The Frightening True Story Behind the Icebox Murders
By Sarah Norman | October 18, 2023
The brutal murder of Fred and Edwina Rogers shocked Houston to the core
During the 1960s, Houston was a bustling city, just coming into its own as the center of America's nascent space industry. With thousands of new jobs available, the economy was booming, the population was growing, and the mood was optimistic. Which is perhaps why Houston, a city that is no stranger to crime, never forgot about the Icebox Murders.
Part of the city's urban mythology, the gruesome killings of Fred and Edwina Rogers are still talked about today, and the mystery of what happened to Charles Rogers still holds an enduring fascination for Houstonians.
Over the years, numerous theories have been floated as to why Charles Rogers murdered his parents and how he managed to disappear so completely. Official investigators and amateur crime buffs generally agree that Charles must have fled to Central America where he had long-standing ties to local mining interests. However, rumors have long circulated that the story is more complicated than a simple family murder. From Charles' supposed involvement in the JFK assassination to his secret ties to the CIA, read on to learn more about the fascinating and enigmatic tale of Charles Rogers, a man whose true story may never be fully told.
Houston Police were used to responding to routine welfare checks on elderly residents
It was the evening of June 23, 1965. Marvin Ivor was used to hearing from his aunt Edwina several times a week, so when she stopped answering or returning his calls, he began to worry. After three uneasy days, Marvin called local police, requesting a welfare check. It was a quiet evening, so station Captain Charles Bullock answered the call himself, along with his partner, Officer L. M. Barta. When they pulled up to 1815 Driscoll Street, the house was quiet, and nothing seemed out of place. Bullock and Barta expected it to be a quick, routine visit. The visit would be anything but routine.
The house at 1815 Driscoll Street where Charles Rogers lived with his parents, Fred and Edwina
Bullock and Barta knocked on the door, but no-one answered, so they started walking around the house, looking in the windows for any signs of a disturbance. Seeing nothing, they decided to force entry into the house, so they tried the back door. It wouldn't budge, despite being unlocked, and on taking a closer look the officers quickly realized why. The back door was blocked on the inside by a towering stack of flowerpots that were placed against it. It was the first inkling the officers had that something was just not right. They quickly found another way in.
The dining room looked like it had been recently used, but the house was empty
The house, when they entered it, was clean and well-ordered, but it was also quiet and empty. Bullock later recalled that despite the lack of any obvious signs of trouble, he had a strange feeling that he couldn't shake. He sent Barta upstairs to check the bedrooms, while he went through the rooms downstairs. As he passed the dining room, he noticed that there was food on the table, and it was set for two places. The kitchen, however, was clean and empty. Barta came downstairs, having seen nothing alarming either. The officers decided to leave.
The infamous icebox in the kitchen at 1815 Driscoll Street
Bullock's instincts were nagging at him. Almost on a whim, he decided to open the refrigerator. Inside, to his surprise, he found row upon row of cut, packaged meat, all neatly wrapped up. What struck him and Barta as unusual was the sheer amount of meat. It was far too much for any couple to eat - it would definitely spoil before they could get to it.
Still, Bullock figured it was hog meat and started to close the door. As he did so, he eyes fell to the vegetable crisper bin. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.
Bullock shows reporters the fridge where he found the Rogers family remains
In the vegetable crisper, through the clear plastic bin, Bullock saw a woman's severed head. His first instinct was to slam the door shut. But just as quickly, he opened it up again, his eyes going straight to the crisper drawer. He had been right. It was a woman's head. But it was worse than he had first thought. Sitting neatly in the drawer next to it was a man's decapitated head.
Bullock was looking at the remains of Fred and Edwina Rogers, the elderly homeowners. He immediately called for backup and forensics specialists.
Forensic investigators examine the kitchen, looking for material evidence
It was a grisly scene, shocking even the most seasoned officers who descended on the house. Forensics experts quickly determined that the piles of meat in the fridge were actually the meticulously dismembered bodies of Fred and Edwina. Edwina's head showed clear evidence of her cause of death, which was a single gunshot. She was also beaten, but Fred definitely suffered more before his death. His head shows signs of severe trauma, with investigators later determining that he was bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer. Even more gruesome, Fred's eyes were ripped out and his organs were missing.
Charles Dismembered His Parents In Their Upstairs Bathroom
Officers conducted another sweep of the house, checking carefully this time for any signs of blood. The house had obviously been thoroughly cleaned, but they found a tiny amount of blood in the upstairs bathroom. Investigators later determined that this was where the couple had been dismembered, although they had most likely been murdered downstairs, probably as they were sitting down to a meal.
A small, barely noticeable trail of blood led from the bathroom to one of the bedrooms, ending with a few spots of blood on the floor near the bedroom door. Officers looked inside.
Investigator examining the keyhole saw Charles used to butcher the bodies
The bedroom belonged to Charles Rogers, Fred and Edwina's reclusive son. It was empty except for one thing - a keyhole saw that showed obvious traces of blood. It was becoming clear to police that Charles was, at the very least, a person of interest in what was now a double homicide case.
Investigators combed the house, looking for further evidence. They later discovered the flushed, chopped up organs of the old couple in the neighborhood sewer system. Despite extensive searching, not all of the couple's remains were found, but investigators had recovered enough to reconstruct the stomach-turning crimes.
Houston was a gritty, bustling city but the heinous murders shocked residents and put them on edge
Investigators turned their attention to the Rogers family, trying to piece together what they could about the retired couple who were so brutally butchered on Driscoll Street. They turned to the couple's shocked and frightened neighbors, all of whom told them the same story. Fred and Edwina were quiet and kept to themselves, although they were polite and friendly enough when people spoke to them.
Every one of the neighbors was genuinely surprised to find out that they had a son at all, let alone that he was living with them. The Rogers had never even mentioned his existence.
The only known picture of Charles Rogers, taken in the mid-40s during his time in the U.S. Navy
Police ran into a dead end when they questioned the neighbors about the Rogers household, but it wasn't long before family members came forward. The picture they painted was disturbing to say the least. Charles was Fred and Edwina's only son and he had been living with them since 1957, when he suddenly quit his job as a seismologist for Shell Oil. He didn't give his employer or his family much of a reason for why he quit, preferring to spend his time away from his parents. It was a far cry from the promise Charles had once showed.
Ezekiel Cullen Building, University of Houston, c. 1950
Born on December 30, 1921, Charles was by all accounts an intelligent child who did well in school and showed a lot of academic potential. He grew up in Texas, spending most of his time in the Houston area. Charles started his ultimately successful college career with a short stint at Texas A&M University in 1942.
He dropped out pretty quickly, but later picked up his studies at the University of Houston, graduating with a BS in nuclear physics. He was also a talented linguist, reportedly fluent in seven languages, all of which he learned while at university.
Charles Rogers Was A Pilot During World War II
During his break from college, Charles enlisted in the US Navy. At the time, World War II was raging across Europe and America had recently joined the fray. Charles trained as a pilot and served his tour with the Office of Naval Intelligence. He seemed to thrive in the navy, apparently performing his duties with merit, and receiving an honorable discharge at the end of his service. He spent the next few years earning his degree at the University of Houston, but he did revisit his piloting training in the 1950s when he joined the Civil Air Patrol.
Charles Worked For Shell Oil Before His Spree
After graduating from college, Charles got a job in seismology with Shell Oil. He quickly built a reputation for being uncannily skilled at finding the oil-rich sites that Shell was always on the lookout for. Charles travelled widely throughout Central and South America during his time with the company, and soon developed an extensive network of contacts across Latin America.
However, the burgeoning oil industry of the 50s and 60s was deeply cutthroat, with companies mercilessly vying for new fields to drill. Consequently, quite a few of Charles' contacts were shady individuals with shadowy connections to their countries' governments.
None of the neighbors knew that Charles had returned to live with his parents in 1965
Although Charles chose to live with his parents after he quit his job, he went out of his way to avoid contact with them. According to family members, Charles spent all of his time in the home locked in his bedroom, not even emerging to eat. He would also pass notes underneath his bedroom door to communicate with Fred and Edwina, refusing to speak with them directly.
Investigators never discovered whether Charles got another job, but he would make a point of leaving the house before dawn and returning after dark every day. No-one knew where he went.
The sheer size of Houston made it extremely difficult to track Charles after his disappearance
Within a day of the murders, police issued a warrant for Charles Rogers as a material witness to a crime. What ensued was one of the biggest manhunts in Texas history, involving multiple offices, including the Houston Police Department, the Texas State Police and the Texas Rangers.
Police conducted hundreds of hours of interviews with Charles' former colleagues at Shell, the Rogers family, and the neighbors on Driscoll Street. Transit records, including Amtrak, local bus lines, the airport and the docks were all checked, but there was no record of Charles passing through. He was simply gone.
The police worked tirelessly to find Charles Rogers, but their efforts were ultimately futile
Investigators kept up the intensive search for Charles for several months, but he had vanished without a trace. As the search wore on, police came to the inescapable conclusion that he was the sole viable suspect in their homicide investigation. They believed he murdered his parents three days before they were found, on June 20th, which happened to be Father's Day.
Charles was placed on the FBI's most wanted list. His crime was so brutal, the community of Houston wanted justice. Tip after tip poured in, but none went anywhere. Charles Rogers was never seen or heard from again.
The simple graves where Fred and Edwina Rogers are buried
After a fruitless 10-year search, the Rogers family petitioned a Houston judge to have Charles declared legally dead. They wanted to wrap up the probate on his estate and put the tragic events of 1965 behind them. Their petition was granted without challenge in 1975, and Charles Rogers was legally declared dead. Houston police kept the case of Fred and Edwina's violent murders open, as it still is to this day, noting Charles as their sole suspect in the official records. Rumors circulated that Rogers had escaped to South America within a day of committing the murders.
Houston police kept the case open as a cold case and Houstonians never forgot the terrible story
Those rumors had a great deal of merit, given Charles' long-standing connections to the oil industry in Central and South America. Still, there was no solid evidence and the theory foundered until decades later, when it was revived by amateur investigators who were fascinated by the infamous crimes.
Dubbed the Icebox Murders in reference to where the Rogers' dismembered bodies were found, Houstonians had kept the gruesome story alive over the years. But in 1992, Charles Rogers gained national attention with the publication of the now famous conspiracy tome, The Man on the Grassy Knoll, by Craig and Rogers.
The Man on the Grassy Knoll revived national interest in the disappearance of Charles Rogers
Published in 1992, the premise of The Man on the Grassy Knoll is that Lee Harvey Oswald was framed for President Kennedy's 1963 assassination. The authors assert that the assassination was in fact carried out by three men acting in concert, namely Charles Harrelson, Chauncy Holt and, quite surprisingly, Charles Rogers.
According to the authors, Rogers' constant traveling across Latin America, as well as the contacts he had made, attracted the attention of the CIA. They speculate that Rogers was approached on one of his trips by the CIA and hired to be a contractor for them, primarily gathering intelligence.
Charles Harrelson, one of the suspected co-conspirators in the JFK assassination
According to the theory outlined in the book, Rogers met Harrelson and Holt at some unspecified point during his tenure at Shell. Several months before the Kennedy assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was spotted in Mexico, ostensibly making his preparations to kill JFK. The authors believe that in fact, Rogers was sent to Mexico by his co-conspirators to impersonate Oswald in an effort to lay the groundwork for framing him later. Soon after the assassination, three vagrants were arrested in Dealey Plaza, very close to the assassination site. The authors assert that these men were actually Rogers, Holt and Harrelson.
Charles may have killed his parents because they discovered his role in the JFK assassination
The Man on the Grassy Knoll made a splash when it was first published and is still considered by many conspiracy buffs to be the most credible explanation of the events surrounding JFK's tragic assassination. Rogers' shady associates would have made him the perfect mole for the CIA, which was conducting extensive intelligence operations in Central and South America during the 50s and 60s.
If his parents discovered his connection to the Kennedy assassination, Rogers might have felt that he had no choice but to kill them and flee the country, most likely to Guatemala according to the authors.
The Ice Box Murders, published in 2003, presents an alternative theory of the Rogers murder case
Despite its many defenders, the grassy knoll theory, including Rogers' involvement, is widely dismissed by dedicated JFK assassination researchers. Based on speculation rather than verifiable evidence, The Man on the Grassy Knoll is considered by experts to be more fantasy than fact. However, the idea that Rogers leveraged his oil industry contacts to escape abroad after murdering his parents gained new traction over a decade later in 2003, when a new book about the Rogers slayings was released.
Titled The Icebox Murders, the book was the culmination of over two decades of work by Hugh and Martha Gardenier.
Hugh Gardenier and his wife, Martha, authors of The Icebox Murders
Hugh Gardenier was a successful forensic accountant in Houston at the time of the murders. Like everyone else in the city, he and his wife Martha were both fascinated and repulsed by the gory details of the case as they trickled out. When Charles Rogers was legally declared dead in 1975, the Houston police left the case open, but stopped actively investigating it.
Gardenier and his wife, however, felt that there was more to the story and embarked on a decades-long search for the truth of what ultimately happened to Rogers. They certainly never believed he had killed JFK.
Hugh and Martha Gardenier review records tracking Charles' financial trail after he disappeared
The Gardeniers never believed that Rogers was innocent of the murders he was accused of. They concede that Charles brutally murdered his parents, dismembered their bodies, cleaned up the crime scene and quietly disappeared. However, their theory of the crime sheds an ugly light on the victims, Fred and Edwina. Based on family interviews and meticulous records searches, the Gardeniers discovered that Fred and Edwina Rogers were nothing like the innocent elderly couple that the media had portrayed them as. It seemed that Charles' heinous crimes now had a motive that was far less outlandish than the JFK theory.
Fred Rogers was a committed gambler and con artist
The Gardeniers discovered that Fred and Edwina were career con artists who made a living grifting off other people. Their perpetual life of crime meant that Charles had a somewhat unstable childhood. Fred's primary source of income was from working as a bookie, but he was also an inveterate gambler, leaving the family frequently short of cash. Turning to cons was Fred's fallback plan and Edwina was his willing accomplice. At home, things were rough for Charles growing up. Both his parents beat him constantly with little provocation, verbally and emotionally abusing him well into his adulthood.
Fred and Edwina approached local banks to take out fraudulent loans against Charles' properties
According to the Gardeniers, Charles finally broke when his parents pulled some of their cons on him. Charles had done well out of his career with Shell Oil. The house on Driscoll Street actually belonged to him, along with a few other parcels of land in the area.
Rogers allowed his parents to live at his house rent-free, but Fred and Edwina wanted more. They began to steal money from Charles by forging his signature on loan documents, using Charles' assets as collateral for the loans. When Charles found out that all of his properties were mortgaged, he was furious.
A Claw Hammer Similar To The Weapon Charles Used To Bludgeon And Kill His Father, Fred
This, say the Gardeniers, was the last straw as far as Charles was concerned. In their reconstruction of the crime, the authors argue that Charles had been planning and fantasizing about murdering his abusive parents for years, but it wasn't until he found out about their latest scheme that he snapped. It turns out that at the time they died, Fred and Edwina were actually finalizing yet another loan against the Driscoll house using forged documents. Charles acted swiftly, putting into action a plan he'd thought about for years. Then, when everything was done, he quietly disappeared as planned.
The Gardeniers concluded that Charles ended up in Honduras where he was ultimately killed
Like most other people, the Gardeniers believe that Charles' escape was abetted by his vast network of contacts in the mining industry. They dismiss the notion that this network led to him being recruited by the CIA, but they do agree that this network was shady and willing to help someone whose skills as a seismologist were useful to them. The Gardeniers tracked Charles using forensic accounting first to Mexico, and later to Honduras where he found work at a mining company. They believe that Charles' story ended here when he was killed in an argument over worker pay.
Houston may have moved on, but the Icebox Murders will always be a part of the city's urban history
Houston still remembers the Icebox Murders today, even though it is a story that has no real satisfying conclusion. Most people believe that Charles was responsible for the murder of his parents, given the facts of the case. Still, there are those who wonder if Charles was framed for the murders, a pawn in a mining company feud of mafia-like proportions or even a patsy in a CIA spy game gone wrong. No-one really knows. What is certain is that Charles Rogers is most likely long dead today and the secrets of that gruesome night died with him too.