Digital illustration of a portrait of Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe: Was Mary Rogers his Muse or his Murder Victim?

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Edgar Allan Poe is considered a literary genius and one of the fathers of horror literature as well as the inventor of the detective story. Poe was gifted with an undoubtedly brilliant mind able to create elaborate plots. He showed the darkest and most intricate aspects of the human soul with which he was able to provoke feelings of fear, anguish and unease in the readers daring enough to immerse themselves in his stories.

Poe published stories in the journal Ladies' Companion , between the months of November 1842 and February 1843. One of these stories was The Mystery of Marie Roget: a “whodunit” story in three parts about the mysterious death of a cute brunette. 

The author was inspired by a real event: the murder of  Mary Cecilia Rogers , a young woman known in New York of the 1840s as the "Beautiful Cigar Girl" who was found dead floating in the waters of the Hudson River on July 28, 1841. For a long time, Edgar Allan Poe was a possible murder suspect.

Who was Mary Rogers?

Mary Rogers was a pretty young woman who worked as a clerk in a well-known cigar shop in New York since 1839. Regarded as a good worker with normal ways and simple tastes, Mary was characterized by always causing an excellent impression the gentlemen that entered the store to buy their products. Her beauty and kindness even caused many of the men to write poems about her. From simple workers to the most important businessmen, all the customers were flattered by the young woman.

Edgar Allan Poe had the gift of provoking feelings of fear, anguish and unease in the reader who had the pleasure of savouring his stories.

Edgar Allan Poe had the gift of provoking feelings of fear, anguish and unease in the reader who had the pleasure of savouring his stories. ( Flickr)

However, one year before her assassination Mary starred in a very strange event in the tabloids of the time: she disappeared then mysteriously reappeared two weeks later at her workplace. While she claimed she had just been staying at a friend's house, the police investigated her disappearance as a possible kidnapping following the concern of her co-workers.

The Murder of Mary Cecilia Rogers

Sometime later, Mary again caught the attention of the police following another disappearance. This time the police investigations led to John Anderson, the owner of the cigar shop. Mr. Anderson accompanied Mary to her home, as a gentleman, every day at the end of their workday. However, even though Anderson had no alibi, he was released because the police began to suspect the girl's fiancé, David Payne instead. In a statement, Payne confirmed that on the day of Mary’s disappearance he was with her, but denied any involvement in her disappearance.

On July 28, 1841, the corpse of Mary Rogers was discovered floating in the waters of the Hudson River, with visible signs of violence. A shawl, parasol, sash, and a handkerchief embroidered with the initials MR were in found in a forest near the location her body was retrieved.

The body of Mary Rogers was pulled from the waters of the Hudson River, on July 28, 1841.

The body of Mary Rogers was pulled from the waters of the Hudson River, on July 28, 1841. Illustration of the short story "The Mystery of Marie Roget" by Edgar Allan Poe (1852) ( Wikimedia Common s)

That same day, Payne committed suicide by overdosing on opium, but not before leaving a note that said: “To the World here I am on the very spot. May God forgive me for my misspent life.” After his suicide, the public was convinced of the guilt of Mary’s fiancé, but police confirmed within days that Payne actually had an alibi and therefore could not have committed the crime.

The death of Mary Rogers was one of the more famous crimes published by the press of the time, due to the clumsy police work and the involvement of citizens’ committees, making it one of the first sensational criminal cases. The crime shocked the New York society and mass protests erupted. 

The death of young Mary revealed the incompetence of the police and the judicial system, and led to political struggles. It also aroused the greed of unscrupulous entrepreneurs and a roaring business with mounted around the victim. The investigation was complicated and had many false leads, the parade of suspects and the multiple theories that led police to a dead end multiplied. After a year, the crime remained unsolved and police and social interest began to wane. Finally, the case was closed despite being unsolved.

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