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New Book Will Fully Explore 1873 Smuttynose Island Ax Murders


Nate Hamilton at murder site on Smuttynose Island

Maren didn't do it 

While I welcome new input, what I don't need are more crackpot conspiracy theories. I've heard enough of those for a lifetime.  One goal of this book is to put a bullet into each of the rumors, falsehoods, fictions, and hoaxes that have been floating around town here since the story hit the newspaper on March 6, 1873. Such speculation is normal. Wagner, after all, was convicted on circumstantial evidence and professed his innocence to the end. Nobody, not even the surviving woman Maren Hontvet, actually saw Louis Wagner mutilate Anethe with an ax or beat Karen senseless with a chair, then strangle her with a scarf.  Maren saw a figure in the darkness, and she heard her sister-in-law cry out "Louis! Louis! Louis!" as the murderer struck her repeatedly.

Each summer I mow the lawn where one body lay. I trim the weeds around the well where the killer washed up before rowing back to New Castle in his stolen dory. I have appeared on national TV holding the murder weapon, the same ax with the broken handle that my wife Maryellen was holding in a photograph on the front page of this newspaper back in 1997. Like I said, it gets weird. But by this time next year, if the literary gods are smiling, I will have exorcised this murder from my soul and sent Louis Wagner back to hell.

You don't have to know the facts, sadly, to have a strong opinion. Those who say Louis Wagner was innocent, most of the time, have only read the novel Weight of Water by Anita Shreve, or they saw the movie version by director Kathryn Bigelow. Although based on the actual trial, the novel is not history. It is fiction. The movie is Hollywood.  The rumor that Maren herself confessed to killing her own sister and sister-in-law is false. That rumor was started by the killer himself while he was still in jail. A newspaper article that made a similar claim was proven to be a hoax and was written years long before Maren died.

Those who say -- no one could row a boat to the Isles of Shoals at night in the winter -- don't know much about boats or rowing. Those who say the police faked the evidence or that Wagner's defense attorney didn't make a valiant effort to save his client have probably not read the trial transcript or the news reports. Those who believe Wagner's complex alibi holds water don't know much about the laws of physics or the principles of logic. And those who think circumstantial evidence is less viable than direct evidence don't know much about American criminal justice.  But a good rumor is hard to kill, and I will do my best to waste them all. 


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Tuesday, February 20, 2018 
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