10 Killings in Victorian London were Overshadowed by Jack the Ripper's Crimes
10 Killings in Victorian London were Overshadowed by Jack the Ripper’s Crimes

10 Killings in Victorian London were Overshadowed by Jack the Ripper’s Crimes

D.G. Hewitt - June 24, 2018

10 Killings in Victorian London were Overshadowed by Jack the Ripper’s Crimes
The Lambeth Poisoner made headlines for weeks, and finally hung for his crimes. Wikipedia.

The Lambeth Poisoner

When Dr Thomas Neill Cream was found guilty of murder by poison in Illinois in 1881, that should have put an end to his murdering ways. Instead, just ten years into his sentence, the Scottish-born physician was free. According to the official records, the state Governor had given in to Cream’s brother’s petition for clemency, though it’s far more likely that some degree of bribery was involved. Whatever the reason for Cream quite literally getting away with murder, by the autumn of 1891, he was in the impoverished Lambeth area of London – and busy killing again.

The sick physician liked to target the most vulnerable members of society in Victorian London – the city’s prostitutes. On 13 October 1891, he met a 19-year-old prostitute named Nellie Donworth. She naively accepted a drink from Cream. It was laced with strychnine and she died in agony. A week later, he struck again, this time killing a 27-year-old woman. He then took a break from murdering to holiday in Canada, but in April of the following year, he was back. This time, he poisoned two young prostitutes at the same time, though one other lady got away after becoming suspicious of the pills Cream offered her.

The so-called Lambeth Poisoner might have got away with his crimes had it not been for the letters. As well as killing, Cream also took delight in trying to frame others for the crimes. He would write letters to the police, giving them anonymous tip-offs. But on one occasion, he blamed another man for a murder that was still being investigated as an accidental death. Clearly the anonymous letter writer knew far more about the crimes than an innocent, concerned citizen would. Finally, when a visiting New York policeman claimed to have been given a creepy guided tour of the Lambeth murder locations by Cream himself, the police identified him as their man.

Cream was charged with four murders in total, though he may have killed many more. The trial gripped London – after all, it involved poison, a doctor and, thanks to the victims being prostitutes, a hint of sex and scandal. The jury needed just 12 minutes to find him guilty of all charges. Less than a month later, Cream met the hangman and was on his way to an unmarked grave. But not before he gave us one last mystery. According to the hangman James Billington, Cream started to speak when the noose was around his neck. He managed to say “I am Jack…” before the trapdoor opened. Could it be that he was confessing to the crimes of Jack the Ripper? The theory has been widely dismissed, but still, to this day, the suspicion won’t go away entirely.

10 Killings in Victorian London were Overshadowed by Jack the Ripper’s Crimes
Did a guilty man get away with murder in south-east London? The public definitely thought so. Wikipedia.

The Eltham Murder

In the early hours of April 26, 1871, 17-year-old Jane Maria Coulson was found bleeding and barely conscious on a street in Eltham, south-east London. She had been bludgeoned with a hammer. The weapon was found nearby, but, more puzzling than that, so too had her purse. It still contained a nice sum of money. Clearly, robbery was not the motive. Nor was there any suggestion of a sexual motive for the attack. Coulson was taken to hospital and died four days later. But before she succumbed to her wounds, she made a revelation: her killer was Edmund Pook.

Pook was a 20-year-old printer, living and working in nearby Greenwich. It turned out that Coulson had been working as a maid for the Pook family and had become romantically involved with their son. What’s more, Coulson claimed that she had fallen pregnant but, determined not to anger his father by marrying below his social status, he refused to do the honorable thing and wed. Instead, Coulson was dismissed from her maid’s job and Pook had ended their relationship completely. This combination of class, sex and murder inevitably caught the public’s imagination and the story became front page news right across London.

The evidence against Pook began to mount: As well as his victim’s dying testimony, a local shopkeeper claimed to have sold Pook the hammer used to kill Coulson. What’s more, witnesses said they had seen a man matching Pook’s description running from the scene on the night in question. A conviction looked highly likely, and a large crowd gathered outside the courthouse to see justice was done. But then the judge ruled that Coluson’s deathbed revelations could not be admitted as evidence. In the end, Pook was acquitted – and the public were indignant with rage.

According to some press reports, Pook’s high social class allowed him to get away with murder. Others claimed that the judge and the accused’s father were close and this could have swayed his judgement. Despite his acquittal, the accusations wouldn’t go away, and the whole Pook family were forced to change their name and move away. While London’s newspaper readers got a lot of enjoyment out of the case, young Jane Maria Coulson never did get justice. In fact, it’s still said that her ghost haunts the quiet street where she was killed and some Londoners refuse to walk down there after dark.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

“Head found in David Attenborough’s garden was murder victim.” The Telegraph, July 2011.

“Richard Dadd: The art of a ‘criminal lunatic’ murderer.” BBC News Magazine, November 2015.

“Dismemberment in Victorian London: The Thames Torso Murders.” The University of Leicester, May 2016.

“The West Ham Vanishings.” Richard Jones, Jack the Ripper Walking Tours, February 2016.

“The grisly Victorian murders you’ve never heard of.” Rory Tingle, The Daily Mail, January 2018.

“The Murder of Mrs Sarah Millson at Cannon St.” The National Archives.

“The true story of Jane Coulson, by her cousin.” Friends of Brockley & Ladywell Cemeteries.