|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 38, December 2001. Ripperologist is the most respected Ripper periodical on the market and has garnered our highest recommendation for serious students of the case. For more information, view our Ripperologist page. Our thanks to the editor of Ripperologist for permission to reprint this article. Subscribe to Ripperologist.|
Edward Fitzgerald did double duty as both bartender and night clerk at the East River Hotel in the heart of New York City's squalid Fourth Ward. By all accounts the hotel was a boisterous and forlorn dive. Huddled beneath a sky-line ponderously overarched by the massive span of the Brooklyn Bridge and offering subdivided, cell-like rooms at 25 cents a night, it was typical of the many flophouses which lined the bustling docksides of lower Manhattan. Located on the corner of Water Street and Catherine Slip and facing the East River, it catered to a rough clientele comprised mainly of sailors, dockworkers and prostitutes.
Fitzgerald was a veteran of this establishment which the Morning Journal succinctly called a 'festering resort of vice and misery', and by the Spring of 1891 would certainly have settled into the interminable routine of brawls and debauchery, the nightly ebb and flow of wizened whores and rowdy, dissolute men. It must have been with benumbed resignation that, after another long night's work, he once more made his morning rounds of the seedy rooms, going mechanically from door to door, making certain that all the previous night's lodgers had cleared out. It was not a place that expected or encouraged lengthy stays.
No doubt Fitzgerald was a man inured to casual brutality and unpleasant sights, but nothing could have prepared him for what lay behind the door of room No.31 on the morning of April 24, 1891. We are informed that he '…went to the room and rapped on the door. There was no response and he forced the door. The dead body of the old woman was found lying on the bed. It was shockingly cut and mutilated. The body was completely naked. A deep gash extended from the lower part of the abdomen upward to the breast, which disembowelled it completely. The entrails had apparently been torn from the body and were scattered over the bed. There were also two deep cuts crossing each other on the back in the form of an exact cross. It is believed the murderer strangled his victim first and then proceeded' to his horrible butchery.' The New York Herald ominously alluded to a missing organ, stating that what the killer '…had cut away had disappeared. He must have taken it with him. There was no sign of it in the room.'
News of the slaying quickly spread across the city, around the nation and over the seas. Homicide was not uncommon in the Fourth Ward but slaughter on this scale sold papers, not the least because of its uncanny resemblance to five notorious murders committed three years before. True, they occurred far across the Atlantic, but the entire world was now aware of the distinctive handicraft of the fiend called Jack the Ripper who had mysteriously disappeared without a trace… at least, so the papers hinted, until now. There were few city news agencies which did not proclaim the likelihood that the Ripper had made Manhattan's teeming streets his new killing fields.
It was a sensational story for the press and so, perforce, a high priority for the police. Indeed, there was a certain irony involved in this case which was not lost on either the papers or the police. During the hunt for Jack the Ripper three years prior, the Chief Inspector of the New York Police Department had somewhat brashly volunteered, via the American press, some unsolicited advice to Scotland Yard on police methodology, gratuitously pointing out that, should the Ripper ever relocate to New York's metropolis, he would undoubtedly be apprehended within two or three days. Not surprisingly, Scotland Yard was less than grateful for this unbidden exercise in comparative constableship and it fostered something of a grudge between the two forces.
As it happened (much to the glee of the London police), the perpetrator of this fraternal faux pas yet presided over the detective force of the N.Y.P.D.
Chief Inspector Thomas Byrnes was no stranger to controversy. The New York press had made (and would continue to make) some unsavoury allegations about his associations with criminal gangs, graft-taking and police brutality. Now he had left himself open to more criticism and the papers; weren't missing their chance. Characteristic of a spate of journalistic jibes, The Chicago Tribune taunted that: 'The Scotland Yard officials are exultant over the fact that Inspector Byrnes, whose sometime criticism of the London police still rankles in the bosom of those functionaries, has now the opportunity to exercise his powers in a direction which has baffled Londoners.'
Byrnes found himself in a pressure-cooker of scrutiny and derision and, with much of the world watching, began what the press called the biggest manhunt in New York's history, continuously reminded by the papers that '...he had been known to sneer at the failure of the London police to catch the 'Ripper'.'
Some facts emerged quickly. It was initially learned that the murdered woman was a local prostitute who had entered the East River hotel at some time between 10:30 and 11:45 P.M. on the evening of April 23 with a man half her age. Edward Fitzgerald had his hands full that night tending the bar and so asked Mary Miniter, a local prostitute and habitué of the place, to assist the incongruent couple in procuring a room. Miniter brought the man a tin can of beer, a candle and the key and directed them up the rickety staircase to room No.31 on the top floor. Miniter remembered the woman as drunk and giddy, the man as silent and grim.
Mary Miniter immediately became Byrne's prime witness. She felt that she had gotten a good look at the man and could probably recognize him again. She described him as being about five feet eight inches tall, about thirty years old, with brown hair, a brown moustache, and sharp nose, and wearing a Derby hat and cutaway coat. From the few words he spoke, she thought he must be a foreigner. Byrnes soon sequestered Miniter and prevented the press any further access to her.
Reporters pressed Byrnes on whether he believed the Ripper was loose in New York, but 'The Inspector was much disinclined to be interviewed on the subject and was guarded in his talk. He said, referring to the Whitechapel murders, that he never criticised the work of the London police... he did not know under what difficulties they may have laboured to catch 'Jack the Ripper' Byrnes may have exhibited a new found reticence on the topic, but the newspapers were soon drawing their own conclusions: 'The points of similarity between this crime and those attributed to 'Jack the Ripper' are numerous... The murdered woman belonged to the lowest class of fallen women from whom 'Jack the Ripper' always selected his victims… The same horrible act of disembowelment and mutilation which distinguished the Whitechapel atrocities was performed upon this unfortunate hag... There was the same abstraction or attempted abstraction of certain organs. The instrument used - a big bladed knife - is similar to the weapon used by the Whitechapel fiend... The district in which the murder was committed corresponds... to the Whitechapel district of London, especially in respect to the character of many of its inhabitants.'
It was the character and identity of one former inhabitant in particular which soon consumed the attention of the press and it was not long before they uncovered the sad vicissitudes of the murdered woman's tragic life. Carrie Brown was, ironically enough, born in England sixty years before. As a child she had come to America and eventually married a prosperous sea captain in Salem, Massachusetts. There she lived happily for a time, raising three children and keeping a conventional household far from the world of Whitechapel and New York's violent waterfront.
The details of the long, sordid decline which ended in a blood spattered room off the East River are now lost to history, but family and friends hinted that alcoholism, boredom and dreams of becoming an actress in New York all conspired to form a fatal prodigality. In New York she apparently led a bohemian life which seemed to have involved forms of entertainment more socially acceptable than those of her latter days. In the end however, she became familiar in the district as one more dissipated dreg, prostituting herself for the price of a drink and a room for the night. At sixty, she must have seemed an even sadder specimen than most of the broken women who haunted the wharves and bars of the quarter. Perhaps all that intimated of a once more refined and sensitive existence was her penchant for quoting from the Bard's plays, earning her the sobriquet of 'Old Shakespeare. ' In an epilogue worthy of the kind of music-hall melodramas in which she may once have performed, a married daughter materialized just in time to save her earthly remains from an anonymous pauper's grave, returning her body to a place of happier days, in Salem, Massachusetts, where she was laid to rest in a family plot beside the grave of her son.
True to his words of three years before, Byrnes announced to the press, on the third day after the murder, that the identity of the Ripper was now known: 'He is a cousin of one of the suspects who was arrested in (the night after the killing). This suspect was known in Water Street as 'Frenchy'... Possibly that is also the name of his cousin, the murderer.' The two were said to be '…the most vicious creatures in the quarter… They had a mania for vice in its lowest form.' Both men were reported to be Algerians. Several local prostitutes affirmed that the two 'cousins' (now dubbed 'Frenchy No.1' and Frenchy No.2') were in the habit of 'prowling around Water Street' together, often abusing the street-walkers. 'When the Inspector heard the woman's' story he sent for... Minetur (sic)... she then recalled the fact that 'Frenchy' was in the house that night, and said she recognized the man who came in with the murdered woman as 'Frenchy's cousin.'
Everything seemed to be falling into place for Inspector Byrnes. It was now just a matter of time before 'Frenchy No.2' was swept up in the dragnet. The police were now focusing on sailors and were searching ships. Mary Miniter was shown a parade of suspects but couldn't identify any of them as the wanted man. It was said that Byrnes was growing impatient with her.
Much to the surprise and bewilderment of the newspapers (and some of his officers) Byrnes announced to the press that... the police were no longer confining themselves to the description generally accepted... the people depended upon to give it were a drunken lot, without enough intelligence to remember how the man looked.' Further confusing matters, the next day The Morning Journal printed 'Byrnes' Extraordinary Denial' wherein the Inspector enigmatically stated: 'I wish to deny emphatically that we believe that Frenchy No.2… is suspected of the murder. I never thought so or said so.' The bemused reporter went on to write: 'The Inspector undoubtedly had some deep reason for making such strange denials, but what he meant by them even his oldest detectives cannot fathom... later in the day the Inspector when again questioned in regard to his denial, refused to either deny or confirm his original denials. 'One paper could not resist reminding Byrnes that '...the detectives of Europe are watching his movements with eager interest and perhaps restraining with difficulty a disposition to smile.'
A week after Brown's mangled corpse was found by Fitzgerald, Byrnes dropped a bombshell on the press. It seemed the real killer was the man they had had in custody as a material witness since the day after the murder - Frenchy No.1. This man, whose real name was Ameer Ben Ali, was known from early on in the case to have been present in the East River hotel on the night Brown died.
Not unreasonably, the papers asked why a week-long manhunt, gathering up well over a hundred suspects, had been conducted if the police believed they had the killer all along. Byrnes replied that new evidence had been analysed which pointed to Ali as the killer. Apparently, a blood trail leading from room No.31 across the hall to room No.33 (Ameer's alleged room) had changed the whole direction of the investigation.
A highly sceptical press asked: 'Why was it that intelligent reporters did not see those bloody tracks leading across the hall from Room No.31, the woman's room, to Room No.33, Frenchy's room, or, at least the marks of their erasure? And how was it that they failed to notice that No. 33 had the appearance of a slaughterhouse, as Mr. Byrnes says it had?
In the opinion of the general public Inspector Byrnes must look a good deal further before he finds the real Jack the Ripper. Sympathy is entirely with Frenchy, and there is a general belief in his innocence. Byrnes must soon admit himself as badly baffled and as much at sea as was Scotland Yard during and after the London butcheries.'
Another report scoffed: 'It was openly said in many quarters...that Byrnes does not really believe in the guilt of 'Frenchy No.1'.' The papers published an intriguing story about some behind-the-scenes 'politics' that were alleged to be involved in Ali's prosecution: 'There is in this city a very influential body of men who have no love for Inspector Byrnes... they control money and have an underhanded sort of political pull. These men... have an interest in the profits of gambling houses.' The story explained that 'these men' constituted a West Side gang which was in bitter rivalry with its East Side counterpart, an organization that seemed quite cosy with Inspector Byrnes. A spokesman for the West Side coalition said that they were contributing money to Ali's defence because, they claimed, '...unless Byrnes convicts the man he can never be made Superintendent of Police', which was, they claimed, Byrnes real aim and the East Side gang's fond desire. 'It is charged by the enemies of the Inspector that he is really prosecuting Frenchy to make good his word that a Jack the Ripper could not live here two days in safety.' They claimed that Byrnes had several times stated the '...belief privately that the prisoner Frenchy is not the murderer of Carrie Brown.'
Mary Miniter, who maintained that Frenchy No.2 was the culprit, was now curtly dismissed by Byrnes who insisted that she was 'an opium fiend, and has associated with Chinamen.'
The Coroner's Inquest did little to allay the dubiety of the newsmen. Ali's lawyer, Frederick House, was able to establish that reporters were indeed on the murder scene in great numbers before either Brown's body or any evidence was removed. They had, in fact, examined all of the rooms on the floor, and none had seen any blood trail or blood evidence outside room No.31. He also elicited contradictory statements from detectives as to when the blood evidence was discovered and removed. Ali's trial, witnesses and hotel records would support Ali's claim to have stayed in a different room from the one in which the alleged evidence was found, and suggestions that evidence was planted and that testimony was 'corrupt and perjured persisted throughout the trial. Prosecutors failed to establish that the blood evidence was human, let alone from Brown.
Despite press insistence that the case was weak, circumstantial and possibly contrived, Ali was found guilty in July of that year. Many papers expressed shock and gave ample space to the protestations of one of the jurors who claimed that the jury had been 'packed' and a miscarriage of justice done. Ameer Ben Ali was sentenced to life imprisonment.
After serving eleven long years, he was pardoned following a reinvestigation of the case which disclosed serious doubts about police conduct and Ali's guilt. He was said to have returned to Algeria, never to be heard from again.
And what of Frenchy No.2, the man whom Mary Miniter positively identified as Brown's companion on the fatal night? It seems he was, in fact, located, but not before machinations against Ali had gone into high gear. Following press persistence in knowing what had become of this man who had after all been the object of a massive week-long quest, Byrnes admitted that: 'We arrested Frenchy No.2... we found that he spent the night of the murder four and a half miles from the East River Hotel... The people he was living with satisfied us that he was not away for that period during the night and we simply turned Frenchy No.2 loose.'
It seemed strange that the man formerly sought with such exigency should be so lightly exonerated on the mere testimony of some of his companions. This facile dismissal seemed all the stranger following the revelation of some remarkable and strangely suggestive facts concerning Frenchy No.2. We are informed that his... arrest was made on information published in The World, which was received from one of its New Jersey readers. This statement is as follows: There is a man named 'Frenchy' who answers the description of Frenchy No.2, and who was arrested in London about a year and a half ago in connection with the Whitechapel murders... During the past two or three years this man has been crossing back and forth between this country and England on the freight steamers that carry cattle. He is noted for his strength and physical prowess... The sailors on the cattle ships tell horrible stories of his cruelty to the dumb brutes in his care. When one of these animals would break a leg or receive some injury that necessitated its slaughter, 'Frenchy', they say, would take apparent delight in carving it up alive while the sailors looked on. No one dared oppose him, his temper was so bad. When he was arrested on suspicion that he was 'Jack the Ripper' he knocked down the officer who tackled him and made things very lively for half a dozen men before they got him under control.'
Needless to say, Inspector Murphy, the Chief of the Jersey City police, was proud and eager to turn this prime suspect over to the New York authorities, certain that he had apprehended Brown's killer and quite possibly nabbed Jack the Ripper.
A detective sergeant was sent over to question the culprit. Much to the amazement of Murphy and the press, after a cursory interview, '...the detective concluded that the cattleman could not have roomed with 'Shakespeare' on the fatal night, and he was released.'
Understandably, Murphy expressed some confusion and consternation at this unexpected turn of events, but was laconically informed that the New York police had changed their description of the wanted man and were no longer interested in Frenchy No.2. But the press remained very interested in him, especially given the startling revelations of his Whitechapel connection.
Reporters tracked him down to a lodging house, pointing out his close resemblance to Miniter's original description. They pressed him for details: 'The night of the East River murder,' he claimed, 'I passed in this lodging house... my name is Arbie La Bruckman, but I am commonly called John Francis. I was born in Morocco twenty nine years ago. I arrived here on the steamer Spain April 10 from London...' The reporter asked, 'Why were you arrested in London?'. La Bruckman replied, 'About 11 o'clock one night a little after Christmas, 1889, I was walking along the street. I carried a small satchel. I was bound for Hull, England, where I was to take another ship. Before I reached the depot, I was arrested and taken to London Headquarters. I was locked up for a month, placed on trial and duly acquitted. After my discharge the Government gave me £100 and a suit of clothes for the inconvenience I had suffered.'
The Daily Continent learned that, 'For the past fourteen years (La Bruckman) has been employed by Meyer Goldsmith as a cattleman on the steamers of the National Line, plying between this port and London. La Bruckman felt so bad about his arrest that he wept when locked up in a cell to await instructions from the New York police. Detective Sergeant McCloskey went over to Jersey City in the afternoon, glanced at the prisoner, and said he was not wanted... Detective McCloskey said that the fellow was the man familiarly known as Frenchy No.2, but he was not the murderer... (La Bruckman) freely acknowledged that he was arrested in London eighteen months ago on suspicion of being the Whitechapel murderer. He claims that his trial for killing one of Jack the Ripper's victims lasted two weeks, and when he was acquitted the Government gave him £500 and a new suit of clothes... He has signed to sail on the steamer Buffalo next Saturday.'
Two later reports stated that La Bruckman admitted to being arrested a year and a half earlier... in London on suspicion of having killed nine women in the Whitechapel district, but after being in jail for a month was discharged.'
Obviously this scenario makes more sense, in that a Jack the Ripper trial would surely have been worldwide news. Certainly, the anonymous New Jersey tipster who first implicated La Bruckman to the press and police made no mention of any trial but merely of an arrest on suspicion. Given the great amount of detail he was able to provide about La Bruckman, a Ripper trial would certainly have been noted if it occurred. It is likely that La Bruckman may have confused his long interrogation with a trial and his discharge with an acquittal. His claim of monetary compensation is not implausible, especially given his lengthy detention and his American citizenship.
Further, though cryptic confirmation of La Bruckman's arrest on suspicion of being the Ripper emerged in the context of an intriguing story.
It seems that in the pre-dawn hours following Brown's murder, a man closely matching La Bruckman's description entered the Glenmore Hotel not far from the murder site. He spoke with an accent and his hands, shirtfront and sleeves were covered in fresh blood. The suspicious clerk, not liking the man's appearance and agitated demeanour refused him both a room and his request to wash up in the lobby lavatory. It was subsequently learned that La Bruckman was a sometime lodger at the Glenmore. People who had previously encountered him there stated that '...he was regarded as a 'bad man' should any one provoke him... Shortly after he left the Glenmore the attaches learned that 'Frenchy' had been arrested in London in connection with the Whitechapel murders.' This is interesting, because from the context of the story, the attaches appear to be police officials who independently seem to have confirmed this information, but how they discovered this is not stated. In the same story it is disclosed that La Bruckman possessed no fixed abode and, when not crossing the seas, worked in slaughterhouses near his ports of call.
La Bruckman, the former Whitechapel suspect, was headline news for a couple of days until Byrnes announced that Ali was the killer and the spotlight permanently shifted to the hapless Algerian. A month after Ali was convicted of Brown's murder, a new, gruesome killing caused the press to once again question whether the authorities had the right man. A story in The Morning Journal appeared under the headline, 'Is It Jack's work?', telling of the discovery in the East River, not far from Brown's murder site, of the badly mutilated body of a 45 year old prostitute murdered in a manner said to be similar to 'Old Shakespeare'.
'The theory that a sailor had killed Shakespeare... (and) after the deed had gone to sea in a sailing vessel...' continued to appear in the press well after Ali's incarceration.
It is particularly interesting in regard to La Bruckman that similar stories of sailors and cattle steamers circulated in the London papers during the Whitechapel killings. It is well known that the London Customs clerk, Edward Larkins, pestered Scotland Yard with his theory that the Ripper was one or more Portuguese cattle boatmen. His theory was investigated and found untenable. What is of real interest, however, are stories involving Scotland Yard's continued concern with cattle boats (especially American cattle boats) long after Larkin's theory had been dismissed. In September of 1889, following a renewed Ripper scare instigated by the discovery of a woman's mutilated torso in Pinchin Street, it was reported that '...The Thames Police…at once got their various craft on the river, and boarded all vessels at the mouth of the Thames dock. Attention was particularly directed to cattle boats from Spain and America.'
After another scare in February, 1891, involving the murder of Frances Coles, we are told that 'A policeman who saw the unfortunate woman a short time before the murder said that she was talking to a man who looked like a sailor. The police searched all the cattle ships but found no reason to arrest anyone. Late in the evening, a man was arrested on the docks and locked up on suspicion.'
James Sadler, a sailor, was eventually arrested, though never convicted, for this murder, but he cannot have been the sailor mentioned in this story because he was arrested the day after this report, at a pub in the middle of the afternoon. Maybe the most interesting story in this regard appeared in January of 1890: 'During the past few days there has been an increase of vigilance on the part of the East London police owing to 'information received'. A number of the police nave been watching some cattle boats which have arrived at the docks from the United States, and a very sharp lookout is being kept at night in the neighbourhood where the recent tragedies were committed by Jack the Ripper. We are not told what this 'information received' consisted of or from whence it came, but it is highly provocative that this 'vigilance' coincides with the period in which La Bruckman was arrested in London on suspicion of being the Ripper.
One last bit of circumstantial evidence rounds out what I submit is a strong argument for at least considering Arbie La Bruckman as a valid new suspect in the Whitechapel murder case: a comparison of Lloyd's Ship Registry for La Bruckman's firm, the National Line, with the apposite arrivals and departures schedules published in The New York Times shipping records, disclosed that National Line cattle boats were docked in London during each and every one of Jack the Ripper's murders!
At this point it is impossible to say how much we may ever know about Arbie La Bruckman and his precise role in the killing of Carrie Brown or the Ripper slayings. The fact that a Jack the Ripper suspect was also the object of a massive, New York manhunt in the Ripper-like slaughter of a prostitute eighteen months later suggests, to me, more than mere coincidence. Right now, however, we are left with an incomplete but tantalizing story - a story that just may follow a blood soaked trail through the moribund warren of Whitechapel back-streets, down into the fetid holds of rusty cattle steamers, up the dark stairwells of decrepit, East River tenements and ending finally, wretchedly in some anonymous, raging and forsaken eclipse into history's perpetual reprobation.