Do You Know About The Smuttynose Island Murders?
My grandfather had a cat named Smuttynose. I have very fond memories of that cat so imagine my surprise when there was a brutal murder associated with that name. It all started on an island called Smuttynose. I recall the tale from my grandfather when I was young and I confirmed much of the story based on an article and research at newengland.com
Smuttynose is an island located just inside the Maine border in the Isles of Shoals. This is where two immigrants from Norway, John and Maren Hontvet, made their home in 1868. John was by all accounts a hardworking fisherman who was able to make enough to provide a small home and keep them comfortable. But soon his business became so large he had to hire someone to help him. This someone was Louis Wagner, another fellow immigrant who hailed from Prussia.
The Hontvets opened their home and hearts to Mr. Wagner and all seemed to be going quite well. That is until more family arrived from Norway. Soon Maren’s brother, sister-in-law and sister arrived to assist the Hontvets with farming and fishing. Which meant they no longer needed Mr. Wagner.
Mr. Wagner was now homeless and working out of Portsmouth. By 1873 he didn’t even make enough to cover his board. But soon he saw an opportunity and decided to take it.
On March 5, 1873 John, along with his brother and brother-in-law, went trawling but because of delays they did not make it back to Smittynose that night, which meant the women were left alone. Wagner also heard John saying he had saved enough money to obtain a new boat. Wagner believe there was a substantial amount of money on the island with just the women to guard it. He rowed the 12 miles out to the island with the intent to just steal any money he found.
Unfortunately, he was caught breaking in and instead killed 2 out of 3 of the women. He brutally murdered them with an axe and finished the deed by strangulation. But Maren had escaped and he was unable to find her. So he hurried back to his dory and headed back to Portsmouth.
Wagner was eventually caught and brought to trial. The trial created a 9 day sensation and ended with his death sentence by handing at Maine State Prison. He proclaimed his innocence until his death.
Some say he wasn’t guilty of the murder and believe that Maren could have been involved. It seems odd she escaped without a scratch in her and evidence supports it may have been someone much smaller in stature the Wagner that delivered the blows. This murder, which did result in a conviction, still remains a mystery and the question is still asked if justice was served.
Perhaps we will never know.