Murder by Moonlight
An ax with a broken handle was lying in the snow
Down on his luck, fisherman Louis Wagner saw an opportunity. On learning that John and Matthew Hontvet and Ivan Chistensen would not be returning to Smuttynose Island on the night of March 5, he stole a dory. Catching the powerful Piscataqua River tide, Wagner rowed the 10 miles to Smuttynose Island. His intent was certainly robbery. He believed John Hontvet had as much as $500 (three times a fisherman's annual income in 1873) hidden away at his house. Wagner knew the island and the house well having lived there for months. He knew that the two women, Maren Hontvet and her sister-in-law Anethe, would be alone. He likely did not know that Maren's sister Karen was sleeping in the kitchen. When Wagner entered the house and Karen woke, the stranger struck her with a chair before he could be recognized. Hearing Karen's cries, Maren managed to pull her sister into a bedroom where all three women were trapped. Attempting to escape through the first floor bedroom window, Anethe saw Wagner and cried "Louis! Louis! Louis!" Maren heard Anethe and saw the dark figure strike the young woman with an ax. Wrapping herself in a skirt, Maren managed to escape onto the cold rocky island. Then from a distance she heard Karen's final cries. Wagner searched for Maren by moonlight through a number of empty buildings, leaving bloody size-11 boot prints in the snow. Eventually, after searching the house for money and eating a meal, the killer rowed from the Isles of Shoals back to the mainland. The murder weapon is now in the collection of the Portsmouth Athenaeum.