The definitive account of the notorious nineteenth-century New England hatchet murders and their aftermath. "Lizzie Borden's got nothing on Louis Wagner." says bestselling author Andrew Vietze, coauthor of Boon Island: A True Story of Mutiny, Shipwreck, and Cannibalism
The cold-blooded ax murder of two innocent Norwegian women at their island home off the coast of New Hampshire has gripped the region since 1873, beguiling tourists, inspiring artists, and fueling conspiracy theories. Louis Wagner, a handsome, down-on-his-luck Prussian fisherman, was captured, convicted in a widely publicized trial, and publicly hanged in a ghastly gallows spectacle. But he never confessed and, while in prison, gained a circle of admirers whose blind faith in his innocence still casts a shadow of doubt. In this definitive "whydunnit" of the Smuttynose Island ax murders, historian J. Dennis Robinson delves into the backstory of the rocky Isles of Shoals, as an isolated centuries-old fishing village was being destroyed by a modern luxury hotel. He explores the neighboring island of Appledore, where Victorian poet Celia Thaxter entertained the elite artists and writers of Boston. It was Thaxter's powerful essay about the murders in the Atlantic Monthly that brought the shocking case to the attention of the American public. Most importantly, Robinson goes beyond the headlines of the burgeoning yellow press to explore deeper lessons about American crime, justice, economics, and hero worship.
Delving into the true story that inspired Anita Shreve's novel The Weight of Water, Mystery on the Isles of Shoals is a fascinating journey into another time that sheds new light not only on the case itself, but on contemporary questions of human nature and evil.
"Much like Truman Capote, Vincent Bugliosi and Joe McGinniss, he elevates the true crime genre to the realm of literature." —John Clayton, author of You Know You're in New Hampshire When...