The poet and author, Edgar Allan Poe, worked several jobs in or around New York City during his life. While he was there, Poe, along with other writers and reporters, frequented a tobacco shop owned by a Mr. John Anderson. Surprisingly, many of John Anderson’s customers were not venturing into his shop for the fine selection of cigars. Instead, most of the men were lining up to talk to Anderson’s star employee, the twenty-year-old Mary Rogers. Young Mary was a woman of legendary beauty, and the promise of catching a glimpse of her was more than enough enticement to lure in an eager crowd. Edgar Allan Poe was not the only famous writer who was lured by her beauty into the tobacco store; James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving also took the bait and went to see Miss Rogers.
((Newspaper Clipping) Mary Rogers, the cigar girl, murdered at Hoboken, July 25, 1841 via The New York Public Library Digital Collections)
During the time she was working at John Anderson’s tobacco store, Mary Rogers lived in a New York City boarding house located on Nassau Street, which was run by her mother. On a fateful day, Mary voiced her desire to travel from New York to New Jersey. The reason that she gave to her family and to her fiancé, a certain Daniel Payne, was that she wanted to meet up with relatives. Therefore, on Sunday, July 25, 1841, Mary Rogers set off from her home to undertake what would become a one-way journey.
Mary had told her mother that she would not be staying long in New Jersey. In fact, she promised to be back sometime on Monday. Yet, a storm had hit around the time that Mary went on her trip, so her family expected a possibility of delay. As such, when Mary was not yet back on Monday morning, her family felt little concern. When night had fallen, however, and there was still no sign of Mary, people began to worry. Soon, they started sending out advertisements asking for information and help in locating Mary, who had run away at least once before in her life.
On July 28, 1841, a group of men who were out for a walk spotted the body of Mary Rogers floating down the Hudson River in the vicinity of Hoboken and Weehawken, New Jersey. She was half naked, with articles of clothing missing, and the pieces that she still wore were torn. Her body showed signs of beating and strangulation, and even though she was found in the river, there was no indication of drowning. All of the evidence pointed toward murder, and her wounds suggested that there could have been multiple assailants involved.
((Newspaper Clipping) View of Weehawken–the thicket–the scene of the murder–the bay, etc. via The New York Public Library Digital Collections)
The very same reporters who had been regular customers at the tobacco shop now kept articles and columns concerning the murder consistently on the front page of the news. They described the crime scene in gruesome detail and elaborated on numerous unverified theories. The media frenzy around the murder grew hotter when more of Mary Roger’s clothing was found near the shoreline in Hoboken, New Jersey. Sons of a local tavern-keeper found the garments while they were hiking around in a wooded area. The tavern owner, named Frederica Loss, would turn out to be a treasure trove of scandalous information. When reporters began to question Loss about the murder, she told them stories of seeing Mary Rogers in her tavern on the night of July 25. She went on to say that an unknown man was with Mary that night, and shortly after the victim and the stranger left the tavern together, screams soon pierced the night air.
There were several suspects and theories that were pursued by the police and reporters. Two hypotheses, in particular, took prominence. An early theory that remained popular throughout the case was the proposal that Mary was murdered after a run-in with a criminal gang. As for a singular suspect, the newspapers often singled out Mary’s fiancée, Daniel Payne, for suspicion. The police, however, believed Payne had a solid alibi. Unfortunately, he never recovered from his loss—he committed suicide by overdosing on laudanum in October 1841. He was found sitting on a bench situated a short distance from where Mary’s body was discovered. Frederica Loss also died shortly after the murder of Mary Rogers. She was accidentally shot by one of her sons in October 1842. Bizarrely, she used the last moments of her life to add more controversy to Mary’s murder. Before she died of her gunshot wound, Frederica Loss claimed that Mary Rogers had died because of a badly performed abortion, and after the fatal procedure, her body was thrown into the river. These claims, however, did not coincide with the medical examiner’s observations.
Edgar Allan Poe, who had known Mary Rogers, kept a close eye on the case. In 1841, the year of Mary’s murder, Poe had published “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” a short story which made Edgar Allan Poe a founding father of the crime detective genre. So, after meticulously scanning through all the news he could find on Mary’s murder, Poe decided to publish a sequel to his detective story, which would be based almost entirely on the Mary Rogers case.
(Illustration from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Mystery of Marie Roget,” Printed and published by Henry Vizetelly, 1852. [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
Thus, “The Mystery of Marie Roget” began to be sequentially published by Poe in 1842. In the story, Poe’s French sleuth, a Mr. C. Auguste Dupin, read through newspaper clippings that described the murder of a young and beautiful Marie Roget. As can be guessed, Marie Roget was a character that represented the Mary Rogers that Poe had become acquainted with in New York. Similarly, Poe used literature to rebuild the whole crime scene in a French setting. The Hudson River was transformed into the Seine. John Anderson’s tobacco shop became Le Blanc’s perfumery. Daniel Payne was renamed as Jacques St. Eustache. Even Frederica Loss, the tavern owner, made an appearance as Madame Deluc, the riverside innkeeper.
In this French parallel murder-scene, Edgar Allan Poe wrote out his thoughts on Mary Roger’s murder. He denied the gang theory and believed Daniel Payne to be innocent. Instead, he leaned more toward a third party—specifically whomever Mary Rogers supposedly met with in Frederica Loss’ tavern. Nevertheless, despite investigations from the police and from Poe, the murder of Mary Rogers remains, to this day, unsolved.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
- Edgar Allan Poe’s The Mystery of Marie Roget in Edgar Allan Poe: Complete Works (JKL Classics, 2017).