Sunday, 2 December 2018

Killer Cream (Bookhounds, Dracula Dossier)

Doctor Thomas Neill Cream, one of the many possible candidates for the true Jack the Ripper - allegedly he yelled "I am Jack the -" just as the hangman pulled the lever - was, in his day, one of the most famous, if not the most famous, multiple murderers. Today he barely rates a mention. Keepers, ask yourselves: what would your players do if an anonymous letter accused them of a terrible crime? That was Cream's preferred tactic: poison someone, then accuse someone else, blackmail, rinse, repeat.

Born in Glasgow in 1850, he went to Canada with his family in 1854. He grew up in Quebec City, went to McGill to study medicine in the 1870s, and eventually passed, after some scholastic hiccups, in 1876. He took postgraduate qualifications in London and Edinburgh, before returning to Ontario to begin his career.

He became a criminal not long after, in 1879. A pregnant woman was found chloroformed to death behind his office, and it was believed Cream was the child's father. When the truth threatened to come out he fled across the border to the United States where he took up medicine again, with a sideline in abortion. A patient died in 1880 and he was almost charged, but due to lack of evidence the case fell apart.

Then came the first of what can be called the true Cream killings. In December 1880 a patient died, and Cream immediately attempted to blackmail the pharmacist who issued her drugs. This blackmail attempt came to nothing, but it established the pattern: kill, then immediately blame someone else. It would happen again in 1881, with the death of Daniel Stott, an elderly married man with a pretty young wife. Again, Cream tried to blackmail a pharmacist, and again it came to nothing. Cream very nearly spent life in prison as a consequence, but thanks to a generous inheritance from his father, and good behavior, he was set free in 1891.

The United States and Canada having played out, Doctor Cream went to London again. He settled in Lambeth, near a notorious red-light district, and perfected his method, which was hardly very complex to begin with. He would meet with prostitutes and either give them a spiked drink, or pills. They took the offered poison, died, and Cream would blame someone else for their death and attempt blackmail. Once, he even posed as a detective and offered to solve the crime for three hundred thousand pounds. He blackmailed the heir of the W.H. Smith bookselling chain, Frederick, who later became 2nd Viscount Hambleden. He blackmailed medical students, pharmacists, hotel clerks - really, anyone he could think of.

There's no reason to think Cream enjoyed any sexual satisfaction from his murders., nor did he care much whether he killed men or women, though the crimes he's famous for were all against women. He boasted of his sexual prowess, claiming he bedded three a night, but his method of killing could hardly be called subtle or prolonged. He killed with chloroform or, later, strychnine, in large quantities, often administered with the victim's consent, as they thought they were taking medicine. He sometimes wasn't even present when the victim died. This is hardly a well-played game of chess. Nor does he profit from his blackmail schemes, and by the amounts he asked for it's no wonder. Three hundred thousand pounds? Why not ask for a million?

No, for Cream the fun part came later.

I am writing to say that if you and your satellites fail to find the murderer of Ellen Dunsworth, alias Ellen Linnell … I am willing to give you such assistance as will bring the murderer to justice, provided your Government is willing to pay me three hundred thousand pounds for my services ...

I hereby notify you that the person who poisoned Ellen Dunsworth on the 13th October last is today in the employ of the Metropole Hotel, and that your lives are in danger so long as you remain in this hotel …

I am writing to inform you that one of my operators has indisputable evidence that your son, W.J. Harper, a medical student at St Thomas' Hospital, poisoned two girls named Alice Marsh and Emma Shrivell …

Note how it always begins with I. Cream wanted to be the center of attention, the hero. He is the one who knows, the one who can indisputably prove, who did the deed. Either the detective or the one in charge of detectives - 'one of my operatives.' He usually wrote the letters himself, which meant he was easily traced by his handwriting. Only once did he have someone else do it for him - his respectable fiancée, Laura Sabatini, who when the time came gave evidence against him. Again, hardly surprising. After all, she knew what she'd written.

The Victorians were obsessed with crime, and with genius detectives: Jonathan Whicher, John Haynes the chemist, Stephen Thornton, Richard Tanner, Jerome Caminada, disguise expert Maurice Moser, polymath Edmund Reid, and many others. Charles Dickens was a big fan, and wrote about these new masters of the criminal underworld. This all really kicks off in the 1840s, as the Detective Bureau is founded; someone Cream's age would have grown up with hero detective stories.

If you can't detect a crime, the next best thing is to commit one - and to say you know who did it. Cream reveled in the celebrity, once going so far as to give a visiting New York detective a tour of the killing grounds of the Lambeth Poisoner. Often he attracted attention to his murders with his blackmail letters, when the crimes themselves might have gone unnoticed. To the very end he encouraged speculation that he wasn't just the Lambeth Poisoner, but Jack the Ripper - adding fame to fame, and a much bloodier kind of fame too. What a treat it must have been for the man who only ever poisoned his victims and wasn't brave enough to watch them die, to be thought capable of the kind of butchery Jack took for granted.

He was convinced of his own genius. He never thought he'd be convicted, and, if charged, thought he could prove insanity and avoid the hangman. He sang and danced in his cell after the counsel's closing speeches, so convinced was he of acquittal. The jury took twelve minutes to convict, and on November 15th, 1892, he swung at Newgate. The executioner, James Billington, swore afterward that Cream uttered the words "I am Jack the -" just as he went down, but as Cream is known to have been behind bars in Chicago when the Ripper killings took place, this is unlikely. His body was buried same day in an unmarked Newgate grave.

It's a very rare kind of psychosis, but there have been other examples. When the Morro Castle burned off the coast of New Jersey in 1934, a lot of attention focused on the radio operator, George White Rogers. In the immediate aftermath he was hailed as a hero both by the passengers and by the public at large, and he basked in the attention. However this unlikely hero was also a suspected arsonist, possibly also a poisoner and rapist. After the Morro Castle incident he was arrested for another crime, attempted murder of a co-worker with an incendiary device. The co-worker suspected Rogers of being involved in the Morro Castle arson, and that, allegedly, was the motive for the incendiary device attack. Rogers died in prison.

From a gaming point of view Cream has two obvious uses: in Bookhounds, and the Dracula Dossier. Both use the Ripper killings in one way or another: in Whitechapel Black-Letter the Ripper is supposed to have been conducting a megapolisamantic ritual, while the Dracula Dossier has the Ripper's knife set as a potential artefact and Red Jack as a possible foe.

In WBL there is an Optional Monster, Jack's Shadow. Described as "a living ghost haunting his own past," this tulpa stalks the major antagonists and Whitechapel inhabitants alike, possibly racking up a body count and certainly complicating the Book Hounds' lives. However if Jack shows up then his most devoted fanboy is sure to follow, even if he has to come back from the grave to do it. There's an obvious conduit: the executioner James Billington who, as luck would have it, kept diaries. His son William, also an executioner, continued those diaries, and though William lost his job in 1905 he lived until 1951. So from that comes this optional scene:

I Am Writing To Inform You

This is triggered only if Jack's tulpa possesses someone, either a Book Hound or prominent NPC. Letters are sent to the Book Hounds, saying that the writer knows all the details about a particular crime, and offers to tell all for money. If the characters don't pay up, the writer threatens to go to the police. The handwriting (1 point Cop Talk, Evidence Collection or Textual Analysis, and Cop Talk assumes the character goes to a police contact for the information) is eerily similar to Cream's. Following up on this, possibly via Streetwise, Document Analysis or just offering to pay, discovers that the letter writer is disgraced former executioner William Billington, but he's not himself; Cream, either as a ghost or via a Dust-Thing living off the diaries, has control over him. The remnant has a special kind of insight into Jack's tulpa, which can help the Book Hounds trace it. However to do so they will have to reach some kind of bargain with Doctor Cream, who's just loving all the attention.

In Dracula Dossier, Red Jack appears both as a potential antagonist and as a spirit connected with one of two possible knife artefacts. Where Red Jack leads Cream is sure to follow, which brings us to the following potential artefact:

Thomas Cream's Travelling Medical Case

This late Victorian tooled leather medical case has seen better days, and would cause the Antiques Roadshow crowd to tut audibly. Damp and neglect have damaged its exterior, and some of the contents aren't original. However the bits that are demonstrate the full range of late Victorian pharmacopoeia in odd little bottles and jars, as well as a collection of pornographic photographs, letters, and a set of false whiskers with decayed gum arabic fastening. Some of the contents, particularly the strychnine, retain their potency and must be carefully handled. A label, carefully removed, suggests that this might have been part of some kind of collection, though without the label itself this is impossible to prove.

This is Cream's case, which went from Newgate to London's Black Museum after Cream's 1892 execution. According to the Museum's files the case went missing in the 1980s during the move from its original home to New Scotland Yard; unofficially it was believed to have been stolen, possibly by the movers, but no charges were filed. Agents who follow up find that the case changed hands at least twice, both times bought by specialist Murderabilia collectors, each of whom died under suspicious circumstances.

This might be found in the possession of the Smuggler, Online Mystic, Madman, Art Forecaster (soon to be part of a conversation piece), Psychic, or as an unexpected find by the Church Scavenger.

Major Item: Cream enjoyed a unique relationship with Dracula through Red Jack, and either became a Renfield or longed to be one, committing murders to draw in his beloved Master in much the same way that Edom tried to use Jack. His blackmail letters were cries for help; in a small part of his mind he resisted, and tried to bring destruction on himself and his patron by giving away what he thought were their most important secrets. Owning the case establishes a psychic link between the owner and Cream, who forces the owner to write incriminating letters and send them to the police - but since Cream still thinks the police live at the Norman Shaw Buildings the letters will vanish into Government bureaucracy, or be scooped up by Edom, unless the agents intervene. The letters, when studied, prove to be in Cream's handwriting, and detail any of the Conspiracy's operations that are linked with Red Jack. So if Red Jack is linked to the Satanic Cult, then the letters will be about the Cult's current activities. The letters answer any three questions about Red Jack's link to the Conspyramid.

Minor Item: The case is Cream's, and is of some small value on the Murderabilia market. It can be sold or exchanged for an item of minor importance, and since the kind of crazies who collect Murderabilia have unusual tastes this can include illegal items. Guns, in the United Kingdom, or drugs, or a data dump of phone numbers, credit card numbers and similar. It can also include information on a Level One node, equivalent to 1 point Streetwise.  

Fake: It's a period doctor's travelling case filled with powders and pills, but expert analysis proves most of the stuff in here is 60s tat made up to look old. The LSD's still good, more or less, but the mushrooms and Mary Jane are well past sell-by. This was formerly owned by a roadie who worked as psychedelic consultant for many iconic London 60s venues, and afterward was sold to idiot Murderabilia collectors as a genuine antique. Fun fact: under the Misuse of Drugs Act, LSD is Class A and attracts the harshest penalties for possession. Or potentially life in prison, if the charge is intent to supply.


No comments:

Post a Comment