Celebrated Criminal Cases of America: The Murder Case Mary Cecilia Rogers

From In­spec­tor Byrnes’ “Mys­te­ri­ous Mur­ders in New York.”

Mary Ce­celia Rogers was bom in New York in 1820. Her fa­ther died when she was five years of age, and as Mrs. Rogers was left in strait­ened cir­cum­stances, she earned a liv­ing for her­self and her pretty lit­tle daugh­ter by con­duct­ing a board­ing and lodg­ing house in Nas­sau street. As Mary grew older she as­sisted her mother about the house.
She de­vel­oped into an ex­tremely beau­ti­ful young woman of the brunette type. She was rather tall; her form was ex­quis­itely sym­met­ri­cal; her fea­tures were reg­u­lar; her com­plex­ion beau­ti­ful and she had a wealth of jet black hair. Added to these phys­i­cal charms, she pos­sessed a pleas­ing man­ner which made her a host of friends and ad­mir­ers.
She at­tracted at­ten­tion wher­ever she went and fi­nally John An­der­son, who con­ducted a large re­tail cigar store on Broad­way near Thomas street, heard of her mar­velous beauty and con­ceived the idea of em­ploy­ing her both as a clerk and as an at­trac­tion. This was in the early spring of 1840, and Mary was 20 years of age at the time.
An­der­son made his propo­si­tion to Mrs. Rogers, but as Mary had never worked away from home, the mother felt re­luc­tant to per­mit her to ac­cept this po­si­tion, es­pe­cially as many young men of un­en­vi­able rep­u­ta­tions made this store their ren­dezvous. As An­der­son’s pro­posal was very lib­eral, Mary fi­nally per­suaded her mother to per­mit her to ac­cept the po­si­tion.
The cigar mer­chant’s fon­d­est an­tic­i­pa­tions were soon re­al­ized, as cus­tomers flocked to the store. The girl’s con­duct was ap­par­ently a model of mod­est deco­rum, and while she was lav­ish in her smiles, she did not hes­i­tate to repel all undue ad­vances.
After hav­ing worked at this store for ten months, Mary failed to ap­pear one morn­ing in the lat­ter part of Jan­u­ary, 1841. An­der­son was un­able to ac­count for her ab­sence and Mrs. Rogers was fran­tic. The mat­ter was re­ported to the au­thor­i­ties and the press gave great pub­lic­ity to the mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance of the now fa­mous “cigar girl.”
Six days later the girl re­turned to the store, and while she ap­peared to be in good health, the cheery smile was gone and in its stead ap­peared a sad, thought­ful ex­pres­sion.
To all in­quir­ers she rather abruptly ex­plained that she had been vis­it­ing rel­a­tives in the coun­try. Her mother and em­ployer gave the same ex­pla­na­tion, but as it was ev­i­dent that it was a sub­ject that those most in­ter­ested dis­liked to dis­cuss, no fur­ther de­tails were learned.
A few days after Mary re­turned, a widely cir­cu­lated rumor had it that she was seen in New York with a tall, hand­some naval of­fi­cer dur­ing the time she was sup­posed to be in the coun­try. These ru­mors ev­i­dently reached Mary’s ears, for a week had scarcely passed after her re­turn when she sud­denly re­signed her po­si­tion and sought the shel­ter of her mother’s home.
A month later it was an­nounced that she was en­gaged to be mar­ried to Daniel Payne, a young clerk who resided in her mother’s house.
At 10 a. m. on the beau­ti­ful morn­ing of Sun­day, July 25, 1841, Mary knocked at the door of her be­trothed and in­formed him that she in­tended to spend the day with her aunt, Mrs. Down­ing, in Bleecker street. Payne replied: “All right! I’ll call for you to-night.” As the evening ap­proached, a fu­ri­ous thun­der­storm arose and the rain fell in tor­rents.
Payne spent the day away from home, but be­liev­ing that Miss Rogers would not de­sire to go home in such a storm, he did not call for her but pro­ceeded home alone. When Payne in­formed Mrs. Rogers why he had not called for Mary, the mother ex­pressed plea­sure be­cause he had not brought Mary home through such a storm.
The next day the storm sub­sided and Mrs. Rogers con­fi­dently ex­pected her daugh­ter to re­turn dur­ing the day, but as she failed to put in an ap­pear­ance the mother be­came greatly alarmed.
When Payne came home to din­ner, Mrs. Rogers in­formed him of Mary’s non-ap­pear­ance, and, with­out wait­ing for his meal, the young man re­paired at once to the home of Mrs. Down­ing. To his amaze­ment, he learned that Mary had not been there at all. The anx­ious mother well re­mem­bered Mary’s dis­ap­pear­ance some months pre­vi­ous, but on this last oc­ca­sion the girl wore very light cloth­ing and a light bon­net when she left home, so it did not seem rea­son­able that she would will­ingly re­main away after the storm abated.
Under the cir­cum­stances, the sec­ond dis­ap­pear­ance cre­ated a greater sen­sa­tion than the first. For sev­eral days no trace was found of her, but on Wednes­day morn­ing some fish­er­men set­ting their nets off Cas­tle Point, Hobo­ken, found her ter­ri­bly mu­ti­lated body float­ing near the shore, not far from a re­fresh­ment sa­loon known as “Sybils Cave.”
The once beau­ti­ful face was beaten to a pulp and ter­ri­bly swollen. Around the waist was fas­tened a stout cord, to the other end of which a heavy stone was at­tached. En­cir­cling her neck was a piece of lace torn from her dress, tied tightly enough to pro­duce stran­gu­la­tion. Sunk deeply into the flesh of both wrists were marks of cords. Light kid gloves were upon the hands and the lit­tle bon­net hung by its rib­bons around the neck. Her cloth­ing was badly torn and sub­se­quent in­ves­ti­ga­tions made by the physi­cians re­vealed the fact that she had been bru­tally out­raged be­fore her death.
Payne was im­me­di­ately in­ter­ro­gated by the au­thor­i­ties, but he gave a sat­is­fac­tory ac­count of his move­ments and was at once dis­charged. A week passed by with­out any in­di­ca­tion of a so­lu­tion of the mys­tery and the press began to crit­i­cize the po­lice se­verely.
The au­thor­i­ties then is­sued a procla­ma­tion an­nounc­ing that a large re­ward would be paid for the ar­rest and con­viction of the per­pe­tra­tor of the mur­der, and it was fur­ther­more an­nounced that in ad­di­tion to the re­ward, com­plete im­mu­nity and pro­tec­tion would be given to any one hav­ing a guilty knowl­edge of the crime (ex­cept the real as­sas­sin), if such per­son or per­sons should be, re­spon­si­ble for the ar­rest and con­vic­tion of the as­sas­sin.
The next day the Coro­ner re­ceived an anon)rmous let­ter from a young man in Hobo­ken, who de­clared that he had seen Mary in Hobo­ken on Sun­day, but had not come for­ward be­fore owing to what he termed “mo­tives of per­haps crim­i­nal pru­dence.” The writer stated that while walk­ing in the Ely-sian Fields, then a fa­mous sum­mer re­sort on Sun­day af­ter­noons, he had seen a boat pull out from the New York side con­tain­ing six rough-look­ing men and a well-dressed girl, whom he rec­og­nized as Mary Rogers. She and her com­pan­ions left the boat on the beach and went into the woods. The writer was sur­prised to see her in the com­pany of such rough-look­ing char­ac­ters, and no­ticed that she ev­i­dently went with them will­ingly, laugh­ing mer­rily as she walked away from the shore. They had scarcely dis­ap­peared in the woods when a sec­ond boat put out from New York and was pulled rapidly across the river by three hand­somely-dressed gen­tle­men. One of them leaped ashore, and meet­ing two other gen­tle­men who were wait­ing on the beach, ex­cit­edly asked them if they had seen a young woman and six men land from a boat a few min­utes be­fore. On being told that they. had, and on the di­rec­tion they had taken being pointed out to him, he asked whether the men had used any vi­o­lence to­wards the girl. He was told that she had ap­par­ently gone with them will­ingly, and he then, with­out mak­ing any fur­ther re­mark, re­turned to his boat, which was at once headed for New York.
The au­thor of this let­ter was never dis­cov­ered, but the let­ter was printed in the news­pa­pers, and the next day the two gen­tle­men who had been walk­ing on the beach came for­ward and cor­rob­o­rated the story. They both knew Mary Rogers by sight, and said that the girl who en­tered the woods with the six roughs re­sem­bled her closely, but they were not suf­fi­ciently near to be able to pos­i­tively af­firm that it was she.
The next im­por­tant piece of ev­i­dence came from a stage-dri­ver named Adams, who, after al­low­ing sev­eral weeks to elapse, stated that on the fatal Sun­day he had seen Mary ar­rive in Hobo­ken, at the Bull’s Ferry, ac­com­pa­nied by a tall, well-dressed man of dark com­plex­ion, and go with him to a road­house near the Elysian Fields known as “Nick Mullen’s.” Mrs. Loss, the keeper of the house, re­mem­bered that such a man had come to her place with a young woman on the day in ques­tion, and had gone into the ad­join­ing woods after par­tak­ing of re­fresh­ments. Soon after their de­par­ture she heard a woman’s scream com­ing from the woods, but as the place was the re­sort of ques­tion­able char­ac­ters, and such sounds were of fre­quent oc­cur­rence, she gave no fur­ther thought to the mat­ter.
The exact spot where the hap­less girl was bru­tally ill-treated and then butchered, was dis­cov­ered by Mrs. Loss’s lit­tle chil­dren on Sep­tem­ber 25, ex­actly two months after the mur­der. While play­ing in the woods, they found in a dense thicket a white pet­ti­coat, a silk scarf, a para­sol, and a linen hand­ker­chief marked with the ini­tials “M. R.” The ground around was torn up and the shrub­bery tram­pled as if the spot had been the scene of a ter­rific strug­gle. Lead­ing out of the thicket was a broad track, such as might have been made by drag­ging a body through the bushes. It led in the di­rec­tion of the river, but was soon lost in the woods. All the ar­ti­cles were iden­ti­fied as hav­ing been worn by Mary on the day of her dis­ap­pear­ance.
Every ef­fort was made to trace the “tall, dark-com­plex­ioned man,” who an­swered the de­scrip­tion of the naval of­fi­cer said to have been seen with Mary dur­ing her first dis­ap­pear­ance, but with­out suc­cess.
It was gen­er­ally be­lieved at the time that the mur­dered girl’s mother knew more about her daugh­ter’s mys­te­ri­ous ad­mirer than she chose to tell.
Daniel Payne never re­cov­ered from the shock caused by the awful death of his be­trothed. The blow ev­i­dently af­fected his mind, and within a few weeks after the mur­der he com­mit­ted sui­cide and his body was found at the spot in the woods where his sweet­heart was prob­a­bly slain.
The crime was the sub­ject of pro­longed in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but the veil of mys­tery has never been pen­e­trated that shrouded the fate of the pretty “cigar girl.”

It was upon this case that Edgar Allen Poe founded his tale, “The Mys­tery of Marie Roget.”

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