The Murder Of Mary Rogers Inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s 'The Mystery of Marie Rogêt'

It's quite common now for real-life crimes to spur writers to create their own version of events using some facts and making others up as they go, but Edgar Allan Poe's The Mystery of Marie Rogêt was one of the first. The story of his inspiration, Mary Rogers, begins with the beautiful young woman working in a tobacco shop, where she attracted multiple gentlemen to sample her employer's wares. The young lady had multiple suitors due to her good looks and the public nature of her job.

Rogers went missing in January 1841 for only a short time, leading some to suspect it was a publicity stunt. However, it was her disappearance and apparent murder in July of that same year that really made headlines. Although multiple witnesses came forward to share their stories concerning Rogers's final hours, no one was ever charged with her murder, and no one theory holds more sway than any other. While Poe retold her story in fiction, the real mystery of Mary Rogers is just as confounding today as it was on the day it happened.

  • Mary Rogers Was Well Known As 'The Beautiful Cigar Girl' At John Anderson’s Cigar Shop

    Mary Rogers Was Well Known As 'The Beautiful Cigar Girl' At John Anderson’s Cigar Shop
    Photo: Harry Clarke / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Not much is written about Mary Rogers's early life, but some say she was born in New York in 1820, while others give her birthplace as Lyme, CT. After her father passed in 1825, her mother ran a boarding house in Manhattan, and she assisted until she received a job offer from John Anderson, owner of a popular cigar shop, in 1838. The young beauty was hired as an attraction for the distinguished patrons of the cigar shop, including James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving.

    Although many men flirted with Rogers, she only smiled and sold them tobacco, fulfilling her role as eye candy for the patrons. Rogers flirted but never took any of the men up on their offers of dates; even her boss John Anderson was turned down. She became known as “the beautiful cigar girl” and was a local celebrity in New York City.

  • Rogers's Mysterious First Disappearance Lasted Only A Few Days

    Mary Rogers's first disappearance of a few days has many different reports giving different dates. Whether it occurred in 1838 or early in the year 1841, Rogers disappeared for several days, and her mother claimed a suicide note was left behind. Somewhere between six days and two weeks later, Rogers reappeared and the public concluded John Anderson - and possibly the newspaper The Sun - orchestrated the whole thing as a publicity stunt for his shop.

    The stunt worked, and Rogers's admirers soon overwhelmed her at her job, at one point sending her back to assist her mother with the boarding house. Rumors also spread, claiming Rogers met up with a handsome naval officer in New York instead of visiting family that either resided in Brooklyn or the countryside, depending on the source.

  • On July 15, 1841, Rogers Made Plans To Visit Relatives In New Jersey But Never Returned Home

    On July 15, 1841, Rogers Made Plans To Visit Relatives In New Jersey But Never Returned Home
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    At this point, Mary Rogers accepted a proposal from cork cutter Daniel Payne, a boarder in her mother's home. Although some sources claim the two were no longer engaged at the time, others report that Rogers told her fiance and mother that she planned to visit an aunt on July 25, 1941. Rogers set off for New Jersey, and a heavy storm in the area made it reasonable for the young woman to delay her return by a day to avoid traveling in such weather.

    However, Rogers didn't return the next day, either, sending her mother and Payne into a frenzy of worry. The two contacted the relative Rogers intended to visit and found that the pair had no plans together and that she never arrived at her destination. A few days after her departure, two men found Rogers's body floating in the Hudson River and contacted authorities. A former fiance of Rogers's, Arthur Crommelian, identified her body.

  • After The Coroner’s Examination, Authorities Began To Suspect Murder

    After Rogers was pulled from the water, the coroner's examination found a cord around her waist with a heavy rock tied to the other end. Rogers's face was swollen, and her body showed signs of a struggle and a severe beating. Her dress was torn, and a piece of it was tied tightly enough around her neck to suffocate her. Some reports claim she was sexually assaulted, as well.

    The coroner specifically noted she was not pregnant at the time of her death. The coroner concluded foul play, and the search for Rogers's murderer began.

  • Theories Began To Circulate Around Rogers's Mysterious Death

    The former beau who identified Mary Rogers at the scene of the crime, Arthur Crommelian, was cleared of any wrongdoing. Newspapers and individuals began airing out their own theories and rumors concerning what happened to Rogers near Sybil’s Cave in Hoboken. Some believed Daniel Payne and Rogers fought and that he killed her in a rage, but police quickly ruled that her fiance's alibi was airtight. Others suspected that one of her customers at the cigar shop may have killed her after being snubbed. 

    Other theories included a visit to an abortionist gone wrong, gang violence, or a random act of brutality.

  • Fredrica Loss Claimed She Saw Rogers With A Tall, Dark Stranger

    Fredrica Loss ran the Nick Moore House pub in the area around Sybil's Cave. She told police that Mary Rogers left the establishment with a dark-skinned man. Loss later heard screams from the nearby woods where the pair were, but she paid it no mind given the reputation of the area. Another witness in Hoboken claimed he saw Rogers travel by boat with six "rough-looking" men and dock near Elysian Fields before willingly walking into the woods with them. Later, three well-dressed men mentioned by the anonymous witness came forward to corroborate the narrative.

    A carriage driver later came forward and claimed he saw Rogers with the mystery dark-skinned man on Sunday, as well, and saw the pair go into Loss's pub.