Posted: November 11, 2009
Jack the Ripper, the late-nineteenth-century London serial killer may be one of the most studied criminals in history, but his identity has never been established. In fact, there are those who believe that the Ripper crossed the Atlantic to perpetrate a series of grisly killings in New York City and across the United States.
In a Discovery Channel documentary, Jack the Ripper in America, to be aired November 15 and 16, professor of history Daniel Czitrom discusses and discounts that theory.
In 1891, a New York City prostitute named Carrie Brown was found murdered in a seedy Lower East Side hotel. The gruesome scene resembled the infamous London crimes, and the New York newspapers immediately speculated that the Ripper had come to America. The New York Police Department, which had been highly critical of Scotland Yard’s failure to find the Ripper, faced enormous pressure to find the killer.
“The man the cops arrested and charged,” Czitrom noted, “was an Algerian sailor named Ameer Ben Ali, who was almost surely innocent. He was tried, convicted on virtually no evidence, and sentenced to life imprisonment, but pardoned by New York’s governor ten years later. It seems to me a classic police frame-up in response to the shocking publicity.”
Czitrom knows his New York history well, especially its dark side.
His 2008 book, Rediscovering Jacob Riis: Exposure Journalism and Photography in Turn-of-the-Century New York, was widely reviewed in the press and was the subject of a featured story on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. He is currently completing Mysteries of the City: New York’s Crisis of the 1890s. The book examines the origins, revelations, and legacies of an explosive 1894 inquiry into the New York Police Department, the most in-depth study ever done of an American police force, and the prototype for the kind of sensational inquiry into public affairs that would become a staple of twentieth-century politics.
Daniel Czitrom Faculty Profile