March 25th, 1887 was a day that changed the town of Rahway, New Jersey, forever.
In the cold hours of the early morning, a group of four brothers were walking to work at the local felt mill by Bloodgood’s Pond in Clark. As they passed the Rahway River, they found a woman lying on the ground a few hundred meters from the Central Avenue Bridge. She was well dressed and had been carrying a basket of eggs.
The woman appeared to be in her early 20s, and was described as attractive, with brown hair and blue eyes. She was found clad in a dark green cashmere dress and a fur cape to protect herself from the cold,a black hat made of straw, a black dotted veil, and a bonnet.
Most shocking of all, however, was the pool of blood frozen in the cold on the ground: her throat had been cut, her hands were covered with wounds, and half of her face had been smashed in.
While the police began an investigation, the story drew an unprecedented level of international attention. Headlines all over the United States and even in Europe and Australia were asking questions, looking for clues, and the police offered rewards for information about the unknown woman. Her murder was the subject of national headlines and hundreds came to view the body. Investigators had her embalmed body photographed dressed in the clothes she was found in and these images were circulated widely.
However, for all the work they did, nothing positive ever developed.
Surprisingly, even with all the international attention, the woman’s name could not be discovered and neither she nor her killer were ever identified.
Even though the entire country and beyond knew about her, no one could identify the corpse. Over 10,000 people attended her service, but not a single friend or family member stepped forward. She has since been known as the “Unknown Woman.”
The mystery remains unsolved to this day, and the woman was buried in May 1887 at the back of Rahway Cemetery, away from everyone else, because no one knew if she was virtuous. Her simple tombstone, its writing faded and obscured by time, reads, “An unknown woman, found dead March 25, 1887.”