New book details Canadian serial killer’s murderous legacy in Chicago and beyond
In ‘The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream,’ author Dean Jobb writes that Thomas Neill Cream’s crimes could have been stopped at several points.
True crime content is in abundance whether it’s on TV, film, podcasts, books or theater.
Canadian journalist and college professor Dean Jobb, who’s written two crime books previously, is contributing his own non-fiction book about a serial killer who spent time in Chicago.
“The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream” (Algonquin Books, $27.95), published last month, details the crimes of Canada-born Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, known as the “Lambeth Poisoner,” who spent time in Chicago, was convicted of murder in Illinois and sentenced to life in prison, only to get his sentence commuted, and who, after his release, went on to kill more people in England.
The murderous spree by Cream, who killed 10 people over a span of 11 years (1877-1892) across three countries, predates the well-known serial killers Jack the Ripper and Chicago’s H.H. Holmes, whom true-crime fanatics know from the best-seller “The Devil in the White City.”
“What drew me to Dr. Cream was what his case says about the Victorian period, everything from the limitations of early detection to the primitive forensics of the time to justice system corruption, the various factors that enabled him to either evade justice or escape punishment,” Jobb says. “And as well how the society of the time — the stifling morality — drove desperate young women who were seeking an illegal abortion to his door.
“That’s what drew me to it and a quest to understand how this could be? How could you get away with as many as 10 murders in three countries? Time and time again, either be a suspect, put on trial and acquitted or somehow talk his way out of a situation that he would go to Joliet prison for 10 years and still manage to be released to kill again.”
Jobb, who lives in Nova Scotia, says he came to Chicago to research Cream’s crimes.
“Truth and accuracy are the most important things,” Jobb says. “My goal is to recreate the past but not to recreate any events or descriptions, not to embellish. In the readers’ note, I just simply want to stress for people that, as amazing and bizarre and unbelievable some of the events are in Dr. Cream’s life and the effort to bring him to justice, they’re all true.”
Jobb visited the Harold Washington Library to research newspaper clippings and other documents and the area where Cream had an office — in the 1200 block of West Madison Street on the Near West Side.
“The area was totally transformed and redeveloped, so there wasn’t a lot of his world left,” Jobb says. “But I do think it’s important to at least try to take a look and get a sense of what the city would have looked like in his time. When you research like I do, it’s amazing to me how it’s always been this way. True crime is fascinating, and you see it in the detailed accounts of the trial. Sometimes, these [newspapers] would run verbatim transcripts of trial testimony. You don’t even have to go to the court officer’s record file to get a really good rundown of the evidence.”
Jobb says Cream was able to get away with so many killings for so long because of his knowledge as a doctor to what could kill someone, his family connections and the criminal justice system during the Victorian era.
“The police were ill-equipped to do a proper investigation,” he says. “Very well-regarded police agencies in London are struggling as well to come to grips with the fact that a serial killer is operating in their midst, to see the struggle and eventual dawning that one man was responsible for four murders in London in the 1890s.”
Jobb says he thinks people who read the book “will find it even a little infuriating to see time and time again — with the benefit of hindsight, of course — that [police] in various cities in various countries were so close so many times to stopping him. If he had been convicted in 1880, when he first come to Chicago, he would have killed no more than three people. So it was a missed opportunity.”