Saturday, October 17, 2020

Ameer Ben Ali & an Actor's Tale.

This week we are pleased to present a guest post from Howard and Nina Brown, experts on the Whitechapel Murders of Jack the Ripper. They are the owners of JTRForums.Com and have been Ripperologists for 20 years. Along with the website, JTRForums.Com, they also have pages on Twitter, Facebook, and a You Tube page. They're always looking for people interested in the Whitechapel Murders and can be contacted at

The article is on Ameer Ben Ali, convicted and later exonerated of the murder of Carrie Brown in New York City in 1891, and includes a rare photograph of Ali.

Ameer Ben Ali & an Actor's Tale.

Carry Brown
Carrie Brown

On April 24th, Nina and I decided to look into newspapers for articles in commemoration of the 129th anniversary of the murder of Carrie Brown at the East River Hotel in bowels of the Lower East Side of New York City.   There's a considerable amount of newspaper coverage of her murder during 1891 and the following years already on JTR Forums & on Casebook and the thought of finding something new was not something we were sure we'd do.  

As fate would have it, we did just that.

I came across the following article in the Buffalo Courier, containing the bold headline exclaimed that Glaswegian-born thespian, William H. Thompson, expressed his understanding that that the court interpreter for Ameer Ben Ali actually revealed to him, personally, that Ali confessed to the Brown murder. 

I haven't been able to find another article in which a confession by Ali in any form is made to the murder in Room 31 and obviously none that refute the charges made within it.  That doesn't mean one doesn't exist or that if it does it won't be found.

By the time of this article, Ameer Ben Ali had been a free man for some 6 weeks.

After locating this article, Nina was able to locate the first known or at least, first shared photo of Ameer Ben Ali after his 1902 release.

It's a shame that the photo and the accompanying article are of such inferior quality. I've never attempted to Photo Shop anything before.  However, if someone with the skills to enhance the photo decided to do just that, that would be great.

The photo & article were from the New York Evening World, April 23, 1902, page 9.

Buffalo Courier 

June 12,1902



Wm. H. Thompson of the Mannering-Belew Co. Says "Frenchy" Confessed Brutal Murder Of "Old Shakespeare"


"Ripper" Case Which Stirred New York


Ameer Ben Ali, or "Frenchy" Convicted of the Crime on Circumstantial, Evidence.

Sent to Prison and Pardoned Two Months Ago


    William H. Thompson, a member of the May Mannering-Belew theatrical company , which appears in this city at the Star Theater tonight, states that Ameer Ben Ali, alias, "Frenchy" who was pardoned by Gov. Odell, confessed to a cell mate, to Emilio Sultan, the court reporter, and to others that he murdered 'Old Shakespeare'(1) in an East Side hotel in New York City several years ago.  Mr. Thompson's(2) statement has created something of a stir in metropolitan police circles.

    When “Old Shakespeare's” horribly mutilated corpse was found in a cheap lodging house, the discovery created a sensation not only in New York, but throughout the country.  It was about this time that 'Jack The Ripper', was startling London by his fiendish crimes.  It was about a nightly occurrence in London for the police to find the mutilated body of one of London's unfortunate women.  A few days prior to the murder of 'Old Shakespeare', Thomas Byrnes, who was then superintendent of police in New York, was quoted in several of the newspapers to the effect that it would be impossible for anyone to emulate 'Jack The Ripper's' crimes in New York.


    Supt. Byrnes had scarcely given his interview when New York woke up one morning to be shocked by the news that an old, dissipated character, who had been nicknamed, 'Shakespeare', had been found mutilated exactly similar to the bodies in London.  At once almost the entire detective force of New York was put on the case.  Supt. Byrnes was on his mettle.  He declared that he would have the murderer of 'Old Shakespeare' behind the bars within twenty-four hours.  Several suspects were arrested, and finally 'Frenchy', who was known to be in the company of the woman a few hours before she was found dead, was taken into custody.  

    The evidence against 'Frenchy' was entirely circumstantial.  He stoutly protested his innocence.  A public cry was raised that 'Frenchy' was being persecuted in order that the reputation of the metropolitan police force might be sustained.  'Frenchy' was convicted and sentenced to State's Prison for life.  A few years ago he developed symptoms of insanity, and he was transferred to the State Asylum for the Criminally Insane at Matteawan. several efforts were made to secure him a pardon on the grounds of newly discovered evidence.  None was successful, however, until Governor Odell took an interest in the case and pardoned him about two months ago.


     "I am surprised that the story of 'Frenchy's' confession was not published long ago," said Mr. Thompson.  "I know the facts are in the possession of several men. The news of the confession could not by any means be called a secret."

    "Emilio Sultan(2), an Arab, kept cigar stores in Broadway and in 42nd Street, and it was there that I knew him.  He was the interpreter at Frenchy's trial.  Frenchy was a member of a wild ruffian tribe and he spoke more Arabic than French.

    "Sultan talked with Frenchy many times in jail.  The savage prisoner was glad to see the only man in New York with whom he could talk without restraint.  I used to drink coffee in Sultan's place and buy cigars (from) him, and he told me the story.  He said that Frenchy admitted the crime to him.

    "But his admission took a curious form.  On the night of the murder, Frenchy admitted he went to the room in which the woman's body lay.  He handled the mutilated body, he said, but would not admit killing the woman. Sultan has been dead for years.  I never regarded what he told me as a secret, for he never treated it as such."


1- Brown, as has been pointed out in other modern articles on her, was known as 'Shakespeare' and mistakenly labeled as 'Old Shakespeare'.

2- Thompson, according to the film trade magazine, Motography, February 5, 1916, was known as the 'Dean of the American Stage'.

3- Nina Brown's research on the court interpreter :

The court interpreter’s first name was Emile, not Emelio.

Born in France in 1849

New York City Directories: Occupation: cigars

1878, 1879, 1888, 1891, 1894

1880 Census in Washington D.C. waiter at Pennsylvania Avenue hotel.

Naturalization ( U.S.) : October 17, 1877


Howard Brown says:
October 17, 2020 at 11:28 AM


We appreciote the opportunity afforded to share some information on the Brown Murder.... We hope to provide Murder By Gaslight more information on the murder, none of which has ever been seen publicly before, in the near future. H.R. & Nina Brown, JTRForums

Robert Wilhelm says:
October 18, 2020 at 9:31 AM

Thanks How, bring it on, you are always welcome here.

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