Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder of Edgar Allan Poe


How did Edgar Allan Poe die?
Who was the mysterious "Reynolds"?
Where and how did he spend those five "lost" days?

To this day, nobody knows the answers.

Poe's fame grew after his death, and very few authors in the mystery and horror genres cannot claim his influence. His writings have been the basis of countless movies and television programs, and the Mystery Writers of America named their writing prizes the Edgar Awards in his honor.

Grave of Edgar Allan Poe
Grave of Edgar Allan Poe

Acclamation was a long time in coming, however. Days after his death he was buried in an unmarked grave in a Baltimore cemetery — before many of his friends and family had even heard he was dead.

Years later, his cousin Neilson ordered a tombstone for Poe's grave, and an elaborate marker was created out of marble. Plans were made to move the gravestone to the Baltimore cemetery. But misfortune followed Poe even after his death. The tombstone was destroyed when a train jumped its tracks and demolished a number of tombstones, Poe's included. It would not be until 1875 that a marker would be placed over Poe's remains, and later the remains of his wife Virginia and Maria Clemm were added to the site.

Poe's headstone
Poe's headstone

Poe's grave is also the location for yet another mystery. On the night of Poe's birthday in 1949, a man entered the cemetery in the dark of night and left three roses and a half-full bottle of cognac on Poe's tombstone and then vanished.

Many assumed that the three roses were in honor of Edgar, Virginia, and Maria — but the cognac was a mystery, and the Baltimore Poe Society has noted "the significance of cognac is uncertain as it does not feature in Poe's works as would, for example, amontillado."

Poe statue by Moses Ezekiel
Poe statue by Moses Ezekiel

But 1949 was just the beginning: every year on the night of January 19th, a hooded man has entered the cemetery in the dead of night and has left the same tribute of roses and cognac at Poe's grave. Poe enthusiasts have gathered to watch the mysterious visitor, but nobody has ever tried to communicate with the cloaked figure or to learn his identity. On January 19, 1993, along with the roses and liquor, the man left a note saying "the torch will be passed," and it is believed that the first man passed the tradition onto another before his death, because the annual visitations continue.

Scholars, historians, biographers, and the medical community continue to present theories about what happened to Poe from September 28 to October 3, 1849, but nobody has conclusively proven whether one of America's premier writers died by his own foolish behavior, by an illness, by a gang of political hooligans, or at the hands of a cold-blooded killer.

The mystery continues. Poe would be delighted.

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