March 5, 1873
Smutty Nose Island (now spelled Smuttynose), Maine
Two women are beaten to death with an axe while a third manages to escape
On the evening of March 5, 1873, John Hontvet, his brother Matthew Hontvet, and John’s wife’s brother Ivan Christenson left their home to go fishing and trapping. A man known to the group, Louis Wagner (29, pictured), happened upon the men. After hearing the women of the family were at home alone, Wagner left but doubled back to steal their boat which he then steered toward their home.
At the house were Maren (sometimes reported as Mary) Hontvet (wife to John Hontvet), her sister Karen Christenson, and their brother Ivan’s wife Anethe Christenson. Karen was asleep on a cot in the kitchen while Maren and Anethe shared a bed in the bedroom. At some point, Wagner broke into the home, alerting the family dog in the process, which woke Karen who was audibly startled. Maren asked what was wrong and Karen replied “John scared me,” mistaking the intruder for her brother-in-law. Wagner then grabbed a wooden chair and beat Karen with it while Karen screamed, “John is killing me!”
Karen was able to reach the bedroom door and Maren grabbed her to pull her inside the room. Maren opened a window and told Anethe to go outside, which she did. When Maren commanded her sister-in-law to scream, hoping her voice would carry across the area and alert someone nearby, Anethe could only squeak “I cannot make a sound.” Maren instructed Anethe to run but she could not move, reportedly frozen in fear.
At this point, Wagner left the house, grabbed an axe, and moved around to the window to Anethe. Before she was attacked, Anethe was able to say “Louis Louis Louis” when she saw her killer’s face. Anethe was beaten to death in front of Maren. Wagner came back inside the home to try to attack the sisters, and Maren tried to convince Karen to flee with her out of the window, though Karen states she could not as she was “too tired” or didn’t “have the strength,” depending on the source. Maren fled the home and sought refuge at the beach, falling asleep on the rocks.
In the morning, Maren told neighbors what had happened and the home was searched. A broken chair and the axe’s broken handle were found, both stained heavily with blood. Anethe had a shawl wrapped around her neck which may have been used by Wagner to drag her body back into the house, while Karen had a handkerchief wrapped around her neck. Evidence showed Karen had been strangled in addition to five axe wounds to her head while Anethe’s head had been struck nine times. It was found $15 had been taken from pocketbooks in the home, though the killer missed several hundred dollars in a trunk. There was also evidence the killer had made a meal and tea which was consumed amid the bloody scene.
Wagner was immediately identified by Maren (he had boarded with the family for seven months) and was brought to trial. Despite the eye witness testimony by the surviving witness, Wagner vehemently denied involvement in the murder, so much so that many believed his innocence. The jury, however, did not and Wagner was sentenced to death.
Wagner was executed on June 25, 1875, next to another multiple-murderer named James Gordon. Gordon had killed his brother Almond Gordon as well as Almond’s wife and child after a property dispute. Roughly an hour before the scheduled execution, Gordon stabbed himself near his heart with a shoe-knife he had smuggled into his cell. He was found nearly dead, but was marched to the gallows regardless. Gordon was dragged by four men while unconscious from blood loss and his skin “as pallid as a corpse,” according to the Globe-Democrat. The reporter would have thought the condemned man already dead if not for a “faint moaning” he produced. Wagner gave his final statement — “Standing here to die, I proclaim my innocence” — before both men were dropped through the trapdoor and killed instantly.
“Louis H. F. Wagner.” Find A Grave. Accessed: March 5, 2020. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/70858144/louis-h_f_-wagner (image source)
Schechter, Harold. Psycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of. Ballantine Books, 2012
Odell, Robin. The Mammoth Book of Bizarre Crimes. London: Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2010
“The Gibbet.” St. Louis Globe-Democrat. June 26, 1875
“Found Murdered.” The Leavenworth Daily Times. June 17, 1873
“The Isle of Shoals Murder.” Essex County Herald [Guildhall, Vermont]. June 28, 1873
“Horrid Murder.” Vermont Journal [South Royalton, Vermont]. March 15, 1873