Saturday, May 1, 2010

Carrie Brown: Jack the Ripper in America-Part 2

Inspector Thomas Byrnes, head of the Detective Bureau of the New York City police at the end of the 19th Century, had no love of mystery. For Inspector Byrnes, solving crimes was a simple matter of applied common sense, and no-nonsense police work. In 1888 with London in terror and Scotland Yard baffled by the Whitechapel murders attributed to “Jack the Ripper,” Inspector Byrnes told a reporter that if someone committed such murders in New York, police would have him ”in the jug in 36 hours.” When Bowery prostitute, Carrie Brown, was found murdered and mutilated on April 24, 1891, the headlines screamed “Jack the Ripper has come to America.” And, true to his word, Inspector Byrnes had a man in custody the next day. Never mind that it was the wrong man. Whether or not Jack the Ripper killed Carrie Brown – as some theorist still believe— there is no question that the Ripper influenced the investigation and prosecution of her murder.

Date: April 24, 1891

Location:  New York, New York

Victim: Carrie Brown a.k.a. "Old  Shakespeare"

Cause of Death:  Strangulation

Accused:  Ameer Ben Ali, others


 On April 24, 1891 the body of Carrie Brown was found in room 31 of the East River hotel on the waterfront of East Side Manhattan. Not merely murdered, she was slashed open and disembowled. She was found naked from the armpits down and her clothing was wrapped around her head as if the killer wanted to cover her face as he worked.  The body had multiple stab wounds and an “X” had been carved on her left buttock. There was blood everywhere and the weapon, a sharpened, wooden-handled table knife, had been left behind.

The New York City newspapers were quick to point out the similarities between this murder and those in the Whitechapel section of London three years earlier, attributed to “Jack the Ripper.” Inspector Thomas F. Byrnes, head of the Detective Bureau and acting Superintendent of Police, quickly and unequivocally stated that this murder was not the work of London’s Jack the Ripper. But Byrnes was under intense pressure to find this killer. He had previously asserted that a series of Ripper-like murders would be impossible in New York City. In an effort to avoid the hysteria surrounding the Whitechapel murders, he personally headed up a massive investigation to find Carrie Brown’s killer.

Carrie Brown was an aging prostitute—at least 57 years old, some sources say over 60. In her youth she had been a successful actress and her habit of quoting the Bard when drunk had earned her the nickname “Old Shakespeare.” In 1891 she was living the subsistence life of an East Side whore, turning low-priced tricks hoping to make enough money for whiskey and a place to sleep. When a choice had to be made, drink took precedence. More than once she had spent the night behind bars in Blackwell’s Island for being drunk and disorderly.

The afternoon of April 23, Carrie told her friend and fellow prostitute, Alice Sullivan, that she hadn’t eaten for three days. Alice bought her a cheese sandwich at a nearby saloon, and that evening they both had corned beef and cabbage at a Christian mission. They separated then to ply their trade. Alice last saw Carrie Brown around 8:30 with a man she knew as Frenchy. She was later seen with another man, Isaac Perringer, who was also known as Frenchy. The housekeeper at the East River Hotel, Mary Minter, saw Carrie with her last customer of the night who she described as
“about 32-years-old, five feet eight inches in height, of slim build with a long sharp nose, and a heavy mustache of light color. He wore an old black derby hat, the crown of which was much dented.” 
He and Carrie checked into the East River Hotel, registered as “C. Nicolo and wife.” They went up to room 31 carrying a candle and a pail of beer.

Around 2 a.m., his work finished, the killer left room 31, locked the door and took the key with him. Trailing drops of blood he started down the stairs. About halfway down he changed his mind and went back upstairs all the way to the roof. He then climbed to the roof of the building next door, the Glenmore Hotel, another East Side flophouse. He then went down the stairs and into the lobby and asked the night clerk, Mr. Kelly, for a room.

Kelly later gave a description of the man that matched Mary Minter’s description of Carrie’s last customer. He noted that the man’s hands and clothes were smeared with blood and added that the man had a pronounced German accent. He wanted a room but had no money so Kelly sent him away.

The next day, when a hotel employee made the gruesome discovery, a frantic message was sent to the Oak Street Police Station. Several detectives and a quite a few reporters hurried to the East River Hotel, to the most horrifying crime scene any of them had ever seen.

Mary Healy, who had been drinking with Carrie Brown the night before, and Mary Minter were taken into custody for questioning and protection against the killer returning to silence the witnesses. They told police about seeing Carrie with a man called Frenchy and, with little else to go on, the police began rounding up suspects named Frenchy.

Apparently this was common nickname in the East Side and police and the press took to calling them by number, e.g. “Frenchy No. 1,” “Frenchy No. 2.” As they were brought in, they were shown to the witnesses but were not recognized. Inspector Byrnes began losing faith in his witnesses’ information saying:
“The people depended upon to give it were a drunken lot, without enough intelligence to remember how the man looked.”
In the end all of the Frenchys were released except Frenchy No. 1. His real name was Ameer Bin Ali, a French speaking Algerian, who had been staying in room 33 of the East River Hotel, across the hall from the murder scene. Though it hadn’t been seen by reporters that morning, the police claimed there was blood on his door and doorknob, both outside and inside.

Trial: June 24, 1891

The prosecution of Ameer Bin Ali relied almost exclusively on the blood evidence. The state’s team of expert witnesses:
“together made microscopic, stereoscopic, and chemical examination of the blood spots on the mattress upon which the murdered woman lay, the spots on the bed tick in the room which ‘Frenchy‘ slept, and the spots upon his clothing. He found traces of intestinal matter in all but six of the pieces upon which there was blood. In the scrapings of ‘Frenchys’ fingernails traces of the same matter were discovered.”
In cross-examination, the experts were not able to state with certainty that the blood was human or even mammalian. The defense had its own experts who said the blood evidence was circumstantial at best.

Ameer Bin Ali’s own testimony was seen as excited and contradictory. He was not believed.

The case was given to the jury on July 3, 1891. At one point during the deliberation, the jury was polled at 11 for first degree murder, 1 for second degree. With everyone anxious to be done by the 4th of July, they returned a unanimous verdict of guilty of second degree murder.

Later, one juryman expressed the opinion that the jury had been “packed” and the verdict had not been fair.

Verdict:  Guilty of second degree murder

Inspector Byrnes was pivotal figure in development of the New York Police Department—he led the transition of policemen from thugs with badges and sticks, to effective crime investigators. But his methods were tough and not always just. He was also tainted by his close association with Tammany Hall. At his retirement Byrnes was worth $350,000, a small fortune at the time, earned on a salary of $2000 per year. He found it increasingly hard to fight reformers like journalist Jacob A. Riis and in 1895, the new New York Police Commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, forced him to resign.

In 1902, after eleven years in Sing Sing prison, Ameer Bin Ali was released. The work of several journalists, including Jacob Riis and Charles Edward Russell convinced Governor Benjamin Odell that the blood evidence had been, either accidently or deliberately, tampered with. The evidence taken to court was not what was seen by reporters on April 24. The governor officially declared Ameer Ben Ali to be “innocent of the Carrie Brown murder.”

Another possible suspect emerged in 1901 when a Crawford, New Jersey farmer told of a farmhand, a Danish man, who was absent the night of the murder. He left soon after, leaving behind a bloodstained shirt and a key similar to those used at the East River Hotel. But ten years after the fact, this information could not be trusted or acted upon.

The murder of Carrie Brown remains one of New York’s great unsolved crimes.

Jack the Ripper in America?
I have tried to treat Carrie Brown’s murder as I would any other 19th Century American murder, but of course, it is not like any other – Carrie Brown is considered a possible victim of Jack the Ripper. This theory was first put forth by the New York City press who soon dropped it, and instead put their energy behind freeing the man falsely convicted of her murder. In the years that followed, Carrie Brown has been occasionally mentioned in connection with Jack the Ripper, but only recently has she been seriously considered one of his victims. In the past fifteen years, a number of books and documntaries have been released claiming that Jack the Ripper killed Carrie Brown.

Five women were murdered and mutilated in the Whitechapel section of London between August 31, 1888 and November 9, 1888. These are known as the “canonical” victims – the victims generally accepted as murdered by the man (or woman) known as Jack the Ripper. There are more than a dozen other alleged victims killed before or after the canonicals. Carrie Brown is one of them. In the choice of victim and condition of the body, Carrie Brown’s murder, in many ways, mirrors Jack the Ripper’s signature. Like Carrie,
  • All the canonical victims were poor, alcoholic, prostitutes.
  • All were strangled
  • All but one had her abdomen ripped open (the Elizabeth Stride murder was probably interrupted—the Ripper mutilated another victim the same night.)
  • When the abdomen was opened, all but the first victim had organs removed. The severity increased with each murder. 
Aside from taking place in America, there were several differences in Carrie Brown’s murder:
  • The Ripper’s victims were strangled with bare hands, then had their throats cut. Carrie was strangled with her clothing, throat not cut.
  • The killer never left the knife behind before this.
  •  In previous cases the knife was long and sharp, possibly a butcher knife or upholsterer’s knife. This was a sharpened table knife.
  • Only one other victim, Mary Kelly, was killed indoors. In Kelly’s case he used the extra time available to completely eviscerate the body. Though he had plenty of time with Carrie, the mutilation was minor in comparison.
  • None of the victims had any symbolic marks like the 'X' slashed on Carrie Brown
  • Carrie Brown would have been his oldest victim by at least ten years.
Who could have done it?
Surprisingly, there were several Jack the Ripper suspects in the New York City area on April 24, 1891:

Severin Antoniovich Klosowski a.k.a George Chapman
Severin Klosowski was born in Poland and moved to England in 1887 and worked as a barber in the East End of London, where the Ripper murders took place. By 1891 he had moved to Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1892 he was back in London. There he poisoned three wives and in 1903, was convicted and hanged. When Chapman was arrested, Scotland Yard detective Frederick Abberline reportedly said to the arresting officer, “You’ve got Jack the Ripper at last!” Klosowski must have been a suspect at the time, but there appears to be little evidence that he did the Whitechapel murders or Carrie Brown’s murder. Among those who believe Carrie Brown was killed by Jack the Ripper, he is the prime suspect. The book, The American Murders of Jack the Ripper by R. Michael Gordon makes this case.

In 1883 James Kelly stabbed his wife in the neck and killed her. He pled insanity and was sentenced to Broadmoor, a maximum security mental institution. In January 1888, he escaped. Because he was at large at the time and had connections to the Whitechapel area, Kelly was a person of interest in the Jack the Ripper murders. Most of what we know about Kelly comes from his diary, which describes his hatred of prostitutes and generally documents his movements. We know he arrived in New York several weeks before Carrie Brown was murdered, but there is evidence that he may have been in France during the Whitechapel killings. He tried to give himself up to police twice but due to police incompetence or indifference he was free until 1927 when, in poor health, he returned to Broadmoor and was readmitted. A recent Discovery Channel documentary, “Jack the Ripper in America,” offers less than conclusive evidence that Kelly was Jack the Ripper and killed Carrie Brown.

Tumblety was a flamboyant American quack doctor who was arrested in the States for performing abortions and poisoning some of his patients. Due to confusion over one of his aliases, was arrested and briefly held as a conspirator in the Lincoln assassination. He left for Europe shortly after and arrived in England in 1874. In England he was arrested several times for homosexual activities and on November 16 he was arrested on suspicion of the Whitechapel murders. While released on bail, awaiting his hearing, Tumblety fled to New York. The police and press knew he was coming and met him as he disembarked the steamer in New York. He was not arrested because, as Inspector Byrnes said, “there is no proof of his complicity in the Whitechapel murders, and the crime for which he was under bond in London is not extraditable.” Nevertheless, he was watched closely by police and reporters. On December 5th 1889 he disappeared and was not seen again until 1893, living with his sister in Rochester, NY. He could have easily been in or near New York City on April 24, 1891.  Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer, argues that Tumblety was Jack the Ripper.

 Pastor Jack Gibbons
The most farfetched tale of Jack the Ripper in America comes from Robert Graysmith’s book The Bell Tower: Jack the Ripper in San Francisco. He claims first that the San Francisco murders of Minnie Williams and Blanch Lamont, were done by Reverend Jack Gibbons, pastor of Emanuel Baptist, not Theo Durrant who was hanged for the crime. Pastor Jack was born in Scotland and came to America in 1888. Graysmith asserts that Pastor Jack was Jack the Ripper. He even states that in 1891 Pastor Jack was serving at a church in New Brunswick, New Jersey and could have killed Carrie Brown.

Dr. Thomas Neil Cream
Dr. Thomas Neil Cream, though not a serious suspect, should also be mentioned for his American connection. Cream was born in Scotland and raised in Canada and traveled back and forth across the Atlantic several times. He was an abortionist and a serial poisoner who was arrested in London and sentenced to hang. He is considered a Ripper suspect because, allegedly, on the gallows, before being interrupted by the noose, he said, “I am Jack…” Neil Cream was serving time for murder in Illinois’s Joliet prison between 1881 and July 1891 so he could not have been Jack the Ripper or the killer of Carrie Brown. Some say, however, that he had a double who was serving his sentence, leaving Cream free to kill.

Did Jack the Ripper kill Carrie Brown?
The trouble with Jack the Ripper/Carrie Brown theories is that they tend to be cases of the tail wagging the dog. The authors start with the assumption that the Ripper killed Carrie, and then go looking for a likely killer among the Ripper suspects. The best suspect for Carrie Brown’s murder is not necessarily the best Ripper suspect. If Jack the Ripper was actually someone less glamorous but more likely – David Cohen, for example— he could not have killed Carrie Brown. Cohen was a psychopath with a hatred of prostitutes and “strong homicidal tendencies” who lived in Whitechapel and was committed to an asylum shortly after the last murder. He was never in America. The test for any murder theory should be "would it hold up in court?" None of these would.

Serial Killers and the Gilded Age
There has been an attitude, both then and now, that serial killings and motiveless murders were something new and rare, first appearing at the end of the nineteenth century. This explains the obsession with trying to pin every mutilation murder, either side of the Atlantic,on the same anonymous Londoner. It is also why people, who really should know better, refer to H.H. Holmes as “America’s first serial killer” (or even Jack the Ripper: First American Serial Killer) The fact is, these killers have always been with us, everywhere in the world.

Why did Jack the Ripper seem like a new phenomenon? FBI profiler John Douglas provides a possible answer in his book The Cases That Haunt Us:
“We’ve speculated that stories and legends about witches, werewolves and vampires…may have been a way of explaining outrages so hideous that no one in the small and close-knit towns of Europe and early America could comprehend such perversities.”

At the end of the nineteenth century America and Europe were in the midst of a communication revolution. The telegraph was a mature technology, telephones were becoming commonplace, and newspaper syndication carried stories around the world. With the yellow journalists of the time competing for lurid details, no sensational murder would ever again stay local. They were now news not legend.

It was also an age when science was overtaking superstation even in the study of the human mind. Psychologists like William James were discussing the unconscious or subconscious mind, laying the groundwork for Sigmund Freud. Richard Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis, with its descriptions of sexual disorders including sadism, had been translated into English and was being read by sophisticated Londoners and New Yorkers. But it was no less frightening to realize that killing urges had subconscious origins, they were still the stuff of nightmare. The psychopathic killer had stepped out of the shadows and would never go back.

This is one of 50 stories featured in the new book
The Bloody Century
For more detailed information on the Carrie Brown murder, visit Crime Research - CarrieBrown.Net, from Nina & Howard Brown of


Gordon, R. Michael. The American Murders of Jack the Ripper. Guilford, Conn.: Lyon's, 2005.

Riordan, Timothy B. Prince of Quacks: The Notorious Life of Dr. Francis Tumblety, Charlatan and Jack the Ripper Suspect
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland &, 2009.

Tully, James. Prisoner 1167 the Madman Who Was Jack the Ripper: The Madman Who Was Jack the Ripper. New York: Carroll & Graf, 1998. 

 Douglas, John E., and Mark Olshaker. The Cases That Haunt Us
New York: Pocket, 2001.

Evans, Stewart and Paul Gainey. Jack the Ripper: First American Serial KillerKodansha America, 1998.

Graysmith, Robert.  The Bell Tower: Jack the Ripper in San Francisco,Washington, D.C.: Regnery Pub., 1999.


Anonymous says:
April 23, 2012 at 12:16 AM

This does bear quite a bit of resemblance to the Alice Walsh case of 1895--another prostitute butchered in a hotel. If not the Ripper, perhaps the same person.

Anonymous says:
August 7, 2012 at 2:21 AM

It breaks my heart to hear about cases such as that of Carrie Brown. So many decades unsolved, and no justice. One thing I know is for sure. Whoever Carrie's killer is, he or she got away with it. I take this one personally because one of my best friends is named Carrie, and she herself was almost abducted. Unlike poor Miss Brown, though, my friend Carrie's perpetrator was caught, and jailed. Also, I know that in those days the gentler sex was not believed to be capable of murder, but nobody considered the killer could be a woman. I know it's highly unlikely, but maybe a woman was trying to get revenge for another woman's sins, so she took an innocent life.

Unknown says:
November 14, 2014 at 10:50 PM

H.H. Holmes was traveling a lot during that time

The Warty Hogg says:
September 3, 2015 at 5:41 PM

It was also an age when science was overtaking superstation even in the study of the human mind.

Unknown says:
August 3, 2017 at 11:31 AM

It was a detective doing the killings, could not of been no one else,
They knew opera, poems,left clues at the scene of the murders,
Especially it of sir Conan books, the ripper came to new York to show the inspector to see if he could love the murder,
He called the ripper bout himself unknowingly,
Miss brown knew old poems,
The blood trail
Leaving the key and bloody short behind

I been tracking the ripper for about 2 months now, he is one of white chapels finest...

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