True Crime Sunday: Carrie Brown (Jack the Ripper, part 2)

Last week, we looked at one of the most infamous unsolved cases in history— Jack the Ripper. It is agreed his reign of terror took place in Whitechapel in 1888 and that Mary Anne Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly are all Ripper’s canonical victims. Was 1888 the beginning and end of the unknown assailant’s spree? Was Mary Jane Kelly really the last victim? Some aren’t so sure. This week’s True Crime Sunday takes us to New York City in April 1891.

Carrie Brown, also known as “Shakespeare” to her associates, was a prostitute whose body was found in room 31 of the East River Hotel. Given her profession and the nature of violence at the crime scene, the press was quick to report that Jack the Ripper had relocated to New York and was at work again. At that time, it was widely believed that all of his victims were prostitutes (but we have since learned that wasn’t entirely true). Since the Whitechapel murders were sensationalized and relatively recent, I suppose it was a logical conclusion for the journalists to make. There were similarities, except Ms. Brown was strangled rather than having her throat cut.

Similarities or not, the clock was ticking for the New York City police if they wanted to avoid a panic.

Their prime suspect was an Algerian immigrant named Ameer Ben Ali. He had a room near the one in which Brown was found, and there were claims of a trail of blood leading from her room to his. However, the first reporters on the scene didn’t see any traces of blood.

Despite the only evidence being the supposed trail of blood, Ben Ali was convicted and spent the next eleven years in prison until criminal justice reformers proved police misconduct. He was freed and went back to Algeria.

If Ameer Ben Ali wasn’t the killer, who was? As always, there are theories.

Now, each of the sources I read for this case have the first theory set up a little differently, but from what I gather, the key to room 31 at the East River Hotel was never returned. Some time later, the person who checked into that room also rented a room from or was briefly employed by a New Jersey businessman. He later vanished into the night. When the New Jersey man went through the room, he found the missing hotel key and a bloody shirt in the dresser. As you may have guessed, the man did not give his real name.

There’s no concrete evidence to prove that Carrie Brown was another victim of Jack the Ripper, but the similarities in the circumstances and the condition of the body makes one wonder. There were also reports that two Ripper suspects were in the area at the time. Sources say George Chapman and James Kelly ended up in New York not long after Mary Jane Kelly’s murder.

For now, as with the terror in Whitechapel, all we have are theories about what happened.

I hope you’ll join me next week as I continue looking at the various angles of this case. If you want a teaser, the suspects listed above have pretty interesting biographies…

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