Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Mystery of Mary Rogers

Possible Solutions

Edgar Allan Poe (AP)

The fact that the murder of Mary Rogers is still remembered today has much to do with Edgar Allen Poe.  Poe biographer Jeffrey Meyers notes that in the second of his mystery stories involving the detective Chevalier C. Auguste Dupin, Poe neatly transported Mary and the surrounding characters from New York City to Paris and presented Dupin's solution to the crime in "The Mystery of Marie Roget" via three magazine installments.  Dupin/Poe believed the murderer to have been a naval officer of dark complexion who had previously attempted to elope with Mary/Marie (thus explaining her first disappearance in 1838) and who killed her the second time she ran off with him.  Loss's deathbed confession came to light before the last installment had been published, but Poe managed to hint at a bungled abortion in the final episode, and later added footnotes that further brought his fictional story into line with the known facts of Mary's case.

After Poe, other writers and criminologists would attempt to "solve" Mary's murder.  In 1904, Will M. Clemens proclaimed that both Mary and the man of dark complexion had been robbed and murdered inside Loss's tavern.  A man's body (although not matching Loss's description) had been pulled from the East River on August 3, 1841, but nobody other than Clemens seems to have considered a connection between the two corpses.

Several decades later, Samuel Worthen theorized that Mary's abortion had been paid for by her former employer John Anderson and took place at Loss's tavern.  Mary died during the procedure and the "tall, dark" abortionist who had been seen with Mary that day panicked and threw her body into the Hudson River.

In Irving Wallace's "The Fabulous Originals," the author suggests three possible killers: Crommelin, who Wallace believes was the father of the baby whose abortion caused her death; Mrs. Rogers, who possibly offered up Mary as a prostitute at the boarding house and had arranged for an abortion that accidentally turned fatal; and, without any evidence to back it up, Wallace names Poe himself as a possible candidate – referring to the possibility that Poe knew Mary from Anderson's tobacco store and Anderson's later claim that Poe had discussed Mary's murder with him while the writer was researching his story.

And finally, author Raymond Paul presented in the early 1970s his theory that Daniel Payne did indeed murder Mary, but not on the Sunday she disappeared (for which Payne had a solid alibi), but on the following Tuesday.  Paul argues that Mary did go to Loss's for an abortion on that Sunday and survived it, then stayed to recuperate for a couple of days at the inn.  While Mary's family and friends searched for her the next day, Payne couldn't admit to where she really was – so he stalled for time and pretended to look for her, knowing that he was to meet Mary on Tuesday and bring her home.  Paul points out that Payne's own statements show him to have been in Hoboken on that Tuesday "searching" for the lost Mary.  But when he met her, Paul theorizes, Mary informed him that she was breaking her engagement to him, and Payne strangled her in a fit of anger, dumped her in the river and later retrieved some of Mary's clothes (including the second pair of gloves) and planted them in the thicket near Loss's inn to add credence to the "gang" theory.  Paul's main evidence consists of the fact that when Mary's body was taken ashore on Wednesday afternoon the body was, according to the coroner's report, in a state of rigor mortis that clearly indicated to Paul that she had not been murdered on Sunday -- because rigor mortis passes within 24 hours of death and, Paul contends, the Hudson's waters in July would not have been cold enough to slow down the rigor mortis process.  Paul thus concludes that the stiffness of her body proves that she was killed no earlier than Tuesday, when Payne was known to have been in the area.

Whether done in by a gang of ruffians, strangled by a jilted lover, or killed at the hands of the man who would later write a fictionalized account of her death, the murder of the "beautiful cigar girl" is undoubtedly one of the pioneer instances of the media celebrating a gruesome crime. Yet despite the intense media interest and immortalization of a sort by Poe, the crime remains one of the most puzzling unsolved murders of New York City.

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