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Rower Retraces Smuttynose Murder Route

Dan O'Reilly passing Fort Constitution and lighthouse in New Castle / J Dennis Robinson photo 

Murderer's Row 

It is roughly 10 miles from the base of old Pickering Street to Smuttynose Island where Wagner killed Karen and Anethe Christensen. Back in the Victorian era, before small motors replaced sails, no one thought twice about a fisherman rowing that distance. John Hontvet, whose wife Maren was the sole survivor of the 1873 attack, testified at Wagner's trial that he had personally made the trip 50 or 60 times in a rowboat. Traveling with the tide, Hontvet said, he could reach his home on Smuttynose from Portsmouth in two or three hours, as long as the mighty Piscataqua tide was in his favor. The tide was perfect for Wagner at 8pm on the night of March 5. It was chilly, but not too cold. The sky was clear and the moon was three-quarters full with a light breeze blowing toward the Shoals.

Despite the facts of the case, modern armchair detectives (many of whom have never been in a wooden dory, much less rowed one), keep telling me it was "impossible" for the murderer to travel that far on a winter's night. But Louis Wagner was a dory fisherman who worked in all seasons. He was tall and muscular, much like Dan O'Reilly, but with one key difference. On the night of the murders, Louis Wagner was 28 years old. Dan is 75.

"We're both ancient," says Dave Kaselauskas, who is also 75. "Why Dan and I can remember when rainbows were black and white and the Dead Sea was only sick."

"Dan's an avid rower," Dave says,  "and strong for the age he is. If you stay physically cooking, you do a lot better than if you sit around and vegetate." 

Rower Dan O'Reilly (right) and friend in Smuttynose Cover / J. Dennis Robinson photo

 CONCLUSION OF Smuttynose Rowing article NEXT PAGE

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