Skip to main content

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

Review

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer

In the late 1800s, as criminal investigations were transitioning to a modern reliance on new science coupled with traditional detective work, a murderer was brought to justice. Thomas Neill Cream was what would come to be known as a serial killer --- someone who commits a series of murders, often unrelated, with no clear motive but usually with similar methods. Cream was a trained doctor and a poisoner suspected of being responsible for as many as 10 deaths across two continents.

In THE CASE OF THE MURDEROUS DR. CREAM, Dean Jobb introduces readers to this little-known but prolific villain, his victims, and the detectives, lawyers, judges and witnesses who stopped his horrific rampage.

"Jobb handles this hideous yet compelling story so well.... Overall an absorbing and grim account, THE CASE OF THE MURDEROUS DR. CREAM is a gripping addition to the true crime genre."

Cream’s offenses seem like the stuff of fiction, perhaps that of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who was helping to invent a new literary genre at the time that Cream was preying on his victims. He mostly chose prostitutes to murder, and his weapon of choice was the poison strychnine, which led to a terribly painful and frightening death. He was also in the habit of writing letters, framing others for his crimes and making half-hearted attempts at blackmail. Although he was almost an immediate suspect in many of these crimes, his credentials as a doctor seemed to protect him. Additionally, he moved around quite a bit --- from Canada to England to the United States and back again --- and the police forces didn’t communicate city to city, much less country to country.

So when he was being investigated by Scotland Yard in England, no one knew he had recently spent years in Joliet Prison in Illinois for murder until an inspector named Frederick Smith Jarvis was sent to North America to learn what he could. Jobb takes readers along as Cream moves from place to place, always failing to establish a medical practice and focusing his scathing hatred of women on the most vulnerable. As he does, Jobb reveals much about medicine, social norms, police work and the justice system in three countries at the time. With all of that information and detail, THE CASE OF THE MURDEROUS DR. CREAM is an illuminating, if frightening, book.

Not much is known about Cream’s childhood or any experiences, trauma or illness that would have led to his homicidal actions. However, Jobb is effective in sharing what is known: Cream’s father's expectations for him and his siblings, the loss of his mother, his estranged wife and fiancée, as well as his medical studies. And, of course, his crimes. Because court documents have been preserved, Jobb had access to legal testimonies and interviews that paint a full and disturbing picture of the man known as the Lambeth Poisoner. His research is impressive, and the book goes well beyond the doctor’s crimes to the context in which he lived and the efforts that brought him down.

Jobb handles this hideous yet compelling story so well. The crimes are a jumping-off point to explore several facets of Victorian life and history. But they are never sensationalized, and Cream’s victims --- and those who survived his assaults --- are never shamed or dishonored. Overall an absorbing and grim account, THE CASE OF THE MURDEROUS DR. CREAM is a gripping addition to the true crime genre.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on July 16, 2021

The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream: The Hunt for a Victorian Era Serial Killer
by Dean Jobb

  • Publication Date: July 13, 2021
  • Genres: Nonfiction, True Crime
  • Hardcover: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books
  • ISBN-10: 1616206896
  • ISBN-13: 9781616206895