The disappearance and murder of Mary Rogers in 1841 became a major tabloid story for the New York newspapers. Edgar Allan Poe wrote a mystery story about it, but Mary’s murderer was never identified.
Sunday, July 25, 1841, was a hot day in New York City. That morning 20-year-old Mary Rogers left the boarding house owned by her mother to attend services at her church. She returned home later that morning and talked briefly with her mother and with one of the residents, Daniel Payne, who happened to be her fiancé. Payne would later testify that Mary had outlined her plans for the day: visiting her aunt until evening and then returning home. The aunt lived nearby, only a quarter of an hour trip by horse-drawn carriage. Mary asked Payne to meet her at the nearest carriage stop that evening and escort her home.
That afternoon, the city was crippled with a severe thunderstorm. When Payne went to meet Mary at the carriage stop, he found that she had not returned from her aunt's. He surmised that she had wisely stayed at her aunt's in order to avoid the storm, and would return the following morning.
By Monday morning the weather had cleared up, but Mary did not return home. This caused her mother and Payne and Alfred Crommelin (another boarder and, coincidentally, a former beau of Mary's) to set up a search plan. The natural starting place was the home of the aunt Mary had visited on Sunday. But the aunt stated she had not seen Mary on Sunday nor had she expected a visit from her.
The three continued their search Monday afternoon, but with no success. Believing the necessary search needed more than three people, they placed an ad in the New York Sun newspaper asking if anyone had seen "a young lady (wearing) a white dress, black shawl, blue scarf, Leghorn hat, light colored shoes, and parasol light-colored." Anyone who had seen a young woman matching this description was asked to contact her mother because "it is supposed some accident has befallen her."
Mary had disappeared once before. In October of 1838, she went missing for several days. Upon her return, she vaguely stated that she had gone to visit relatives in Brooklyn, although she did not explain why she had not told anyone of this journey beforehand. Her mother now wondered if her second disappearance was a similar episode. Perhaps she would reappear soon.