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. As they passed the Rahway River, they found a woman lying on the ground a few hundred feet from the Central Avenue Bridge. She was well dressed and had been carrying a basket of eggs. Most shocking of all, however, was the pool of frozen blood on the ground. Her throat had been cut, her hands were covered with defensive 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 driving up the hype for all it was worth. The police offered rewards for information about the unknown woman, but for all the work they did, nothing positive ever developed.
Amazingly, even with all the international attention, the woman’s name could not be discovered. 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, though generations of amateur sleuths have taken up the torch. The woman was buried 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.”