The Murder Mystery of Mary Rogers
The Beautiful Cigar Girl
Mary Rogers never came home.
On the morning of Sunday, July 25, 1841, 20-year-old Mary left the New York City boarding house owned by her mother and attended church services and then visited briefly with a friend. Back at her mother's Nassau Street boarding house, Mary spoke with one of the boarders, Daniel Payne, to whom she was engaged. Payne, a corkcutter by trade, later testified that she told him that she was going out for the afternoon to visit her relative Mrs. Downing, and if she did not return in time for supper to come fetch her.
Before evening fell, New York City was hit by a severe thunderstorm, and when Mary did not return, Payne guessed that Mary had decided to wait out the storm at Mrs. Downing's and would return the following morning.
But Mary Rogers never came home.
By Monday morning, her disappearance had caused concern, if not panic, for Mary's mother, Daniel Payne, and friend and former fiancé Alfred Crommelin. They searched the city and made inquiries with Mrs. Downing (who hadn't seen Mary on that Sunday nor had been expecting her to visit) and other likely places Mary might have gone. A small notice was placed in the New York Sun newspaper asking if anyone who had information on "a young lady (wearing) a white dress, black shawl, blue scarf, Leghorn hat, light colored shoes, and parasol light-colored" who was last seen on the morning of the 25th to please inform her mother at the boarding house, as "it is supposed some accident has befallen her."
This was not the first time Mary had vanished, however. In October 1838, she went missing for several days and when she returned, supposedly after visiting relatives in Brooklyn (but apparently not telling friends or her employer she was going), she was shocked at the amount of curiosity her brief vacation had sparked.
Her 1841 disappearance and the subsequent finding of the battered body on the New Jersey shores of the Hudson River (which the coroner, based on Crommelin's identification, would officially proclaim to be the remains of Mary Rogers) would probably not have sparked the sensation it did, however, had Mary not recently worked as the sales clerk at John Anderson's tobacco store.
Anderson's Liberty Street store was a popular haunt for writers. According to New York chief of police George Walling, literary notables such as James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving and Edgar Allen Poe were all "acquainted with the dainty figure and pretty face where they bought their cigars."
More importantly, however, Mary was well-known to reporters and editors for the many New York City newspapers. Known as the "Beautiful Cigar Girl," Mary had waited on many of them during her employment at Anderson's, and those same newspapermen quickly turned Mary's death into a media spectacle such as New York City had never seen, as every aspect of the case was proclaimed in bold headlines that pushed national and international news off the front page.