Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe

The Man Vanishes

Likeness of Poe's wife Virginia Clemm
Likeness of Poe's wife
Virginia Clemm (Edgar Allan
Poe Society of Baltimore

The summer of 1849 found Poe once again trying to raise money to launch a literary journal. This time he gave a series of lectures that featured his poetry and fiction as well as his critiques and analyses of other works.

His speaking tour brought him back to Richmond in mid-July. While in the city he apparently rekindled a romance with a childhood sweetheart, Elmira Shelton. A proposal was accepted and marriage plans began for an October wedding.

In late August, possibly by Elmira's request, Poe joined the Sons of Temperance, renouncing all alcohol. The following month he wrote genially to Maria Clemm (whom he was still supporting):

"...I think [Elmira] loves me more devotedly than any one I ever knew and I cannot help loving her in return. [I may] get married before I start [on my next trip] — but there is no telling.

The papers here are praising [my lectures] to death — and I have been received everywhere with enthusiasm."

Elmira Shelton, portrait
Elmira Shelton, portrait
(Edgar Allan Poe Society of

As the autumn of 1849 began, Poe was in top form: sober, earning praise on his lecture tour, and engaged to marry his childhood sweetheart. Poe left Richmond on September 27, 1849, probably feeling that some of his dark clouds had passed and that he was soon to reap the benefits of  his hard work. Friends who saw him onto the boat that day stated that he was in good spirits and he promised that he would be back in Richmond very soon.

Poe's happiness at that point makes the events of the following days all the more extraordinary and inexplicable.

His itinerary called for him to leave Richmond on September 27 and arrive in Baltimore the following day to catch a train. It is certain that he did take the boat to Baltimore and did arrive there on September 28th. From there he was to journey to Philadelphia where he had a business appointment, and then on to New York City to meet Maria Clemm. They would both travel back to Richmond for the upcoming wedding.

But Poe never showed up for his appointment in Philadelphia.

Maria Clemm never saw him alive again.

After stepping off the boat in Baltimore on September 28th, no clear record of his movements or activites is known until Joseph Walker on October 3rd stopped to speak to a man "rather the worse for wear" and who was "in need of immediate assistance... ."

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