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Between 1887 and 1891 several women were murdered in the London neighborhood of Whitechapel and whose author, who was baptized by the press with the nickname of ‘Jack the Ripper’, could never be caught by the police. Thousands of miles away, on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean, Thomas F. Byrnes (New York Police Chief Inspector)He ridiculed his Scotland Yard colleagues with his comments for their inability to catch the murderer and boasted to his agents that had these crimes occurred in his city he would have solved the case in a matter of hours.
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On April 24, 1891, he had a great opportunity to demonstrate to the chief inspector Thomas F. Byrnes that he was capable of doing so, since on that date the lifeless body of a prostitute named Carrie Brown, who had been strangled and presented cuts and mutilations very similar to those of the London victims.
It was quickly speculated that the fact that Jack the Ripper had not been caught in England was because he had traveled to the United States and had committed that murder in New York.
Suddenly all the pressure from the social, media and political authorities fell on Thomas F. Byrnes, who was required to solve the case as he had been bragging. It was a matter of self-esteem, in addition to continuing to maintain the good reputation he had in the police profession, having become in a few years one of the inspectors who had solved the most cases in the New York City detective corps.
Two days later, after having his best agents investigated, Thomas F. Byrnes announced to the press that he had caught Carrie Brown’s killer. Yes indeed, It was totally ruled out that Jack the Ripper was behind the bloody crime (As much as the tabloids of the time quoted it in their articles).
The person who was arrested and charged with committing the crime was Ameer Ben Ali, an immigrant of Algerian origin and who, coincidentally, was staying at the East River Hotel (the same one in which the murder occurred). Chief Inspector Byrnes also presented a number of circumstantial evidence (including an alleged blood trail running from the victim’s room to the alleged murderer’s), although most of this did not hold up. Nor was any witness found to testify about something incriminating the alleged murderer.
Despite this, Thomas F. Byrnes, wanted to hang the medal of a new triumph in his career and put all his efforts so that Ameer Ben Ali was found guilty by the court that would try him, being convicted of murder in the second degree and sentenced to life imprisonment.
It was a masterful move by Byrnes, who boasted of the success of his research, but in reality they had arrested and tried an innocent person and that it had nothing to do with that bloody crime.
The main evidence on which the prosecution was based (the blood trail from Carrie Brown’s room to Ameer Ben Ali’s) was totally false and It was something that Chief Inspector Byrnes himself invented since he had no other evidence.
The reporter Jacob A. Riis, who wrote chronicles on police cases, had visited the crime scene and there was no trace of blood there, but his testimony was not used during the trial. Nor was he called to testify George Damon, a wealthy New York businessman who, during the investigation, brought to the police station a bloody shirt that he had found in a drawer of his home from one of his workers (whose physical description did match the one given by those who last saw the Carrie Brown escorted to the hotel the night of the crime), also provided a key that opened the room of the murdered woman. But since the person to whom the shirt belonged had already fled, Thomas F. Byrnes preferred to ignore said testimony and continue with the accusation against Ameer Ben Ali (although this was totally false).
Some cases of corruption and malpractice by Byrnes were later discovered and he was removed from his post as Chief Inspector of the New York Police Department.
Eleven years later, thanks to a popular initiative, the case was reopened, providing all the evidence that Byrnes had hidden, and Ameer Ben Ali was released from prison (after spending eleven years locked up, some of them in a mental institution).
Reference and image sources: law.umich / smithsonianmag / jtrforums