"Tales of Murder and Hidden Treasure!" Smuttynose Island by peach93

Smuttynose Island Travel Guide: 5 reviews and 4 photos

As a child I spent a week every July on the Isles of Shoals, a group of nine rocky islands 10 miles out from the coast of Portsmouth, NH. Four of the islands are in New Hampshire, while the other five are over the state line in Maine.

The island we stayed on was Star Island, from which you could see clearly across Gosport Harbor another, smaller island, more of a large rock really, with nothing on it but two small, abandoned houses. This island was Smuttynose.

As kids we of course thought that the name Smuttynose was hilarious, the island named for its odd nose-like shape. We also loved hearing the adults tell us all about the legends of Smuttynose: the rumors of pirate treasure buried there by Black Beard, heroic tales of Native Americans fighting off the British during the War of 1812, and of course, what we wanted to hear about most were the murders.

As the story goes, two Norweigan fisherman, their young wives, and one of their sisters were living on the island in the early 1870's. On March 6, 1873 the two men went to Portmouth to get supplies, leaving the women at home. While they were in Portsmouth a former employee of one of the men, a German immigrant named Louis Wagner, overheard the two discussing the money that they had been saving to purchase a new fishing boat. Seizing the opportunity, Wagner supposedly rowed his way out to Smuttynose planning to steal the money from the unsuspecting women.

The following morning two of the three women living on the island were found murdered with an ax that they had been using to break the ice on the well. The third woman was found alive, but nearly frozen to death as she had spent the entire night hiding among the rocks.

Wagner fled by train to Boston that night but was promptly caught and sent to trial on double murder charges in York, Maine. He was convicted as charged in spite of the lack of physical evidence and was hanged for the crime in 1875.

Today there is some speculation that Wagner may have been innocent, but the truth will likely never be known.

The story of the Smuttynose Murders is quite famous in New England lore. I remember quite well a folk song written by New Hampshire native John Perreault called "The Ballad of Louis Wagner". A friend of my Dad and stepmother used to sing it to us at night with his guitar before bedtime. I can still hear it in my mind if I sit quietly enough.

The murder story was also made into a novel by Massacusetts writer Anita Shreve. Her book, The Weight of Water, came out as a film by the same name in 2000 starring Sean Penn and Elizabeth Hurley.

  • Last visit to Smuttynose Island: Jul 2001
  • Intro Updated May 11, 2007
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Reviews (5)

Comments (9)

  • GrantBoone's Profile Photo
    Aug 27, 2008 at 4:33 AM

    Smutty nose Island ?????Youre kidding me!!

  • Sep 24, 2006 at 11:18 AM

    SMUTTYNOSE Is.!!!!! YAY!!!!!

  • BerniShand's Profile Photo
    Nov 24, 2005 at 6:06 AM

    I can see why kids would find this place so fascinating, it has all the makings of an adventure story, a really nice page Em

  • loisl's Profile Photo
    May 13, 2005 at 12:29 PM

    Yeaaa, the smuttynose beer is great, I had the chance to try it during my last trip to Nashua NH. Prost, Peter/Loisl

  • May 13, 2005 at 6:11 AM

    I recently watched a movie about the island murders, I did not think it would be any good but it was very interesting and came up with the "real" culprit.

  • aussiedoug's Profile Photo
    May 5, 2005 at 8:39 PM

    When I saw the name, just had to check it out thinking still it's a bit hilarious. Really enjoyed reading your intro, fascinating stuff. Think I'll stick to jumping into Balmoral here in Sydney with my twins. Water still almost 70 into last weeks of Fall.

  • Katmosphere's Profile Photo
    Apr 17, 2005 at 4:29 AM

    Em, this is a great page!!!

  • craic's Profile Photo
    Apr 15, 2005 at 8:23 PM

    This place looks way too pretty to be the scene of such gruesome murders!

  • spgood301's Profile Photo
    Apr 2, 2005 at 2:07 PM

    Me, I just like the name.

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