The identity of Whitechapel murderer Jack the Ripper contines to be of the most enduring mysteries of our time.
The serial killer murdered five prostitutes as he stalked the murky alleyways of the east end in 1888, leaving an aura of fear in his wake.
Suspects have ranged from the painter Walter Sickert, Alice in Wonderland author Lewis Carroll, to the wife of an eminent Victorian surgeon.
But one man who was executed for unrelated crimes is the focus of a new book which re-examines disturbing clues which point to him being the Ripper.
Dr Thomas Neill Cream was hanged for the murders of four London prostitutes at Newgate Prison in November 1892.
His executioner James Billington, swore to his dying day that Cream’s last words were: “I am Jack the…”
Glasgow-born Cream was in an American prison at the time of the Ripper murders but rumours abound that he bribed a doppleganger into serving his time for him as he roamed London murdering women.
Another theory posits that Cream was simply released from prison after bribing officials, leaving him free to commit murders while his jailers insisted he was still inside.
Author Amanda Griffiths-Jones has scrutinised Cream’s association with the case in her new book Prisoner 4374.
Cream, an abortionist, was sentenced to life imprisonment at Illinois State Penitentiary for the murder of his mistress’ husband – using poison.
He was released in 1891 and boarded a ship bound for London where “he was soon prowling the city’s slums hunting for victims”, the Scotsman writes.
In her research, Griffiths-Jones was given access to the Illinois prison’s file on Cream – a hefty document almost 200 pages long.
She told the Shropshire Star: ““I decided to find out what was the truth behind the man and his crimes.
“He was hanged at Newgate for murdering prostitutes, but his modus operandi was poison – strychnine. He had a very wild career in Canada and the US. He was sent to prison for murdering his lover’s husband. After 10 years he was released.
“I thought I needed evidence to prove exactly where he was, and whether he was in prison or not. I contacted the archives in Illinois and they granted access to the file.
“Nobody had asked for the file in 126 years. I sat for weeks reading and re-reading it – it’s 181 pages long. I found out some amazing facts.”
But while Cream's sadistic tendencies and tastes would make him an ideal candidate for the Ripper, as Griffiths-Jones points out, he favoured poison, not mutilation. Others refuse to believe he was able to bribe a doppleganger to serve his sentence.
Casebook, an online Jack the Ripper resource, addresses doubts Cream committed the murders.
Referring to the doppleganger theory, it writes:
“Those who support this theory believe this is evident early on in Cream's criminal career, when brought into court on charges of bigamy.
“He was advised to plead guilty, but refused to do so, claiming he was serving a prison sentence in Sydney at the time. Sure enough, the prison was asked if someone fitting his description was indeed there and they replied in the affirmative. In his biography, Marshall Hall (who defended Cream) is said to have believed that Neill Cream had a double in the underworld and they went by the same name and used each other's terms of imprisonment as alibis for each other.
“Therefore, while Cream was in Joilet prison, his double would have been able to commit the Whitechapel crimes -- on the day of his execution, Cream knew he had no chance for survival and decided to free his double by confessing to his crimes.”