|A Ripperologist Article|
|This article originally appeared in Ripperologist No. 46, May 2003. 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.|
Nature, we are told, abhors a vacuum, and so also, it would seem, does the average armchair detective. How else can one explain the enduring interest in the mystery of Jack the Ripper and the 115-year endeavour to fill its void with answers?
Perhaps part of the reason resides in the multifarious nature of the enigma, there being very little that even the experts seem able to agree on as indubitable fact concerning the case. There is, of course, the central and perennial puzzle of the killer’s identity, from which extend the equally vexing questions of his motive and method. But even beyond these perplexities, it is hard to find any substantial footing upon which to confidently begin the search.
Take, for example, the question of the Ripper’s death toll. A number somewhere between three and over a dozen is often cited, with five victims commonly being deemed ‘canonical’. It remains one of the more confounding aspects of the case, premised as it is on implicit criteria for assessing similarity in the killings. Such criteria usually involves a whole host of variables including motive, location, method, ‘victimology’ and, in the parlance of modern forensics, ‘signature’.
At best, these components constitute rough indicators for gauging the probability that two or more murders separated by time and location are attributable to the same killer. Thus, the linkage any investigator ascribes to a series of murders reflects the relative weight he may give to any or all of these interpretable factors. Someone stressing the importance of victimology might presumably be less inclined to accept inclusion of a victim who was not associated with prostitution or from the lower classes despite the presence of other suggestive similarities such as wounds or methodology. Someone giving priority to locality or a ‘comfort zone’ might be disinclined to include a similar homicide committed outside of Whitechapel.
Finding a single hermeneutic key to unlock a proper assessment of all these forensic indices is only further complicated when evidence is scant – a deficiency all too typical of the Ripper case. Many investigators specializing in the field of serial killers would undoubtedly point to the element of ‘signature’ as the most significant feature in determining which murders are assignable to the same killer, ‘signature’ constituting the invariable motive elements which all the killings share. Succinctly put, it is the evidential link between the motive and what the killer deems to be its satisfactory accomplishment and is manifested in specific, consistent patterns or clues left behind at the crime scene.
It is interpretive in the sense that motive is deduced from physical fact - from evidence that forms a consistent pattern which may be deemed characteristic of the slayings. In this sense, such patterns become heuristic, pointing toward established typologies as regard both criminal psychology and predictable characteristics of the murders reflective of that psychology. This is commonly related to the idiosyncrasies manifested in ritual-like behaviour superfluous to the actual act of killing and what this suggests about the psychopathology of the killer. It is a deduction buttressed by empirical evidence amassed from in-depth analysis of past serial cases but, involving as it does prognostic skill, it is not an exact science, although its tenets appear to be regularly borne out in case studies.
For those who feel that such analytic tools are of some probative value in the Jack the Ripper case, there appears to be a consensus that ‘signature’ in these killings is characterized by mutilation targeted specifically at the female genitalia, and the handling and/or extraction of viscera and organs. The motivation this pattern suggests is clearly psychosexual in nature, this again being based on the accumulated analyses of similar serial murders. Given the paucity of hard evidence in the Ripper case, it is inevitable that questions concerning motivation resort to promising systems such as the one employed by the FBI to profile serial killers as outlined above. Method (which may well suggest motive) is perhaps one area in the Ripper case where existing evidence is more helpful.
Detailed coroners’ reports and some post-mortem photos survive for many of the supposed Ripper victims. It does not seem unreasonable that consistent, recurrent features in these killings are significant enough to serve as templates for assessing the probability that non-canonical killings may or may not fall within the ambit of the Ripper’s horrible handiwork.
The 23 April 1891 murder in New York City of an aged prostitute named Carrie Brown has been speculatively linked with the Jack the Ripper series since the time of its occurrence. Until quite recently, our ability to accurately assess this association has been severely limited, and restricted almost exclusively to analysing contemporaneous press coverage to glean forensic information. Now, new information has come to light which permits a fuller and more accurate comparison of this New York murder with those of Whitechapel. Despite this, it may still remain an open question whether this new information will be of any more help in resolving the issue of Brown’s possible status as a Ripper victim.
While researching original documents concerning the murder of Carrie Brown, I was surprised to uncover the court case file whose documentation included 2 post-mortem photos of the victim, in addition to a small tintype of her from life. This case file also contained the original indictments, outlining the wounds and causes of death. A wealth of news reports also exist which contain on-the-spot descriptions of the murder scene as well as descriptions of the wounds by the coroners involved in the case. The disclosure of Brown’s autopsy report in a recent and excellent article by Wolf Vanderlinden supplies important supplemental information on the killing and allows for a more detailed and definitive comparison of this case with the Ripper series. By examining these in combination with what we know about genuine Ripper murders, we are in a far better position to assess whether certain ‘signature’ elements are present in Brown’s murder, leaving her status as a possible Ripper victim open to possible inclusion.
First, a brief word about the clarity of the photos is called for. It is unfortunate that the most important photo for our purposes is also the most degraded. The frontal view of Brown’s mutilated body is, sadly, rather faded and grainy. It is, I believe, sufficiently clear however for the purposes at hand. These disturbing post-mortem photos appear to give grim corroboration to the accuracy of the recently discovered autopsy report, disclosing the three-inch deep ‘ripping’ wounds to the abdominal cavity, cuts to the genital area, and clearly showing the curious ‘X’ incised on the victim’s left buttock. What the photos do not disclose is the important revelation found in the autopsy report concerning the extraction of organs. It had been widely and sensationally reported in the press that Brown’s intestines had been torn out, and this is indeed proven by the report, which states that parts of the intestines had, in addition to being pulled out, been cut off and found on the bed. Many stories also claimed that ‘certain organs’ had been cut out. The autopsy report now conclusively proves that this was also true, as Brown’s left ovary had been found in the blood-soaked bed linen, disclosing an interestingly consistent pattern with Ripper murders in its concentration on and removal of organs of reproduction.
It remains a matter of speculation, however, whether death resulted from strangulation or from the knife wounds. The indictment record I discovered in the original case file cites three counts, each sufficient in itself to have caused death. In the first count, it states that Brown was:
…willfully, feloniously and of malice aforethought, choked, suffocated and strangled by both hands [of the assailant] about her neck of which cause… she then and there died.
The second count details:
…a certain piece of cloth which [the assailant] did fix, bind, tie and fasten about Caroline Brown’s neck and upon her head and face and did choke, smother, suffocate and strangle her so that she died then and there.
The third count covers the knife wounds, starkly stating that the assailant:
…did strike, thrust, cut, stab and wound, giving unto her the said Caroline Brown, then and there… in and upon the breast, belly, abdomen, back and sides… divers mortal wounds of which said mortal wounds she… then and there died.
During the Coroner’s Inquest to indict Ameer Ben Ali (the suspect accused, convicted, and ultimately pardoned of this crime), Deputy Coroner Jenkins, the man who conducted the autopsy, was asked whether Brown had died from asphyxiation or from knife wounds:
He said he found the woman’s face livid and some fluid blood in the left auricle of the heart. This, he said, was sure evidence of strangulation. There was a semi-circular mark on the left side of her neck, as if made by a thumbnail, and her tongue protruded, more evidence of strangulation. He explained various wounds and their location, and said that while the evidences of asphyxiation by strangulation were apparent, he found it a difficult matter to determine whether or not life was wholly extinct when incisions were made.’ 1
While this new forensic evidence, coupled with what was previously known of the case, has inclined Mr. Vanderlinden to a position of some diffidence, if not disinclination, concerning the Ripper-like nature of this killing, it has persuaded me that there is nothing, prima facie, militating against its inclusion in the series, at least insofar as it can be said to manifest a strong parallelism in terms of what modern forensic science would focus on as salient and indicative. Applying the criteria of ‘signature’ permits for a recognized method of sorting out which features in a series of killings are merely coincidental, variable, functional and inconsequential and which elements are motive-specific and essential. This differentiation may be broadly classified into what is termed ‘method’ (or ‘modus operandi’) and what is specified as ‘signature’.
Thus construed, those elements which appear problematic or anomalous – the absence of throat cutting being, perhaps, the most notable – are features which, when viewed in context, apply to method, which may or may not remain uniform in a series depending on contingencies of expedience and utility. The act of throat cutting is a feature of method and not signature. It is functional in intent – a commodious step toward achieving the fulfillment of the motive by dispatching the victim so that mutilation, the primary aim, may be enacted.
It has also been sensibly suggested by researchers that, in addition to swiftly causing incapacitation and death, the massive and quick blood-letting accomplished by cutting the throat is a convenient and intentionally combined means by which the Ripper could both dispatch his victim and avoid becoming imbrued during the mutilation process, a consequence which would otherwise render him highly conspicuous on the streets. Throat cutting would be a logical method when the killer was fully clothed and outside in a public place, but would be a necessity obviated by being indoors and undressed, as Brown’s killer almost surely was. It is also clear that the killer was able to clean up in a bloodstained washbowl found in the room. Seen in this context, throat cutting is an adventitious and variable element of method. It should also be pointed out in passing that the clothing, which was so tightly tied around Brown’s throat that it had to be cut off, would have prevented the killer from cutting her throat had he wished to do so subsequent to strangulation, as occurred in the Chapman murder.
The fact that there is apparently some variance in the type of knife used on Brown when compared to those supposed to be used in the Ripper series is, again, shown by studies to be inconsequential in terms of these types of murders, as the key element is the fact that the genitalia were mutilated with a knife and organs and viscera were targeted and ‘handled’. It is, quite simply, unrealistic to expect a sexual serial killer to always kill and mutilate his victims in precisely the same manner with precisely the same weapon every time, especially over a space of years. Studies of such killers show that this is simply not the case. They do, however, show that features, such as (in the Ripper case) the targeted mutilation of the genital region, the ‘ripping’ of the abdomen, and extraction of viscera and organs associated with reproduction will be largely consistent and similar in all connected cases. Other interesting but ancillary similarities exist between Brown and the traditional Ripper victims, such as ‘extraneous’ and glyphic cuttings or markings as represented by the inverted ‘V’s or triangles on Eddowes cheeks and the inscribed ‘X’ on Brown’s buttock, as well as facial bruising indicative of a ‘blitz-type’ attack, as in the cases of Nichols, Chapman and Eddowes.
The objection that no organ was taken away by Brown’s killer disregards the evidence of other, similar cases in which ‘trophies’ were sometimes taken and sometimes not. It should also be remembered that not all of the ‘canonical’ victims had organs taken away. Again, what is very significant is the extraction of viscera and an organ of reproduction from Brown’s body – a feature highly specific to the Ripper murders.
While the evidence clearly suggests to me that Brown’s murder cannot be excluded from the Ripper series, it is not impossible that a copycat killer or sexual killer with an almost identical ‘signature’ was at work in New York three years after the ostensible cessation of the London killings. Given what we now know, it is simply impossible to say. There is, however, one intriguing link which might strongly connect Brown’s murder with the Ripper’s, and thus exponentially increase the likelihood that we are dealing with more than a copycat.
My discovery of an individual who was both the initial prime suspect in the Brown murder and had, rather remarkably, also been arrested in London on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper may just constitute such a link (see “The Ripper in America”, Ripperologist, December 2001). I will not recapitulate my findings here, but I would like to briefly address some recent objections made against this intriguing suspect, Arbie La Bruckman, and his candidacy as Brown’s slayer. The only real objection to this suspect is that Mary Miniter (the sole eyewitness) gave at least two somewhat dissimilar descriptions of the man who accompanied Brown on the fatal night. Although one description seems to match La Bruckman2, another, more widely published description, varies from La Bruckman in terms of mustache and/or hair color and physique.
As regards physique, it has been pointed out that La Bruckman was described in one article as a ‘Hercules’ leading some to perhaps think La Bruckman was brawny, as opposed to the more slender man described by Miniter. In actuality, this is an inaccurate assumption, for although he is described as muscular, it is also stated elsewhere that “…there is not an ounce of spare flesh on his wiry frame.”3 ‘Wiry frame’ would certainly not suggest brawniness, but rather, slenderness. Newspaper descriptions of La Bruckman state that he had dark hair and a brown mustache, while Miniter’s more widely circulated description speaks of a man with light hair and a light mustache who spoke with an accent that may have been German. The accent was a feature common to both descriptions given out by Miniter, and significantly it was stated that La Bruckman spoke with an accent, although we don’t know what it sounded like.
Upon La Bruckman’s arrest, the reporter for The World stated:
He is a villainous-looking man of about twenty-nine years and of remarkably strong physique. He is about 5 feet 7 inches in height and weighs about 180 pounds… He is very far, however, from answering the description of the murderer given out by the New York police. The alarm sent to the police all over the country by Inspector Byrnes… was as follows:
General Alarm: Arrest a man 5 feet 9 inches high, about thirty-one years old, light hair and mustache, speaks broken English. Wanted for murder. The prisoner, on the contrary, has black hair and a dark brown mustache, and is only 5 feet 7 1/2 inches in height.’ 4
It will be noted, first of all, that, with the exception of the hair colour, the description is, in fact, not very different from La Bruckman (the only disparities being constituted by a difference of two years in the estimated age, and 11/2 inches in height!). Later, in the same article, however, the reporter sarcastically alludes to the confused description being given out of the killer:
So far the undisputed admissions of Inspector Byrnes and his aides seem to be that old “Shakespeare” was murdered at the East River Hotel on Thursday night or early Friday morning last, that she was horribly mutilated in true “Jack the Ripper” style; that she was an outcast; that she is dead beyond doubt; that the murderer was the Greek, Italian, German or Swede with a long nose and light or dark mustache who accompanied the old woman up to room 31 at 11 o’clock last Thursday night…’
But more importantly regarding La Bruckman as a suspect, we learn in this same article that the New Jersey police, who made the arrest of La Bruckman, confirm that he is, indeed, the man sought as the prime suspect:
Chief Murphy declared that there was no doubt of the identity of his prisoner with “Frenchy No. 2”… “We have made a most important arrest at the request of the New York police authorities. We have been impressed by them with the idea that it is the most important arrest that could be made in the case of the Jack the Ripper butchery of Carrie Brown”.’
Several other press reports also noted that the police positively confirmed La Bruckman as Ali’s ‘cousin’, ‘Frenchy No. 2’. Interestingly, it was also discovered that the two men shared at least one alias 5.
Two facts emerge from the news and police reports: there was inconsistency in the descriptions, and there was, despite this, great and persistent interest in La Bruckman as a suspect. It is worth noting that the informant who first brought the attention of the press and police to the startling fact that La Bruckman had been arrested in London on suspicion of being Jack the Ripper, specifically stated that La Bruckman, ‘…answers the description’ of Miniter’s suspect6. Regarding the ‘standard’ description circulated concerning a light haired man, two points need to be made. The first is that Miniter saw the suspect at night in the darkened hallway of a hotel, where he was said to be acting in a furtive manner, keeping in the background as if anxious to avoid being seen. The second and more important point actually makes the preceding point moot. It is well attested in the contemporary papers and by the police that Miniter came to be highly problematic as a witness. It is a fact that she provided at least two descriptions of the suspect. It is also a fact that coupled with the one description she gave which generally matched La Bruckman, Miniter recalled that the suspect was the man known as Ali’s cousin, ‘Frenchy No. 2’, something which the authorities clearly took to be of more importance and reliability than her other description of a light haired man7. It is also well attested that the police came to believe that Miniter’s description of the suspect with the light hair and blonde mustache was, in their words, ‘wholly unreliable’.
This was stated, by the police, on several occasions. On April 29, for instance, just five days after the murder, the papers were already reporting:
The confidence in Mary Miniter’s ability and willingness to identify the man to whom she let the room that fatal night is not so strong now. The police fear she has not given a correct description of him. The alarm sent out is therefore far from accurate in its description of the man who accompanied poor old Shakespeare. Proprieter Jennings has expressed a disbelief of the woman’s statements…If the woman’s veracity is impeached so soon she will be of little use in identifying anyone whom the police may happen to arrest and who answers the description she has given…” 8
The Daily Continent summed up the consensus of both the press and the police when it stated, “Mary Miniter’s fame as a professional identifier is rapidly waning…” 9
The police, whose distrust of Miniter began growing from the moment they learned she was an alcoholic prostitute and opium addict, came to believe that Miniter was intentionally giving a false description of the suspect and would probably not identify him even if confronted with him. The New York Herald lamented:
The police were nearly paralyzed last night to discover that the most important witness in the case, Mary Miniter, housekeeper at the East River Hotel, would be wholly unreliable when called upon to make an identification of the suspected murderer. It was somehow learned that she has not given a correct description of the man who was last seen with the woman who was murdered. It is hinted that she may be actuated by motives to shield the fellow, who was an acquaintance of hers. 10
As previously noted, Miniter later recalled that the man she had seen accompanying Brown was Ali’s companion, “Frenchy No.2”, from which it logically follows that he was an “acquaintance”, at least by sight. Given the man’s stated reputation as an abuser of women in the district, Miniter’s reluctance to identify such a person would be understandable.
In this same article, it mentions that Ali’s ‘cousin’, “Frenchy No.2”, remained the focus of the police manhunt: “This man… the cousin, is the fellow for whom Inspector Byrnes and the entire force of 3,500 police have been looking in vain for the week past.” It is clear that the thing which the police took to be of the most importance in the investigation was not Miniter’s description of the suspect, but Miniter’s identification of the suspect as Ali’s friend or ‘cousin’, who was later positively determined to be La Bruckman. Should anyone suggest that Miniter’s description was being negated so as to ‘fit-up’ Ali for eventual prosecution, I would simply point out that there is no evidence whatsoever, beyond mere speculation, that this was the case. Additionally, as the article shows, ‘Frenchy No. 2’ remained the focus of the investigation.
Further evidence of Miniter’s highly questionable veracity was demonstrated when, in the course of the trial against Ali, she was forced to admit to lying to the police that the man who accompanied Brown had claimed to be named “Kniclo”. It was brought out at trial, that no such person really existed, and that no names were given by Brown or the suspect on the night of the murder. Miniter confessed at trial that:
Shakespeare paid me with a silver dollar that she got from the man, and asked him to get some beer. I got some mixed ale for her. I did not put the names in the hotel register that night, and next morning Tommy Thompson [the bartender] told me to say that C. Kniclo and wife had occupied room No. 31 the night before. I did not put it down in the register.’ Miniter admitted that the name was invented and put in the register by the bartender the following day to ‘make it appear right’: ‘“As a matter of fact”, said lawyer House, “does anyone ever register at the house?”
“No sir”, was the reply.
“Then you lied to the police when you told them the man had registered as Kniclo?”
“I did”, was the frank admission. 11
Ultimately, it was established that Miniter's description of the blonde suspect was wholly without merit. After her admission that "Kniclo" was an invented name, Miniter shockingly "...admitted under pressure that she gave the police a misleading description, because she did not really know how the man looked". 12
Having now placed Miniter’s suspect description and reliability in their proper context, and having assessed the forensic findings, including autopsy, news reports and morgue photos in comparison with Ripper killings and what is known about the ‘signature’ of serial lust-killers, it seems justifiable, especially in light of the La Bruckman ‘link’, to suggest that the murder of Carrie Brown remains, at this point, a possible Jack the Ripper killing. Future research and revelations may eventually confirm or rebut this assessment, but nothing we know thus far comes close to dismissing it as a viable supposition. In conclusion, I would merely suggest that it might be instructive to ask: had this murder occurred two or three years earlier in London rather than in New York, would anyone doubt that Brown’s murder would quickly have been classed by the authorities as the probable work of the infamous Whitechapel fiend? I would cautiously suggest that the rather amazing linkage between the London and New York killings supplied by the ocean-going slaughterman, Arbie La Bruckman, keeps this possibility open and intriguing.Sources
The Jack the Ripper A-Z,
Paul Begg, Martin Fido and Keith Skinner
Mindhunter – Inside the FBI’s
Elite Serial Crimes Unit,
John Douglas and Mark Olshaker
Crime Classification Manual,
John Douglas with Ann W. Burgess,
Allen G. Burgess, and Robert K. Ressler
The Court of General Sessions,
District Attorney Indictment Record Inventory,
The New York City Municipal Archives
The New York District Attorney’s Scrapbooks, The New York City Municipal Archives
‘The New York Affair, Part One,’
Ripper Notes 16, April-June 2003: 33–45
1 The New York Recorder, 13 May 1891
2 The New York Herald, 25 and 26 April 1891
3 The World, 30 April, 1891
4 The Evening World, 30 April 1891
5 Ameer Ben Ali was known as ‘George Francis’ (The New York Times, 26 April 1891), and La Bruckman was known as ‘John Francis’ (The World, 30 April 1891)
6 The World, 30 April 1891
7 The New York Herald, 21 April 1891
8 The New York Recorder, 29 April 1891
9 The Daily Continent, 30 April 1891
10 The New York Herald, April 1891
11 The Morning Journal, July 1891
12 The New York Recorder, May 1891
All of the above citations can be found in roll #11 of the New York District Attorney’s Scrapbooks, vols. #83-90, housed in the New York City Municipal Archives. Citations where only the month and year are given reflect that arrangements of newspaper clippings compiled in the NYDA’s scrapbooks. They are arranged chronologically, but the clippings do not always include exact dates.