Mary Cecilia Rogers
Fiction has plumbed the depths of human misery and suffering for many of its more memorable stories.
Some of fiction’s historical basis is abundantly evident (Shakespeare’s Julius Cæsar, for example); other works are more obscure in origin but are based in perceived fact as well.
Two modern pieces of popular fiction use real cases of varying legitimacy and merit. One is The Entity (a book later turned into a film in the late 1970s based upon the case of a California woman who alleged she was repeatedly raped by a ghost). Another popular franchise developed from The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty’s macabre, supernatural novel about demonic possession. His work was based on the real, and substantially documented,late 1940s’ case of a Georgetown, Maryland, teenage boy who was allegedly demonically possessed.
Unsolved murders, though, have always made great thrillers and suspense novels. They have a lurid and sometimes darkly romantic quality. Armchair detectives enjoy sussing out the inner workings of the crime along with the author (who many times presents a reasonable argument, solution, or further investigative avenue to an otherwise unsolved murder).Credit: American Peoples Encyclopedia, 1963
Poe told tales of such tragically fictional women in his poetry: Annabel Lee, Lenore, and others. He wrote: “The death . . . of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic topic in the world”.
The supremely talented, melancholic, alcoholic author also had his Grace Brown (the real-life victim of Dreiser’s An American Tragedy). His enigmatic murder victim was a 21-year-old shop girl, Mary Cecilia Rogers, better known as “The Beautiful Cigar Store Girl”.
Mary of the Many Admirers
Although the date is not exactly known (as records do not exist) Mary Cecilia Rogers was born about 1820 in Lyme, Connecticut (a town on the eastern shore of the Connecticut River at its confluence with Long Island Sound).
Phoebe, her mother, was widowed and remarried. Mary’s father, Phoebe’s second husband, was killed in a steamboat explosion (a common event then) in 1834. Mary and her mother later moved to New York in 1837 when Mary was sixteen.
Upon arrival in New York City they took up residence in the home of a man named John Anderson. [How Phoebe and Mary met him is not known; Phoebe had a sister in New York City with whom she later lived, but chose to move in with this stranger. It is likely Anderson came upon them as new arrivals and was immediately interested in Mary; either that or he had known Ezra Mather (Phoebe's first husband) from earlier business dealings and chose to help the widow and her daughter.]
Anderson was an entrepreneur. His newly opened cigar shop on Broadway was in a prime spot near the City’s heart—City Hall was just to the south and many other government buildings and entertainment establishments were nearby.
As a teen, Mary had the developed physique of a woman, and according to Anderson she was “ethereal and hypnotically pleasing”. While living at Anderson’s in 1838, he offered Mary a job in his shop as a cigar girl (a young woman who would bring in the gadflies merely by her presence). He offered her a wage that was generous by the day’s standards. Her mother had allowed Mary to take the job solely on the conditions she never be left alone in the store and that Anderson escort her home nightly.
Anderson’s Tobacco Emporium, though already patronized by many, was not as well established as others in the area. Anderson needed a draw, and Mary filled that need. Her fresh presence attracted even more men to his store. She was reputedly pretty, with raven tresses and a “dark smile”, and she was coquettish for a teen girl.
Mary’s job worked almost too well for her. Anderson’s need for business in the face of stiff competition meant he had to suffer much in the way of wastrels taking up floor space, all vying for a glance or word from his new girl. Many men came into the store, proudly and loudly proclaiming their most recent business conquests in the hopes of snaring her attention.
The younger, less well-heeled, also hung around the store, prompting the sniffily outraged New York Herald to publish an editorial against allowing such girls to work in these dens of iniquity.
A smitten admirer published a sappy poem in the same newspaper waxing about her “eyes of starlight’s azure gloom” and her heavenly smile. Another suitor of hers, who later lived in her mother’s boarding house for a spell, recalled her as “amiable and pleasing, and rather fascinating in her manners”.
Mary Rogers, as a girl with almost no skills or formal education, reveled in her minor celebrity. Almost overnight her presence in Anderson’s shop caused a stir, and she was written up in the local rags as “The Beautiful Seegar Girl”, and from the pen of one reporter, “the comely seegar vendor”. She quickly became a celebrity of sorts.
Phoebe and Mary moved out of Anderson’s house after a few months (allegedly because he had bought a new home and was moving). They moved in with Phoebe’s sister (a Mrs. Hayes who lived on Pitt Street).
On October 6, 1838, less than a year after Mary’s arrival in New York City, under the headline “Something Mysterious” the New York Sun reported “Miss Mary Cecilia Rogers” was missing.
Edgar Allan Poe, up to 1838, had a terrific run of bad luck and no luck when it came to his personal life and his longed-for career as a serious author.
Born in Boston in 1809, his father, David, abandoned the family in 1810, and is believed to have died within the year. His mother, Elizabeth, died in 1811. The toddler Poe was packed off and taken in by a childless foster couple, the Allans, of Richmond, Virginia, John and Frances. They moved to England for a few years (1815-1820), and then back to the States.
Poe attended an exclusive private school and wanted for nothing except legitimacy. John Allan refused to legally adopt him and make him is heir. This caused much tension in the Allan household.
Poe became infatuated with a sympathetic older woman named Jane Stanard. Her death in 1824 crushed him; he would immortalize Stanard in his 1831 poem, “To Helen”.
His grief at the time, though outwardly very histrionic, was apparently also short-lived; very soon, he was madly in love with a fifteen-year-old neighbor girl. [Poe’s fixation with certain girls and women would become a bane, and they always seemed to occupy either end of the age spectrum, being much older than he or much younger (as in adolescent girls). His obsessions left him very vulnerable when the love object either died (as was the case a few times) or rejected him.]
He developed a love of literature and the arts in school; he also developed a burning love of alcohol and gambling.
Poe entered the University of Virginia in February 1826 and by Christmas of the same year he had wasted his allowance granted by his foster-father. John Allan refused to give him more money; Poe was forced to leave school. In a snit, in March 1827, Poe stormed off to Boston. He self-published a thin book of poems that did not sell well, and in desperation he joined the Army in May 1827.
His foster-mother, Frances, died in February 1829, and Poe used this occasion to partially reconcile with his foster-father. He promised to walk the straight-and-narrow, and he sought an appointment to West Point Academy. He was honorably discharged from the Army in April 1829, and on June 1, 1830, he entered West Point. He moved in with a Baltimore aunt (Maria Clemm), her 12-year-old-son, and her pre-pubescent daughter, Virginia. [Maria was Poe’s aunt through his dead father, David.]
Poe’s self-destructive nature, however, could not be held at bay, and he was ejected from West Point in March 1831. He headed off to New York City where he published another book of poetry, but he failed to catch fire. He retreated to Baltimore and to his aunt, and began writing short stories that he thought would make him a quick dollar.
Although five of these were quickly snapped up by a Philadelphia magazine, the editor failed to pay him for them. He wrote another, the soon-to-be-classic short story “MS. Found in a Bottle”. He won a literary contest with this one, but still failed to catch on as an author of note.
Someone found him a job on a Richmond publication but his constant drunkenness (combined with drinking on the job) led to his firing. After begging and promising to turn over a new leaf, they hired him back.
His Aunt Maria and girl cousin came to stay with him in Richmond from Baltimore. In May 1836, Poe married his 13-year-old cousin Virginia.
Soon enough, however, he was back to his sodden behavior and his employer fired him for good in late 1836.
With no money and no local prospects, combined with a very bad local reputation as a depressive, volatile, and unpredictable alcoholic, Poe and his teenage bride took off to New York.
He wrote some short stories, but making ends meet was difficult, and in 1838 he retreated to Philadelphia where he found work on a magazine whose literary content and editorial tone Poe found beneath him.
While Poe struggled to make a place for himself in the world of literature in October 1838, in New York City speculation raged on October 6 on the whereabouts of the vanished Beautiful Cigar Girl.
Phoebe reported to police that she had found a note late the previous day (October 5) that clearly indicated an intent to commit suicide. She was fearful Mary had already taken her own life, and she sent out as many people as she could muster to search for the girl.
Credit: public domainBecause newspapers of the day ran morning and evening editions, several followed the lack of progress on the case throughout the day. No leads developed although much wild speculation was set forth: Mary, despondent over a failed love affair, took off to commit suicide; one of the Five Points gangs had gotten her, ravaged her, and killed her; or some other dastardly cad had kidnapped her for his own nefarious purposes, leaving a fake suicide note behind.
And then Mary returned under her own steam: some accounts say as early as several hours after her disappearance was reported, but more likely the next day. She had no greater explanation for where she had been than she’d gone off to visit her aunt, a Mrs. Downing. She did not claim to have been abducted. She proffered nothing further, then or ever, for her absence.
One of the next day’s newspapers reported the reason for her absence was learned—Mary had gone off to visit a friend in Brooklyn and some unknown scoundrel had left the “suicide” note as a diversion or prank. Other theories surfaced as well, one somewhat more interesting than the others. This “explanation” asserted her disappearance and safe return had been staged by Anderson to generate publicity for his store.
When Mary returned and learned of the fame and public concern over her “adventure” she was horrified at the unwanted attention it brought. She swore never to set foot in the cigar store again, and she shunned going out. Anderson coaxed her back within a week after offering her even more money. As expected, she was eagerly sought by a curious public, and business in the store boomed once the men learned she was back behind the counter.
Unfortunately, the innocent Mary was perhaps not so innocent. Although not proven, the best reason for her sudden and unexplained “disappearance” is also the one no one seemed to broach then (or now)—Mary had simply gone off to have an abortion.
This possibility tends to fit better with the known movements of the principals, and it seems as if John Anderson may very well have been sexually involved with the girl. Circumstantially, this fits the timeline.
Mary and her mother lived in Anderson’s home (and they did not move with him when he set off for a new house). Anderson was taken with Mary (she and her mother worked around his house doing domestic chores to help their keep). There was no rational reason for Mary and Phoebe to have suddenly moved out of Anderson’s house and into the home of Phoebe’s sister.
If the Rogers women had wanted, they could have moved in with Mrs. Hayes (Phoebe’s relative) as soon as they hit New York City, but they went with Anderson instead. He had been born in 1812, and when he took Mary and Phoebe in he would have been about 25 and a successful man. [He later devised individually tinfoil wrapped packets of his own blend of chewing tobacco that became wildly popular among sportsmen, soldiers, and frontier gold miners]. It seems unlikely, since he had the women living with him, he would not have moved them to his new home.
One of two things likely happened to cause Phoebe to move in with her sister.
Perhaps she had designs on the younger Anderson herself—although she was 60 years old she may have kept the memory of having attracted her more recently-deceased, much younger husband in mind. In any case, Phoebe would not have stood a chance with Anderson—she was described as grim and withdrawn and wore her worldly sorrows openly. In direct contrast, Mary was young, and tender, and vivacious. Perhaps Phoebe felt Anderson’s rejection of her was because of unintended competition from Mary, and thus she moved out.
The better explanation, though, is that Anderson, quite taken with Mary as he was, developed a sexual relationship with her, and Phoebe became aware of it. Her departure under those conditions would be rational. In 1838 at the time of moving from Anderson’s home Mary was already working at his shop. This meant she could easily have become pregnant by him either through sex at his store or even in his new house since her mother no longer was under foot.
In any event the best explanation for Mary’s disappearance was her taking off to get an abortion and then spending the rest of the week convalescing before returning to work. Perhaps Anderson had to offer her more money to come back to work because she was wary of him.
Things proceeded along quietly for several more months. One of Mary’s half-brothers had made a goodly sum overseas in a business that was unclear. On a return trip to the States in the spring of 1839 he stopped off in New York City. He heard about Mary’s recent “adventure” and of her notoriety, and he decided the cigar store was no place for the impressionable girl. He thought she could come to no good end working in such a place, so he loaned his mother enough money to lease a residence to use as a boarding house.
Phoebe Rogers ran her establishment on Nassau Street. This was but a few blocks south of the horrible squalor, immigrant poverty, and gang violence of the city’s most notorious squat, the Five Points. Right around the corner from the Rogers’ boarding house was P.T. Barnum’s world famous humbug, The American Museum (where for 25¢—almost $7 in today’s money—one could see all sorts of amazing oddities and acts, ranging from the famous singer Jenny Lind to a stuffed mermaid). The neighborhood was a colorful and dangerous place to live, especially for a tender teenager such as Mary.
Upon the start of the boarding house business, and over the strenuous objections of John Anderson, Mary quit the cigar store in 1839, and stayed to work with her mother tending lodgers. She never went back to the cigar store (she had worked there, in total, for something over a year. [Her legendary status as The Beautiful Cigar Girl was branded upon her from this short-term employment.]
Phoebe’s philanthropic son, in another of her calamitous life’s coincidences, did not get to see his mother’s success. Just a few months after he gave her the money to start the boarding house he drowned at sea when a billowing errant sail knocked him overboard. Phoebe was devastated when she learned of this latest loss—she now had only one of her older children and Mary left from her once-large brood.
Although Mary was as popular as ever, the number of admirers she netted at the boarding house were fewer than at the tobacconist’s shop. Understandably: census records of 1840 show only seven people dwelling there, meaning the number of guests would be around four or five at any one time.
Despite the dearth of men, however, Mary still was pursued by those close to her. Several men over the next year would try to turn her head. And regardless of the number of hearts she broke she did manage to stay steady with one man.
This was Daniel Payne, a lodger. He was a cork cutter and a heavy drinker. Although he had little to offer Mary he was jovial, and she probably welcomed his devil-may-care attitude in the face of the more strait-laced men she’d seen lately. Even though he’d made no formal proposal he talked as if he and Mary were engaged.
On July 25, 1841, at about 10:00 AM, Mary knocked at Payne’s room—he was in the middle of shaving and only opened the door part way. She told Payne she was going off to visit her aunt (Mrs. Downing, who lived about 15 minutes away by omnibus), and some other family members. They agreed Payne should meet her later in front of Barnum’s museum to escort her home from the bus drop off.
No one ever saw her alive again.
Poe in Philly
Edgar Allan Poe in 1838 continued working at his editorial job which he found beneath his abilities at a Philadelphia gentlemen’s magazine and then later at one that catered to both men and women.
He served as a literary and arts critic as well, and he took his unfulfilled literary frustrations and professional jealousies out on other writers in scathing reviews of their new books, poems, or plays. He earned a lot of enmity in literary circles as many of his critiques were simply baseless. He tended to refer to most writers of his passing knowledge as “plagiarists”. In a tit-for-tat, Longfellow called Poe “The Jingle Man” (which meant the same thing then as it does today—a writer of tripe, of no substance, reduced to scribbling for ad copy or product songs).
He wrote many of his best known short stories during this time, though, and one stand out among them was his creation of the detective story in 1841 with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”. He introduced his fictional detective, Dupin, in this tale and applied the same type of rational, deductive reasoning toward crime solving that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would later use to the hilt in his archetypical, iconic crime fighter Sherlock Holmes.
Poe became interested in writing another story, though, based upon the recent headlines that screamed at him from nearly every newspaper he touched for weeks after the story broke.
It seemed on July 28, 1841, the body of a well-known, beautiful cigar store girl was pulled out of the Hudson River, the victim of murder.
Mary Ever After
Payne went off after Mary left that Sunday morning and enjoyed his day, first with his brother. Then, the bulk of his day was spent mostly in bars (allowed to be open for business, but with windows half-shuttered and barkeepers in clean shirts in honor of the Sabbath). He capped his busy day with a three-hour nap.
Payne told police Mary said she’d gone off to visit her aunt, Mrs. Downing. When Mrs. Downing was reached, she claimed not only to have not known of Mary’s impending visit, but she herself had not been home that morning; had Mary arrived there would’ve been no one there to tend to her. [This aunt is the same one Mary had reported going off to see when she disappeared about three years earlier.]
Mary’s body had been fished from the drink near Hoboken, New Jersey. River and ocean tides and currents being what they were combined with an inept and fractious police department could lead to no conclusions about where her body had been dumped in the water.
The body was discovered by two day-holiday merrymakers near a resort area in New Jersey called Elysian Fields. They saw the shape floating, tried to retrieve it by battering it with an oar (both were afraid to touch it), then managed to snag it with a coil of rope. At this point, they left Mary Rogers tied to a boulder in the water and stood watching her corpse bob on the surface for about thirty minutes, uncertain what they should do. In the end they elected to do nothing—the two men walked away and rejoined their friends further up shore.
It would be others who brought her to dry land. Two men saw her secured to the boulder, waded in, and dragged her up to the beach. After three days in the water, she was in the middling stages of water-bloat decomposition. Her face was battered. [Tidal action, slamming a body haphazardly against obstacles in the water, can do this post-mortem. It should never be immediately taken as a sign of violence on any corpse pulled from a flowing body of water]. She was almost unrecognizable and the first assumption was she had drowned accidentally, though no one at that moment knew who she was.
Dragged ashore in the July sun, her body began to decompose rapidly. Her “fiance”, Daniel Payne, and another former suitor, Alfred Crommelin, had been scouring New York for Mary for the past three days after her disappearance. It was Crommelin who was in the Elysian Fields area when her body was brought to the surface, and it was he who identified her, mostly by the clothing she wore and, according to him, “a peculiar pattern of hair on her arm”. [This resort area was known to Mary, and Crommelin had been there with her himself in the past. His presence there at the time of her body’s discovery was merely coincidental.]
A coroner was finally called, and he did a hasty on-site inspection. Fearful of losing what remained of her, he hastily had her taken away to a secure and unexposed location. Despite the circumstances, the examiner did a fairly thorough job. He detected bruising about the throat; bruising and abrasions on and around her vagina clearly suggested a forced assault.
The most telling things he discovered were abrasions on her back (as if her body had been dragged) and a piece of lace used as a garrote tied so tightly around her neck it was buried in the skin. More telling was the fact this strip of lace had been torn from one of Mary’s petticoats, indicating the murder may have been spurious.
He theorized, perhaps accurately, she had first been strangled into unconsciousness, and then garroted leisurely to finish her off. [The strangulation method of subduing a victim is now believed to have been employed by Jack the Ripper, putting his victims unconscious first with a choke hold, then slashing their bodies.]
The injuries to Mary’s vaginal area, unfortunately, this examiner pompously concluded were the result of assaults by “at least two or three men”. He could not rationally have drawn any such conclusion, but he published it. This led most in the City to believe she’d been spirited away by any one of several known Five Points gangs, raped, and then murdered.
Jurisdictional issues arose, and in an unusual twist, both New York and New Jersey tried to foist the case off onto the other state. The police in both states, however, explored the gang angle, but they also had the presence of mind to closely take a look at the men in Mary’s life.
Her current beau, Daniel Payne, had a solid alibi for his movements, and Crommelin, while heroically playing the martyr in public, was not a viable suspect. [Mary had rejected him in favor of Payne; Crommelin, if he was the milquetoast it seems he was, would not have hurt Mary nor would he have had the intestinal fortitude to take on the rough cob, Daniel Payne.]
Although Crommelin had made the identification of the body, it was one of the original two men who had secured her body to the boulder that advised Phoebe Rogers of her daughter’s death. They had to pass through New York City proper en route to their homes and one took the initiative to stop off at the Rogers’ boarding house. Payne and Phoebe received the news quietly, in stunned silence. Phoebe was further aggrieved—this left her with only one child living.
Mary’s case was the first murder splashed about vigorously in the press, and she would net more column inches than any other crime up to the time of the Lizzie Borden case decades later. It was sensational and salacious detail after salacious detail, almost all manufactured, was spread through the papers: Mary was a prostitute; no, she was good girl who had been sold into prostitution; she had been kidnapped and forced to work in a brothel; no, she had been seduced and had gone to get an abortion, which went wrong—the abortionist killed her.
Theories abounded, and the discovery of a thicket near the shore where articles of “Mary’s” clothing were found only complicated matters. This thicket was surmised as the true murder site, but then later discarded as inconclusive.
The provenance of these items was suspect, and they were never verified as Mary’s things. The children who “found” the items were sons of a local female tavern keep who stood to gain much from the rewards offered and increased publicity for her bar.
The tavern owner, a Mrs. Frederica Loss, kept possession of “Mary’s” discovered effects for several days before even telling anyone she had them. When asked why she had not turned them over immediately, her reply was that she wanted to see which way the investigation was going as she thought they wouldn’t be of any use early on.
This whole avenue of inquiry was a convoluted mess, and quickly mired away into a tangled skein of lies and unverifiable allegations and impeached inquest testimony.
Mary Rogers Meets Marie Rogêt
Poe followed Mary’s case closely and formulated a new story using her murder as a back drop. In it, he hoped to use the power of deductive reasoning of his fictional detective, Dupin, to solve the real life murder. Poe worked out the details and set the story in France.
Mary’s real case came to a grinding halt early in its investigation. Police then were simply not capable of working out with forensics what should be patently obvious. For example, an examination of her cervix and uterus could have plainly revealed any actions of a recent abortion, and thus could have presented a more likely avenue of investigation than the perceived indignity of her being forced to work as a prostitute. Her case dropped off the front pages when an axe-murder replaced her lonely little unsolved death in the headlines. Credit: public domain
This gave Poe some breathing room to detail his outline. He worked on his story diligently. Initially, he wanted to publish it as one short story, but then the investigation stalled, and in anticipation of possible new developments, he had his story published in serial form (three parts). The first two installments sold out the issues in which they were contained, and he expected grand sales when his third installment made the killer known.
Then the police latched onto the “murder thicket” and Mrs. Loss, and several other red herrings, and the case was active again. Poe had to regroup and recast some of his material for the finale, to make sure it read well as a story, followed the logic he intended, and married as closely as possible to the real life case.
In the wake of “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt”, Poe continued writing to varying degrees of excellence and success. In time he achieved a modicum of fame with the publication of his classic Gothic poem, “The Raven” (1845), but not much in the way of money. [“The Raven”, a highlight in American poetry, sold for a mere ten dollars—worth a bit over $250 US today—to its first publisher, the New York Evening Mirror.]
His alcoholism worsened, and when the young Virginia died of tuberculosis in January 1847 (about 24 years old) Poe was devastated.
Credit: public domainHe became so dissipated that he also began indulging in laudanum (a habit-forming opiate derivative suspended in alcohol used as a depressant). In 1848, when he was photographed for his best known portrait (though more than one was taken in the same session) he had attempted to kill himself the night before with an overdose of laudanum.
When he arrived at the studio, he was disheveled and dirty. The photographer loaned him a clean cravat and a comb to spruce him up enough for the picture.
Poe’s own death in 1849 carried an element of mystery as well. He drank constantly, and his health was failing.
In the summer of 1849 he visited Richmond, Virginia, and got engaged to the young woman with whom he had been in love when she was 15 years old.
On September 27, 1849, he went to Baltimore and invited his Aunt Maria (his late wife Virginia’s mother) to his wedding.
October 3, 1849, was election day in Baltimore. Poe was found only partly conscious in a Baltimore bar.
The only working theory until recently about what happened to him (and this was commonly espoused, even among his more sincere biographers) is that he was plied with booze as a means of “buying his vote”—he was sent to different polling places and would have voted multiple times.
This scenario flies in the face of what modern thinking is, though. Poe had mostly stopped imbibing alcohol at his previously Herculean levels; he was likely in the earliest stages of cirrhosis, and heavy drinking left him violently ill when he over-indulged. As a result, perhaps, of his own physical negative reactions to alcohol he had very recently joined a temperance movement bent on prohibition. So, it is unlikely Poe was stone-drunk when found.
Interestingly enough, it is more likely Poe was in the latter stages of a disease with a nearly 100% morbidity rate in his time. Based upon newer inspection of his symptoms it is believed he was probably in the last stages of a rabies infection (which led to his dementia and general malaise). Rats were a fact of life during his time as were other small carrier animals; any casual bite by vermin would likely have gone unremarked upon.
Regardless of what the cause of his symptoms were Poe was taken away to a hospital. After four days of suffering through what was thought to be delirium tremens he died on October 7, 1849. He was 40 years old.
His work was largely ignored posthumously. He was grossly maligned by those he had criticized harshly during his life. His moral character was slandered as well—his marriage to the 13-year-old Virginia was held forth as a perversion. Although marriage to cousins was common enough in his time, marriage to such a young girl was not.
In Poe’s defense, he married her fearful of a rival male relative’s getting guardianship of her, thus cutting him off completely from his remaining blood relations. Additionally, upon their marriage, Poe saw to Virginia’s education, and when he could not afford to send her to school he tutored her himself. A visitor remarked upon catching him working on algebra problems with the girl one evening. Finally, to put to rest the slander of Poe’s pedophilia, he did not “consummate” his marriage with her until a few more years elapsed. They maintained separate bedrooms until he felt she was ready. He was uncomfortable having married this girl, but he thought it was in her best interests at the time, and her mother agreed.
At least initially, Mary Rogers was more famous in death than Poe. She became the virginal dove, soiled by ruffians. Her memory was sanctified in the press. Mary Rogers remained an on-again, off-again topic of discussion.
The only good working theory, and the most probable, is that Mary, as she had likely done a few years earlier, had gone off to get a quick abortion. The abortion was botched, and rather than run the risk of exposure either the abortionist or a henchman killed her and disposed of the body.Credit: public domain
In such a scenario, the father was most likely Daniel Payne. He, in turn, killed himself in a drunken funk near the site of her body’s recovery with an overdose of laudanum on October 7, 1841, but a few months after Mary’s murder.
The first person to stumble upon Payne was coincidentally a doctor. Payne was glassy-eyed and his breathing shallowly when found. The doctor loosened Payne’s collar and ran off to get help to move him. By the time he returned, Payne was dead.Credit: Vic Dillingerâ„¢, Â© 2011
The murder of “The Beautiful Seegar Girl” is as much a mystery now as it was in 1841. It was Poe’s sincere hope and belief that his work in “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” would lead to a solution of Mary Rogers’ murder.
That did not happen. Her case remains unsolved to this day.
Author’s Note, regarding Phoebe Rogers: Some interesting historical side notes about Phoebe Rogers developed during research. She was born in 1778, and when she married, at the age of 18, it was to a man named Ezra Mather. He was a direct descendant of the Puritan leader Increase Mather, and also of Cotton Mather, who had figured prominently in the Salem Witch Trials in 1692.
Ezra was a successful businessman before his death from illness in 1808. Phoebe was widowed at age 30 with five children, but was provided for comfortably by Ezra’s estate.
Six years later, the 36-year-old Phoebe remarried, to a man named Daniel Rogers (eleven years her junior). She lived a tragic life. Her first husband died at the age of 38; by the time Mary was 14, three of Phoebe’s other children had died within a space of five years. Daniel Rogers, Mary’s father, was blown apart in a steamboat explosion on the Mississippi River in 1834.
Mary was the first child born of this newer union after Phoebe and Daniel had been married for six years. Of singular interest is the fact there is no record of Mary’s birth, although all five of Phoebe’s children from her previous marriage have birth records dutifully filed.
Given Phoebe’s age at Mary’s birth, 42, it is distinctly possible that Mary was not her daughter, but an illegitimate granddaughter by Phoebe’s 21-year-old daughter (from her marriage to Ezra). This ruse of adopting grandchildren as one’s own was a common practice then and is still practiced today.