Saturday, February 10, 2024

East Side Story.

This week, we have a guest post from Howard and Nina Brown, frequent contributors to Murder by Gaslight, on matters pertaining to the 1891 murder of Carrie Brown. This article chronicles events leading to the release of Ameer Ben Ali, who was convicted of the murder but was released in 1902. 

Howard and Nina have written a book on the Carrie Brown murder, East Side Story: 1891 Murder Case of Carrie Brown, available here:

They also run Carrie Brown: Murder In The East River Hotel, a discussion site on the Carrie Brown case.

East Side Story.

It isn't often that the perpetrator in one case of murder becomes the catalyst for the revision of the narrative in another murder case.

This revision to a crucial aspect within the 123-year narrative in the 'Old Shakespeare' murder case ( the nickname of Carrie Brown, murdered in the East River Hotel on April 23, 1891) came unintentionally from James M. Dougherty when he wrote a letter to NY Governor Benjamin Odell on June 22nd, 1901. Dougherty was a convicted lunatic in Dannemora Prison in 1901.

James M. Dougherty would be sent to Flatbush Asylum in Brooklyn after being diagnosed with mental illness stemming from his non-stop harassment of American thespian, Mary Anderson. Originally sent to Ward's Island, he was transferred to the Flatbush facility on November 27th, 1888.  Murder by Gaslight featured an article on Dougherty ('Lunatic Dougherty', August 24, 2019) and is recommended for particulars leading to his incarceration.

In 1891, the murder of Carrie Brown created a sensation in Manhattan. The immediate knee-jerk assumption was that Jack The Ripper had arrived in New York City.  The murder of prostitutes in London beginning in 1888 was still fresh in the minds of millions. There had been a murder of a woman, Frances Coles, on February 13, 1891, which many, originally, had attributed to the Ripper. A handful of letters were received by New York newspapers, one by Inspector Thomas Byrnes, himself, which stated that the letter-writer, presumably Jack The Ripper, was heading for New York. Like the Ripper letters in London, they were treated as hoax letters and missives fabricated by people with mental issues.

Brown's murder took place 10 weeks after the recent London murder. Newspapers immediately brought up the specter of the Ripper. The murder victim was over forty years of age, a condition shared with several Ripper victims. All were prostitutes like Brown and all were mutilated with a knife. Unlike the Ripper victims of 1888, Carrie brown's throat had not been slashed.

The subsequent arrest of Ameer Ben Ali, an Algerian immigrant and frequenter of the East River Hotel, was followed by a trial beginning in late June. On July 3rd, the jury handed in their verdict. Guilty of second-degree murder, the same sentence Dougherty received back in mid-January and like Dougherty, Ali was sent to Sing Sing Prison.

Beginning in 1897, a series of organized pardon campaigns for Ali's release or hopeful pardon began. The first three (1897-1898,1899, and 1900) all failed because they all lacked something tangible to change the minds of Governors Black and Roosevelt, the latter rejecting the 1899 and 1900 pardon efforts).

In 1901, a Cranford, New Jersey resident with a printing firm on Beekman Street in south Manhattan came forward with some alleged evidence that would eventually lead to the release, but not pardon, of Ali on April 16th, 1902. On April 24th, exactly 11 years to the day of Carrie Brown's murder, Ali set sail for France and from there to Algeria.

George Damon
George Damon, the New Jersey resident, had come forward in the Spring of 1901 with a story in which a former hired hand had returned to his home on the morning of April 24th after the body of Brown was discovered, eventually departing anywhere from two to ten days later, but not after leaving a bloody shirt and a key which it was claimed emanated from the East River Hotel. The brass key had a tag with the number '31' on it, which happened to be the number of the room at the East River Hotel in which Brown was found murdered.

Damon's story, which is thoroughly covered in our new book, East Side Story. was accepted by authorities. Without elaborating too much, the key was examined by the former proprietor of the hotel, James Jennings, shortly afterward. He provided an affidavit in which he stated that that key was not the type used on that particular floor of the hotel. Keys for the fifth floor were made of iron. The key Damon turned in was brass. This was just one curious aspect of Damon's story. Yet, since the hotel had had a fire after Jennings was no longer affiliated with the hotel, the New York D.A.'s investigator could not match Damon's key to the new keys being used. It was a matter of accepting Damon's word or Jennings' word, despite Jennings being the person responsible for managing the East River Hotel for several years before the murder of Carrie Brown. Damon never turned in the bloody shirt allegedly left by his farmhand, now known as 'The Danish Farmhand.' However, Governor Benjamin Odell decided to release Ali as no one came forward to counter Damon's story. The affidavits from several prominent newsmen, a letter of support from New Jersey Governor Foster Voorhees, and the efforts of the French Consulate were also instrumental in Ali's release. 

How does James M. Dougherty, the convicted lunatic, fit into this story?

Ali would be sent from Matteawan Asylum to Dannemora Prison in 1901.  It just so happened that James M. Dougherty was in Dannemora at the same time. Both had been incarcerated since 1891: both originally went to Sing Sing Prison, and both received a second-degree sentence.

News of George Damon's story which began to appear in newspapers during May 1901 somehow reached the ears or eyes of Dougherty.

The following is the letter that Dougherty wrote to Governor Odell while in prison which set off an amazing series of events:

Dougherty, born in 1856, was 44 or 45 at the time of this letter to the Governor.

Dougherty 'Ripper series No.3' 

Robert B. Lamb, M.D.

Sup't. Dannemora State Hospital

Dannemora, N.Y


His Excellency

Benjamin B. Odell

Executive Mansion

Albany, New York

Dannemora, N.Y. June 22nd, 1901

Your Excellency:

Herein, you will please find certain valuable information about him ( Jack The Ripper ). I have long and seriously thought over the pros and the cons of this remarkable man's case, and having been a decade in close intimacy with him, have learned more about him than you and all the advisers of his various petitions put together and what's more, I want you to understand that him and myself are and always have been in the best of terms. In sending this communication, I do so only for his own and the commonweal-Remember this, and then give me due consideration- That man Damon's hired man's name was Frank. He was 5 ft. 10 in. or so in height, 35 years of age, wiry, thin face, foreigner, speaking broken English, the foreigner's ( ? )description tallies exactly with this man here ten years ago. Now this man Damon is the kind of man who would not acknowledge that this man here is the one that worked for him if he was asked about it fair and square, but I think he could be made to positively identify him if he was shown a picture of Jack as he was when he first came to prison and told that it was the picture of the man who committed the recent 'Ripping' on Sunday, who by the way I'm satisfied was Mrs.___No. 2 working to help him out- or better yet present it as of the man who died in prison supposed to have been the genuine Ripper- It could be told  to Damon that he had been arrested as the guilty (?) and was being held for identification so that you would then be able to conscientiously pardon the fellow out- Inspector Byrnes instead of censure deserved great credit for lodging this fellow on the __ evidence that he then had. His sleuth instinct told him no doubt that this fellow was the guilty one and that Damon, if were possible should be severely dealt with for suppressing this evidence which would have made plain sailing for Byrnes as he himself says he withheld it while he supposed that an innocent man was being sent to prison for want of it.- This fellow here has told me all about how he worked all the insane doctors to get here, and all to that and has proved to me in innumerable ways that he has all the qualities necessary for 'Ripper' work, wonderful, cunning and terrible achievements, deep instinct and a large power of dissembling.

 That he was ever in the French army -Franco-Prussian war I doubt. He is only 45 now, which would only leave him 15 years of age in '71. Of course, it's an easy matter for him, or anybody, to cut the picture of a soldier out of a newspaper and say this is like I used to be. That's no evidence, even if a sensational yellow journal displays it as a picture of himself. That doesn't make it so.

 In conclusion, I very much wish you would send me that order enabling me to employ an attorney which I am patiently waiting for in all sincerity.

 James M. Dougherty

The Chain of Events.......

Going back to the beginning......

Dougherty had been an inmate at the Flatbush institution who eventually escaped from the prison farm.

Instead of sounding an alarm, the asylum simply marked 'discharged' next to his name.

Dougherty would return to the asylum shortly afterward carrying two guns and threatening Dr. Fleming, who calmly told Dougherty he no longer was a patient and had been discharged.

Dougherty went back to the asylum and murdered Assistant Superintendent George Lloyd in October 1890.

He was sentenced on February 1891 to life in prison at Sing Sing.

By 1901, he was reassigned to Dannemora Prison.

It just so happened Ameer Ben Ali was also sent to Dannemora from Matteawan in 1901.

Dougherty had a penchant for writing letters (to Queen Victoria and President Grover Cleveland, to name but two). He sent the new Governor, Benjamin Odell, a letter in which he states that in his opinion, George Damon can't be trusted and that Ameer Ben Ali and Damon's 'Danish Farmhand' was one and the same.

Gov. Odell follows up on the claim. He has to since it wouldn't look good if he went on to release or pardon a man who may have been guilty all along.

He makes a formal request to NYC DA Eugene Philbin to have Damon determine whether his farmhand and Ali were not the same.

Up to now, no one has asked Damon to provide the facial features of his farmhand.  Damon had filed two affidavits before this request. 

The authorities had known about Damon's story since late March 1901. It would be 100 days since Damon first came on the scene before he described the facial features of his hired hand within his third of four affidavits.

 It is doubtful that he would have been asked had it not been for Dougherty's letter to Odell.

Damon describes his farmhand on July 2nd, 1901 in his third affidavit. Up until July 12, 2023, this information from Damon's affidavits had never been explored and probably was unknown to all who studied the case.

Back in April 1891, on the evening of the 23rd, Carrie Brown entered the East River Hotel with a man who would pay fifty cents for a room on the fifth floor. The young woman and hotel habitue, Mary Miniter, who took the money from Brown and her male companion described him on April 24th following the discovery of the murder as having a long sharp nose and a heavy blonde (some papers list it as brown) mustache.

She would go on to describe him twice more in the same way at the Coroner's Inquest on May 14, 1891, and at the trial of Ameer Ben Ali on June 30th. The man's name was never learned, although he is known as 'C. Kniclo', the fictitious name written in the hotel register after the discovery of the body by hotel manager Tommy Thompson on April 24th. 

George Damon described his hired hand as having no facial hair or mustache, a flat nose, and a distinguishable hitch in his step.  Mary Miniter did not mention a limp in the man's gait, which would have been mentioned if the man with Carrie Brown had one.

The description Damon gives does not resemble C. Kniclo.  C. Kniclo had a heavy mustache whereas Damon's farmhand was described as 'clean-shaven'. Their noses didn't match and again, Miniter did not mention a hitch in the man's stride, something which one wouldn't forget.

Bottom line: C. Kniclo, whoever he was, was not Damon's hired hand unless someone can explain how a man can leave New Jersey clean-shaven and wind up in the Lower East Side and then be described at close range as having a heavy mustache and then return to New Jersey clean-shaven again, then Damon's 'Danish Farmhand' was most assuredly not the man who entered the hotel with Carrie Brown.

Had George Damon come forward when he should have in 1891, the differences with his description of his hired hand would have been immediately noticed by the NYPD and District Attorney's office.  Damon stayed on the sidelines with his 'information' for 10 years. Even though newspapers carried sketches of 'C.Kniclo' in 1891 and were available at that time a decade later, no one ever thought of comparing the sketch to Damon's description of his hired hand at the time.

Had Damon's intervention in the case in 1901 led to the release of a man who was guilty all along?

This and much, much more are discussed in our new book, East Side Story: 1891 Murder Case of Carrie Brown 330 pages, Paperback.

We'd like to express our gratitude to Robert Wilhelm for posting the November 18th edition of Murder By Gaslight featuring actress Mary Anderson and a reprise of the 2019 article on

James M. Dougherty.

Howard & Nina Brown


Howard Brown says:
February 10, 2024 at 10:37 AM

One slight correction, if I may. Ali was released in April 1902 but was not exonerated or pardoned. One condition of the release was that he leave the country. Understandably, many, if not most people familiar with the case, today believe he was pardoned or exonerated. That's because of the less-than-satisfactory press reportage which was evident from the beginning in 1891 to the 'end' in 1902. Press reports after 1902 were no better and much of what is published on various sites today has been merely the repetition of that less-than accurate accounting.

Howard Brown says:
February 10, 2024 at 11:23 AM
This comment has been removed by the author.
Howard Brown says:
February 10, 2024 at 2:10 PM

One other slight correction: We no longer manage JTR Forums com. We currently operate: Carrie Brown: Murder In The East River Hotel, a message board devoted to the Brown Murder case

Robert Wilhelm says:
February 13, 2024 at 9:34 AM


LauraM says:
February 14, 2024 at 10:05 AM

The women killed by Jack the Ripper were not all sex workers. 'The Five' by Hallie Rubenhold delves into their lives and is an excellent read.

Howard Brown says:
February 14, 2024 at 12:07 PM

Just because Rubenhold, a 'pop historian' who appeals to snowflake sentimentalities says the five women, who most certainly did engage in casual prostitution with evidence to back it, weren't 'on the game' doesn't make it so. Furthermore, nothing she wrote in her book was new to seasoned researchers, many of them women themselves. Her book is an 'excellent read' for people who want life to be the way they wish it was, not as it was or is.

Marco says:
June 27, 2024 at 11:08 PM

This book finally proves to me that George Damon did it. He had Carrie killed. That was always a possibility I guess with the story of the "Broadway Merchant" being extorted by Carrie. But now, this new stuff seals it for me. His hired hand "Frank" was a hired killer. This explains everything--the taking of the key, all the lies, etc. It all makes sense now.

Post a Comment