Mary Rogers (murderer)
At age 17, Mary married Marcus Rogers. She was noted for being immature and restless, and often stayed away from home when she was upset with her husband. Rogers gave birth to a daughter in 1901. When the child was six months old, Rogers ran into a neighbor’s home crying that she had dropped the baby, who later died of a fractured skull. Her husband’s family believed she had intentionally killed the child. These suspicions were heightened after Marcus Rogers became violently ill after drinking tea that his wife had prepared for him. Mary Rogers moved out of the house shortly after this incident, but her husband hoped they could reconcile.
Marcus Rogers found work as a laborer in Hoosick Falls, New York, while Mary lived in Bennington, Vermont. Although Marcus pleaded with his wife to join him in Hoosick Falls, she refused. Mary Rogers struck up relationships with a laborer, Morris Knapp, and two brothers living in the same residence house as Knapp, Leon and Levi Perham. Rogers first approached Levi Perham with an offer of $500 if he would kill her husband. Levi initially agreed to help her, but he was intoxicated at the time and later backed out; he did not tell the police because he felt it was just idle talk.
Rogers then proposed the idea of murdering her husband to Leon Perham while they lay in bed in early August 1902; Leon agreed to help her kill her husband, even though Rogers made it clear that her reason for disposing of her husband was to leave her free to marry Knapp. Rogers arranged to meet her husband in a Bennington picnic grove on the evening of August 12, 1902. Leon Perham was with Mary when Marcus arrived, but apparently Marcus did not question Leon’s presence. That evening, Mary pretended to be happy to have seen her husband and spoke with him of reconciliation.
At some point during the picnic, Mary offered to show her husband a rope trick she had learned from a friend. Mary tied Perham’s hands several times, and each time Perham easily broke free of the restraint, with Mary pretending to be disappointed when he did so. Mary then challenged her husband to try the trick. She tied his wrists a few times, and he also easily broke free. Then Mary “convinced” Perham to try the trick on her husband. When Perham bound Marcus' wrists behind his back, Rogers could not break free. Mary took a vial of chloroform from her purse and forced her husband to breathe it in for about twenty minutes, until he stopped struggling. Mary went through Marcus' pockets and removed his life insurance payment book. Mary and Perham then rolled the body into the nearby river and Marcus Rogers drowned. Rogers tacked Marcus' hat to a tree with a suicide note.
Investigation and trial
The investigation begun after the body was discovered; Perham made a full confession. At Rogers's trial in 1904, Perham was the state's key witness against Rogers. Due to his testimony (and his youth), Perham avoided a death sentence. At her trial, Rogers was portrayed as a shameless harlot and an unwomanly monster. She was found guilty of first degree murder and sentenced to death by hanging.
Following Rogers's conviction, there was a concerted effort to have her death sentence commuted. State Representative Frank C. Archibald of Manchester, who was also one of Rogers' attorneys, introduced a bill in the Vermont House of Representatives that would have commuted Rogers' sentence to life imprisonment. The bill was referred to the judiciary committee on October 12, 1904. On December 6, the committee reported in favor of its passage. On December 7, a vote on the bill in the House of Representatives was defeated by a vote of 139 to 91.
On December 9, Representative Archibald proposed a joint resolution of the Vermont House and Senate to investigate Rogers' physical and mental condition at the time of the commission of the crime and at the present time, and to prepare a report as to her condition for the governor. The resolution stated that if it should appear that Rogers either at the time she committed the crime or at present was mentally or physically unsound, that a reprieve should be requested and her execution delayed until after the 1906 Vermont Legislative Session. The House adopted this resolution but the Senate did not.
On May 30, 1905, Governor Charles J. Bell granted a reprieve to Rogers after the Vermont Supreme Court denied Rogers' appeal by a 5–2 vote; the reprieve was intended to allow the appeal to be heard by the United States Supreme Court. The U.S. Supreme Court heard the case on November 6 and held on November 27 that the Court could not find that Rogers had sustained any violation of her Federal Constitutional rights by the proceedings of the executive or judicial departments of the State of Vermont.
Investigation into prison behavior
In 1904, the Vermont Commission to Investigate State Institutions began investigating charges of misbehavior at the Vermont State Prison, where Rogers was being held. A large portion of the commission's transcripts focused on its examination of allegations of inappropriate sexual relations between prison officers and Rogers.
After the U.S. Supreme Court decision, Governor Bell signed Rogers's execution warrant and the execution was scheduled for December 8, 1905. Rogers inquired on December 7 whether the gallows were being erected, despite efforts having been made to muffle the construction noise. During the ten days between the signing of the warrant and her execution, Rogers ate and slept well, but she declined breakfast on the morning of her execution.
Governor Bell granted leave to hear an appeal from Rogers' counsel at 8 a.m. on her scheduled execution day; however, he found no reason to commute her death sentence. With no new evidence, he declined to stay the execution and Rogers was hanged at the Vermont State Prison later that day.
- Hearn, Daniel Allen, Legal Executions in New England: A comprehensive reference, 1623–1960 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1999) pp. 305–307.
- John Stark Bellamy, "Did Mary Rogers Deserve Hanging?", Rutland Herald, June 12, 2005.
- "Woman hanged", Burlington Free Press, December 9, 1905, p. 2.
- Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Vermont, Biennial Session, 1904, p. 75.
- Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Vermont, Biennial Session 1904, p. 389.
- "Bill to Save Woman Beaten: Vermont Legislators Defeat Measure to Prevent the Hanging of Mrs. Rogers", New York Times, 1904-12-08.
- Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Vermont, Biennial Session, 1904, p. 425.
- Journal of the House of Representatives, State of Vermont, Biennial Session, 1904, pp. 470–471.
- Rogers v. Peck, 199 U.S. 425 (1905).
- Commission Investigating State Institutions. Investigation of the Vermont State Prison hearing transcripts, 1904-1906. (Vermont State Archives, Record Series PRA-077).
- "Execution of Mary Rogers", Bennington Evening Banner, December 8, 1905, pp. 1–4.
- John Stark Bellamy (2007). Vintage Vermont Villainies: True Tales of Murder & Mystery from the 19th and 20th Centuries (Woodstock, VT: Countryman) ISBN 978-0-88150-749-2
- Rogers v. Peck, 199 U.S. 425 (1905) (opinion full text)