A Cold Killing in a Hot City
The Montrose area of Houston has been noted for its eccentric qualities.
Westheimer Road in Montrose is home to some of Houston’s most iconic businesses.
Historically known as a bohemian enclave, Montrose has long been home to many artists and some of the city’s better dive bars. Numbers, a club on Westheimer, was/is a haven for the vampire set or anyone with a penchant for black clothing. Nine Inch Nails, Jesus and Mary Chain, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others have played the club. Montrose has also been the longtime home to the nation’s fourth Pacifica radio station since 1970. Their transmitter was bombed twice by the Ku Klux Klan.
But in 1965, Montrose was still transitioning from quiet residential suburb to counter culture hub. In a retrospective on the neighborhood’s history, the Houston Chronicle wrote, “Eventually, in the late sixties and early seventies, the area was home to older families until it welcomed an influx of new residents. They were attracted to the area because of cheap rents made available by duplexes and apartment buildings. They also didn’t quite fit in into the suburban lifestyle, where Southern traditions were the norm. These were the outcasts of society: gays, starving artists and a whole range of bohemian characters.”
The traditional boundaries of the Montrose neighborhood.
In the middle of this upheaval, an elderly couple, Fred and Edwina Rogers, quietly went about their lives on Driscoll Street until one day when they got too quiet. On June 23, 1965, Edwina’s worried nephew asked the Houston Police Department to check on them.
The grisly discovery of the Rogers’ bodies, dismembered and carefully stacked in their own refrigerator, shocked the then small city of Houston. As disturbing as these details were, neighbors were also surprised to learn that the couple’s adult son had been living in their attic for over a year.
Reserved and intelligent with the kind of disposition modern media associates with lone shooters and terrorists, Charles Rogers had studied geology and seismology at the University of Houston before finding work in the oil industry. A trail of blood led to the attic where Charles lived, police expected to find the worst. All they found was a bloody keyhole saw. Charles Rogers vanished without a trace and was declared legally dead in 1975.
Perhaps even more strange is the sudden life the Rogers family received in the wake of their deaths. Through a combination of rumor and the imagination of a few crime writers, Charles has since become one of conspiracy theorists’ favorite possible suspects in the Kennedy assassination. His alleged partner, along with the CIA, was convicted hitman Charles Harrelson, father of actor Woody Harrelson. There is some plausibility to the JFK theory, as Rogers had been a Navy pilot and worked in naval intelligence during World War Two. His work with various mining outfits reportedly put him in contact with CIA contractors.
The murder of Rogers’ parents and his subsequent disappearance might have resulted from their discovery of evidence implicating him in the assassination plot. This is ludicrous, of course, but it hasn’t stopped James Ellroy from using Rogers as a character in two novels.
Ridiculous conspiracies aside, the case has drawn interest from those with more realistic worldviews. Starting in 1997, husband and wife forensic accountants, Hugh and Martha Gardenier, began tracking the Rogers case ultimately coming to the conclusion that Charles used his oil contacts to disappear and was later killed in Honduras. He was able to hide so successfully because, regardless of his crimes, Charles Rogers was very good at finding oil, gold, and other valuable minerals.
“Charles literally had an employer in Houston, the owner of the company could have come forward. He could have said, ‘Hey, I know this man. I know where he is, I know what his habits are and patterns.’ No, gentlemen wouldn’t. And a lot of the reason that people didn’t come forward that knew things is they had either made money from Charles Rogers or were making money from Charles Rogers. In essence, he was the golden goose,” Hugh Gardenier said on the Criminal podcast earlier this year.
The Gardeniers’ research into the “Icebox Murders” is probably the most exhaustive look into the case outside of law enforcement. According to their research, the Rogers had a rough home life and abused their son into adulthood. Even the refrigerator at the heart of this story had significant meaning for the family. Fred and Edwina maintained two separate refrigerators, one with his food the other with hers, to reduce fighting though that was pretty constant anyways.
“By all accounts, they hated each other,” Hugh Gardenier said to Criminal.
Though the Gardeniers’ theory is more plausible than the JFK angle, which they brushed aside for lack of evidence, it demonstrates the trouble with great unsolved murder mysteries. The best don’t often have plausible suspects. The rest, like the Rogers case, have an obvious culprit that can never be convicted, leaving a crime unsolved.
This case is still a unique slice of quirky neighborhood history. The house on the 1800 block of Driscoll Street is within walking distance of my own. Today, the site is unremarkable and hosts a lovely line of townhouses, though other reporting refers to them as condos I’m not sure of the difference.
While walking around Driscoll recently, I worked up the courage to ask a resident walking their dog if they knew anything about the murders.
“No, isn’t that something the realtor should have disclosed when we bought it?” they asked.
Not technically. Since the original structure was razed in the 70s, realtors don’t have to disclose information about the murders.
“Is this something you wish you didn’t know?” I asked after noticing a drop in enthusiasm for the conversation.
“Kind of,” the resident replied after a moment of thought.
After researching crime for a few years, especially those committed in my own backyard, I can understand that perspective.
Andrew Egan is writer and editor of Crimes In Progress. His work has appeared in Forbes Magazine, ABC News, Atlas Obscura, Tedium, and more. He is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin. His novel, Nothing Too Original, is available now in Kindle and Paperback.