Saturday, July 20, 2013

Scenes from Smuttynose.

Haley Dock and Homestead. The murder occurred in the third house from the left.
An article in the October 1874 issue of Harper’s Magazine describes a trip to the Isles of Shoals off the coast of New Hampshire and Maine. Though it discusses the current inhabitants and the long history of the islands, the article and its illustrations center on the memory of the brutal murders of Anethe and Karen Christensen, just a year and a half earlier.

The stunning black and white illustrations from Harper’s Magazine express the stark beauty and harsh isolation of the Isles of Shoals, including scenes from Smuttynose Island where the murder occurred. The Isles of Shoal lay off the Atlantic coast, partially in New Hampshire and partially in Maine, not far from the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

White Island lighthouse.

The night of March 6, 1873, LouisWagner rowed from Portsmouth to Smuttynose Island, guided by the beacon from the lighthouse on White Island. Knowing that the Christensen men were away fishing, Wagner was on his way to rob their house.

Ledge of rocks, Smuttynose.

Three women were sleeping in the house when Wagner arrived: Maren Hontvet, her sister Karen Christensen, and her sister-in-law Anethe Christensen. Wagner murdered Karen and Anethe with an axe he found in the house. Maren managed to escape and hid, in her nightclothes, in the rocks along the coast of the Island until dawn.

Smuttynose Island.
Wagner left the island with less than sixteen dollars. He rowed back to Portsmouth and managed to flee as far as Boston before he was captured and extradited to Maine where he was tried and executed.

Here is the full story: The Smuttynose Murders.

Croskey, Julian. "The Isles of Shoals." Harper's New Monthly Magazine Oct. 1874: 663.


Unknown says:
August 8, 2013 at 4:20 PM

I am related to anethe, and a family story says that maren was the killer, that she went mad after her husband had affairs with her cousin... that she was very unhappy living there and in general was a bit insane. I suppose we'll never know. Love your site

Robert Wilhelm says:
August 10, 2013 at 2:58 PM

Thanks Adeline. This is one of those stories that never seems finished. As you say, we will never know for sure what happened.

bluangel says:
August 18, 2013 at 6:20 PM

Fascinating story...I bet spirits still linger somewhere around those shoals....

Unknown says:
February 16, 2014 at 2:50 AM

According to the movie, "The Weight of Water", it was Maren that murdered her sister, and sister-in-law.

Robert Wilhelm says:
February 16, 2014 at 8:51 AM

I mention "The Weight of Water" in the full story ( ) as one of two alternate theories on the murders. It must be remembered that "The Weight of Water" is a work of fiction. Louis Wagner, who was executed or the crime, is considered by most to be the real killer.

Unknown says:
July 13, 2014 at 9:22 PM

I question ones ability to row 7 miles, commit 2 murders and search to murder a 3rd and then row 6 more miles before daylight to Rye Harbor. Rowing in the ocean! What about other possibilities? Wasn't Thaxter's son a suspect? Why was he ruled out?

Robert Wilhelm says:
July 15, 2014 at 12:18 PM

I list some popular alternative theories in the main post, here:
I haven't heard that Thaxter's son was a suspect so I don't know why he would be ruled in. I still think it was Louis Wagner, a professional sailor obsessed with his goal, but it is the doubt that keeps this story alive.

Unknown says:
July 13, 2016 at 6:16 AM

I'm Norwegian and wonder if someone know from witch part of Norway the Hontvets came from? If anyone knows please send me an email to
good site !

Post a Comment