Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Murder Mystery of Mary Rogers

The Body Near the Shore

Sybil's Cave, Hoboken, N.J. 1852 (AP)
Sybil's Cave, Hoboken, N.J.
1852 (AP)

On the afternoon of July 28, 1841, a group of men were strolling along the Hudson River's New Jersey shoreline near an area of Hoboken called Sybil's Cave -- a popular woodsy area and that was close enough to New York City to make for a convenient but brief respite from the daily rigors of the metropolis.

Looking out across the river, one of the men spotted what appeared to be clothing floating in the water. Racing to a nearby dock, the men grabbed a boat and rowed quickly to the bobbing objects. What they found was the body of a young woman. They made several attempts to fish out the body, but eventually they tied a rope under the dead woman's chin and rowed toward shore.

Sketch of boaters recovering Mary Rogers' body (American Antiquarian Society)
Sketch of boaters re-
covering Mary Rogers'
body (American Anti-
quarian Society)

By the time they reached shore, a crowd had gathered, authorities were sent for, and the body was gawked at. One of the first reporters to arrive described the scene: "...she was laying on the bank, on her back, with a rope tied around her....  Her forehead and face appeared to have been battered and butchered, to a mummy.  Her features were scarcely visible, so much violence had been done to her...she presented the most horrible spectacle that eye could see."

The local justice of the Peace gathered information and the names of witnesses and began an inquest into the matter that evening.

The coroner later described the corpse: "...her face was swollen, the veins were highly distended.  There was a mark about the size and shape of a man's thumb on the right side of the neck, near the jugular vein, and two or three marks on the left side resembling the shape of a man's fingers, which led me to believe she had been throttled and partially choked by a man's hand.  It appeared as if the wrists had been tied together, and as if she had raised her hands to try to tear something from off her mouth and neck, which was choking and strangling her.  The dress was much torn in several places...a piece was torn clean out of this garment, about a foot or 18 inches in width...this same piece was tied round her mouth, with a hard knot at the back part of the neck; I think this was done to smother her cries and that it was probably held tight round her mouth by one of her brutal ravishers.  Her hat was off her head at the time of the outrage, and that after her violation and murder had been completed, it was tied on."  The doctor concluded that "there was not the slightest trace of pregnancy" and so therefore the woman "had evidently been a person of chastity and correct habits" and that the murder was done by "more than two or three persons."

The description of the violence done to the woman certainly held the inquiry's listeners' attention, but the excitement escalated when a young man named Alfred Crommelin came forward and testified that the battered body was that of his former fiancée, Mary Cecilia Rogers.

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