The Mysterious Smuttynose Murders

Grace Higgins | October 1st, 2017

In the mid 1860s, married couple John and Maren Hontvet emigrated from Norway to Boston, hoping to find a better life. Being from sparsely populated Norway, they found city life in Boston to be too chaotic, so they saved up and bought a house on Smuttynose Island in Maine.

After their move, John bought a boat and became a fisherman. His business did so well that he decided to hire help. He took on a man named Louis Wagner in 1872, a German immigrant, and paid him by giving him free room and board. Wagner had been struggling to get by, so he accepted the job even though he did not receive any pay.

vaughncottage.files.wordpress.com

Hiring Wagner would prove to be a fateful mistake for the Hontvets.

In the fall of 1873, a large contingent of Hontvet relatives joined John and Maren on Smuttynose Island. With so much family available to work, Wagner was not needed anymore. He was dismissed from his job.

On a fishing trip to the city of Portsmouth on March 5, 1873, John and his crew ran into Wagner again. They needed temporary help with their current job and offered him the work. He agreed but did not show up for work the next day.

Meanwhile, Maren Hontvet, her sister Karen, and her sister-in-law Anethe were staying together at the Hontvet’s house while their husbands were away in Portsmouth. The Hontvet house was the only occupied residence on Smuttynose at the time, so Maren was probably lonely.

In the middle of the night, somebody came into the house through the kitchen door. Karen, who was sleeping on a cot in the kitchen, surprised the intruder, who probably did not expect to find anyone there. Whoever it was, he picked up a kitchen chair and started beating her with it. Karen was screaming, “John is killing me!” the whole time, probably because the only person she expected to come through that door was John Hontvet.

Maren and Anethe were sleeping in the bedroom when they heard the commotion. Maren managed to drag Karen into the bedroom and lock the door. Knowing that the intruder would break down the door eventually, Anethe tried to escape through the window. Unfortunately, the intruder had also left the house and had found the Hontvet’s ice-chopping axe.

Maren heard Anethe shout the name “Louis” before the man killed her with the axe. He then came back into the house and began breaking down the bedroom door. After trying and failing to rouse the beaten Karen, Maren climbed out the window alone just as the killer burst through the bedroom door. Maren heard Karen give one final scream as the man killed her, too, with the axe.

Maren ran in her nightgown, barefoot and carrying the family dog, until she found a place under a rock to hide. She stayed there all night in the freezing weather. At dawn, she crossed a breakwater to the island of Malaga. She was rescued there.

Louis Wagner was accused of the murder. It was discovered that a rowboat had been stolen from Portsmouth the night before. The authorities believed that he rowed from Portsmouth to Smuttynose, committed the murders, and then fled to Boston, where he was arrested.

After a nine-day trial, Wagner was convicted of the murders. A bloody shirt and a button from one of Maren’s shirts was found among his possessions. That, and the fact that Anethe apparently recognized him before he killed her was enough evidence to convict him.

Despite an escape attempt that ended in his recapture, Louis Wagner eventually paid the ultimate price for his crimes. He was hanged on March 26, 1875. He professed his innocence until the end.

Even though Wagner was convicted of the crime, some people still doubt his guilt to this day. Some say that Maren Hontvet was the killer, since she was the only living eyewitness. Some also accuse John Hontvet, since Karen seemed to think John was the person attacking her with the chair. Those who believe this theory say that Maven was simply covering for him.

Though most believe that the right man was convicted, the Smuttynose murders continue to be seen by many as one the greatest unsolved American murder mysteries.

Next Article
  • Crooked Teeth Are A Modern Phenomenon

    When you think about cavemen you probably think about clubs, caves, and running away from dinosaurs. So having time for dental hygiene would not have been a top priority. However, research shows that ancient humans had much better teeth than today. Crooked and ill-aligned teeth are a completely modern phenomenon. In 1998, a survey showed...

    Read More
  • The Crypt Of Civilization

    An airtight chamber that was built sometime between 1937 and 1940 is found in Georgia, by the Oglethorpe University. It’s called the Crypt of Civilization and is not planned to be opened until AD 8113. The container is filled with many artifacts and sound recordings from early 20th-century life. The idea was to build something...

    Read More
  • Swedish Man Who Tried To Build A Nuclear Reactor In His Home

    One Swedish man tried for months to build a nuclear reactor in his kitchen, and he would probably have never stopped. Richard Handl was curious if he could split an atom at home. Police finally shut down his home research center after he made a call to the radiation authorities to ask if what he...

    Read More
  • The Infamous Stock Market Hackers Of 1834

    A little-known tale of one of the first times cyber crime happened on the stock market is the tale of the Blanc brothers. What’s even more amazing is it happened in 1834 when there was no internet or computers. But since 1794, France had its national telecommunication lines and network called the semaphore telegraph. It...

    Read More
  • Elderly Tenant Received Over $17 Million To Move Out

    A reclusive man who had lived alone for over 30 years was paid an estimated $17 million to move out of a rent-controlled apartment in New York. By far the most expensive payment ever made to relocate a tenant. Apparently, the man’s apartment was extremely damp, very cluttered, and cramp, but still, he refused to...

    Read More
  • King Tut’s Incredible Rare And Valuable Meteoric Dagger

    Buried with the Egyptian king Tutankhamen during the 14th century B.C., it's thought that this iron dagger would have been worth more than gold at the time. The reasoning being that during this age iron smelting was incredibly rare, which means this dagger is a one of a kind. What makes it even rarer is...

    Read More
  • In Russia Cows Are Wearing VR Headsets To Produce More Milk

    You may have seen the photos flying around social media of cows wearing VR headsets. And no they’re not actually fake. These Russian farmers have been putting VR headsets on their cows. Apparently, it can lead to a much higher yield of milk and more money for the farmers. Of course, commenters quickly asserted that...

    Read More
  • Kolkata to London Used To Be The World’s Longest Bus Route

    Back in the 1960s, there used to be a bus running from Kolkata, known as Calcutta back then, all the way to London. That means it drove from India to the United Kingdom. It was a trip known as Albert Tours, as the double-decker bus was colloquially referred to as Albert. It was for a...

    Read More