- Education and Science
Was Jack the Ripper Hung?
The infamous Jack the Ripper had not been active around London, at least noticeably, since 1888. But, in October1891 an intern from Lambeth Medical Institute rushed to the scene of an urgent call at a lodging house off Commercial Street. There, 19 year old Ellen Donworth was found convulsing in her death throes.
Friends told the intern a man described only as “a gentleman,” had given her something to drink from a bottle. The symptoms were obvious…poisoning. He immediately summoned the authorities. On the way to St Thomas’s hospital, Donworth died. A post mortem found strychnine in her stomach and the next day a newspaper carried the headline “The Lambeth Mystery.” The only suspect was a man who had been living with Donworth, but he was soon cleared of suspicion. For the next half year her death was considered just an isolated incident.
Between 1800 and 1900 the East End of London and areas such as White Chapel and Lambeth, were ridden with extreme poverty, crime and disease. It is somewhat understandable then, to survive some women turned to the streets to eke out a living.
Another two women were found at a lodging house on Stamford Street in April, 1892 similarly poisoned by strychnine. They also never made it to the hospital. Witnesses later said they recalled seeing the women with a gentleman in a top hat. Police believed they were looking for one man.
Then, a number of physicians came forward with blackmail letters they had received. The letters threatened to expose them as the murderer if they didn’t pay a certain amount. Strangely, the signatures were signed by the same person, but a different name used in each case. The extortion letters not only contained the names of the murdered women but also of two others the police were not yet aware of. A full police investigation was launched.
At this time John Haynes, an American detective, was also living in London above a photographer’s studio on Westminster Bridge Road. He had come to England in hopes of joining the New Scotland Yard police. It was at the photographer’s studio he ran into a man claiming to be a doctor by the name of Thomas Neill. Invariably their conversation turned to the recent Stamford Street murders.
As a detective, Haynes was naturally interested in the case. When he found Neill was equally interested they agreed to meet for dinner later to discuss their views. Over dinner that evening Haynes was surprised by how much his dinner companion knew about the case and others as well. Following dinner Neill took him to the scene of the crime pointing out where the murders had taken place. His descriptions were so explicit it was almost as if he had been present to witness them.
He even took Haynes to Waterloo Bridge and theorized that could have been the place where the killer had given strychnine capsules to another victim, Lou Harvey. This was a name Haynes had had not read in any newspaper and his detective senses began to smell a rat. He took his suspicions to Patrick McIntyre, head of the Criminal Investigation Department at New Scotland Yard. Haynes related the events concerning Neill and amount of detail he had revealed. McIntyre, like Haynes, agreed such information looked more than educated guesswork. Neill was immediately put under close observation.
It was soon discovered Neill was actually Canadian Dr Thomas Neil Cream. An investigator was sent to Canada to scrutinize Cream’s Background. Cream had been born in Scotland in 1850. At four years old his family had moved to Ontario. The investigation also revealed he almost killed the daughter of a wealthy hotel owner, Elizabeth Brookes, by botching an illegal operation. The outraged family insisted he marry Elizabeth. He did, but fled to London, England a day later.
In 1876 he enrolled in medical school, but flunked out. He later moved to Edinburgh and successfully completed studies in midwifery at the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. Returning to Canada, he set up business as a physician and surgeon and continued performing illegal operations getting rid of unwanted pregnancies.
In May 1879 the body of Kate Gardener was found in a shed on his premises. The young woman had died like the others. Cream claimed he had only attempted to help her but didn’t perform the operation. No charges were filed, but his reputation was ruined so he moved to Chicago in August that same year and continued in the same vein.
The following year the body of Mary Anne Faulkner was discovered. She also had died from a botched operation by Cream. Initially Cream was charged, but later released due to lack of evidence.
However he was eventually prosecuted for the murder of Daniel Stott. Stott had also died of Strychnine poisoning in June 1881. Cream had been having an affair with Stott’s wife and had murdered him. Cream was tried, found guilty and sentenced to life in Illinois State Penitentiary, known to be operated by corrupt officials.
In 1891 he bought his way out using an inheritance obtained from the death of his father. Some accounts say he was released three years earlier. But, in either case he returned to London, England in October 1891.
New Scotland Yard was now convinced they had their man. They compared Cream’s handwriting with the blackmail notes. Although the evidence was circumstantial he was arrested in June 1892. It wouldn’t do to have him roaming the streets while they searched for more evidence. They found it in the form of Louise Harris, also known as Lou Harvey. She hadn’t died after all.
During his inquest she testified Cream had given her two pills to take to “improve her complexion,” but sensing something wasn’t quite right, only pretended to take them. More and more evidence began to mount. He was found guilty of numerous murders by the jury in less than ten minutes.
Thomas Neill Cream was hung November 16th 1892. But, it’s what he blurted out before the noose tightened that’s in question. Cream yelled “I am Jack……” The rope strangled out the rest.
Was he going to identify himself as Jack the Ripper? The debate revolves around the date he left the Illinois State Penitentiary. Was he in prison in 1888 or the East End of London?