Described as "ethereal and hypnotically pleasing", Mary Cecilia Rogers would come to be known in New York as the "Beautiful Seegar Girl." But it would be her brutal and unsolved murder that would catapult her into history and the literary world when she was immortalized by Edgar Allen Poe in his book, "The Mystery of Marie Roget."
Mary Cecilia Rogers is believed to have been born in Lyme , Connecticut around 1820, although there are no official records of her birth. Her mother, Phoebe Rogers would have been 42 at the time which led to the speculation that Mary was actually the illegitimate daughter of Phoebe's oldest daughter from her first marriage and that she was taken in by Phoebe and her second husband Daniel Rogers to be raised as their own.
At the age of 17 Mary and her mother moved to New York to live with Phoebe's sister in 1837 after Daniel Rogers died in a steamboat explosion three years earlier.
In 1838 Mary came to the attention of John Anderson, a young entrepreneur who was looking for a gimmick to place Anderson's Tobacco Emporium ahead of it's rivals. He hired her at a generous wage to work behind the cigar counter, confident that her raven locks and attractive features would lure more patrons into the shop.
In October of 1838, Mary left her home and disappeared. It was reported by her mother Phoebe that she had left behind a letter bidding her "an affectionate and final farewell." She returned home a short time later claiming that she had gone to visit a friend in Brooklyn. The papers dismissed her disappearance as a hoax. More than likely a publicity stunt cooked up by her employer, John Anderson.
Mortified by the attention she received upon her return to the tobacco shop, Mary soon resigned her position at the shop to help her mother run her new boarding house at 126 Nassau St. in Manhattan.
Unfortunately Mary's next disappearance would be her last. On the morning of Sunday, July 25, 1841, knocked on the door of her intended and one of her mother's boarders, Daniel Payne. Daniel Payne was a cork cutter by trade who was also known to be a heavy drinker. Mary's mother heartily disapproved of him as a suitor for his daughter. A witness would later testify at the coroner's inquest that she had overheard Phoebe extract a promise from Mary that she would break off the engagement. Payne would later testify that Mary knocked on his door that Sunday morning to inform him that she was going to visit her relative, Mrs Downing, uptown on Jane St. and would be spending the day with her. They made arrangements for him to come and collect her later that evening. Daniel Payne left the boarding house later that morning to visit his brother, John at 33 Warren St and they spent the day together.
However later that day, a violent thunderstorm swept through New York and Payne, assuming that Mary would want to stay put, failed to show up at Mrs Downing's residence to collect her.
But by Monday morning when Mary failed to come home or show up for work, Phoebe and Daniel Payne became alarmed. Payne immediately went to Jane St. to speak with Mary's aunt and was informed by Mrs. Downing that not only had she not seen Mary but had not been expecting her to visit. He began a frantic search hoping that someone had seen her without success and he and her mother eventually placed an ad in the New York Sun asking for any information on her whereabouts.
Word that Mary was again missing traveled quickly and soon reached the ears of Arthur Crommelin, former boarder and suitor for Mary's hand. He too decided to join in the search for Mary.
. As they looked out over the water they spotted what appeared to be a body floated in the river approximately 200 yards from the Hoboken shore. They raced to the docks where they procured a boat and rowed out to the body and discovered that it was the body of a female. After several failed attempts to pull the body into the boat they tied a rope around the midsection and towed the young woman's body to the shore, where they placed it on a bench.
Shortly thereafter Arthur Crommelin arrived on the scene, after having stepped off one of the three steamboats that connect New York and New Jersey. When he gazed upon the young woman's body reposed on the bench he recognized her almost immediately. It was Mary.
Dr Richard Cook, the Hoboken coroner, took possession of the body and performed an cursory exam at the scene. He initially concluded that Mary had been raped and brutally beaten sufficiently enough to cause her death. In a more detailed report he stated: "her face was bruised and swollen, the veins were highly distended. About the neck there were bruises that appeared to be from a man's thumb and fingers. It appeared as if the wrists had been bound and a piece of lace trimming was tied tightly around her neck indicating she had died from strangulation. She had been horribly violated by more than two or three persons. Since there was not the slightest trace of pregnancy, she had evidently been a person of chastity and correct habits."
The papers played a large part in the mystery that surrounded Mary Rogers death. They whipped the public up into a frenzy with their constant half-truths and fake suspects.
Various newspapers immediately cast suspicion on Daniel Payne whom they called a liar when they learned of the statements he had given to police as to his whereabouts at the time of Mary's murder. In order to prove his innocence Payne brought in sworn affidavits from witnesses who had seen him throughout the day to the news offices of the New York Herald and the Evening Star. He was exonerated at least for now in the eyes of the press.
The next persons to fall under the suspicions of the press was Arthur Crommelin and John Anderson, Mary's former employer, and all of Mary's other suitors. Each man was arrested, questioned and then released by the police. With no new clues and very few leads the police were stymied in their investigation and the stories began to fade from the headlines.
That is until late August when a Mrs Frederica Loss contacted the police with an incredible story. Mrs. Loss ran Nick Moore's House, a tavern located in the woodlands in Hoboken, New Jersey near where Mary's body had been brought to shore. She claimed that she had sent two of her three sons out to collect some firewood and that when they had entered a thicket and found several articles of a woman's clothing in a handkerchief monogrammed with the initials M.R. She also recalled that a young woman fitting Mary's description had entered her tavern with a tall, dark man around 4 p.m. on Sunday, July 25. They left after finishing their refreshments. Mrs. Loss claimed that sometime later that evening she heard a woman scream and thinking that one of her sons was in trouble rushed to his aid but found him safe and unharmed. She thought nothing more of the scream until her sons found the woman's clothing.
The press was divided as to the validity of Mrs Loss' story. The Herald felt that it proved that Mary had been murdered by a gang of ruffians. Whereas the Evening Tattler concluded that Mrs Loss was trying to cash in on the sensational murder and had her sons plant the clothing.
Plunged into a deep depression after the death of his fiance, Daniel Payne's alcoholism spiralled out of control. He even claimed to have been visited by the ghost of Mary Rogers on several occasions. On the morning of October 7, 1841 Payne visited several neighborhood bars, drinking heavily at each one. He also paid a visit to an apothecary's shop where he purchased a small vial of Laudanum. Next he boarded a ferry bound for Hoboken. He made his way to the spot where Mary had been brought ashore and sat down. He pulled a piece of paper from his pocket and scribbled a note, "To the World here I am on the very spot. May God forgive me for my misspent life." He shoved the paper back in his pocket and pulled out the vial of Laudanum and downed the entire contains. The poison took some time to take effect.
Since his alibi statements had exonerated him, the press viewed him as a man so consumed with grief that he could no longer live without his beloved.
And in another strange twist in this bizzarre case, on October 26, 1842, Mrs Frederica Loss was "accidentally" shot by one of her sons. She lingered on her deathbed for two weeks during which time she sent for the justice of the peace in order to give a final confession: On the Sunday of Mary Rogers disappearance she came to the tavern in the company of a young physician who brought her there to perform an abortion. However the operation was botched and Mary bled to death. Later that night her body was taken to the river by one of Mrs Loss' sons and tossed into the river.
Given the previous lies she had told and the coroner's report, many did not believe this latest story from Mrs. Loss. Still Mrs Loss' version of Mary's death became the accepted version of the facts. Especially after Poe hinted at the abortion attempt in his book. They felt that the coroner had lied in his report in order to protect Mary's reputation.
So who really killed Mary Cecilia Rogers? Was it a gang of miscreants, a jilted lover, or an unscrupulous physician? To this day the answer still remains a mystery!