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Carrie Brown (died April 24, 1891) was a New York prostitute who was murdered and mutilated in a lodging house. She is occasionally mentioned as an alleged victim of Jack the Ripper. Although known to use numerous aliases, a common practice in her occupation, she supposedly won her nickname of Shakespeare for her habit of quoting William Shakespeare during drinking games. She has often been erroneously referred to as Old Shakespeare in later news articles and books.
The badly mutilated body of Carrie Brown, a longtime Bowery prostitute, was found in a room in a squalid lodging house known as the East River Hotel on April 24, 1891. Newspapers were quick to report the murder as proof of the alleged arrival in America of Jack the Ripper, whose murders of prostitutes in London's Whitechapel district were well known during the time. News of the possibility that Jack the Ripper had arrived in New York posed a challenge to NYPD Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes who had criticized Scotland Yard for its inability to capture Jack the Ripper.
As the murder of the middle-aged prostitute was soon becoming one of the most publicized in the city's history, pressure was on Byrnes to solve the murder as quickly as possible and soon after, an Algerian named Ameer Ben Ali (who also went by "Frenchy" or "Frenchy No. 1") was arrested for the murder. However, evidence against Ben Ali was largely circumstantial and based primarily on the claim that unidentified bloodstains had been found leading from the room where Brown was killed into the room he was staying in. Reporters who had been at the scene of the crime said that no such bloodstains were actually there. Thanks to testimony from doctors who made claims that could not be supported by medical tests at the time, Ben Ali was tried and convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, despite his claims of innocence.
However, a group of reformers pointed out instances of police misconduct in the investigation and evidence to support Ben Ali's innocence. The group was able to prove the NYPD had made no attempt to find the missing key to the locked room or the unidentified man who witnesses claimed she had last been seen with the night before.
Years later it was claimed that a man in a New Jersey farm had found the missing key to Room 31 and a bloody shirt in a bureau drawer of a room he had rented out to a man who had disappeared shortly after the murder. Faced with this testimony, coupled with the longstanding belief of many for years that Ben Ali had been set up and the fact that Byrnes had been removed from office for corruption, Ben Ali was released after serving 11 years and left for his native Algeria shortly afterwards. Although no conclusive evidence proved Jack the Ripper responsible for the murder, the case remained unsolved nonetheless.
In popular culture
- The death of Brown and the murder's supposed ties to Jack the Ripper were used in Heather Graham's Sacred Evil.
- Vanderlinden, Wolf, “The New York Affair” Ripper Notes -- part one issue 16 (July 2003); part two #17 (January 2004), part three #19 (July 2004 ISBN 0-9759129-0-9)
- Asbury, Herbert. The Gangs of New York. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1927. ISBN 1-56025-275-8
- Sifakis, Carl. The Encyclopedia of American Crime. New York: Facts on File Inc., 2005. ISBN 0-8160-4040-0
- Conway, J. North. The Big Policeman. Lyons Press, Guilford, Connecticut, 2010. ISBN 978-1-59921-965-3
- "The New York Affair part two", online version of the middle of a three part series on Carrie Brown written by Wolf Vanderlinden for Ripper Notes magazine
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