Ameer Ben Ali

Framed by Police

Ameer Ben Ali, an Algerian sailor, was sentenced to life in prison in 1891 for the mutilation murder of a prostitute in a New York City hotel. The discovery of the victim prompted speculation, soon discounted, that Jack the Ripper had arrived in New York. Ben Ali's conviction rested on the contention of police that there had been a trail of blood leading from the victim's hotel room to Ben Ali's room across the hall. Ben Ali was exonerated and released eleven years later based on the identification of an alternative suspect and an affidavit from a prominent journalist stating that a trail of blood linking Ben Ali to the crime had been planted by the police.

Case Chronology

April 23, 1891 — Carrie Brown, a sixty-year-old prostitute, arrives with a younger man at the East River Hotel, an East-side New York City lodging house, in the late evening. They check into a corner room on the top floor.

April 24, 1891 — A room clerk discovers Brown's strangled and mutilated body while conducting a routine morning room check. Police arrest Ameer Ben Ali as a material witness. Ben Ali, an Algerian who used the name George Frank, was not the man believed to have checked into the hotel with Brown but rather occupied a room across the hall.

April 26, 1891 — New York Chief of Detectives Thomas F. Byrnes issues a "general alarm" for the arrest of "a man about five feet nine inches high, about thirty-one years old, light hair and mustache, speaks broken English."

April 30, 1891 — Barnes announces that "circumstantial facts" implicate George Frank (alias Ben Ali) in the crime.

May 2, 1891 — Ben Ali denies guilt.

May 18, 1891 — A grand jury indicts Ben Ali for Brown's murder.

June 24, 1891 — Ben Ali's trial begins. The prosecution reveals that the principal evidence against Ben Ali is a trail of blood leading from Brown's room across the hall to his room.

July 3, 1891 — Ben Ali is convicted of second degree murder.

July 10, 1891 — Ben Ali is sentenced to life in prison.

July 13, 1891 — Ben Ali seeks a pardon from Governor Roswell P. Flower based two affidavits. One is from journalist Jacob Riis, of the New York Sun, who had arrived at the scene of the crime shortly after it was discovered. The Riis affidavit states that there had been no trail of blood leading from Brown's room to Ben Ali's room. The other affidavit is from George Damon, a Crawford, New Jersey, man, stating that shortly after the crime a Danish servant in his employ disappeared, presumably leaving the country, shortly after the crime. In the man's room, Damon says he found blood-stained clothing and a key from the East River Hotel.

April 16, 1891 — New York Governor Benjamin B. Odell pardons Ben Ali.

April 22, 1901 — Ben Ali is released from Matteawan State Hospital for Insane Convicts at Dannemora after serving nearly eleven years of a life sentence.

Case Data

Crime date: April 23-24, 1891
Jurisdiction: New York County, New York
Crime: Murder
Related crime(s): None
Age: 20s or 30s
Gender: Male
Race or ethnicity: Algerian
Arrest date: April 25, 1891
Victim: Carrie Brown
Victim's occupation: Reportedly a prostitute
Victim's gender: Female
Victim's race: White
Victim's age: 60
How defendant became a suspect: Occupied hotel room across the hall from the room in which the murder occurred
Principal evidence of defendant's guilt: A purported trail of blood leading from the victim's hotel room to a room across the hall to a room occupied by Ben Ali
Principal defense: Claim of framing by police
Type of trial: Jury
Conviction date: July 3, 1891
Convicted of: Second-degree murder
Sentence: Life
Appellate record: None
Basis for exoneration: Affidavits stating that there had been no trail of blood and identifying an alternative suspect who apparently fled the country after the crime
Legal form of exoneration: Pardon
Release date: April 22, 1901
Days of incarceration: 3,649
Prior record: None
Compensation: None

— Cara Settipani