The Murderous History of Maine’s Smuttynose Island

Picture yourself standing on an island off the rocky coastline of Maine. It’s really more of a glorified rock protruding from the sea, only about a half-mile long and even narrower than that, about 10 miles from the mainland of Kittery, Maine. Smuttynose Island in the Isles of Shoals has become an iconic part of the dark side of Maine and New Hampshire history.

Smuttynose Island is best described by Celia Thaxter in her piece “A Memorable Murder” published in The Atlanic. She wrote, “Long ago I lived two years upon it, and know well its whitened ledges and grassy slopes, its low thickets of wild-rose and bayberry, its sea wall still intact…the ancient wharf drops stone by stone into the little cove, where every day the tide ebbs and flows and ebbs agan with pleasant sound and freshness…I used to think it was a pleasant place, that low, rocky, and grassy island, though so wild and lonely.” 

It’s distance from shore combined with it’s barren, unprotected land makes it a less than ideal spot for modern inhabitants. But you can visit it today, if you provide your own transportation and reach the cove by dinghy. A rotating collective of Smuttynose Stewards keep watch as curious true crime adventurers explore the rocky shores on foot, whispering and pointing at the very spot where two grisly murders were committed one cold March night in 1873.

This is the story of three women attacked in the dead of night, when a robbery turned bloody and the thief wielded an ax that would end the lives of two. The third woman lived to tell her tale, though some argue that it was the sole survivor herself who commited the murders and pointed her finger at Louis H.F. Wager, who would face death himself for the crime.