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The Lambeth Poison Mysteries by C.J.S. Thompson 1904
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Towards the close of the year 1891 and the early part of 1892, public interest was excited by the mysterious deaths of several young women of the "unfortunate" class residing in the neighbourhood of Lambeth. The first case was that of a girl named Matilda Clover, who lived in Lambeth Road. On the night of October 20, 1891, she spent the evening at a music-hall in company with a man, who returned with her to her lodgings about nine o'clock. Shortly afterwards she was seen to go out alone, and she purchased some bottled beer, which she carried to her rooms. After a little time the man left the house.
At three o'clock in the morning the inmates of the house were aroused by the screams of a woman, and on the landlady entering Matilda Clover's room, she found the unfortunate girl lying across the bed in the greatest agony. Medical aid was sent for, and the assistant of a neighbouring doctor saw the girl, and judged she was suffering from the effects of drink. He prescribed a sedative mixture, but the girl got worse, and, after a further convulsion, died on the following morning. The medical man whose assistant had seen her the previous night, gave a certificate that death was due to delirium tremens and syncope, and Matilda Clover was buried at Tooting.
A few weeks afterwards a woman called Ellen Donworth, who resided in Duke Street, Westminster Bridge Road, is stated to have received a letter, in consequence of which she went out between six and seven in the evening. About eight o'clock she was found in Waterloo Road in great agony, and died while she was being conveyed to St. Thomas's Hospital. Before her death she made a statement, that a man with a dark beard and wearing a high hat had given her "two drops of white stuff" to drink. In this case a post-mortem examination was made and on analysis both strychnine and morphine were found in the stomach, proving that the woman had been poisoned.
These cases had almost been forgotten, when, some six months afterwards, attention was again aroused by the mysterious deaths of two girls named Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell, who lodged in Stamford Street. On the evening of April 11, 1892, a man, who one of the girls in her dying testimony called "Fred," and who she described as a doctor, called to see them, and together they partook of tea. The man stayed till 2 a.m., and during the evening gave them both "three long pills."
Half an hour after the man left the house, both girls were found in a dying condition. While they were being removed to the hospital Alice Marsh died in the cab, and Emma Shrivell lived for only six hours afterwards. The result of an analysis of the stomach and organs revealed the fact that death in each case had been caused by strychnine.
There was absolutely no evidence beyond the vague description of the man for the police to work upon, and this case, like the others, with which at first it was not connected, seemed likely to remain among the unsolved mysteries; when by the following curious chain of circumstances, the perpetrator of these cold-blooded crimes was at last brought to justice.
Some time after the deaths of the two girls Marsh and Shrivell, a Dr. Harper, of Barnstaple, received a letter, in which the writer stated, that he had indisputable evidence that the doctor's son, who had recently qualified as a medical practitioner in London, had poisoned two girls—-Marsh and Shrivell-—and that he, the writer, required £1,500 to suppress it. Dr. Harper placed this letter in the hands of the police, with the result, that on June 3, 1892, a man named Thomas Neill, or Neill Cream, was arrested on the charge of sending a threatening letter. He was brought up at Bow Street on this charge for several days, when it transpired that in the preceding November a well-known London physician had also received a letter, in which the writer declared that he had evidence to show that the physician had poisoned a Miss Clover with strychnine, which evidence he could purchase for £2,500, and so save himself from ruin.
Neill Cream was remanded, and in the meanwhile the body of Matilda Clover was exhumed, and the contents of the stomach sent to Dr. Stevenson, one of the Government analysts, for examination. He discovered the presence of strychnine, and came to the conclusion that some one had administered a fatal dose to her.
An inquest was then held on the body of Matilda Clover, with the result that James Neill, or Neill Cream, was committed on the charge of wilful murder.
This man's lodgings were searched after his arrest, and a curious piece of paper was discovered, on which, written in pencil in his handwriting, were the initials "M. C.," and opposite to them two dates, and then a third date, viz. October 20, which was the date of Matilda Clover's death. On the same paper, in connection with the initials "E. S.," was also found two dates, one being April 11, which was the date of Emma Shrivell's death. There was also found in his possession a paper bearing the address of Marsh and Shrivell, and it was afterwards proved that he had said on more than one occasion that he knew them well.
In his room a quantity of small pills were discovered, each containing from one-sixteenth to one-twenty-second of a grain of strychnine, also fifty-four other bottles of pills, seven of which contained strychnine, and a bottle containing one hundred and sixty-eight pills, each containing one-twenty-second of a grain of strychnine. These, it is supposed, he obtained as an agent for the Harvey Drug Co. of America. It was found he had purchased a quantity of empty gelatine capsules from a chemist in Parliament Street, which there is little doubt he had used to administer a number of the small pills in a poisonous dose.
Thomas Neill, or Neill Cream, was tried for the wilful murder of Matilda Clover at the Central Criminal Court, before Mr. Justice Hawkins, on October 18, 1892, the trial lasting five days.
It transpired that Cream, who had received some medical education and styled himself a "doctor," came to this country from America on October 1, 1891, and on arriving in London first stayed at Anderton's Hotel, in Fleet Street. Shortly afterwards he took apartments in Lambeth, and became engaged to a lady living at Berkhampstead.
He was identified as having been seen in the company of Matilda Clover, and also by a policeman, as the man who left the house in Stamford Street on the night that Marsh and Shrivell were murdered.
Dr. Stevenson, who made the analysis of the body of Matilda Clover on May 6, 1892, stated in his evidence that he found strychnine in the stomach, liver, and brain, and that quantitatively he obtained one-sixteenth of a grain of strychnine from two pounds of animal matter. He also examined the organs from the bodies of Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell. He found 6·39 grains of strychnine in the stomach and its contents of Alice Marsh, and 1·6 grain of strychnine in the stomach and its contents, also 1·46 grain in the vomit, and ·2 grain in a small portion of the liver of Emma Shrivell.
The jury, after deliberating for ten minutes, returned a verdict of guilty, and Thomas Neill, or Neill Cream, as he was otherwise known, was sentenced to death. He was executed on November 15, 1892.
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