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Did a second murder weapon appear
and then disappear in 1904?

Graves on Isles of Shoals The Stiletto Surfaces
Is this a dagger I see before me? The group of workmen tearing down a Water Street boarding house in 1904 were not quoting Macbeth. According to a recently re-discovered newspaper article, the workers really did find a dagger under the floor of a room supposedly inhabited by executed murderer Louis Wagner. The discovery raised new questions over the murder trial that refuses to die.

Did Wagner bring a weapon to the Isles of Shoals on the fateful night in March 1873 when he reportedly killed two Norwegian immigrant women at Smuttynose? Were there really blood stains on the knife?

The article, discovered recently by researcher and author Richard Winslow simply adds more controversy to stories of the infamous Wagner, whose trial drew national attention in the 19th century. While the assumed murder weapon, an ax with a broken handle, rests in the archives of the Portsmouth Athenaeum, the whereabouts of the 1904 dagger are unknown. A Portsmouth Herald article from the next day indicates that it was immediately sought after by macabre souvenir collectors. We have seen no mention of it before or since.

Following is the complete text of the articles as they appeared in the local newspaper. Our thanks to Mr. Winslow and the Portsmouth Public Library. (JDR)

Photo by Peter Randall
Now click to see the murder ax

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Feb. 4, 1904

Dagger Found In House Where
Murderer Used To Live

Workmen in tearing down the old brick one-story house on Water street, on Wednesday, found a dagger which recalls the famous Wagner murder at the Isles of Shoals.

It was in this house that Lewis Wagner boarded at the time he committed the murder and it was to this house he returned after rowing in from the islands. After changing his clothes, he departed for Boston, where he was subsequently arrested.

The dagger found on Wednesday was lying under the floor in a chamber. It had evidently been there for some years. It is about eight inches long and of a stilleto (sic) pattern. The blade is stained with what looks like blood, and while there is no certainty that Wagner used the knife, in all probability it belonged to him. The story of crime is one of the most (sic) revolting in the history of this vicinity.

Wagner, who was a big husky fisherman, rowed from this city to the Isles of Shoals on the night of Wednesday, March 12, 1873, and murdered Anethe and Karen Christenson.

Mrs. John Hontvet escaped only by hiding among the rocks. She was clothed in her nightdress only and was barefooted. The murderer used an axe and this was afterwards found on the island. Robbery was the motive of the crime, for Wagner took all the money he could get - sixty dollars.

He returned to this city on the following morning and went back to the house on Water street, where he had his whiskers shaved off. His subsequent capture, trial and execution is well remembered by the older people here. Whether Wagner owned the dagger which was found is, of course, not certainly known, but it is probable that he took it with him to the islands and on his return hid it under the floor of his room.

Reprinted from:
Portsmouth Herald
Thursday. Feb. 4, 1904

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Feb. 5, 1904

Relic Collectors Want Dagger Found
In Water Street House

The owners of the dagger found in the old brick house on Water street which is thought to have been the property of Lewis Wagner, the murderer, have received several offers for it.

The story of the find, as exclusively related in THE HERALD on Thursday, brought up a new discussion of that famous murder at the Shoals. City Marshal Thomas Entwistle, who helped arrest and guard Wagner, says it was the most strenuous time he has ever seen during his service in the police department.

The dagger was part of a dagger cane, but where Wagner could have picked it up is the question.

Reprinted from:
Portsmouth Herald
Friday February, 5, 1904

© 1998

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