Thursday, August 20, 2020

August 20: A Serial Killer's Abortion Entanglement

Dr. Thomas Neill Cream
There's a lot of he-said-she-said regarding this abortion death. Rather than try to sort out which people were telling the truth, I'll just tell you what's known for sure and then provide different people's sides of the story, taken from news coverage, primarily of the coroner's inquest and subsequent trial. 

The case involves Dr. Thomas Neill Cream, a dapper and very vain man, who, while in prison awaiting the outcome of his trial, kept copies of his documents to show off to reporters who came to interview him: his medical school diploma from McGill College in Montreal, his Canadian physician's license, his diploma and license of midwifery (obstetrics) from the Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, an award he'd received as an Intern at St. Thomas Hospital in London, and his Illinois physician's license.

What we know for sure: Late in the evening of Saturday, August 21, 1880 a woman named Elizabeth Green approached Lieutenant Steele at the West Lake Street police station in Chicago to report a terrible smell coming from the home of her upstairs neighbor, Mrs. Hattie Mack aka Hattie Mackey.  Elizabeth said that she'd knocked on the door and gotten no response. It was close to midnight when Steele broke in the door of the flat and found the decomposing remains of a young woman lying on a bed. The overwhelming odor sent Lt. Steel outside for air.

A search of the premises found her belongings. Her name was Mary Ann Matilda Faulkner of Ottawa, Canada.

"A recipe of vile character" was found in Mary Ann's trunk. Two stilettos were found in Hattie Mack's home.

The police questioned Mack's neighbors and got a description from the doctor they had seen coming and going. Cream slept behind White Brothers' drug store at the corner of Hoyne and Madison and kept offices at 434 West Madison Street. When police came to arrest Cream, the druggist, George White, had at first denied that anybody was in the back bedroom, justifying this lie by saying, "Dr. Cream said to let nobody in." The police arrested Cream and searched the premises, finding a note from Hattie Mack reading, "Dr. Cream: I'll not be home to-night. I've tried to see you. I got the key. I can't take the children home till she is moved. I not told any one. Please let me see you as quick as you can. I under great strain. I am at my sister's." It was signed "H.M." and included the post-script, "The window is up; be careful of the woman upstairs."

Dr. Cream had been implicated in another abortion case which, according to the August 22, 1880 Tribune Sun, "he managed to elude by leaving town until the excitement had blown over."

The case raised so much public interest that police had to clear spectators away from the inquest.

What witnesses had to say: Two young women, Mrs. Annie Beam and Mrs. Sarah Cook, of East Fourteenth Street, said that they'd known Mary Ann for about four years. She had lived in the same house with them for a while when working for a family named Gransfield. She moved out in the middle of May, going to live with the Fairman family in Woodlawn. At that time she was keeping company with a young man named Tommy Burns. Mary Ann had a good reputation. About six weeks prior to her death, Annie and Sarah said, Mary Ann had moved out of the Fairman home, telling her employers that she was going to get married. That was the last they'd heard of her until her death.

County Physician Bluthard certified that an autopsy had shown that Mary Ann had certainly been about three months into pregnancy and had likely died from an abortion perpetrated with pointed instruments. In his opinion, an unskilled person had wielded the instruments. 

Dr. M. Fitch and Dr. D. Frazer said that the care Cream had provided to Mary Ann after the abortion was appropriate given her injuries.

Elizabeth Green, who lived with her husband and children downstairs of Hattie Mack, testified that Cream had visited the dwelling upstairs from her two or three times a day for the previous week. She'd asked Cream who was sick and he's told her that one of the children was ill. She heard groans from upstairs early Friday morning, ending at around 4:00. Curious about the goings-on, she looked out and saw Hattie Mack and her children leaving. She found it a bit fishy that a dainty-looking, pretty young white woman was staying at Hattie Mack's home and that Dr. Cream was coming by so often, sometimes with parcels. 

Ellen Hackley, an elderly Black woman who lived in the loft apartment above Mack, said that the odor on Friday evening was dreadful. She identified Cream as the man she had seen coming and going from Mack's place. Ellen had heard groaning on early Friday the 20th before she'd left for work. Mack had not taken in boarders previously as far as Ellen knew. She suspected that something untoward was afoot with the white woman staying with Hattie Mack and Dr. Cream's frequent comings and goings.

Thomas Brady testified that he knew Mack very well and had often boarded with her. He described Mack as "one of the best women that ever lived." He said that once in a while he saw a sick woman there but not often since Mack had stopped letting him stay at her home due to his drunkenness.

Dr. Donald Fraser, who had known Cream from Montreal, said that he had spoken to Cream on the phone and given him advice the Wednesday before Mary Ann's death. Cream had told him that the patient was improving. On Thursday, at Cream's request, he had accompanied Cream to Mack's home, where he found Mary Ann in a lot of pain. He had treated her for inflammation then left. Cream later called him to tell him that Mary Ann was dead.

Hattie Mack's version of the story: Hattie was a Black woman that Dr. Cream referred to as a midwife. Mack gave the police the impression that she was illiterate, unable to even sign her name, but it came out later that she was able to read and write. Mack and her three children lived on the second floor of a two-story, multi-family dwelling. A native of Kentucky, she had lived in Missouri before moving to Chicago.

Some time around the end of February, Cream told her to expect a married woman whose husband had abandoned her. Mack was not told the woman's name. Cream said that he was going to "treat" the woman and pay Mack to care for her during the process and the woman's convalescence. He would Mack $12.50 for providing care to the woman and would pay for the woman's room and board: $5 for the first week and $4 for each subsequent week. Since she owed Cream $15 for previous medical care, this gave her an opportunity to work off her debt.

Cream reassured Mack that all would go well, that he had done more than 500 cases at St. John's or St. Thomas' hospital. The young woman arrived on August 11, and Cream performed some sort of operation on her. Mack had seen the instruments and could describe them clearly enough to convince doctors reviewing the case that they were abortion instruments. She didn't go into the room with Cream and his patient, but heard the young woman moaning.

The woman told Mack that she had been deserted by her husband and had gone to work to earn her living. When she'd learned that she was pregnant she sought out an abortionist and had been given the card of a Dr. Geer. Geer advised her to visit Dr. Cream, who was in that line of work. The young woman hadn't had the $5 to pay Geer for the consult so she gave him her gold watch to hold as security until she could pay him. She had followed Geer's advice and visited Cream, who said that he always had comfortable and safe places to keep his patients because he could pressure patients who owed him money to provide lodging.

Cream came by several times a day to check on his patient, who had expelled the baby but was becoming very ill. He told Mack to keep everything "secret as death," never to call any other doctor in to attend to the woman, and to just keep administering the medicine he provided. Mack begged Cream to remove the woman from her premises so that she'd not be implicated, reminding him that she'd only gotten involved to pay off her debt. Cream refused, but did supply Mack with whiskey, which made her enable to continue caring for the patient whose deteriorating condition was causing a foul odor.

Lieutenant Steele produced a pocketbook belonging to Mary Ann that had been found in Cream's office. Mack was shown the jewelry that had been in the pocketbook. She said that the jewelry had not been there when she'd given the pocketbook to Cream. She said that the young woman had told her that she'd pawned some jewelry over to Cream to cover the $25 fee for his services.

On the evening of August 19, Cream brought in another doctor, unfamiliar to Mack, to try to save the ailing woman. 

During her stay, the patient often bewailed her fate. The woman had moaned piteously the last day of her life and at this point told Hattie Mack her name and the name and address of her mother in Ottawa. Mary Ann fell into unconsciousness some hours before she died at around 6:00 in the morning on Friday, August 20. 

Once the young woman was dead, Mack went to tell Cream what had happened. Cream told her to take her children with her to her sister's home, leaving the house locked up. He offered to buy the furniture from her for $30. Cream's plan was to throw tar over the contents and "burn the whole damned place." Mack said she wanted no part of an arson plan and threatened to contact the police. Cream then told Mack to stay at the house in order to avoid causing suspicion, and he'd he'd get a wagon and come by at 2:00 Saturday morning in his stocking feet to take away the body and would "shoot anyone" who tried to interfere.

Mack told Cream that there was no way anybody would be able to remain at the home due to the terrible smell, which was sure to gain the attention of the neighbors.

Dr. Thomas Cream's version of events: Cream had graduated from the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons in Edinburgh, Scotland and was licensed to practice in Illinois. He first met Hattie Mack in April of 1880, when he'd treated one of her children.

Cream had testified, "A week ago last night (Friday, August 12), after 12:00 at night, the colored woman Mackey came to the drug-store where I was sleeping, and was let in by the druggist. She asked for me, and the druggist called me. I got up, and the woman wanted me to go to her house, where she said she had a very sick woman. I dressed and went with her. I found the young woman in bed. She had just been confined, and I found a 3-months child lying on the bed. Knowing the character of the negress to be that of an abortionist, she having confessed to me before that she was such, and had committed abortions upon herself and other women, I saw that something wrong had been done. They were both unwilling to speak on the subject at first, but I pressed them, and finally they admitted that the sick woman had been taking oil of cotton-root and ergot. I told them I knew of no medicine that could be relied upon for such a thing, and said that something else had been done. They denied this for some time, but afterwards the negress told me that she had operated upon the woman with an instrument, which she produced."

Cream testified in detail about the care he had provided to Mary Ann. He said that on Thursday, August 19, he found Mary Ann desperately ill, which he attributed to concoctions that Mack had administered on her own initiative. Cream testified that the records of the prescriptions he'd ordered from the drug store would show that he had provided appropriate care to his patient.

Cream said that he'd never performed an abortion in his life, but had assisted in "necessary cases" when a medical student. 

When Mary Ann died, he'd told Mack, "You have killed the woman, and the best thing you can do is throw yourself on the mercy of the police" He denied offering to buy Mack's possessions and torch the building, instead saying that he'd not even been willing to complete a death certificate because he didn't think that Mary Ann should be buried until the police cleared the case.

The outcome: The Coroner's Jury returned the following verdict: Mary A. M. Faulkner came to her death on the 20th day of August, 1880, by reason of peritonitis and metritis follow on an abortion, committed with her knowledge, and assistance of Dr. Thomas N. Cream and Mrs. Hattie Mackey." Both Cream and Hattie were held without bail pending a Grand Jury hearing. 

Mack and Cream originally had been slated to be tried together but Cream managed to get the cases severed. On November 20, 1880 Cream's jury was sent to deliberate at 3:30 p.m. They returned at 4:30 p.m. with a verdict of "Not Guilty." The Inter Ocean reported that Cream, "who had been sitting in court in very apparent suspense and anxiety during the absence of the jury, when the foreman announced the verdict, jumped to his feet and shook Counsellor Trude violently by the hand, and then went through the same process with each member of the jury in rotation. Judge Gary informed Dr. Cream that it would be necessary for him to go through the jail and be discharged in the usual manner."

As for Hattie Mack, the charges against her were dismissed the day after Cream's trial ended, evidently because she had turned state's evidence against Cream.

Guilty or not, it's really a shame that Cream was acquitted and released. He was later sentenced to life in prison for the death of his lover's husband, who died after taking poison Cream provided. A letter writing campaign -- and a promise to leave the country -- got him released. He moved to London and gained infamy as a serial murderer, killing young women with poison. He was hanged in Newgate Prison in 1892.


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