Two and a half months after Mary Rogers’ corpse is pulled from the river near Sybil’s Cave, her fiancé Daniel Payne’s body is found in almost the exact same spot. Frederica Loss also makes a deathbed confession to Coroner Gilbert Merritt, and police begin investigating the angle that Mary was the victim of a botched abortion procedure.
In the end, although Mary’s murder was never solved, the poorly handled police investigation and the media frenzy that followed led to the creation of a more structured judicial system. Four years after Mary’s death, New York City became the first city in the country to employ a full-time professional police force.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie unpack the various theories swirling around Mary’s disappearance and murder.
Sitting down in front of the bar, Daniel orders three glasses of the finest whiskey. His temper flares when a picture of Mary incites a drunk man to begin singing about her. Daniel yells at the bartender to tear Mary’s picture off the wall but is refused and asked to leave. In a fury fueled by alcohol, Daniel throws a punch and is promptly thrown out.
He drunkenly wanders down the street, muttering to himself, and is never seen alive again. Two homeless men find his body by Sybil’s Cave and strip him of his valuables. Later, authorities find an empty bottle of Laudanum at the scene, a narcotic lethal in large doses. This, coupled with a suicide note, points to Daniel taking his own life.
Capitalizing on public obsession over the unsolved murder, Edgar Allan Poe visits William W. Snowden, the editor of The Ladies’ Companion, to pitch “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Edgar promises that the story will satisfy the public’s need for the truth and provide a viable ending to the Mary Rogers’ mystery. In the story, Edgar writes that “Marie” was murdered by the naval officer she went to a tavern with.
The details so closely resemble the real case that some people think Edgar is intimately involved in the murder. He knew John Anderson, and it’s possible he met Mary herself during one of his visits to the tobacco shop. However, Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter and Wenndy think the theory is far-fetched and that Edgar was an opportunist, not a murderer.
The first installment of “The Mystery of Marie Roget” is published in November of 1842, with the second part due to run the following month. Much to Edgar’s dismay, the printing is pushed back when Frederica makes a deathbed confession about Mary’s case. Accidentally shot by her son Oscar, Frederica asks to see Coroner Gilbert Merritt. She tells him that the tall, dark man Mary was with the night she died was a physician. According to Frederica, her sons dumped Mary’s lifeless body into the river after a botched abortion procedure.
Spurred by Frederica’s tale, authorities look further into the possibility that Mary was a victim of an abortion gone wrong. Instead of looking for a tall, dark man, however, they turn their focus to notorious female physician Madame Restell, whose medical training is non-existent but had numerous dubious solutions up her sleeve for preventing, hiding and ending pregnancies. Considering her past troubles with the law, as opposed to actual evidence, they think Madame Restell is tied to Mary’s demise.
The scene cuts to Madame Restell talking to a young housemaid named Judy Smith who wants to end her pregnancy so she doesn’t lose her job. She gives the girl a glass of milk to help settle her stomach and discusses payment.
As much as police like Madame Restell for the crime, there is no evidence linking her to Mary’s death – or even her supposed abortion. They also dismiss Frederica’s testimony as a hoax and do not look for the tall, dark male physician.
Unfortunately, the shoddy police work doesn’t end there. Although some suspect Frederica’s death wasn’t really an accident, that her boys shot her to keep her quiet about a crime they committed, this lead wasn’t pursued either.
Following the line of thought that Mary saw an abortionist the night she died, Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories hosts Carter and Wenndy speculate that it may have been her second procedure – the first happening three years before when she disappeared for several days. This could explain the damage to her feminine region and why she needed a loan from her boss, as these secret procedures were expensive. Carter even suggests that the child may have been John Anderson’s and that he knowingly paid for the abortion and/or had Mary killed.
Wenndy does not think this theory is far-fetched. In 1887, The New York Tribune reports that John Anderson may have paid Edgar Allan Poe to lead suspicion away from him by writing an ending for “The Mystery of Marie Roget” that strayed from the actual truth.
John’s will and testament reveals the amount he loaned to Mary and that he believed he was haunted by her ghost. John also allegedly told a colleague that his indirect involvement in her death plagued his conscience and prevented him from pursuing professional advancements or political office.
Either way, a failed abortion does not explain the bruises on Mary’s neck. Another possibility Carter and Wenndy suggest is that the procedure didn’t kill Mary but left her in critical condition. Then to keep her silent on the matter, the physician strangled her and had Frederica and her sons help cover up the crime.
The episode ends with a brief discussion of Alfred Crommelin and a red rose Mary hangs from his door before her death. Like John and Daniel, Alfred has a solid alibi for the night of the murder. While it’s possible he orchestrated her demise from afar, Carter and Wenndy believe it unlikely. They also mention that the widely-accepted abortion theory forced Edgar Allan Poe to rewrite the ending to “The Mystery of Marie Roget”; and he didn’t get rich from it.
Both show hosts suspect John Anderson is responsible for Mary Rogers’ murder. But what do you think happened? And who do you think was involved? Join the conversation on Facebook www.facebook.com/parcast and Twitter @ParcastNetwork to let us know your thoughts.