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Isles of Shoals Murders | Horror on Smuttynose Island

“Anethe! Where is Anethe?” Ivan pleaded. Tearfully Maren answered “Anethe is . . . at home.”

Ivan and Matthew flew to the tender and rowed furiously to Smuttynose. They landed at the same time as John and the three raced to the house. Ivan pushed open the door and entered the kitchen. There, lying on the floor, her long gold hair matted in a pool of dried blood, was his adored lover. Covering his face he pushed his way out the door and collapsed senseless in the snow. John and Matthew viewed the full contents of the destroyed home, then sailed the Clara Bella to Appledore. Later that afternoon John and others carried Maren’s tale of terror to the authorities in Portsmouth.

Word of the calamity spread fast. A description of Louis Wagner was telegraphed to police throughout the coastal states and the evening editions were filled with all the gory details.

Two men, both of whom knew Wagner and were sure of their description, informed police they had seen Wagner in Newcastle about six o’clock that morning. The stolen dory was also found in Newcastle near a place called “Devil’s Den.” The new thole pins were worn almost a quarter of an inch.

After returning to the Jonsens’, where he changed some of his clothes, Wagner had caught a 9 A.M. train for Boston. There he purchased some new boots and a new suit of clothes, then dallied with some women he knew at a boarding house. Certainly John Hontvet told the authorities of Wagner’s usual haunts and that evening Boston police found him. When arrested Wagner was wearing his new suit over his old clothes. He offered no resistance.

The next day Wagner was transferred from jail to the Boston depot for the trip to Portsmouth, followed by a jeering crowd of 500. At each depot along the route the train was met by outraged citizens demanding his immediate demise. It is reported a crowd of 10,000 filled the streets of Portsmouth and narrowly missed tearing him to pieces when he arrived.

Smuttynose was in the jurisdiction of the state of Maine and Wagner would have to be tried there. Three days later, when he was moved from the Portsmouth jail to the train, a lynch mob of over 200 fishermen from the islands and the coast was waiting. The police escort drew their revolvers and a company of bayonet-wielding Marines were called from the Navy base, but the mob was not easily subdued. The escort was showered with stones and bricks.

The trial of Louis Wagner commenced on June 9, 1873. After nine days of testimony and 55 minutes of deliberation, he was found guilty as charged. He broke out of jail within a week, but was recaptured in New Hampshire. On June 25, 1875, 27 months after the crime, Wagner was led into the yard of the state prison in Thomaston, Maine, and hanged.

Maren and John Hontvet were never to live in the Isles of Shoals again. They moved to Portsmouth, where John continued working as a fisherman.

Ivan, his spirit broken, could not bear to leave the neighborhood where he and Anethe spent so many happy times. He worked as a carpenter on Appledore for the rest of the summer of 1873, never out of sight of the cottage where he was robbed of his happiness. He never spoke unless spoken to, and never lifted his eyes from his work when speaking. At the end of the summer he returned alone to Norway and was never heard of again.



Have you ever been to the Isles of Shoals?

Updated Wednesday, October 1st, 2014

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4 Responses to Isles of Shoals Murders | Horror on Smuttynose Island

  1. Julia March 31, 2015 at 9:30 pm #

    I have read everything I can for the last decade on the murders at Smuttynose. Everything seems to agree that the entire set of events hinged on whether or not the Hontvet men could get bait that night in Portsmouth. If the bait train was late, and then even later, forcing them to stay the night, where did the bait come from that Louis Wagner was said be using? He claims he was on a boat baiting trolls until late at night. Was there ANY bait in Portsmouth that night?

    • Robin McRae July 29, 2015 at 12:13 am #

      There was a movie, ‘The Weight Of Water’ with Sean Pen & Elizabeth Hurley. This had a distinct set of circumstances. In it, Marin had an incestuous relationship with her brother. Her sister saw this, told their father who then arranged a marriage between Marin & John. They married & moved to Smuttynose. Upon learning of her fathers death, the letter further stated that Karen would be coming to America. After mildly objecting to John, that they didn’t have room for her, he assures her it would be no problem. Marin is not happy about this. You can tell she holds contempt towards Karin as you learn later about her part in the arranged marriage. When Ivan & Anethe arrive, Marin is unpleasantly surprised by the marriage as she still has deep feelings for her brother. Long story short, 2 yrs after Wagner is convicted & 3 weeks prior to his hanging, she goes to the prosecutor & makes a formal confession to killing her sister & sister in law & further, asks Gods forgiveness for letting an innocent man die. After the movie, there’s a statement saying that the circumstances surrounding the murders has been debated for over a century. The story here is pretty cut & dry. The statement Marin made to the prosecuter was written, as in what a court reporter would do in today’s time. My comment and/or question is,was any of the movie version accurate ? The movie represented that it was in fact Marin, not Wagner. Motive; Karin finds Marin sharing the bed with Anethe, Karin accuses Marin of being more depraved & tells Anethe about Ivan & Marin as children and the relationship. Marin then grabs the chair hitting & disabling Karin then follows Anethe outside, grabs the axe & apologizes, telling her she never wanted her to know that she (Marin) loved Ivan as she ( Anethe) did & strikes her, killing her with the axe. She then grabs a doiley, under the clock, pulling it down & breaking it then strangles her sister. This was made very clear in the movie, friction with Wagner, Marin testifying against him, you also discover he was making unwanted advances toward her & a very slight possible interest Marin had Wagner. He came off as a ‘masher’ and/or womanizer. So, is any of the movie version true ?

  2. Elizabeth June 30, 2015 at 2:13 pm #

    Was Maren the granddaughter of Celia Thaxter

  3. Bonne Foulds July 1, 2015 at 3:19 pm #

    I wonder if Louis came upon the scene after Maren killed the woman? Maren could have heard him coming, taken off and Louis saw his chance to rob them. Looking around to see what happened, before he took off.
    It read more like a crime of passion than a robbery gone bad.

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