By 19th century standards, Mary Rogers was a knockout looking girl who lived in Lyme, Connecticut until approximately the age of 17. She was born around 1802 and by 17 she became known as the Beautiful Cigar Girl after she took a job as a clerk in a tobacco shop, owned by John Anderson, in New York City. Anderson paid her a generous wage because her physical attractiveness brought in many customers. Now that is a seriously hot girl. One customer wrote that he spent an entire afternoon at the store to exchange “teasing glances” with her. An entire afternoon? That was one lonely fellow. Another admirer published a poem in the New York Herald referring to her heaven-like smile and her star-like eyes. Some of her customers even included notable literary figures James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Fitz-Greene Halleck.
On October 5, 1838, the New York Sun reported that “Miss Mary Cecilia Rogers” had disappeared from her home. Her mother, Phoebe, said she found a suicide note which the local coroner analyzed and said revealed a “fixed and unalterable determination to destroy herself”. The next day, however, the Times and Commercial Intelligence reported that the disappearance was a hoax and that Mary went to visit a friend for two weeks in Brooklyn. The Sun had previously run a story known as the Great Moon Hoax in 1835. Some suggested Mary’s return was actually the hoax. When she resumed working at the tobacco shop, one newspaper suggested the whole event was a publicity stunt overseen by Anderson. Oh, ha-ha. So incredibly funny. How far will a proprietor go just to attract more customers?
The Rejected Suitor
Alfred Crommelin was a resident of the small lodging house owned by the Rogers family and he fell in love with Mary. Phoebe approved of the young lawyer as a means of socially upward mobility. Mary was uninterested, however, and in a gentlemanly way he changing lodgings to a short distance away. He settled for a friendship with Phoebe and Mary and became a steady source of help and advice for both. Eventually, it was Crommelin who was called upon to identify the badly decomposed body, a horrendous experience, even for the doctors and coroner who viewed her.
Daniel Payne, a cork cutter by trade and alcoholic by weakness, won Mary’s heart. Phoebe disliked Payne enormously and in June, 1841, when Mary announced her engagement to Payne, Phoebe was enraged. Arguments ensued between mother and daughter for a month. By the middle of July, Mary relented, promising Phoebe that she would not marry Payne. Shortly after she made her promise not to marry Payne, Mary showed up at Crommelin’s apartment. He was not at home and she left a note hinting strongly at reconciliation. Crommelin did not respond. A series of letters from Mary arrived, each one more frantic than the previous one. Finally, she asked for a loan for an “emergency.” When Crommelin failed to respond, Mary turned to Anderson and got the money. Shortly after, on Friday July 23rd, Mary disappeared. What could the emergency have been? Was it possible that Payne had impregnated Mary, and after she’d promised her mother not to wed him, she was frantic to accept Crommelin’s proposal? When she begged Crommelin for a loan of money, had she given up on the idea of marriage to him, and opted for an abortion instead? We’ll never know.
In the wake of the murder, one suspect was rejected betrothed Payne. On October 7th, two months after Mary’s death, Payne went to Hoboken to die. He got drunk and haunted all the sites supposedly visited by Mary. He took a lethal dose of poison that allowed him to linger in agony. He left a suicide note that suggested his complicity in the crime. Most discounted it as a lover’s despondency because Payne had an air tight alibi; he had been seen all over town with his brother searching for Mary over the weekend she disappeared. His guilt and death were attributed to that of a lover’s agony that ended in his losing his grip on reality and then on his life. I don’t know that searching for Mary absolved him of possible knowledge of the murder, but Payne seems like an unlikely suspect. Mary was probably pregnant with his child. He loved her. If anything, Payne would have married Mary, rather than encourage her to have an abortion and put her life at risk.
Dubbed “Madam Killer” by many, Madam Restell had built a fortune by opening a home on Greenwich Street in Manhattan for unwed mothers. Her philosophy was simple: the only plausible birth control system was abortion. The public hated her; the law and large numbers of clients sustained her practice. Her Greenwich St. mansion catered to the wealthy and influential who further protected her activities. Poorer clients, such as Mary Rogers, were farmed out to a woman named Frederika Loss (irony). Perhaps Loss was less talented than Restell and botched Mary’s abortion, accidentally killing her. It wasn’t uncommon for women to die from abortion procedures, usually due to internal hemorrhaging, during the 19th century, and well into the 20th century, for that matter. However this theory doesn’t explain the severe beating Mary received, or the scarf that was knotted with a sailor’s knot around her neck.
On July 25, 1841, Mary told her fiancée Daniel Payne that she would be visiting her aunt and other family members. This time there would be no happy ending. Three days later, on July 28, police found her body floating in the Hudson River in Hoboken, New Jersey. Referred to as the “Beautiful Cigar Girl”, the mystery of her death was sensationalized in newspapers
and received national attention. by both the city’s upper classes and the common people. The story’s lurid details sold countless papers, and Srebnick says that the editors eagerly reported (or imaginatively invented) clues and suspects. The various newspapers competed to cover a story that they had largely created — theorizing about the case, accusing various men with committing the deed, whipping the public into a panic, and calling for more action by police and other government officials.The details surrounding the case suggested she was murdered, or dumped by abortionist Madame Restell after a failed procedure. Months later, her fiancee committed suicide. He was found with a remorseful note and an empty bottle of poison. The story, heavily covered by the press, also emphasized the ineptitude and corruption in the city’s watchmen system of law enforcement. At the time, New York City’s population of 320,000 was served by an archaic force, consisting of one night watch, one hundred city marshals, thirty-one constables, and fifty-one police officers.
The popular theory was that Mary was a victim of gang violence (read gang rape and murder). In November 1842, Frederica Loss came forward and swore that Rogers’s death was the result of a failed abortion attempt. Police refused to believe her story and the case remained unsolved. Interest in the story waned nine weeks later when the press picked up on a different murder, that of John C. Colt murdering Samuel Adams.
The new stories of cries from the thicket were given indirect verification with numerous other rumors of youth gangs and thugs seen on the ferries from Manhattan to Hoboken. By the 1830s and 1840s street gangs of New York City were well-developed in the Five Points area, a “low-life” criminal district. They hung out in grocery stores, taverns and dance halls. The earliest gang seems to have been the Forty Thieves. There were the Kerryonians, the Bowery Boys, Chichesters, Roach Guards, Dead Rabbits, Shirt Tails and the Plug Uglies. The last one became the most notorious along the river front. When Mary’s body was found, it seemed to be badly beaten and positive identification was difficult due to the time in the water and hot humid conditions.There was a strip of cloth around her neck tied in a slip knot, usually done by sailors and young roughs around town, rather that a “lady’s knot.” It was not clear if it had killed her or was a make-shift means of conveying her. Rigor mortis was still pronounced when she was found. Her once-beautiful face was discolored and bloated; there was an ugly bruise near her eye and a deep scratch on the left cheek that ran down to the shoulder. The body lay exposed after two men who it removed it from the water and laid it on the riverbank. The face darkened, making identification impossible. Crommelin made the identification based on Mary’s clothing, and then broke down.
The coroner later described the corpse in detail : “…her face was swollen, the veins were highly distended. There was a mark about the size and shape of a man’s thumb on the right side of the neck, near the jugular vein, and two or three marks on the left side resembling the shape of a man’s fingers, which led me to believe she had been throttled and partially choked by a man’s hand. It appeared as if the wrists had been tied together, and as if she had raised her hands to try to tear something from off her mouth and neck, which was choking and strangling her. The dress was much torn in several places…a piece was torn clean out of this garment, about a foot or 18 inches in width…this same piece was tied round her mouth, with a hard knot at the back part of the neck; I think this was done to smother her cries and that it was probably held tight round her mouth by one of her brutal ravishers. Her hat was off her head at the time of the outrage, and that after her violation and murder had been completed, it was tied on. There was not the slightest trace of pregnancy” and so therefore the woman “had evidently been a person of chastity and correct habits” and that the murder was done by “more than two or three persons.”
This does throw another monkey wrench into the mix.
Mary’s story was fictionalized by Edgar Allen Poe as “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842). The action of the story was relocated to Paris the victim’s body found in the Seine. Poe presented the story as a sequel to “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), commonly considered the first modern detective story, and included its main character C. Auguste Dupin. As Poe wrote in a letter: “under the pretense of showing how Dupin unravelled the mystery of Marie’s assassination, I, in fact, enter into a very rigorous analysis of the real tragedy in New York.” In the story, Dupin suggests several possible solutions but never actually names the murderer. There is an online video game collection by the name of Midnight Mysteries: The Edgar Allen Poe Conspiracy that presents the murder of both Marie and Poe. The game player’s task is to solve both mysteries.
Poe’s death remains unsolved, although the video game delivers a solution for both Marie and Poe’s murders. On October 3, 1849, Poe was found on the streets of Baltimore, “in great distress, and… in need of immediate assistance“.He was taken to hospital and died on Sunday, October 7, 1849, at 5:00 in the morning. Poe was never coherent long enough to explain how he came to be in this condition, and, oddly, he wore clothes that were not his own. Poe repeatedly called out the name “Reynolds” on the night before his death, although this meant nothing to investigators or friends. Some sources say Poe’s final words were “Lord help my poor soul.” His medical records have been lost. Newspapers at the time reported Poe’s death as “congestion of the brain” or “cerebral inflammation”, (deaths from disreputable causes such as alcoholism). Poe did in fact have a terrible drinking and drug habit. The actual cause of death remains a mystery although a strange theory exists known as cooping.
Cooping occurred in 19th century United States and consisted of so-called ‘cooping gangs’ or ‘election gangs’ working on the payroll of an unpopular, political candidate. They grabbed innocent people off the street with the intention of forcing them to vote, sometimes several times, for the candidate. If the voter refused to comply, they were given alcohol or drugs, were beaten or even killed. Should a cooping gang have murdered Poe, then this suggests an ironic link to Mary Rogers’ murder, and the possible theory that she was raped and killed by a gang. Personally, I’d throw my hat into the ring suggesting Mary was a victim of rang rape and murder. The condition her body was found in, the strange cloth around her neck and the manner it was tied, the wounds around her vaginal area suggest a beating and rape. Possibly the scarf was used to strangle her to death. Poor girl. All she did wrong was to be born beautiful.