Smuttynose Island

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Coordinates: 42°58′57″N 70°36′25″W / 42.98250°N 70.60694°W / 42.98250; -70.60694

Smuttynose Island

Smuttynose Island (formerly "Smutty-nose") is one of the Isles of Shoals, located 6 miles (10 km) off the coast of New Hampshire, but actually in the state of Maine, in the United States. It is part of the town of Kittery, in York County. It was named by fishermen, seeing the island at sea level and noticing how the profuse seaweed at one end looked like the "smutty nose" of some vast sea animal.

Drawing of Louis H. F. Wagner c. 1873

The island is best known for two murders that occurred there. On 6 March 1873, two Norwegian women, Karen and Anethe Christensen, were strangled and one struck with a hatchet. A third woman, Maren Hontvet, escaped and hid on the island at a place now called "Maren's Rock". Maren, the only witness to the murders, identified a German-born fisherman, Louis Wagner, as the killer. Wagner was tried, convicted and, although he maintained his innocence, hanged. Despite an airtight case, so vehement was his denial that people long believed he was innocent.[1] The story of the murders was told by Celia Thaxter in her account A Memorable Murder[2] and by Anita Shreve in her novel The Weight of Water, later made into a film of the same name, starring Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley. The most recent book is Mystery on the Isles of Shoals: Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873, by J. Dennis Robinson. The story was also part of the Strange and Unusual Podcast, ep. 11 "Wolf in Sheep's Clothes".

Wagner was hunted down after fleeing the island. He was quickly arrested in Boston and extradited back to Portsmouth. Ten thousand angry townspeople waited for him at the train station and shadowed him all the way to the police station, chanting, "Lynch him, kill him."[3]

Wagner was then brought to Alfred, Maine, for trial. After he was condemned to death, he broke out of jail and escaped to New Hampshire. He was recaptured and brought to the gallows at Thomaston State Prison.

The Smuttynose Island murders, trial, jailbreak, and execution are featured in the book Return to Smuttynose Island by Emeric Spooner (ISBN 978-1441485878).

Smuttynose Island is the source of the name of the Smuttynose Brewing Company of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.


  1. ^ "Anatomy of an Ax Murder". Retrieved 2015-06-10.
  2. ^ "A Memorable Murder by Celia Thaxter". Retrieved 2015-06-10.
  3. ^ Rutledge, L.V. (1958). Moonlight murder at Smuttynose Island. Boston, MA: Star King Press.

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