Fictions, Lies, & Conspiracy Theories
THE MYSTERY SCHOONER
Certainly someone aboard an unknown boat might have invaded Smuttynose Island that night. It is not impossible. But that invader would have had to know there was money in the house (Wagner found very little of it). The stranger would have known where the Hontvets kept the ax by the door, where to stash his boat outside the cover, where to wash up at the well that is merely a ring of stones at some distance from the house. The stranger must have looked enough like Louis Wagner for Anethe to scream his name as he attacked. And it would be an all but unthinkable coincidence that Wagner was missing for 11 hours, did not sleep in his bed that night, was seen traveling from New Castle the following morning, and suddenly decided to run to Boston before word of the murders even arrived on the mainland. In fact, it was Wagner who, from death row, suggested the idea of a mystery schooner that had seen a man in a dory near the Isles of Shoals that night. That man in the dory, John Hontvet countered, was Wagner himself. No mysterious schooner was reported seen by anyone else.
SOMEONE ELSE AT THE SHOALS
No one then or now has seriously suggested that the murders were the work of anyone else living at the Isles of Shoals. It was winter and few people were on the islands. A group of carpenters were building the original Oceanic Hotel on Star Island across Gosport Harbor at the time. Maren heard their hammers and waved to them after she came out of hiding on the morning of March 6, 1873. The distant workmen only waved back, unaware of her dilemma. No one on Star Island reported any of their number missing that night. A local ferryboat captain once suggested that Karl Thaxter, Celia's son, might have done the deed. Karl was at Appledore Hotel with his mother that night. Mentally challenged, Karl had been a difficult child. But there is no evidence that he was ever violent. In fact, he became quite an accomplished photographer and took many beautiful images of the Norwegian immigrants living at the Isles of Shoals. Perhaps an undiscovered picture of Karen Christensen is among them. But no theory of an a;ternate suspect can explain away the weight of evidence against Louis Wagner. At the gallows, Wagner continued to suggest that someone else had killed the women, and his comments have fueled baseless conspiracy theories for generations. None hold water.
THE MAREN DEATHBED CONFESSION HOAX
A widely reprinted article in an 1876 newspaper reported that a woman formerly of Smuttynose Island had confessed on her death bed that she kjilled her sister and sister-in-law with an ax. The story was false, a hoax perpetuated, very possibly, by an opponent of the death penalty in Maine. Historians searched for the deathbed confession for generations. Edmund Pearson, author of MURDER AT SMUTTY NOSE (1926) searched for the origin of the story without success, but labelled it as nothing more than idle gossip. The origin of the story, once again, comes from Louis Wagner. After being condemned to hang, Wagner frequently accused Marn Hontvet, the surviving victim, of being the killer. She was, after all, the only other person on the island. He also blamed her husband John, Wagner's former boss, of being part of a murder plot with his wife. Hontvet wanted to kill the women, Wagner suggested, because they were costing him too much money in food and rent. Like many of Wagner's desperate comments, the idea is ridiculous. When his alibi proved false in court, Wagner accused just about everyone who had testified against him as being guilty of evil deeds. Anita Shreve used the Maren-did-it rumor as the basis for her popular novel WEIGHT OF WATER, creating an imaginary deathbed confession that drives the plot of the story. In fact, the original story was retracted by the press the day after it appeared in 1876. Maren was still alive and healthy when the hoax article appeared. She lived another 11 years. There was no deathbed confession. Years later, however, a young Lizzie Borden of Fall River, MA was tried and acquitted of killing her father and step-mother with an ax. That highly publicized account of a female accused of a double ax-murder, may very well have fueled the "Maren theory" into the present day. Fueled by a bestselling novel and a Hollywood movie, the "Maren theory" -- although entirely false -- still tantalizes those who do not know the facts of the Smuttynose case.
(c) 2015 J. Dennis Robinson.
(c) 2015 J. Dennis Robinson.