4.5 disturbed stars
Amongst Jack the Ripper, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H.H. Holmes, and the birth of the modern medical movement... there was another man murdering prostitutes and women of no means in London and Chicago. His story has somehow faded in the background of more sensationalized figures—and yet his reign of murders was no less terrifying.
Ease of reading: ★★★★
"In the span of fifteen years, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream poisoned at least ten people in the United States, Britain, and Canada, a death toll with almost no precedents. Structured around Cream’s London murder trial in 1892, when he was finally brought to justice, The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream exposes the blind trust given to medical practitioners, as well as the flawed detection methods, bungled investigations, corrupt officials, and stifling morality of Victorian society that allowed Cream to prey on vulnerable and desperate women, many of whom had turned to him for medical help."
I've pulled right from the book's blurb above because I think it's a near-perfect way to describe the contents of this piece of research.
Are you aware of London's Jack the Ripper? Of course.
But are you aware of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream? You should be, as he was worse.
The only way I can describe my reading experience for this book is: baffling and horrifying. Here was a white man from a rich Canadian family hiding behind a doctor's degree in the late 1800s—who managed to evade justice for literal decades of murdering across three countries. He was suspected, questioned, arrested, and identified as a predator on multiple occasions throughout his reign of global terror... and yet money, corruption, sexism, racism, and more kept him on the streets.
How did he do it? HOW did he get away with it, when his murders were nearly identical, he was tied to the scenes of the crime and the victims, and his mental state gave him away at nearly every turn with erratic behaviors and letters of confession sent to the police?
Author Dean Jobb takes us on this chilling, ominous journey through immaculately researched chapters and photos detailing every leg of Dr. Cream's life. In a similar manner to The Devil and the White City, this work includes direct quotations in a narrative style—all sourced—and play-by-play journeys from each of Dr. Cream's murderous explorations. The writing style with dialogue and descriptions made for an easy, almost fictional/narrative read, but this is no work of fiction.
I found it chilling to see Dr. Cream in photos, and even more disturbing to read the blackmail letters he sent to the police and the documents written down about him at the time. Seeing the plight of the Victorian single woman—often existing at society's fringes in prostitution, one of the few lucrative positions available to her—and her fatal encounters with a doctor whom she thought she could trust... chilling.
Dean Jobb has done a fantastic job with this work. I put it right up there with Devil in the White City and The Butchering Art, both nonfiction works dealing with similar subject matter.
The only elements of this work that I wish the author had provided more context for were the discussions on sexism and race that played out in Dr. Cream's ability to evade justice. He preyed on white female prostitutes, and in one particular court case his lawyer was easily able to discredit a witness because she was a Black woman. Jobb discusses the sexism at work during these times in an afterword at the end—most likely as a way to keep the editorialization minimal within the "narrative" timeline—but he does not go into detail on the levels of racism at play. Even though we as readers could reasonably take it as a given, due to the time period, it would have been appropriate to give that topic more airtime.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
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