It was a pleasant July afternoon in Hoboken, New Jersey. The year was 1841, and Hoboken offered a countrified respite from the sultry heat of New York City. Two young men were relaxing along the Hudson River near Sybil’s Cave, where a rocky cliff had been excavated to reach a natural spring. People believed the water had healing powers and paid one cent a glass to refresh themselves with it after strolling the River Walk.
As the young men gazed at the water, they saw an unexpected sight: a dead body. They commandeered a boat to retrieve what proved to be the remains of Mary Cecilia Rogers. She had disappeared from her home in lower Manhattan a few days earlier and had been the object of an eager search. A particularly beautiful young woman, she had worked in a cigar store on Broadway—a risqué occupation for a young woman in that era—and had had a large number of suitors.
The coroner determined that she had been murdered—rather than merely drowned. Her clothing was torn, her body marked by bruises, and she appeared to have been sexually violated, maybe by more than one person.
The murder became a cause célèbre, taken up with great enthusiasm by the many tabloids of the day. Various suspects were proposed, including a sailor who had been one of her beaux—her bonnet had come loose and been re-secured with a sailor’s knot. Another theory pointed to the gangs that were rampant in the city at that time. Abducting, raping, and killing an attractive young woman might have been just the kind of sport they enjoyed, and a witness reported seeing someone who could have been Mary Rogers crossing the Hudson in a boat with a group of men.
The case was never solved. But much, much earlier than Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, it inspired an important work of crime fiction.
[What grisly piece is this?]