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Paranormal Archives

Murder and Mystery on the Isles of Shoals

A knife-wielding butcher, a beautiful bride in white, and a fisherman named Louis with the blood of two innocent women on his hands are just a few of the many disembodied spirits who roam a group of nine small islands off the shores of Maine and New Hampshire. The mysterious, haunted, and terrifying islands are called the Isle of Shoals.

Located six miles off the east coast of the United States are a small group of islands called the Isles of Shoals. Vulnerable to New Englands’ cruel and unrelenting weather, it is a place where only the strong survive. The Isle of Shoals’ unforgiving, rocky coastline was settled by the Europeans in the early 17th century. They were established as one of the many fishing areas for the British and French colonies, the total area of the islands adding up to only 145 acres.

The use of the Isle of Shoals dates back over 400 years. It has been used as both a prominent fishing industry and a desired vacation destination. In its infancy it was also a place where pirates would lay low, escaping penalties for their past crimes. But, pirates were not the only nefarious ones to inhabit the islands.

Appledore, a territory of Maine, has the distinction of being the largest of the small islands, coming in at .5 by .6 miles wide.

Philip Babb arrived with his family on the island of Appledore during the early 1660s. Babb was known to be an ill-mannered man, who was known by many to be wicked and loathsome. Interestingly, he was also reported to have been a shipmate of Captain Kidd, who was said to have murdered his entire crew to protect his buried treasure hidden on the small island. Birds of a feather, do indeed flock together.

Along with being a less than desirable friend and neighbor, Babb was a butcher, innkeeper, and constable on the Island of Appledore.

It was in early March 1671 that the butcher lost his life, however, his spirit seems to have decided to stay. The ghostly image of Philip Babb has been seen roaming the island of Appledore’s rocky shores during the dead of night. More than a few people have reported seeing a large figure with sunken eyes, wearing a butcher’s frock, and brandishing a knife on the island.

One eyewitness stated that he had seen a mysterious figure walking along the shore of Babb’s Cove one night. He described the figure as being large, with hollowed out eyes and sporting a butcher’s frock that glowed. Upon approaching the mysterious figure, the witness let out a shrill scream, causing the apparition to vanish into thin air.

Another native of the island had his own story to tell. While leaving his workshop one night, the man encountered a frightening apparition. The witness stated that the ghostly figure began running straight for him, brandishing a knife. Catching a glimpse of his face by the pale moonlight, he reported seeing the unmistakable image of the angry butcher himself, Philip Babb. Turning on his heel, he headed straight for home, his feet barely touching the ground.

The following is a story of a more gruesome nature.

During the month of June 1872, John Hontvet hired Louis Wagner as a fishing hand to help with the operations of his fishing company. By then, John and his wife Maren had been living on the island of Smuttynose for two years. Hontvet supplied Louis with a job, food, and a place to live. After working for the Hontvet family for some time, Louis decided to venture out on his own. He purchased a fishing boat with the hope of starting his own business. Unfortunately for Louis, he crashed his boat which caused his business to fail, and Louis suddenly found himself broke and destitute. He was forced to spend his days trolling the docks of Portsmouth, NH helping vessels tie up as they entered the wharf, to support himself.

On the afternoon of March 5th,   1873, Louis caught wind that his old employer, John Hontvet, and his crew would not be returning home until the following morning. Knowing that the Hontvet cottage would be unattended by John, the out of work fisherman devised a plan to burglarize the Hontvet family home. 28 year old Louis Wagner stole a dory and rowed roughly 10-12 miles from the shore of the Piscataqua River to the small island of Smuttynose.

Now, for all of you, including some of my own family members, who believe that a 12 mile trip in a wooden dory would take way too much time for Louis to have committed the murders, consider this;  In 2013,  75 year old Dan O’Reilly completed Wagner’s route from the shore of the Piscataqua to the island of Smuttynose. He did it in a wooden dory, and he did it in only 2 hours and 14 minutes. So, now we know, never underestimate the power of a determined man.

Allegedly, Louis’s plan was to rob the Hontvet’s cottage after the three women inside, Maren, Karen Christensen, and Anethe Christensen had gone to bed. With the women asleep Louis had planned to sneak in, steal what he could and get out without anyone being the wiser. A sinister plan that by a deadly margin, had failed.

Frozen snow could be heard crunching beneath Louis’s feet as he approached the Hontvet’s cottage. He entered through an unlocked door, and in a cruel, premeditated move, he shoved a piece of wood through the latch of the master bedroom’s door, locking Maren and her sister-in-law Anethe inside. Startled awake by the family’s barking dog, Maren’s little sister Karen, mistook Louis for Maren’s husband John. Groggy and half awake, she called out to him. In a panic, Louis beat Karen unconscious with a chair. The other two women, having escaped their room, terrified and recognizing the gravity of the situation barricaded themselves back inside the bedroom. Maren forced Anethe out through the bedroom window to safety. Unfortunately for her sister-in-law the decision to escape via the bedroom window landed her right into the waiting arms of Louis Wagner. He took an axe from the wood pile and raising it above his head, killed Anethe with one fatal blow. Her blood quietly spilled onto the pure white snow.

Unable to convince Karen to leave the cottage Maren ran for her life. Heading for the shore on the far side of the small island she hunkered down until morning. With the safety of daylight, and with frozen feet, Maren waded into the breakwater and began waving her arms attracting the attention of a family on the neighboring island.

Upon realizing Maren had successfully escaped, Louis headed back to the cottage to fix himself a pot of coffee and a snack, but not before delivering the last and final deadly blow to Maren’s sister Karen. Before leaving the home for good, Louis stole all of the money on the property.

The sum total of $15.

One can’t help but wonder what kind of a man would justify taking the lives of two innocent women, and forever altering the life of a third for $15, a snack, and a cup of coffee.

A full scale manhunt would eventually deliver Louis to the proper authorities and he would be hanged months later for the grizzly murder of the two island women.

The bones of the Hontvet cottage on Smuttynose Island no longer exist, however, it’s foundation remains. Strange and unusual occurrences are often reported around where the home once stood. Paranormal enthusiasts have left trinkets on the home’s foundation that are said to move left and right, without assistance. People have also reported a dark and ominous presence on the island. The smell of coffee and malfunctioning equipment is often recorded as well. Other witnesses have claimed to see and hear strange things around the property of the Hontvet home, and terrifying EVP’s of blood curdling screams have been captured in the cove along the island’s rocky shoreline.

Interestingly, most believe that the ghost of Louis Wagner has remained on the island not to harass and terrify islanders, but to atone for his deadly, unintended actions. I, for one, am not buying it.

Louis may in fact also be roaming Smuttynose Island looking for his axe, the survival tool turned deadly weapon used to terminate the lives of two innocent women, but the jokes on him. The bloody axe is no longer on the small island, it is stored under glass in the Portsmouth Atheneum.

Smuttynose didn’t just attract the likes of innocent Swedish women, it was a stomping ground for pirates as well.

The infamous Blackbeard, the most notorious and feared of all the pirates, was drawn to the Isle of Shoals by way of his honeymoon, with his 15th wife. According to legend, Blackbeard hid his gold all over the small 25 acre island. However, like most honeymoons, nothing lasts forever. The infamous pirate was soon called away to battle British warships. Before he departed, Blackbeard instructed his wife to stay on the island and guard his gold. Alas, unlike the legendary luck of the Irish, Blackbeards luck eventually ran out. He was killed off the coast of North Carolina, death by decapitation, complements of Captain Maynard.

Waiting years on the tiny island for her villainous husband to return, Blackbeards blushing bride eventually died. Never having received closure for her groom’s failed return, she is said to roam the island continuing to honor her dastardly husbands order to protect his gold. The ghost of Blackbeards bride is also said to speak to those who would listen, assuring visitors and islanders alike, that he will be back. Witnesses have reported seeing a woman in white staring out into the ocean, saying “He will be back.” Eerie EVP’s have been collected on the island of Smuttynose confirming such events. Others have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of Blackbeard himself.

Moving on, we mustn’t forget Star Island, the island that is now considered a favorite for spiritual retreats. Once a desolate, uncharted no-man’s land, Star Island has evolved into a bustling hotspot for those seeking to connect with the holier side of themselves. With little wifi, no cable, and spotty cell service the odds are more than likely that an energetic connection would be your best, and only bet.

Two sisters born and raised in Kittery Point, Maine, spent more than their fair share of time on Star Island since the 1920’s and they’ve got a few thrilling ghost stories of their own. One sister spoke of waking up in the Oceanic House hearing furniture being moved throughout the night in the floor above her room. Inquiring about the noise the next morning, she was told “no-one was up there.” Attending a lecture a couple of years later she learned the area above the space where she had been sleeping was referred to as “ghost alley.” One of the sisters also recalled being a substitute Ranger on the island of Smuttynose. Filling in one night for the Ranger on duty, she excitedly rowed her boat from Star Island to Smuttynose, eager to embark on a solo, overnight shift.

 A little before 1 a.m. she was awoken by the latch rattling on the back door of the Haley House. Upon investigating the noise, the rattling stopped. No sooner did she fall asleep, that the rattling started again. She heard the rattling for a third time, but this time it was coming from the room underneath the stairs. Suffice it to say she was more than taken aback, as she knew she was all alone on the island.

 The same sister tells another scary tale of an early morning spooky experience. The pounding was heard on the front door of the Haley House, again with not another soul on the island. She also claimed to have been locked inside an outhouse on Smuttynose isle, with only two sleeping companions on the island with her.

But, ghostly legends are not meant for land alone. A favorite phantom story of mine tells of a ship by the name of Isadore who shipwrecked, succumbing to the deadly nature of the sea immediately surrounding the Isle of Shoals, in the year 1842. People have sporadically reported seeing Isadore patrolling the bays, but only for a few moments at a time before her ghostly apparition vanishes before their eyes.

Do ghosts exist? I’m not sure we’ll ever know. However, what we know for sure is that there are nine tiny islands quietly guarding the shores of both Maine and New Hampshire, and like all good New Englanders, she holds her secrets very close to her vest. The remote group of what some believe are uninhabitable New England enclaves hold not only chilling ghost stories worth their weight in gold, but also the gold itself. Gold that to this day Blackbeard and his obedient bride continue to guard, till death do they part. 

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