Mondays are Murder: Mary Rogers

Mondays are Murder

Ciao, amici. Is there anything worse than a violent, senseless murder? How about a violent, senseless murder that’s never solved?

That’s the case of Mary Rogers.

Mary was renowned for her beauty. When her father died, she took a job at a tobacco shop in New York City. The seventeen year old quickly began to earn a higher-than-average salary because customers came from far and wide to see her, substantially increasing the store’s profits. The “Beautiful Cigar Girl” attracted countless journalists as well as famed writers James Fenimore Cooper and Washington Irving. She even became the subject of poetry.

On Sunday, July 25, 1841, Mary told her mother and her fiancé (Daniel Payne) she was going to New Jersey to visit family and would return the following day.

She never came home.

Mary had disappeared once before. Three years earlier, the New York Sun reported her missing. When she turned up a few days later, people wrote it off as a publicity stunt for the paper.

Perhaps there was a little boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome, maybe it was because of a nasty storm, but her disappearance this time wasn’t met with a sense of urgency.

Then on Wednesday, July 28, her body was found in the Hudson River near Hoboken, New Jersey. Police noted signs of a struggle—her dress and hat were tattered and her body was battered. Rumors circulated as to the cause of her death—some say her fiancé killed her after a heated argument, others believed she died having an abortion, and still more people insisted her murder was the result of gang-related violence. With so many stories and so few facts, her murder went unsolved.

Fewer than three months later, Payne killed himself at the spot Mary’s body was found. His suicide note read, “To the World—here I am on the very spot. May God forgive me for my misspent life.” Some say that was proof of his guilt, while others chalked it up to inconsolable grief. A year later, a woman in Hoboken told the police Mary had died from complications resulting from an abortion, though this was never proven. (That was two of the three theories given more weight. But neither was enough to confirm cause of death.)

Edgar Allen Poe took such an interest in this case, he appropriated the details of the murder (though he changed names and locations) for his “fictional” story, The Mystery of Marie Rogêt . He used a technique called “ratiocination” (a way to reach conclusions based on rational thought that requires leaps of inference rather than definitive evidence), hoping that via his writing and public consumption, the murder could be solved.

Some call it the first “true crime” story.

Poe’s protagonist was his legendary character, C. Auguste Dupin. Dupin was an amateur sleuth introduced in The Murders in the Rue Morgue. His last appearance was in The Purloined Letter. Dupin used his intellect and imagination (and ratiocination) to solve the crimes. He was part detective and part profiler, though neither term had been invented yet. Dupin helped establish the detective fiction genre, paving the way for such literary greats as Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.

Unfortunately, neither Poe nor the NYPD were able to definitely solve the murder of Mary Rogers.

I’m such a fan of the mystery/suspense/thriller genre. I wonder if I’ll ever have a Dupin or Holmes or Poirot of my own. Maybe one of you would like that for a character of your own.

I’ve never used a real-life case to write a work of fiction, but I’m starting to think about it. What about you? Have you ever done that? Would you? Let’s talk about it.

Published by Staci Troilo

A writer fascinated with interpersonal relationships, the importance of family, and the relevance of heritage. Learn more at

40 thoughts on “Mondays are Murder: Mary Rogers

  1. There are so many of these unsolved cases, great fodder for mysteries. One of my writing sisters has started writing a mystery novel about an unsolved case in Chicago from the 60s involving three young women who disappeared. No bodies ever found. No one knows what happened to them. The real life case is very interesting, and I can’t wait to read her take on it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Interesting and sad.

    I have never used anything real life, but I have considered the “Tin Hut” as a setting for a story. I have been fascinated by that place since I can remember. Sad that it no longer exists. Most of what remains has been removed. The things that place saw and the people that went there would be a great tale.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Poor Mary. I think the worst is the negative aspect put on her disappearance. What if it was a random killing? Her family must have hated all the conjecture.
    I use real life events for my suspense books like the left feet washing up on our shores, but have never done a full-out investigation into the facts. I’d probably end up with nightmares!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I enjoyed this post, Staci, despite its sad content. I like the tie in to Edgar Allan Poe’s writing too. I write about real people all the time. My three stories in Death Among Us are all based on real people or myths about read people. The ghost in Through the Nethergate are mainly based on myths and legends around real people too. The facts are usually skimpy so I make up a lot of the story but the basic facts are true.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I usually start with something real then totally fictionalize it. If you knew where it came from, you’d never recognize it in the book. I’m kind of kicking around a similar idea now.


    1. I’m not sure I could separate my heart from the story to rip one from the headlines. But I know a lot of people manage. And yes, Mary’s story is so sad… all the more because it was never solved. Sometimes I wonder about the darkness of humanity.


  5. Never say never. It isn’t really my genre, but I have dabbled. There is a short story in one of the Experimental Notebooks that’s based around an old family story. Practical Geology involves a murder using radioactive minerals.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. That’s so sad bout Mary. I know she never made it back home, but I wonder if she ever arrived in New Jersey?
    I don’t think I could ever delve deep enough into true crime to fictionalize something, but like Joan, I might glean a few ideas.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I never knew this about Poe – so interesting. I’d have to use a real-life case, because I’m not clever enough to create one myself. If I tried, everyone would figure it out in the first couple of chapters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’ve never written a full out murder mystery based on a real story. I would want to solve it and give it the ending it deserves. I’ve thought about doing this and do love reading them. Never know. Its always sad to think of a persons life cut short and not even knowing why.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. It’s the unsolved ones that really get me. I don’t know if I could detail a real murder in a fictional story, but if it was an unsolved one, I’d agonize over it, wondering if my conclusion was the right one. Murder is hard enough without it being solved.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve got a few story ideas floating on my computer that are based on news stories I’ve come accross, but I haven’t yet published any. I too love the murder/mystery/suspense genre. Who knows, one day. Thanks, Staci 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love the genre, too, Harmony… when it’s fiction. I watch the true crime stories because I’m fascinated, but I usually watch the ones where the killer was caught. I don’t think I could ever research one of the unsolved murders in depth, let alone turn around and write about it.

      Liked by 1 person

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