Home Massachusetts The Sad Story of Salem’s Carrie Brown

The Sad Story of Salem’s Carrie Brown

A once pretty and happy bride murdered

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On April 23, 1891, a 56-year-old woman with ties to Salem, Mass., would enter the East River Hotel in the Lower East Side of Manhattan with a man for a sexual encounter. She would never leave alive. Her name was Ellen Caroline Brown, but she was better known as Carrie Brown.

She had acquired the nickname, “Shakespeare,” for her ability to recite the Bard. Carrie had succumbed to drink and then to prostitution to support her habit. She often frequented Fourth Ward saloons when not detained on Blackwell’s Island or facing other prostitution-related charges.

“Cliff Dwellers” by George Bellows, depicting the Lower East Side around 1900.

Carrie Brown

At the time of her death, it doesn’t appear she had a room of her own. Rather, she spent her nights at one local flophouse or the other.

Her murder drew comparisons to the Whitechapel Murders.  Similarities included her age, close to those women murdered in London; her profession as a prostitute; and her post-mortem mutilation.

A recent murder of a prostitute in London in February 1891 brought the unsolved series of London murders back to newspaper front pages around the world.  Naturally, the murder of Brown rekindled interest in the Ripper murders and raised suspicion that Jack The Ripper had arrived in Manhattan.

Illustration of the discovery of Jack the Ripper’s first victim

A Pretty, Happy Bride

How had Carrie Brown, once a respectable wife and mother, met her sad end?  The Boston Globe, April 26, 1891, provides a clue.

When quite young, Caroline Montgomery, her maiden name, immigrated to the United States with her English parents.

Sources claim she was originally from Liverpool, born around 1832, but no birth certificate ever surfaced to prove her birthplace. At the coroner’s inquest,  Dr. William Jenkins said she was 56 years old. He probably based that conclusion on information from her daughter, who came down from Salem with a local undertaker to take her body back to Massachusetts. That indicated she was born in either 1834 or 1835.

Carrie’s parents settled with the family in Brooklyn, N.Y.  As a girl, she was vivacious and prepossessing. Before her 16th birthday, she had won the heart and hand of a gay sailor named Charles Brown, about one year her senior.

They fell in love in Brooklyn, and after a few months of wooing they married there. A short time later,  the then-happy couple came to Salem and established a home on Becket Street.

Charles Brown had many relatives in Salem. During his absence at sea, friends and family helped make her life a happy one.

Carrie was then handsome and smart. She belonged to the Central Baptist Church. For many years she worked indefatibably for the parish., winning the respect of the members.

Descent Into Alcoholism

After five years of marriage, Carrie and Charles had a little girl. Two years later they had another girl, and then a son who died in infancy.  After 10 years of matrimony, Carrie took to strong drink. Friends and relatives urged her to abstain, but she ignored their advice. She went from bad to worse until she became a notorious drunkard and a cruel wife and mother.

In 1863, Charles moved his family to New York City. But not long after the move, Carrie’s alcoholism forced him to take his children away from their mother. He brought them back to Salem, where his relatives cared for and educated them.

Charles Brown died off the coast of Africa in 1873. In his will, he left Carrie no money.

Photograph of Carrie Brown (Undated) From NY Municipal Archives.

Carrie Brown, On Her Own

A relative of Captain Brown told a Boston Globe correspondent that Mrs. Brown became an actress after she parted from her husband. That explains her sobriquet “Shakespeare.”  In the mid-1880s, a relative saw her play a minor part in a Bowery theatre in New York.

Despite her descent into alcoholism, her horrific end shocked few who knew her. Her death was consistent with the last 25 years of her life.

Carrie Brown was buried in Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem in early May of 1891.

Conviction and Release

An Algerian seaman and ne’er-do-well named Ameer Ben Ali was charged with killing Carrie Brown. On July 3, 1891, he was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to Sing Sing Prison. He was subsequently sent to Auburn Prison, Mattewan Asylum, and eventually to Dannemora Prison.

Ameer Ben Ali

Ten years later, exculpatory evidence indicated Ali may have been innocent.  In 1901, New York Gov. Benjamin Odell eventually signed papers commutating Ali’s sentence.

Odell did not pardon Ali. Rather, he was sent back to Algeria exactly 11 years to the day Carrie Brown’s body was discovered in Room 31 of the East River Hotel.

Speculation as to who actually murdered her has existed for 133 years and will probably continue for many more years.  A sad end to an even sadder life for a once-proud woman from Salem.

More on the life of Carrie Brown and a wide range of related case-related subjects may be found in the book, “East Side Story: 1891 Murder of Carrie Brown” ( Barnes & Noble, 2024 ) by Howard & Nina Brown. Click on the image to order your copy. 

 

 

1 comment

howard brown March 24, 2024 - 8:47 am

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