Zac McDorrOn March 6, 1873, three Norwegian women were alone on Smuttynose Island. Although their men were stuck on shore by a gale, the women must have felt secure on the otherwise uninhabited island, surrounded by a stormy sea.

A Prussian immigrant named Louis Wagner had lived with the Norwegian fishermen a year earlier, baiting traps in exchange for room and board. Now he was living in poverty in a Portsmouth boardinghouse. Wagner was very unhappy about his misfortune, and according to witnesses, he often said that he might have to murder somebody to get some money. One night Wagner ran into one of the Norwegian men, John Hontvet, who mentioned that he had saved $600 toward a new boat, and that he wasn’t planning to return to Smuttynose that night.

Around one o’clock in the morning, Karen and Anethe Christiansen were murdered with an axe. The third woman, Maren Hontviet, was found half-frozen and hiding in the rocks. She pointed the finger at Louis Wagner, who was arrested in Boston. When he arrived back in Portsmouth, a crowd of angry people attempted to storm the jail and lynch him.

Wagner had stuffed a shirt in the well of the boardinghouse, covered with what he claimed was fish blood. In his pocket was $20 – all he had managed to steal – along with a button belonging to one of the murdered women. Footprints that matched his boots were found on the island and onshore near an abandoned rowboat.

Wagner’s alibi was that he had spent the night baiting traps for a fisherman, though he couldn’t remember the name of the fisherman or his boat, and afterward had drinks in a bar, though he couldn’t remember the name of the establishment.

Wagner was able to escape from jail, but was eventually recaptured and hung on June 25, 1875, becoming one of the last people executed in Maine.