Mary Rogers was a Kardashian of the 1840s. The pretty girl became a hit in social circles, based on her looks alone. A brief “disappearance,” thought to have been done to drum up publicity for the shop she worked at, made headlines across the Eastern seaboard. But her mysterious death made waves that even affected Edgar Allan Poe.
Mary was born around 1820 in Lyme, Connecticut. She and her widowed mother, Phoebe, moved to New York in the 1930s. Phoebe ran a boarding house while Mary worked at a cigar shop. Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium was one of the most popular cigar stores in New York. Writers Washington Irving and James Fenimore Cooper were known to frequent the shop. Mary, a beautiful young woman, was certainly a draw for the young men of New York. The press dubbed Mary “The Beautiful Cigar Girl,” and her looks alone made her a celebrity.
On October 5, 1838, Mary was reported missing by the local papers causing a minor hysteria. Her Mom Phoebe claimed to have found a suicide note, authenticated by the local coroner. The next day, however, the papers declared this was all a hoax, and that Mary had been visiting friends in Brooklyn and hypothesized that it was all a publicity stunt for Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium. She returned to work at the shop, but it wasn’t long before she quit and went home to help her mother run her boarding house. Mary had plenty of attention amongst the male boarders, but one in particular caught her eye: Daniel Payne. They got engaged in the summer of 1841.
On July 25th, 1841, Mary left home to visit her aunt uptown. She was never heard from again. At first, people assumed she had just run away, likely for attention or to escape her fiancé. After two days with no word from her, Daniel filed a missing persons report.
It was July 28th when a couple of locals were down by the Hudson River near a popular tourist attraction, Sybil’s Cave, when they saw a body floating in the river. Mary’s ex-boyfriend, Arthur Crommelian, had recently joined the search and arrived in Hoboken just as the body was retrieved. He identified the body as Mary Rogers. Arthur was a suspect for a time because of the coincidental timing of his appearance, but he was eventually ruled out. Daniel became a suspect as well after rumors surfaced that he and Mary were fighting a lot, and she threatened to call off the wedding. But he provided a solid alibi. After that, police were out of suspects.
The story was in all the New England newspapers. The governor of New York, William H. Seward, even offered a reward for information on the crime. Edgar Allan Poe was an avid follower of the case and began work on a book based on Mary’s story.
In early September, 1841, some boys playing near Sybil’s Cave found a pile of bloody clothes in what would become known as The Murder Thicket. Their mother, Frederica Loss, who operated the Nick Moore House pub, alerted the police. She remembered that on July 25th or 26th, Mary and an unknown man had checked into the Nick Moore House. They went out that night, and she never saw them return, but didn’t think much of it until the boys found the bloody clothes.
On October 7, 1841, Daniel visited The Murder Thicket. After a drinking binge across Hoboken, Daniel drank an entire bottle of laudanum and died on a bench outside Sybil’s Cave. There was a suicide note in his pocket: “To the World—Here I am on the spot. God forgive me for my misfortune in my misspent time.”
Edgar Allan Poe published the first part of “The Mystery of Marie Rogȇt” in November 1842, with the second part coming the following month. The story was set in Paris, but other than that and changed names, the story was a faithful retelling of the Mary Rogers case. Considered a sequel to “The Murders at the Rue Morgue,” Poe thought himself a keen detective and claimed that he knew who murdered Mary Rogers. He even said as much to editors in a desire to get it published faster. If Poe did know who murdered Mary Rogers, he never named names. New details about the case came out at the end of 1842 that caused Poe to delay publication of the third and final installment of “The Mystery of Marie Rogȇt.” He needed to make minor changes that suggested he knew about these new developments the whole time.
You see, Frederica Loss was accidentally shot by one of her sons on November 6, 1842. She did not die immediately; rather, she lived for ten days, in pain that caused her to babble in a mixture of English and German. One of the proclamations she made in this state was about Mary Rogers. She said that Mary and the unidentified man who checked into her inn were there to undertake a “premature delivery” – the term at the time for an abortion. Mary died during the illegal operation, and Frederica’s sons dumped the body and scattered the bloody clothes. Later, it would be suggested that Frederica was actually an assistant to notorious abortionist Madame Restell. Frederica’s two eldest sons were briefly considered suspects in Mary’s death. Charges were brought against them for improper disposal of a body, but with no evidence, and Frederica’s unreliable confession, the charges didn’t stick.
It wasn’t long before police gave up on the case. With no suspects, few clues, and the growing suspicion that this was an abortion gone wrong, there was nothing else for the police to do. To this day, Mary Rogers’ death remains unsolved.
As an interesting epilogue, Mary’s former employer, John Anderson, died in 1881. In the years leading up to his death, he was reported to be “unstable” and claimed that Mary’s ghost was haunting him. He seemed to mean that both literally and figuratively, blaming his association with the dead girl as a reason he was unable to cross over from business to politics. During the extended legal battle over his fortune, one of the opposing lawyers suggested that “John Anderson gave Poe $5000 to write the story of Marie Rogȇt in order to draw people’s attention from himself, who, many believed, was her murderer.” These claims were never confirmed.