Officer Charles Bullock knocked loudly on the front door of the house.
He and his partner, Officer L.M. Barta, listened intently for any sound coming from inside. They heard nothing.
Barta looked around the property.
There was nothing out of place that he could see. It was a small, 1.5 story wood frame and yellow brick house. It fit in perfectly with the other houses in its tree-lined residential neighborhood in Houston, Texas.
It belonged to Fred Rogers, a retired real estate salesman, and his wife, Edwina. Their nephew, Marvin Matlin, had called the Houston Police Department earlier that day and asked if they could send a few officers to check on them.
They were both elderly, and they hadn’t been answering their phone. Matlin had come to check on them himself, but no one had answered the door. Worried, he called the police.
Bullock knocked again. The policemen waited and listened, but still heard nothing.
This bothered them. They had hoped that someone would answer the door. That would have meant that everything was okay. But them not answering like this could mean something worse.
Standing on the front doorstep was getting them nowhere. After a brief exchange, Barta and Bullock decided to walk around the house to see if anything seemed out of place.
When they got to the backyard, they could see that several flowerpots had been piled up against the back door.
That was strange. Who blockaded their back door? It looked like someone had been trying to keep someone out of the house. Or, perhaps, someone inside.
Something wasn’t right here. The officers began moving the flowerpots to the side. When it was clear, they forced their way inside to check on the Rogers’.
Bullock was instantly on alert. Something was off about this whole situation. There was something that felt different inside that house, something wrong.
Inside there was no sign of either Fred or Edwina anywhere. They called out a few more times, but no one answered.
Barta and Bullock stood in the kitchen, discussing what to do next. As they weighed their options, Bullock reached out and opened the refrigerator door. Later, he would have no idea why he did it. It was just an impulse.
Inside were piles of meat.
The two men just stared at it, curious and confused. Several piles of carefully cut pieces of meat were stacked carefully inside. Barta and Bullock guessed that someone must have butchered a hog and put the meat inside the fridge to preserve it.
As they scanned the contents of the fridge, their gaze travelled downwards. They were shocked when two sets of glassy eyes stared blankly back at them.
Inside the crisper drawer, meant for storing vegetables, were the severed heads of Fred and Edwina Rogers.
With another glance at the meat, the officers realized that, to their horror, the meat didn’t belong to a pig. It was what was left of the couple.
They quickly walked back to their car and radioed the dispatcher about what they had found.
Detectives arrived a short time later, along with Henry Ismonde, a medical examiner.
Ismonde believed that the couple had been killed almost a week earlier, perhaps the previous Saturday. This fit with Matlin’s story, who told authorities that he had last spoken to his aunt the Friday before.
Ismonde told detectives that he would have to wait until an autopsy to be sure, but it looked like the killer had some knowledge of human anatomy. Whether he did or not, he had obviously taken his time with the couple.
The killer had carefully washed each piece and then placed them in the fridge until almost every shelf was full.
The Rogers had lived in the neighborhood for the past ten years. Although friendly, Fred and Edwina were mostly private people who kept to themselves.
None of the neighbors could remember when they had last seen the elderly couple exactly, but they all agreed that it hadn’t been anytime that week.
The interior of the home was a mess. It was littered with dirty dishes and stacks of magazines and newspapers.
Neighbors said that they had seen Fred rummaging through their trash cans on several occasions. He collected their old newspapers, which they assumed he was selling for extra cash.
In the bathroom toilet, detectives found a pile of intestines. It seemed as though someone had tried to flush them down the toilet. The rest of the bathroom had been scoured clean, along with the stairs leading to an upstairs bedroom.
The bedroom belonged to Charles Rogers, Fred and Edwina’s son.
Matlin explained that Charles was a recluse who seldom spoke to his parents. No one knew where, or even if, he worked, although Matlin believed that he was an electrician. He left the house in the early morning hours before Fred and Edwina woke up and didn’t come back until after they had gone to bed.
Charles was so reclusive that, out of all the neighbors that detectives spoke to, only one knew that he even lived in the house, let alone that he was Fred and Edwina’s son.
Investigators discovered traces of blood on the kitchen and bathroom floors, as well as the keyhole in Charles’ bedroom door.
A claw hammer was also found with traces of blood on it, although it didn’t have any fingerprints.
Detectives theorized that the killer had murdered Fred and Edwina and then dragged their bodies into the bathroom. There they had been drained of their blood, probably in the bathtub, and then carefully and meticulously butchered into small pieces and placed in the fridge.
An autopsy showed that Fred had been bludgeoned to death, most likely with the claw hammer found in the Rogers house. Edwina had been shot through the head.
The prime suspect was immediately Charles Rogers.
All the windows and doors were closed and locked, and all the window shades had been drawn. There were no signs of forced entry.
Despite not really interacting with his parents, Charles would have still been a familiar face and could have easily taken them by surprise. They never would have suspected anything until it was too late.
After committing the murder, Charles would have all the time he needed to butcher them and then clean whatever he needed to clean. Leaving through the back door, he stacked the flowerpots outside the door, and then left.
Detectives quickly learned that no one knew anything about him. He lived a marginal existence in the middle of Houston, almost like a ghost.
Only one of the neighbors even knew he lived in the house, and his parents never mentioned him to anyone. Even his cousin, Marvin Matlin, could only relate things that he had done in the past, but wasn’t absolutely sure about some of that.
Detectives determined to find out more about Charles Rogers. To their surprise, there was much more to him than they had initially suspected.
Charles held a degree in nuclear physics and had worked as a seismologist for a major oil company for several years. He had served in the Navy during World War II and was a skilled airplane pilot who had made several trips from Houston to Austin, Texas.
Detectives realized that they had a capable, intelligent suspect on their hands. He could have gone anywhere.
Unfortunately, there were other several factors working against them as well.
To begin with, Charles was an average, non-descript man. He was balding with a slight build, was about 5’7” tall, and weighed about 130 pounds. He wouldn’t stand out as interesting to anyone looking for him.
To make matters more difficult, the only photograph police had of him was several years old, and no one could be sure if he still looked that way or completely different.
Detectives placed a nationwide alert for Charles Rogers among law enforcement agencies. In addition, police started canvassing Texas airfields around Houston and Austin. He had been known to rent a plane to fly between the two cities, and it was possible that he had done it again to elude authorities.
Despite their best efforts, they discovered no leads.
In July, a man was arrested in Huntsville, Texas for disturbing the peace. When he was taken in front of the Justice of the Peace, a police officer in the courtroom recognized his name: Charles Rogers.
The next day, the man who had identified himself as Charles Rogers confessed, telling police that he had lied about his name. He thought things at the jail were boring, so he figured if police thought he was the subject of a nationwide manhunt, then it would be more exciting. A check of his fingerprints proved that he was telling the truth.
This was the last promising lead in the hunt for Charles Rogers. The manhunt continued, but Charles was never found.
The gruesome murder of Fred and Edwina Rogers became known as the Icebox Murders. Regardless of the lack of leads in the case, there have been a few theories on who committed the crime over the years.
In 1997, a Houston, Texas couple named Hugh and Martha Gardenier decided to do their own investigation of the murder.
They concluded that it had been Charles Rogers. They theorized that he had been emotionally and physically abused by his parents through childhood and even as an adult.
The Gardenier’s claimed that Charles had owned the house they all lived in, and his parents had forged his signature and taken out loans against the house, using the money toward their own ends. In addition, they had done similar things with other properties he owned.
Finally fed up, Charles had murdered them and escaped to Mexico. He was later murdered in Honduras by local mine workers.
Another theory was far stranger.
A few years before the Gardinier’s put forth their theory, authors Philip A. Rogers and John R. Craig put forth the idea that Charles might have been one of the men who killed President John F. Kennedy.
They alleged that he had recorded the details of the assassination in his diary. At some point, Fred, Edwina, or both, read his diaries and realized what their son had done.
To keep his secret, Charles murdered them.
While both theories were intriguing, neither could be proven. Despite a monumental effort on the part of law enforcement, he was never found.
In 1975, ten years after the murder of his parents, Charles Rogers was declared legally dead.
Almost 50 years after that declaration, the brutal slaying of Fred and Edwina Rogers are still unsolved.
Grisly Murder Found Near Downtown Houston. Longview News-Journal, 6/24/1965
Houston Couple Butchered. Amarillo Globe-Times, 6/24/1965
Houston Police Push Search for Recluse. The Amarillo Globe-Times, 6/25/1965
Clues Still Sought in 2 Slayings. The Austin American, 6/27/1965
Police Still Seek Missing Houston Man. Longview News-Journal, 6/27/1965
Man Sought Here in Houston Slaying. The Austin American, 6/28/1965
Sought Here. The Austin American, 6/30/1965
Butcher Suspect is in Huntsville. Longview News-Journal, 7/9/1965
Man Falsely Says He’s Son of Murdered Pair. Corpus Cristi Times, 7/10/1965
Koetting, Nicki. The Chilling Tale of the Icebox Murders. Houstonia Magazine, December 2018.
Margaritoff, Marco. Edited by Erik Hawkins. The Case of the Grisly Ice Box Murders That Horrified Houston in 1965. Allthatsinteresting.com, 5/26/2021