Water Street at Catherine Slip
The evening April 23, 1891, The East River Hotel on Water Street was doing a brisk business. Carrie Brown was one of the prostitutes who brought a john there that night. She was well known as “Old Shakespeare” for her English accent and ability to spout Hamlet with enough liquor in her. The john, who was said to be a slim foreigner with a light mustache, signed the register “C. Knick” and was given the key to room 31.
The next morning the night clerk noticed that the key had not been returned and went to investigate. That’s when he found Carrie’s mutilated body. She died from being strangled but it was hard to tell from the carnage on the bed. Whoever had killed her had also stabbed and cut her repeatedly.
The newspapers jumped on the crime, with New York Herald writing: “Ghastly Butchery By A ‘Jack The Ripper’. Murder and Mutilation in Local Whitechapel Almost Identical with the Terrible Work of the Mysterious London Fiend. Strangled First, Then Cut To Pieces.” Many quoted Police Superintendent Thomas Byrnes’ boast that if the Ripper had been in New York he would have been caught with 36 hours. In response, the police flooded the area and within days had a few suspects. One was Ameer Ben Ali, known as “Frenchy,” an Algerian who had a room across the hall from Carrie’s on the night of the murder.
The police claimed Frenchy had been found with blood on his socks and under his fingernails, and there was blood stains on the floor and door frame. As he wasn’t seen with Carrie and didn’t match the john’s description, the thought was that he had crept over to Carrie’s room after the john had left and killed her. He was a terrible witness for his own defense, as he didn’t speak English well and lived a disreputable life. A New York Times article wrote, “At times the man was dramatic, at other times tears poured down his cheeks, and at all times his gestures were interesting, sometimes ludicrous. He frequently swore before Allah that he was innocent.” Frenchy was quickly convicted, some say railroaded, on scant evidence to second degree murder. On July 10, 1891, he was sentenced to life imprisonment in Sing Sing.
In 1902, the governor of New York pardoned Frenchy. Evidence, including the key from room 31 and a bloody shirt, was found in the room of a Danish farmhand in Cranford NJ who had been absent the night of the murder. Ten days after the murder, the Dane suddenly disappeared. Also Jacob Riis, who had visited the crime site the morning after the murder, claimed that there was no blood on the doorframe or floor between the rooms.
Cranford NJ Farmhouse
Since Frenchy’s release there has been talk that Jack the Ripper did come to New York, leaving after the murder. However, no one has ever been convicted.