, nor in the papers. But —" and he stretched out in that godawful noisy chair, " — I think she bears looking into. I'm really glad you came to me."

"At first I thought he was just a braggart. But, the further along we got on our personal, little tour of the murder scenes — Donworth's house, the residence of Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, Clover's place and then the spot where Harvey downed those pills — the more bizarre it became, Paddy. All I kept thinking is..." He paused. "Need I say it?"

McIntyre shook his head. "No, I'll say it for you, for I'm wondering the same thing: Neill might very well be the Lambeth Poisoner."

"Then you think it's possible?" Haynes asked.

"Johnny, I'm happy my supervisors didn't hear you say that. I'm trying to get you in here, but that would have killed your chance."

"Sorry," Haynes rued. "A good detective knows everything's possible." He saluted a lesson learned, and stood to leave.

"That's right," winked the other. "Oh, before you go. Do you happen to know where this Neill resides? Just in case."

"Yes, on Lambeth Palace Road. Number 118."

Inspector McIntyre leaped from his chair and this time the springs actually screamed. "Lambeth Palace Road, Number 118?"

"Yes. What's wrong?"

"Not a thing. Johnny, I think you just gave our investigation a boost. That blackmailer of which I spoke. He had also accused a fellow by the name of Harper for the killing of the two women on Stamford. Harper lives at Number 118 Lambeth Palace Road, the same lodging house."

"Then you think our man's Harper?"

"No, I think our man's Neill."

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