No announcement yet.

Forthcoming Book About Old Shakespeare Murder

  • Filter
  • Time
  • Show
Clear All
new posts

  • #76
    Mr. Dekle’s reply to all this is “paper thin,” to use his own words.

    He spends some time in attacking George Damon’s character, feeling that his reasons for not coming forward in 1891 were weak; he points out that the key found in “Frank’s” room could have been faked; that no one really wanted to investigate Damon’s story too closely and that Damon might have made up the whole thing for financial reasons. Does Dekle provide any actual evidence for any of this? No.

    Dekle bases his attack on Damon’s character mostly on the fact that Damon, although he supposedly had evidence that would exonerate Ben Ali, waited ten years before producing it. Dekle, therefore, suggests that this lack of character eliminates Damon as a trustworthy source. And Dekle hammers away at this point at some length. He adds to this the suggestion that Damon’s silence put Ben Ali’s life in danger since Ben Ali could have gone to the electric chair. Dekle overstates this suggestion however.

    Ben Ali was facing the electric chair if he was found guilty of murder in the first degree with no recommendation for mercy. He wasn’t. He was found guilty of murder in the second degree and sentenced to life imprisonment. Had Ben Ali been sentenced to death we have no way of knowing what Damon’s reaction would have been. Dekle, apparently, assumes that he would have let the Algerian die but this is unprovable.

    However, it’s hard to disagree with the notion that George Damon should have gone to the police if he had evidence that might exonerate Ameer Ben Ali. That he didn’t, kept Ben Ali incarcerated for a decade. Perhaps this makes Damon a bad person, but it doesn’t follow that this makes him an untrustworthy source, and it doesn’t allow us to merely sweep his testimony aside and ignore it. And we know why he kept silent all those years since he gave his reasons for not coming forward in 1891 to the press. Reasons, which Dekle calls “three excuses.”

    The first reason given by Damon was that “because the murder was creating world-wide interest, and I dreaded the publicity that my evidence would be certain to give me. I dreaded it as a business man and in a social way for my family.” Dekle suggests that “By his own admission, George Damon was a man who cared nothing about the administration of justice and everything about his own convenience.” (Dekle, page 216) And, “George Damon impeached himself by demonstrating that he had no regard for truth or justice. If what he said was true, he withheld crucial exculpatory evidence that could have saved a man’s life because he didn’t want to be inconvenienced.” (Dekle, page 236.) Dekle’s language here is melodramatic and better suited to a courtroom than an historical work. It also ignores the historical context that Damon was living in in 1891, when confronted by evidence in a brutal mutilation murder.

    The Whitechapel Murders were international news. New York newspapers were filled with their share of horrific details, breathless theories, opinions and condemnations of the London police authorities, and, by February, 1891, the papers were full of the latest murder, Francis Coles, which had occurred in London only weeks before the Brown murder. More importantly, the Brown murder was touted by New York newspapers as being the work of London’s Jack the Ripper, something the New York police denied, but then flooded the East Side with police in the search for the murderer of an indigent, part-time prostitute and bar fly (as if).

    The story of the Brown murder was also reported in newspapers around the world and George Damon wasn’t being hyperbolic when he spoke of the “world-wide interest” he was facing. And the story was the type of salacious news that sold papers: a mystery involving as it did sex, blood and murder amidst the dregs of New York’s lowest stratum of society. This is not the type of thing you would want to be connected with: this is the mud that would stick to Damon, his family and his business for a very long time. Nor would he want the hordes of sight seers who would likely have descended on his home and property. This all goes far beyond Mr. Dekle’s claims of mere “inconvenience.

    Damon’s second stated reason was that “I felt certain that although ‘Frenchy’ was not guilty of the murder he was a dangerous character, better under restraint than at liberty. So I kept silent.’” Dekle states that “Damon’s excuse that Frenchy was better off in jail falls flat in the face of the fact that Frenchy could not possibly have been better off in Boot Hill in Sing Sing after having been electrocuted.” (Dekle, page 216.) And that by not coming forward Damon subjected Ben Ali to “the shadow of the death chamber” since he faced a capital murder charge. Also that he allowed Ben Ali to languish in various prisons and mental institutions for ten years.

    George Damon was probably a man of his times. The late 1880’s through the 1890’s were a time of anti-immigrant sentiment, especially against non-white immigrants and, added to this, there was also the feeling among some that Ben Ali was better off in prison then begging in the streets. This belief was expressed by more than one person after Ben Ali was sent to jail. There was also the only information that George Damon would have had about Ameer Ben Ali’s history and character: police statements that appeared in the newspapers. Ben Ali was described as a brutish man who attacked and robbed women; who was a professional beggar and thief who was the terror of the Fourth Ward. All this was either untrue or greatly exaggerated, but we can see that among those who swallowed this disinformation was Damon: “he was a dangerous character, better under restraint than at liberty.” Again, this belief doesn’t disqualify Damon’s affidavit.

    Damon’s third reason for keeping his information to himself was that he admitted that he was afraid that “Frank” might come back and harm his family, especially if the news of a new manhunt was splashed across newspapers therefore informing “Frank” who had informed on him. It’s hard not to see how this would seem a very real possibility.

    If “Frank” was London’s Jack the Ripper,” a man who had escaped the best efforts of Scotland Yard and the Metropolitan Police to capture him, a man who seemed to be able to kill at will, what protection did Damon and his family have in Cranford, New Jersey? The New York Police had carried out the largest dragnet in the city’s history and had been unable to find “Frank/C. Knicklo.” Exactly who was going to protect Damon and his family?

    Besides all this Dekle comes up with other motives to disregard Damon’s story. One is a possible financial reason for Damon to concoct a story to free Ben Ali. Dekle writes “One cannot but help to think that he saw some financial or political advantage from currying favor with the New York newspapers and the influential men like the past president of the New York Bar Association who had taken up Frenchy’s cause.” (Dekle page 236.) Dekle offers no evidence that this speculation is, in fact, true, and one cannot but help to think that the author is clutching at straws here.

    Personally, I never met George Damon and, I’m fairly sure, neither has Mr. Dekle, considering Damon died in 1906, but what comes through in his press statements is that he was a man who worried about the safety of his family first and foremost. Should he have come forward with his evidence much earlier? Of course, but his reasons for not doing so are very human ones. One might consider him a coward, but that doesn’t make him a liar. Be that as it may, someone who did know George Damon was Foster McGowan Voorhees, the Governor of New Jersey, who wrote a letter to Governor Odell of New York “paying high tribute to the honor and truthfulness of the man whose affidavit embodies the new evidence.” Dekle brushes aside Governor Voorhees’s high opinion of Damon stating “If Damon was a man of excellent character, he certainly failed to display it in connection with the case against Frenchy,” (Dekle page 216) but, again, this doesn’t disqualify either Damon’s story or the Governor’s opinion of him.

    In the end there are some important points to keep in mind. George Damon was a well off businessman who had some standing in the business world. He had something to lose if it turned out he was lying to the Governor’s Office.

    As well, lost in all of Mr. Deke’s condemnation of George Damon’s story is the important fact that he wasn’t speaking alone; he had the affidavits of Charles Brennan and John Lee to back him up. Dekle does first summarize these sources but then ignores them, for obvious reasons, when attacking Damon. These two affidavits, however, cannot be ignored. Brennan not only corroborates the story of going to the East River Hotel but also the existence of the key itself and its apparent match with the other hotel keys. The fact that the keys to the hotel were kept on a rack behind the bar also seemingly adds support to Damon and Brennan’s story. Lee, on the other hand, corroborates the fact that Damon didn’t make up his story in 1901 to help Robillard, but talked to Lee about it in 1891 at the time of the murder.

    In addition, if Damon’s account was fabricated what of the curious way in which it was brought to Robillard’s attention? Why wouldn’t Damon have simply gone to the lawyer and tell him he had evidence to help free Ben Ali? Instead he, what, gets Lee to find Simms, get into an argument with him, have Lee blurt out that Simms helped to convict an innocent man? In order for this to work Lee would have to do this in such a way that Simms doesn’t merely punch him in the face or tell him to screw off but to ask what Lee was talking about, all with the hope that Simms will tell Lee to get in touch with Robillard? Unless, of course, Simms was in on it. The more the merrier I suppose.

    There is, after all, the curiously inclusive nature of Damon’s tale. Along with himself, Brennan and Lee, he also added his wife, the maid, “Mary,” and his hand “Henry.” That seems like an unlikely amount of co-conspirators. Of course Dekle points out the convenience of George Damon not being able to clearly remember the names of the maid and hand. This, however, doesn’t mean that his wife couldn’t remember them, or the people in the vicinity for that matter, if asked during the investigation of the new evidence. A safer “story,” surely, would have been that Damon himself was the finder and investigator of the key without dragging others into the lie, and for Damon to have gone to Robillard directly.

    In the end, Dekle’s rejection of George Damon’s account seems to boil down to attacking Damon’s honesty because he failed to come forward in 1891; ignoring the affidavits of Brennan and Lee and offering some dubious conjectures as to what motive Damon might have had based on Dekle’s preconceived notions.

    Last edited by Wolf Vanderlinden; 07-19-2022, 09:49 PM.


    • #77
      The key.

      The most important piece of evidence backing up Damon’ tale, the only piece of hard evidence, is the key.

      The best argument that Dekle can come up with against the key is the suggestion that it was possible a forgery and, that as no one really wanted to look too closely at Damon’s story, no one really bothered to try and authenticate it.

      Let’s take the forgery angle first. Is this possible? Sure, I suppose. After all, realistically how hard could it be to fake this and exactly who was there, after a decade, to disprove that the key came from the East River Hotel?

      One thing should be noted here first, the key still exists in the place you would expect it to be found: the State Archives in Albany. A few years ago author Luke Jerod Kummer found it and photographed it so we know exactly what Damon said was found in “Frank’s” room. We can therefor attempt to compare Damon’s key to what little we know of the missing key.

      The missing key was what we usually (incorrectly) call a skeleton key. It was called by some newspapers an “ordinary key,” which helps no one, but it did have a brass tag stamped with the number 31 on it. The key supposedly found in “Frank’s” room was a “skeleton” key with a brass tag stamped with the number 31 on it. This neither proves nor disproves they were one and the same. However, one newspaper, the New York Sun (25 and 26 April, 1891) stated that according to the police it was “a brass door key,” which no one else appears to mention. It is hard to tell from Kummer’s photographs but Damon’s key does not appear to be made of brass, although several newspapers in 1901 described it as such. Damon himself said that the key was made of bronze. The argument, therefore, could be made that Damon’s key was not the missing key based solely on the metal. However, bronze metal can, depending on the patina, look much like old brass and, as I pointed out, only one newspaper described the missing key as being made of brass so that argument falls on shaky ground.

      We do have an idea of what the missing key looked like since at least two newspapers, the New York Sun and the New York World published very similar drawings of it on the same day (25 April, 1891), so we can assume that they might be fairly accurate representations. Of the two drawings the Sun’s is fairly crude while the World’s is more detailed. It has been suggested in the past that Damon could have used these drawings to help fake his key but there are problems with this theory. The first is that Damon’s key doesn’t look that much like the two illustrations, so if it’s a fake guided by the newspapers it isn’t a very close copy. The real problem here is that the two illustrations of the key can’t be based on the actual missing key since it was, you know, missing. So what did the two newspapers base their drawings on?

      First off, it appears that the more detailed drawing found in the World was actually just a copy of the Sun’s cruder drawing, which is why they look so similar. The Sun was a morning paper and the illustration of the key first appeared on the morning of the 25th. The World also published a morning edition, along with several other editions throughout the day, but their illustration of the key didn’t appear until the 2:00 o’clock edition. The World, therefore, merely copied the key from the Sun. But what was the Sun drawing based on? In 1901 the Sun stated that back in 1891 they “had published a picture of another key belonging to the same hotel just like the missing one” (2 June, 1901). In other words, the drawing was not based on the actual missing key and we therefor have no idea what it looked like. However, the Sun’s crude drawing seems to show the numbered brass tag to be rectangular in shape while Damon’s key is square with clipped corners. This might suggest, therefore, that Damon’s key is not the missing key. However, given the poor quality of the illustration it is impossible to say that this is definitive proof that this is so.

      But what about Dekle’s suggestion that no one really bothered to try and authenticate the key? In fact an investigation was conducted to look into the new evidence offered to Governor Odell, including looking into the authenticity of the key (Dekle, however, knocks the investigation, something I will look at in a later post). We know this because James Jennings, the proprietor of the East River Hotel, was asked to give an opinion on whether Damon’s key was the missing key or not. Jennings wasn’t all that sure, apparently, and the final report to the Governor could only say that “the key now produced may not have been from the hotel after all.” This ambiguity doesn’t prove whether the key was genuine or not.

      There was an interesting addition to the official report regarding the key and Jennings’s opinion of it. Apparently Jennings said, or may have said, something to the effect that “he could not verify [the authenticity of the key] himself because the hotel building had been renovated after a fire.” (Underwood, Gaslight Lawyers, Shadelandhouse Modern Press, 2017, page 79.) Dekle says of this “there was no way to verify Damon’s claim one way or the other because the building had been renovated after being partially destroyed by fire.” (Dekle, page 214.)

      It is unclear to me who actually provided the information that the key could not be verified because the hotel had been renovated after a fire, the investigator or Jennings. If it was the investigator, he was misinformed. If it was Jennings, he appeared to be lying.

      In 1896 a hotel at 231 East Thirty-Third Street named the East River Hotel was partially destroyed by fire but this was not the hotel where the murder had taken place. The murder took place at the corner of Catharine Slip and Water Street at 14 Catharine Slip/ 387 Water Street. In 1901 the building still stood, by that time joined with its next door neighbour to form a larger tenement house, and was renumbered 14-16 Catharine Slip. Was the old door to room 31 still in place? That question can’t be answered now, but in 1901 no one bothered to check because they believed, or were led to believe, that the top floor of the hotel had been severely damaged and then renovated.

      There were newspaper reports, however, that someone had tried the key on the door to room 31 and that it worked. Exactly who had done this was unclear. One suggestion was that it was a reporter (the World stated flat out that it was their reporter), another that it was Damon and Lee while yet another stated one of the lawyers defending Ben Ali had done this. All this seems highly unlikely. Damon never said that he and Brennan had tried the key in the door in 1891, only that they had compared it with other keys at the East River Hotel. If either a reporter, who would have had to get the key from Robillard, or someone in Robillard’s office (or a combination of the two) had found that Damon’s key had opened the door then surely this crucial information would have been added to the affidavits sent to the governor. Since there was no official word on this we can safely ignore it.

      One last thing about George Damon and the key. At the time that Damon talked to Ovide Robillard about “Frank” and the key, Damon had not seen the key in years and believed it had been lost. He, therefor, could not offer it as proof of his story. What Robillard had to work with, then, were the affidavits of Damon, Brennan and Lee. The authorities would just have to take their word that it had existed. However, when Damon went home on the day he made his affidavit he asked his wife a question regarding the missing key: was she willing to swear that the number on the brass tag was in fact 31? Mrs. Damon told her husband that she still had the key. She had kept it and it was upstairs in her jewelry box. The next day Damon was able to hand over the key to Robillard so that it could be sent with the affidavits to the governor.

      The key was a nice addition to the evidence but was it necessary? Maybe, maybe not. The statements of Damon, Lee and Brennan, three solid citizens, two being wealthy business owners, carried some weight on their own (unless, of course, all three were joined in a conspiracy to free Ben Ali). And the key, if faked, could surely be seen as a liability. What if James Jennings or someone else connected to the hotel at the time of the murder could come forward and say the key was a fake? What if some, or even just one, of the original key tags still existed at the old building on Water Street? Surely, if it wasn’t absolutely necessary, and it wasn’t, it was safer not to provide a fake key.



      • #78

        If George Damon’s account is true then “Frank” was the likely murderer of Carrie Brown, though any thought of finding “Frank’s” identity seems farfetched considering what little we know of the man.

        After ten years Damon couldn’t remember most of “Frank’s” details very clearly, the man had only worked for him for about a month, after all. He stated that, “as near as I can recollect his name was Frank,” and also that he was “known to me as Frank,” which doesn’t mean his name actually was Frank. He couldn’t remember the man’s last name at all. Damon thought the man was Danish, or more precisely said “I think Frank was a foreigner….He spoke in broken English, and, in my opinion, was a Dane,” which doesn’t mean he was a Dane. He also thought he was, or had been, a sailor, saying “I knew that he had been a sailor because he had done some splicing of ropes for me,” which doesn’t mean he was a sailor either (the New York World, 23 May, 1901). Those, therefore, who think that they can locate “Frank” in U.S. immigration records because they have his name, his nationality and his occupation, are fooling themselves. We have no concrete information about the man that could positively identify him.

        What we do have, however, is Damon’s physical description of “Frank.” He described him as being “…a man about 5 feet 10 inches tall, rather strong, but not very fleshy, and about thirty-five years old.” As seen above, he also “spoke in broken English.” This compares fairly well with the descriptions given of “C. Knicklo,” by Mary Miniter, and the blood stained man who entered the Glenmore Hotel, given by the night clerk Michael Kelly.

        Miniter said that “Knicklo” was about thirty-two to thirty-five years old, was about 5 feet 8 to 9 inches tall with a slim build. He had a long sharp nose and a heavy blond or light brown moustache. Kelly described the blood stained man as from thirty to thirty five years old, about 5 feet 9 inches in height with a light complexion, long, sharp nose and brown hair and moustache. Both stated that the man spoke in broken English and they both thought that he was German. The three descriptions could easily be of the same man.

        This, of course, doesn’t proves that “Frank” actually existed, but, as with the rest of the story, several people would have to lie in order to sell this tale. Leaving aside Lee and Brennan, there still remains, Mr. and Mrs. Damon, “Mary,” the maid, and “Henry,” the estate hand, if they could be found. There would also have to be anyone who lived in the area of the Damon’s Cranford home who might remember if they ever had a hand named “Frank” for a short time. Farfetched? Possibly, possibly not.

        After Damon’s story hit the newspapers various papers made statements regarding “Frank’s” supposed whereabouts. According to the New York Herald, for example, “Efforts are being made to trace Frank. He is said to have been known in Cranford, N.J., and to have been employed on a New Jersey farm as recently as last summer” (the Herald, 6 June, 1901).

        If true, this gives a new perspective on Damon’s fears about a revengeful “Frank.” If it was true. Newspaper reports that reference the whereabouts of “Frank” might have to be taken with a grain of salt though. Some stated that his whereabouts were “unknown,” while others claimed that he had died two years earlier. If this was true, it suggests that “Frank” and his movements were known to at least someone. This, however, wasn’t true.

        In April of 1900, just after Governor Roosevelt had turned down Robillard’s application for a pardon, The New York World stated that according to unnamed sources the actual murderer of Carrie Brown had been Tommy Thompson, the head bartender and sometime manager of the East River Hotel. The sources claimed that after “Knicklo” left, Thompson had accosted Brown in her room and demanded that she hand over any money she had received from him. Brown refused and Thompson supposedly killed her in a drunken rage. Thompson’s reputation was such that no one dared to come forward and inform on him but, as he had died two years earlier, the story was then, supposedly, safe to be told. This uncorroborated but intriguing (although, let’s face it, likely false) story was then mixed up with Damon’s tale and it was reported that it was “Frank” who had died two years earlier.

        As it stands now “Frank,” whoever he was, remain unknown.



        • #79
          I’ll finish this section on George Damon’s affidavit with a couple of things I wondered about in Mr. Dekle’s book. These were things which I had never come across before and so, curious, I decided to look for his sources.

          The first was Dekle’s statement that after Ovide Robillard received George Damon’s affidavit he “did not immediately publicize this new information. Instead, he held it in reserve for approximately a year before he made the pardon application to Governor Odell.” (Dekle, page 207.) This didn’t happen.

          Robillard began compiling his new evidence to submit to Governor Odell in late February, early March 1901, this likely included the Damon, Lee, Brennan affidavits. This evidence was eventually sent off and was received by Governor Odell on 4 June, 1901, with Odell finally commuting Ben Ali’s sentence on 16 April, 1902. This was 10 months after the Governor had originally been sent the evidence. The ten months were taken up by the slow turning of bureaucratic wheels which included the investigation into the claims made in the various affidavits. The decision was not rushed, therefore.

          Where did Dekle get the idea that Robillard had held back the new evidence for a year? I think the likely source for this misconception is an article that appeared in the New York Times on 17 April, 1902, the day after Odell had commuted Ben Ali’s sentence. The Times article stated that “About a year ago,after several vain attempts had been made to have “Frenchy” pardoned, new light was thrown on the murder.” This was followed by the story of Damon and “Frank,” with the paper stating that Damon “did not, however, make known his suspicions until a year ago.” This timeline of “a year ago” falls neatly into the Times’s reporting on Robillard’s efforts to place the new evidence before the governor. On 24 May, 1901, the paper had printed that “two weeks ago” (i.e. on or about the 9th of May) Robillard had written to the Governor that he had additional proof of Ben Ali’s innocence and desired a hearing to present it. Almost a year had passed, therefor, before Odell had commuted Ben Ali’s sentence. The odd thing about this is that in his book Dekle gives the correct timeline for the presentation of the new evidence which shows that there was no year long delay by Robillard.

          The second was Dekle’s statement that “there were two versions of how Damon came to give his affidavit to Robillard. According to the New York Times, an anonymous reporter ‘got into communication with’ Damon, and then the facts were made known to Robillard.” (Dekle page 208.) The other version was the one I wrote about above with John Lee having an argument with a lawyer (Simms) and throwing the secret into the lawyer’s face.

          Dekle dismisses the New York Times version, wondering how the reporter would have heard of Damon in the first place (“Did he read Tarot cards or consult the Ouija board?”) and why would he keep the story back for a year (see above) with the prospect of being scooped? Dekle was absolutely correct in dismissing this story because this also never happened.

          The source for this claim was not only the same newspaper as the first – the New York Times, 17 April, 1902 – but it can also be found in the same paragraph. The Times states “[Damon] did not, however, make known his suspicions until a year ago, when a newspaper reporter got into communication with him. The new facts in the case were made known to the lawyers who had defended ‘Frenchy,and an appeal was made to Gov. Odell to pardon the convicted murderer.

          The Times has muddled the details surrounding the account of how Damon’s story was disclosed. ”The new facts in the case” were known to Robillard, who already had Damon’s affidavit, when he announced to the press that he had new information. This, then, led the New York World reporter to track Damon down and interview him. So, the“anonymous reporter” who“got into communication with’ Damon,” only did so after Robillard had given the press the facts and not the other way around as Dekle has it.

          More to come.



          • #80
            The reporter’s affidavits:

            Along with the affidavits of Damon, Brennen and Lee, Robillard also sent Governor Odell the affidavits of four newspapermen: Jacob Riis, Frederick C. Barber, Robert Gordon Butler and Frank F. Coleman. I will deal with Coleman’s affidavit separately in a later post. Of the four, I have only read Riis’s affidavit, although copies of all the affidavits remain in the files in Albany, so I will rely on newspaper reports while discussing Barber and Butler’s.

            Frederick .C. Barber was a reporter working for the New York Evening Sun at the time of the murder. He had a long career in newspapers and by 1901, when he wrote his affidavit, he was the City Editor of the New York Telegram. He “was left at the scene of the murder, after the other reporters had gone, for the express purpose of looking around the room more carefully than they had had opportunity to do in their hurry. He has made an affidavit, which has been sent to the Governor, saying also that there were no blood spots there such as the police declared later they had found.” (The New York Sun, 2 June, 1901.)

            Robert Gordon Butler had no personal experience with the scene of the crime. He was an editor at the Sun and his affidavit was to the effect that “Mr. Riis and another reporter, W. J. Chamberlin (Dekle, page 210, mistakenly says “W.J. Coleman), told him at the time of the excitement over the murder, that there were no blood spots in the room, and he says that he told this to Frederick House, who defended “Frenchy” on his trial, but that Mr. House did not utilize the information in his trial of the case.” (The New York Sun, 2 June, 1901.)

            This leaves us with Jacob Riis’s affidavit. Riis had been a journalist, editor and small newspaper owner but is best known as a social reformer, author and pioneering photographer. His bestselling book, How the Other Half Lives, was instrumental in shining a spotlight on the horrendous living conditions of the poor of the New York slums and even today schools, parks and institutions are named after him. So esteemed was Riis’ that his friend, President Theodore Roosevelt, once said of him, I am tempted to call [him] the best American I ever knew” In April, 1891, Riis had newly joined the New York Evening Sun as a crime reporter (Dekle, page 11, says the New York Tribune but this was the paper Riis had just left) and by his own evidence was one of the first, if not the first, reporters on the scene of the Brown murder. In 1901 Riis was still at the Sun. His affidavit states:

            I am a reporter on the Evening Sun, a newspaper published in New York City, and have been since April, 1891; on Friday, April 24th. 1891, being at the time detailed at Police Headquarters, I heard of the murder at the East River Hotel in New York City, since known as the ‘Shakespeare murder;’ and went at once to the Hotel, arriving there about noon, on that day. I examined the place carefully, viewing the room where the murder was committed and the other rooms on the same floor; and noticed no blood spots on the floor between the room where the murder was committed and that afterwards said to have been occupied by Ben Ali or ‘Frenchy,’ who is now serving a life sentence after conviction of the crime; nor did I see any blood spots on the outside or the inside of the door of the room so said to have been occupied by ‘Frenchy,’ or inside of such room; and to the best of my knowledge and belief there were no blood spots on the floor of the hall or in or around the room said to have been so occupied by ‘Frenchy’ on the night of the murder.

            The words in bold were added to the typewritten affidavit in ink. Dekle writes that “Apparently, Riis’s affidavit was prepared by Robillard, and Riis interlined corrections (Dekle, page 209), but this seems unlikely. Other than the time “noon,” which may have been corrected by Riis, the other corrections consist of modifying the definite statement that Ben Ali had occupied room 33 with a lawyerly “said to have been” occupied by him. Surely this is the lawyer Robillard correcting Riis for the benefit of his client, not the other way around.

            Nothing said by Riis, Barber or Butler (or Chamberlin, for that matter) was a surprise or new evidence. As I have already written in earlier posts, newspapers had from the very start of the investigation printed that the only blood seen outside of the murder room was some blood on the scuttle to the roof and also in a wash bowl in room 32. When the police announced that they had found a trail of blood between the murder room and room 33, along with blood splashed around that room, newspapers again pointed out that reporters had seen none of this supposed blood evidence.

            This was repeated for years after Ben Ali had been convicted as other reporters came forward and wrote of what they had seen (or had not seen) on the top floor of the East River Hotel. For example, George W. Blake, Max Fischel and Charles E. Russell had also been on the scene in the early afternoon of the 24th of April, 1891, and had said that they saw none of the blood the police claimed to have found. Dekle, of course, doesn’t say anything about these men or their claims (other than an attack on an error filled article Russell wrote in 1931, during the Great Depression, for a cheap pulp detective magazine. Russell didn’t write this article for history’s sake, he wrote it for the sake of a paycheck).

            In order to downplay the contradictory evidence of the newspapermen Dekle first takes the newspapers eye witness observations out of context, minimizing the damage they do to the claims of the police, and then just dismisses the reporter’s testimony by suggesting that all dozen or so reporters simply missed“some small spots of blood in a hallway or smears of blood on bedsheets in room 33.” (Dekle page 232.) That the police actually claimed a great deal more blood evidence than this was found is ignored.

            But these weren’t the only devices Dekle uses to attack the credibility of the police reporters who said that the blood evidence in the hallway and in room 33 didn’t exist. He also uses another of the affidavits sent to Governor Odell: the affidavit of Henry Berbenich.



            • #81
              Henry Berbenich’s affidavit:

              (I posted part of Berbenich’s affidavit earlier but, so that no one has to search for it, I’ve reposted it below.)

              At the time Henry Berbenich made his affidavit he was a clerk working at the Board of Health and living at 2708 Broadway. His affidavit recalls a confession of sorts he heard, or overheard, from a reporter regarding blood evidence at the scene of the murder:

              That in the year of 1891, I was a resident of the City of New York, being then engaged as a stock clerk by the firm of A. Friedlander & Co., 277 Broadway, New York, and that some time after the murder of one Shakespeare was in company with some friends at a club room at 106 Second Ave., when a reporter, whose name I don’t recollect, made a statement in my presence, that he, with other reporters had made several marks with blood, in the room of “Frenchy”, so as to make it appear that it was a regular Jack-the-Ripper murder, and in order to write a sensational story about it. I understood by the statement made at that time by this reporter that there were no blood spots in “Frenchy’s” room, before these were so made.

              Berbenich’s affidavit is dated the 28th of May (a Tuesday), 1901. This was only 5 days after news that Robillard was attempting another pardon for Ben Ali, including an affidavit from an unnamed businessman who had found the missing key to room 31, hit the papers. It is probably a pretty fair bet that Berbenich read of this new attempt and contacted Robillard with his own story.

              Since Berbenich come forward even later than George Damon, do we cue Mr. Dekle’s righteous indignation; his attack on Berbenich’s character, honesty and trustworthiness, his speculation as to what Berbenich’s motive might be and what he might personally be gaining out of this? No, of course not. Dekle makes no attack on Berbenich’s character or honesty (although he could have pointed out that Berbenich had been arrested for larceny in 1899) and doesn’t even offer a caution about Berbenich’s unsupported story. The reason for this quickly becomes obvious: on the one hand Dekle uses Berbenich, to attack the truthfulness of the reporters, while on the other, he exonerates the police of suspicion that they faked blood evidence. And he does this very early on in his book.

              In his introduction Dekle gives a summary of what is generally thought to be the “standard version” of the murder of Carrie Brown and the “railroading” of Ameer Ben Ali, including the “heartwarming story of how a crusading journalist saved an innocent man.” He then says that his book will, “for the first time, give an accurate history of the East River Ripper case,” and that he has “uncovered evidence that should establish that the newspapermen were not heroic,” and that “the police did not manufacture evidence.” (Dekle Introduction, page x.)

              When Dekle looks at the affidavits submitted to Governor Odell Berbenich’s worth becomes apparent. Quoting from the New York Sun (21 June, 1901) Dekle writes:

              The Sun wrote that the affidavits ‘give reason to believe (sic) that the police case in 1891 was made on “planted” and circumstantial evidence.’ What the Sun failed to mention, and what no other paper covering the story mentioned, was that the affidavits said that the evidence was planted by newspapermen, not the police.” (Dekle, page 205. This is actually not true. See, for example, the New York Sun, 2 June, 1901, the New York Herald, 4 December, 1901, or the Albany Argus, 4 December, 1901.)

              Dekle continues with this point when he summarizes the case given to Odell. He writes, “What needed to be explained was the blood in the hall and in room 33. This was explained by the mismanagement of the crime scene by Coroner Louis SchultzeSchultze allowed a gaggle of reporters to accompany him into the crime scene in room 31 of the East River Hotel, and some of the reporters decided to scatter some of the blood around and about the top floor of the hotel in order to further sensationalize the case.” (Dekle, page 211.)

              He goes on to state “The policecollected the stains from the hallway and room 33 without knowing that the stains were planted by unscrupulous newsmen,” and that “…without knowledge of the planting of evidence by newsmen, the available evidence satisfied both the police and the jury that Frenchy was the murderer.” (Dekle, ibid.)

              When attempting to absolve the police of the charge made by newspapers that they “railroaded” Ben Ali, Dekle states that the blame should actually rest “upon Damon and the evidence-tampering newsmen.” (Dekle, page 212.) He adds that “The police did not manufacture evidence against Frenchy, reporters did…” (Dekle, ibid.)

              It is difficult to see how Dekle could really believe all of this, after all part of his argument against the police having manufactured the blood evidence is that it would be very difficult to fake. He writes, “How likely is it that ignorant officers working at the dawn of forensic science were sophisticated enough to know how to perpetrate such a deception on [Drs.] Flint and Formad?” (Dekle, page 232.) Does he believe that the reporters were more “sophisticated” at deception, or that the doctors weren’t as competent as he states?

              Also, if Dekle believes that it was unnamed reporters that had scattered the blood around the top floor of the hotel, as he suggests, doesn’t this mean that a large part of the police and prosecution’s evidence used to prove Ben Ali’s guilt should now be thrown out? Surely Dekle would have to question Ben Ali’s guilt if he believes Berbenich’s story?

              Well, no, as it turns out. Dekle apparently doesn’t believe Henry Berbenich’s story at all. After weaving this scenario whereby Berbenich had established that “unscrupulous” and “tampering” newsmen had “manufactured” and “planted” evidence, Dekle then describes Berbenich’s affidavit as “reporting the preposterous claim of an unnamed reporter that reporters splashed blood around to sensationalize a case that didn’t need sensationalizing…” (Dekle, page 230.) So, the whole thing, according to Dekle, was actually “preposterous.”

              This was one of the moments while reading Dekle’s book that I seriously thought of just throwing the thing into the trash. When an author attempts to suck and blow at the same time, as Dekle does here, it usually means that finding the truth is not their main goal. Instead, when a fact is first twisted one way to prove one point, then another way to prove an opposite point, saving a preconceived pet theory from troublesome and inconvenient evidence is usually the reason.

              And that’s what we are left with here. On the one hand, when looking at the affidavits of reporters who were at the crime scene and who swore that they saw no blood, Berbenich is used to prove that they were crooked and that their words can’t be trusted. On the other hand, when discussing how the blood evidence came to be scattered around the top floor of the hotel, it is Ben Ali, the murderer, who was responsible and not the reporters in Berbenich’s “preposterous” story. Other than this there is no actual analysis of Berbenich’s account. Presumably Dekle rejects it out of hand (but only when it suits his purpose).



              • #82
                So, what can we take from Berbenich’s account? Should we just reject it out of hand? Possibly, possibly not. However, I do agree with Mr. Dekle that Berbenich’s story, as given in the affidavit, is not only preposterous but illogical as well.

                I should first clear up one thing. Dekle suggests that the reporters planted almost all the blood evidence that was found outside of the murder room. This is not what Berbenich said. He said that “reporters had made several marks with blood, in the room of ‘Frenchy’”So, marks of blood in room 33 only. This, in itself, isn’t important to what I’m going to say but it is important to show that whatever the reporters may, or may not, have done it was not to the extent that Dekle suggests.

                The working theory on the first day of the murder investigation was that Carrie Brown had picked up a man, gone up to room 31 of the East River Hotel, and was there murdered by that man, who left the hotel unseen. The murderer was assumed to have been “C. Knicklo,” and the murder scene was very obviously room 31. How could planting some blood in a room across the hall “make it appear that it was a regular Jack-the-Ripper murder,” and how would this aid in writing “a sensational story about it”? It makes no sense that I can see. At best, it just seems to muddy the waters. At worst, it unwittingly points the finger of guilt at whatever unlucky bastard spent the night in the room. It may add another layer of mystery to the murder but it neither sensationalizes the story coherently nor does it obviously connect the crime with Jack the Ripper.

                This is especially true if you realize that if the reporters did indeed plant blood in room 33, in order to aid in writing a sensational Ripper story, then why didn’t any of the newspapers write such a story? Instead, the newspapers reported that, other than the two locations mentioned above, there was no blood outside of room 31. None of them mentioned “several marks of blood” in room 33. The claim, therefore, that reporters planted some blood at the hotel, and for the reasons stated, is highly questionable.

                However, as I said, I don’t actually reject Berbenich’s story out of hand, and I think that his account can be explained in one of three ways:
                1) He lied about the reporter’s story in whole, or in part.
                2) He was lied to by the reporter.
                3) He misremembered exactly what he had been told ten years earlier.

                Any one of these scenarios is, I think, equally valid, and I say this because there was something at the scene of the murder that perhaps fits the bill of Berbenich’s account: the “X” or “cross” found scratched into the wall just to the left of the doorway inside room 31.

                No one who entered, or claimed to have entered, room 31 before the reporters arrived with the Coroner, seems to have seen the X/cross on the wall. In fact one newspaper, the New York Tribune (28 June, 1891), suggested that the X/cross didn’t appear until after everyone had left the scene and the body had been removed from the room, so after 6:00 p.m. This ignores, however, the various news reports which state that the X/cross was seen in the room by reporters who entered it with the Coroner. The Tribune reporter may be confusing the X/cross in the room with the X/cross that was chalked onto the wall outside of the room sometime later on the Friday night, when the curious were allowed to wander around the crime scene (see the New York Sun, 26 April, 1891). Either way, there does appear to have been some doubt as to the authenticity of the X/cross. And there was another minor mystery regarding this “clue”: there was no blood on it.

                The knife used to murder Brown was found in the room covered in blood. However, there was no blood in the X/cross and none on the wall around it. The murderer may have scratched the X/cross on the wall before he started mutilating Brown, or had another knife which he used for that purpose or someone else scratched it one the wall. Someone like a reporter?

                Brown’s murder easily suggested a connection with those in Whitechapel. A story of a mutilation murder much like the murders in London was a good story. A story of an actual Jack the Ripper murder in New York was an even better one, and New York newspapermen tried very hard to make that connection.

                Beyond the obvious similarities they suggested that the murderer had scratched an “X,” or a “perfect cross” or “exact cross” into Brown’s body. This wound, neither perfect, nor exact, was then connected with the X/cross scratched on the wall of the room and both were said to represent the killers “mark” or “sign” or “sign manual.” There was also an explanation as to what the X may have meant: the Roman numeral for the number 10. Carrie Brown, some papers suggested, was the killer’s tenth victim. In case anyone missed the implications, some newspapers just stated outright that the murderer was Whitechapel’s Jack the Ripper, and the X, or cross, was “JACK THE RIPPER’S MARK” (the New York Sun, 25 April, 1891).

                At least one newspaper, the New York World, had already printed reports about Jack the Ripper leaving his mark at the scenes of his murders in London. This had begun as early as October, 1888, and continued in its reportage in February, 1891, (just two and a half months before the Brown murder) with the Francis Cole murder:
                At 5 o’clock Inspector Swanson, of Scotland Yard, arrived with Inspector Arnold and made a searching examination of the locality, the adjacent ground, the walls of the archway and the neighboring hoardings, for the reason that after his previous crimes Jack the Ripper frequently affixed rude communications regarding them on the walls.” (The New York Evening World, 13 February, 1891.)

                And the same paper reiterated this “fact” when comparing the Brown murder with those of Whitechapel:
                In almost every case where the Ripper’s victims were found, there was chalked on boards or walls near by the number of the fiend’s crimes, and the announcement that he should carry the series to fifteen, when he would surrender.” (The New York Evening World, 24 April, 1891.)

                The idea was already planted that Jack the Ripper left messages or clues on the walls near his victims and here in room 31 was a message of a sort left near the body of a mutilation murder. And the New York Sun, when discussing the chalked X, or cross, found outside the room, had already stated that this was the likely reason that it had been put there:
                On Friday night and last night, the East River Hotel did as big a business as ever.Somebody chalked an X outside the door on the wall, with the intention, no doubt, of making it appear that Jack the Ripper had left his usual London mark.” (26 April, 1891.)

                We have a mark scratched into the wall of the murder room. The provenance of the mark is questionable and seems to have appeared sometime after the Press had been in the room. This mark allowed newspaper reporters to “make it appear that it was a regular Jack-the-Ripper murder,” and also allowed them “to write a sensational story about it” by definitely connecting the murder in New York with the murders in London. Not “marks with blood,” but a mark scratched on the wall. It’s easy to see that this might have been what Berbenich’s unnamed reporter had been talking about. If so, then my three explanations above come into focus.

                Berbenich may have made the whole thing up and his “marks of blood,” unbeknownst to him, were, coincidentally, a good match for the X or cross. Or, he was told about the X/cross but decided that this would have no impact on the pardon attempt and so he changed it to blood in room 33. Alternatively, he may have actually been told by the reporter that blood was left on the walls of room 33 for some unknown reason. Or, finally, that Berbenich didn’t remember exactly what he had been told back in 1891 only that it had something to do with reporters putting something on a wall in order to write a sensational story. Berbenich might have decided that what he had been told related to the blood, who can now say.

                If the X/cross explains Berbenich’s story, and suggests that reporters did leave the mark, is this still evidence of “unscrupulous newsmen,” or “evidence tampering” reporters? Maybe, but not to the extent that Dekle suggests. The X/cross wasn’t taken seriously by the police, it seems, and it didn’t lead them to point the finger of guilt at an innocent Ameer Ben Ali. It made some headlines and then more or less disappeared from the newspapers. Sensational, if you want to connect the murder of Carrie Brown with London’s Jack the Ripper, but not really relevant to the case.



                • #83
                  There are a couple of reporter/newspaper things that crop up now and then when discussing the Brown murder. The first is the theory that the newspapers failed to report evidence like the blood in the hall and in room 33 because they were trying to “get” Chief Inspector Byrnes and the New York Police.

                  Mr. Dekle uses a version of this argument when he suggest that the newspapers, when confronted with the evidence of Robillard’s affidavits in 1901, “almost unanimously decided to portray Inspector Byrnes and the police as villains so desperate to make a case that they manufactured evidence against poor Frenchy and ‘railroaded’ him for a crime he did not commit.” (Dekle, pages 211-212)

                  This argument is hard to credit, let alone prove, considering the range of newspapers found in New York at the time of the murder. In 1891 New York was the largest city in North America, and one of the largest cities in the world. It was also, then as now, a major media centre and by the mid 1890’s could boast 19 English language daily newspapers, as well as scores of weekly papers and the non-English newspapers of the immigrant press.

                  Then, as now, newspapers were published to reflect the political views of their owners or publishers so that New York papers covered the political spectrum. Therefore, though there were papers that were anti-police who might have wanted to “get” Byrnes, there were also
                  pro-police papers who supported him. The press of New York was not a monolithic entity reporting the news with one (anti-police) voice. It is hard to see, therefore, why newspapers, who fought tooth and nail to beat out their (sometimes hated) rivals, would, in this one instance, decide to put animosity aside, and on a major story, in order to embarrass the police.

                  Another thing that comes up is the argument that if the reporters knew that there was no blood in the hallway and in room 33 of the East River Hotel, or had other important information that could be used by Ben Ali’s lawyers at the trial, why didn’t they scream bloody murder? Why were they silent? Well, as seen by the affidavits, some newsmen did attempt to help Ben Ali’s defence.

                  Robert Gordon Butler, the editor, claimed to have told Frederick House, the lead defence lawyer, that his reporters had seen no blood outside of room 31 but that House “did not utilize the information in his trial of the case.” As we shall see, reporter Frank F. Coleman also claimed to have passed on information to House to no avail. The press couldn’t force Ben Ali’s lawyers to use their evidence.

                  Having said that, why didn’t more newsmen come forward? The answer probably lies with the nature of the job performed by the police reporters: they had to work hand in glove with the police in order to do their jobs effectively. Police reporting was a tough and specialized work which tended to burn out reporters early in their careers. They were to some extent elite, even glamourous, newsmen who were paid better salaries than the average reporter and to earn that salary they had to have sources in the police department. Even Chief Inspector Byrnes had his friends among the press whom he gave tips to. Anger the police and any inside information stream could dry up quickly making a reporter’s job very difficult. This can clearly be seen in a threat made to an unnamed reporter who uncovered, and reported, on things that were at odds with police claims during the Brown murder investigation.

                  The police had first declared that the murderer of Carrie Brown was “Frenchy No.2.” They then stated that they had never said this. When pressed, they then said that they had arrested “Frenchy No.2,” he had provided an alibi for the night of the murder, and they had released him. The police then announced the arrest of Ameer Ben Ali and declared that he was the murderer.

                  It is a fact that a reporter [from the Herald], who is now in Europe, first discovered “Frenchy No. 2” in a house in Columbia street, Brooklyn. He was Jenalli, a Parisian, a friend, not a cousin of the unfortunate now in the lunatic asylum [i.e. Ben Ali]. It was not Jenalli whom the police arrested. This reporter brought forward some very strong proofs that this lunatic [Ben Ali] is innocent of the crime that set him crazy. It was intimated to the reporter that, if he continued ‘to try to balk justice’ he would find it impossible to pursue his profession in this city.
                  (The New York World, 21 January, 1895.)

                  Whether this reporter was “now in Europe” because of threats from the police, is unknown but it wouldn’t surprise me. There were worse consequences to angering the New York Police.

                  In 1885, “Captain” Augustine E. Costello (he was a noted Fenian who had spent time in a British prison) came up with the idea of writing a book on the history of the New York Police with 80 percent of the proceeds going to the Police Pension Fund. Costello made an agreement with the Commissioners of Police who gave him signed authority to do so. However, when Chief Inspector Byrnes came up with the idea to publish his book Professional Criminals of America, the Police Commissioners withdrew their support for Costello and informed the press that they would now have nothing to do with his book (although Costello’s book profited the pension fund, while Byrnes’s book profited only Byrnes).

                  Costello then decided to write and publish a book on the history of the New York Fire Department with part of the proceeds going to the Firemen’s Relief Fund. He, once again, was able to get signed authorization from the Fire Commissioners (one of whom was Richard Croker, or Boss Croker, the head of Tammany Hall) to do so and claimed he spent over $19,000 getting the book up and running. However, once again, support for the endeavour was mysteriously pulled and Costello was facing bankruptcy. He switched his focus to writing and publishing a book on the Volunteer Firemen’s Association in hope of staving off financial ruin.

                  Costello stated that the men he hired to canvass for subscriptions and advertising were constantly being harassed and arrested by the police, one reason being that some of these men were still using copies of the now withdrawn Fire Commissioner’s authorization certificate. And so it proved to be when, on the evening of 7 November, 1888, Costello learned that two of his men had been arrested and were being held in the First Precinct’s Old Slip Police Station, captained by our friend Inspector McLaughlin.

                  Costello went down to the station house and talked to his employees and, taking the authorization certificate with him, left in order to seek bail at Police Headquarters. Here Costello ran into Inspector Alexander S. “Clubber” Williams (also involved in the investigation of the Brown murder) who dragged Costello into his office and accused him of having stolen the authorization certificate from McLaughlin’s station house. Williams held Costello out of sight in his office, without actually arresting him, for five hours. During this time, two detectives went to Costello’s home, tossed the place, and threatened his wife and children while demanding to be told Costello’s whereabouts. It is possibly that they were laying the groundwork for Costello to disappear. At Midnight, two of McLaughlin’s detectives arrived, put Costello under arrest and took him back to the Old Slip Station House.

                  It was raining when Costello arrived back at the First Precinct to meet McLaughlin and a detective waiting outside for him. This unnamed detective walked up to Costello and punched him in the face, knocking him down into the water and mud filled gutter, and proceeded to put the boots to him, kicking him savagely in the face and ribs. When Costello was allowed to stand he was dragged, mud stained and bleeding, into the station house itself where, behind closed doors, Captain McLaughlin worked him over with a pair of brass knuckles. The attack was so brutal that Costello thought they were going to beat him to death.

                  Eventually McLaughlin stopped his assault and Costello was taken to the cells, on the way to which he was kicked savagely in the back, an injury which he said he still suffered from years later. Locked in a cell he was refused medical attention, food and water and, after regaining consciousness after passing out, he wrote a note on a blood stained piece of notepaper which read “If I am found dead, I was murdered by Captain McLaughlin and his crowd.” Costello hid the note in one of his socks so that it could be found on his body.

                  The next day Costello was dragged to the Tombs Police Court and charged with stealing the authorization certificate. The Judge, however, laughed the case out of court and released Costello. When Costello was later asked if he ever took legal proceedings against those policemen involved in this attack answered, no, “There is no use to go to law with the devil in hell.

                  Why was Costello hounded, practically made bankrupt and then almost beaten to death in a police station by the Captain in charge, after being set up by another Police Captain? He had been the head police reporter for the New York Herald and had written things about Captain Williams and police corruption that the Police took exception to (but, of course, they would never railroad an innocent man).

                  Faced with the naked corruption endemic in the New York Police Department the question becomes, not why so few reporters came forward, but why any of them did?

                  More to come.



                  • #84
                    Hi Wolf, just off topic I P.M back a few months back , wondering if you received it and if you'd care to reply? Cheers .
                    'It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is. It doesn't matter how smart you are . If it doesn't agree with experiment, its wrong'' . Richard Feynman