Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Dr. Thomas Neil Cream


"The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven."

— John Milton

Thomas Neill Cream loved women. There was nothing he loved more than bright-eyed, soft-skinned, dimple-faced long-tressed, shapely dolls.

They made perfect guinea pigs.

Perfect victims.

Perfect outlets for his sexual-homicidal urges.

And he found them as easy to embrace as uncorking a bottle of strychnine pills, which he enjoyed handing to them as if it were candy to cure their assorted ills.

To know that they would die that night — an excruciating death — would help cure his ills, too, releasing an inner frustration that bottled up inside him like a volcano. Women, to Cream, were foul creatures who sinned against God, and he was their executioner, his duty to society to free the world of gilt angels.

Dr. Cream (Hodge & Co)
Dr. Cream (Hodge & Co)

Cream, doctor emeritus, lived in an age when the world was taking its first step into a free-form society just a toenail across the border between Victorian restraint, as tight as a corset string, and a blushing expression of la risqué, half unbuttoned, giggling and ready to burst forth its unlaced secrets. The cherubim with innocent blue eyes was slowly becoming more alluring with the nibs of devil's horns, and, it is believed, Cream loved to see if they would pop out in his presence. When they did, if they did, then he had the innate excuse he had been looking for in the first place to kill them — because, after all, they were the spawns of Lucifer, women were, and deserved to be slain.

Not to suggest that the old boy was merely a by-product of his age. Not at all. Victoriana was a fine age, a splendid time to live, a season for encouraging record-changing scientific discoveries, altering philosophies, upraising social consciousness, strengthening national economics, expediting commerce and penning a new form of literature. But, it was not an age for someone like Dr. Cream who had enough trouble living under conservative codes let alone novel ones. He could not understand, for instance, why Salomé, who danced the seductive dance of the seven veils, was no longer considered a harridan, but a heroine as glorified by Oscar Wilde.

He needed to get under those veils to see what he might find.

Cream was not an average murderer, says Angus McLaren, who wrote the finely chiseled Prescription for Murder. "His outrageous crimes were the result of an individual psychopathology wedded to a generalized misogyny or mistrust of women at a time when women were making a well-publicized bid for greater autonomy. The interest of his case accordingly lies not so much in what it can tell us about him, as in what it reveals about the particular sexual and cultural context of late Victorian society, a society made anxious in the rise to threats of reputation, the increased number of women in public life, the apparent blight of degeneration and the erosion of gender boundaries."

From his native Canada he traveled to the world's Gamorras in search of an answer to the great, confusing, mystifying, exasperating female mystery. He was uptight, penned up and strung up, and he destroyed what he just could not understand. That was his fixation.

"His actions were probably governed by a mixture of sexual mania and Sadism," writes W. Teignmouth Shore, who wrote the preface for Trial of Neill Cream for the "Notable British Trial Series" in 1923. "He may have had a half-crazy delight in feeling that the lives of the wretched women he slew lay in his power, that he was the arbiter of their fates... Sensuality, cruelty and lust of power urged him on. We may picture him walking at night the dreary, mean streets and byways of Lambeth, seeking for prey, on some of whom to satisfy his lust, on others to exercise his lust, on others to satisfy his passion for cruelty..."

His was a Jack the Ripper mentality — some people believe he was Jack the Ripper — powered by his own eroticism and confusion.

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