A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr. Thomas Neill Cream (The Chicago Series on Sexuality, History, and Society) Paperback – 1 Jun 1995
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Between 1877 and 1892, Dr Thomas Neill Cream murdered seven women, all prostitutes or patients seeking abortions, in England and North America. Using press reports and police dossiers, this account of the killings investigates the links between crime and respectability to reveal a remarkable range of Victorian sexual tensions and fears. The author explores how the roles of murderer and victim were created, and how similar tensions might contribute to the increase in serial killing in modern society.
From the Back Cover
From 1877 to 1892, Dr. Thomas Neill Cream murdered seven women, all prostitutes or patients seeking abortions, in England and North America. A Prescription for Murder begins with Angus McLaren s vividly detailed story of the killings. Using press reports and police dossiers, McLaren investigates the links between crime and respectability to reveal a remarkable range of Victorian sexual tensions and fears. McLaren explores how the roles of murderer and victim were created, and how similar tensions might contribute to the onslaught of serial killing in today s society.See all Product description
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1) The Crimes
2) The Context
McLaren seems to be the first person to analyze these murders and how they relate to societal attitudes. Others who wrote books on the murder of women occurring in this time period did little more than recount the horrific descriptions of the crimes. McLaren took a very sociological approach to the murder of these women and gives credible and comprehensible reasons for why such murders were easily accomplished; as well as why there were men who might be driven to enact these terrible person to person crimes.
In the first part of his book, McLaren describes the murders, the police, the suspects and finally the trial of Dr. Cream which resulted in his sentence of death by hanging. In the second part, McLaren covers such topical areas as prostitution, abortion, backmail, doctors, detectives, degenerates and the attitude towards women. What McLaren reveals in his careful study is that society was basically a male dominated social system. In the Victorian Era, women were not yet granted suffrage and were considered in many ways to be 2nd class citizens. In addition, men and especially doctors who controlled the attitudes and punishments for the society, looked upon women who might wish to engage in either prostitution or abortion as less than proper members of society.
McLaren found that many women of the period found that they could more easily work as prostitutes and be remunerated much more significantly as a prostitute than they could be as a factory worker or a secretary. For the most part, women who engaged in prostitution for a living did so without any interest or regard to the sex, but rather to the money. In the case of women seeking abortion, again the most common driving force behind the desire to terminate pregnancies was economic and not infanticide or cruelty. Most families were not able to support many more than 2 or 3 children. Birth control was new, expensive and proscribed by the Catholic Church and therefore preventive methods to control pregnancy were not often used and while women were inventive in the manner in which they tried to restrict unwanted pregnancies, the methods were crude and ineffective in comparison to the techniques available to women in the late 20th century and beyond.
Finally, because women were in essence discriminated against by men in Victorian society and other countries' social context, women who sought to obtain abortion or practice prostitution were considered less than human in many cases and their suffering or even murder was often thought to be a result of their crimes against God and therefore just punishment for their behavior.
McLaren writes a landmark study of women and these practices and why men would prey upon them with significant success. In addition, these societal attitudes may have been the cause for the serial murderer to be driven to commit the acts of brutality in the first place. Therefore, the prevalent feeling that these women deserved punishment for their actions allowed the serial killer to psychologically justify acts of murder against women who engaged in practices that were condemned on the surface, but which were utilized often by the same men who were speaking out against them.
The book is highly recommended to readers with interest in serial killings of the era and readers interested in the sociological perspective which by its very nature induced men to practice homicide against women who were engaged in practices that were so duplicitously condemned by men of the social era. The author does extremely careful research and even physical observation of the area of London where Dr. Cream's murders took place so as to integrate all available information into a theory explaining how so many of these homicides could have taken place. The book is a very serious study of the social mores of the times and the actions that people took in reaction to these sociological phenomena.