Mystery on the Isles of Shoals

Closing the Case on the Smuttynose Ax Murders of 1873

LIST PRICE $12.99
About The Book

For the first time, the full story of a crime that has haunted New England since 1873.

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 theorists.

The killer, a handsome Prussian fisherman down on his luck, was quickly captured, convicted in a widely publicized trial, and hanged in an unforgettable 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. A fictionalized bestselling novel and a Hollywood film have further clouded the truth.

Finally a definitive "whydunnit" account of the Smuttynose Island ax murders has arrived. Popular historian J. Dennis Robinson fleshes out the facts surrounding this tragic robbery gone wrong in a captivating true crime page-turner. Robinson delves into the backstory at 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 shocked the American public.

Robinson goes beyond the headlines of the burgeoning yellow press to explore the deeper lessons about American crime, justice, economics, and hero worship. Ten years before the Lizzie Borden ax murder trial and the fictional Sherlock Holmes, Americans met a sociopath named Louis Wagner—and many came to love him.

Product Details
  • Publisher: Skyhorse (November 2014)
  • Length: 448 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781632200570

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Raves and Reviews

"This in-depth account of a controversial historical murder is essential for regional collections and recommended for all true crime collections." —Library Journal

"Most New Englanders think they know all about the brutal Smuttynose Island ax murders. I know I did. But once I began Robinson's new book, I truly couldn't put it down. The massive amount of new details he has uncovered are not only wonderfully horrific but are skillfully woven into a fascinating look at that time in our history. This is a superb piece of work." —Judson D. Hale, Sr., editor-in-chief, Yankee Magazine

"J. Dennis Robinson opens one of history's most compelling cold cases and solves it with aplomb. This a gripping page-turner that will keep you up nights—so vibrant you can smell the brine and the blood and see the island shores. Lizzie Borden's got nothing on Louis Wagner." —Andrew Vietze, bestselling author of Boon Island

"J. Dennis Robinson unravels history and mystery into one of the most entertaining and informative books I've read in years." —Ernest Hebert, award-winning author of the Darby Chronicles

"Robinson’s book is thoroughly captivating. Why, Robinson asks, can we not let stories about murder end? This question cuts to the heart of genre. His meticulous study of the Smuttynose murders is an exceptional entry in the canon of American true crime literature." —Elizabeth Hewitt, associate professor of American literature and popular culture at The Ohio State University

"Robinson places the Smuttynose murders in a wide historical context, encompassing a time when small fishing villages gave way to summer resort hotels and when a national press reported and fed rampant rumors. In this telling, the author considers how fact informed rumor and gossip informed fact as the accused, local residents, the authorities, and the press created multiple narratives of this infamous crime." —Elizabeth De Wolfe, Professor of History, University of New England, and author of The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories

"Robinson's book has the scope and sweep of a great novel—except that every word is true." —Rodman Philbrick, award-winning author

"Many authors have written about the infamous Smuttynose murders, but none has delved as deep as J. Dennis Robinson. The reader is transported to the rough side of Portsmouth in 1873 and learns how police work and justice were carried out. An impressive work!" —Peter E. Randall, award-winning publisher and author

"Case closed! J. Dennis Robinson’s meticulously detailed account solves the famous Smuttynose Murders once and for all. It is entertaining, fascinating, and horrifying, all at the same time." —Emerson W. Baker, History Professor at Salem State University and author of The Devil of Great Island and A Storm of Witchcraft

"Enjoyed every page! This book is a reader’s delight, combining the thrills of a murder mystery with the intrigue of a courtroom drama—all of it played out against a colorful backdrop of nineteenth-century New England fishing communities and island resort hotels." —Carolyn Gage, Maine playwright

"For decades there have been many questions about the murderous events that took place on the historic Isles of Shoals back in 1873—taking the lives of two innocent women—but J. Dennis Robinson expertly and skillfully peels away the legends and myths to get to what really happened. Highly recommended." —Brendan DuBois, award-winning mystery author of Fatal Harbor

"Spoiler Alert! 'This book is not a whodunit. We know who did it.' So says author J. Dennis Robinson, whose reexamination of the Smuttynose murders is a form of the finest forensic journalism. 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...

"Eighteenth-century history with twenty-first century cultural sensibility . . . a riveting tale told by a truly gifted and graceful teller of tales. I loved it!" —Rebecca Rule, New Hampshire–based author

"An outstanding book. I predict this will become the gold standard for works about the historic Isles of Shoals." —Jane E. Vallier, author of Poet On Demand: The Life, Letters and Works of Celia Thaxter

"This in-depth account of a controversial historical murder is essential for regional collections and recommended for all true crime collections." —Library Journal

"Most New Englanders think they know all about the brutal Smuttynose Island ax murders. I know I did. But once I began Robinson's new book, I truly couldn't put it down. The massive amount of new details he has uncovered are not only wonderfully horrific but are skillfully woven into a fascinating look at that time in our history. This is a superb piece of work." —Judson D. Hale, Sr., editor-in-chief, Yankee Magazine

"J. Dennis Robinson opens one of history's most compelling cold cases and solves it with aplomb. This a gripping page-turner that will keep you up nights—so vibrant you can smell the brine and the blood and see the island shores. Lizzie Borden's got nothing on Louis Wagner." —Andrew Vietze, bestselling author of Boon Island

"J. Dennis Robinson unravels history and mystery into one of the most entertaining and informative books I've read in years." —Ernest Hebert, award-winning author of the Darby Chronicles

"Robinson’s book is thoroughly captivating. Why, Robinson asks, can we not let stories about murder end? This question cuts to the heart of genre. His meticulous study of the Smuttynose murders is an exceptional entry in the canon of American true crime literature." —Elizabeth Hewitt, associate professor of American literature and popular culture at The Ohio State University

"Robinson places the Smuttynose murders in a wide historical context, encompassing a time when small fishing villages gave way to summer resort hotels and when a national press reported and fed rampant rumors. In this telling, the author considers how fact informed rumor and gossip informed fact as the accused, local residents, the authorities, and the press created multiple narratives of this infamous crime." —Elizabeth De Wolfe, Professor of History, University of New England, and author of The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories

"Robinson's book has the scope and sweep of a great novel—except that every word is true." —Rodman Philbrick, award-winning author

"Many authors have written about the infamous Smuttynose murders, but none has delved as deep as J. Dennis Robinson. The reader is transported to the rough side of Portsmouth in 1873 and learns how police work and justice were carried out. An impressive work!" —Peter E. Randall, award-winning publisher and author

"Case closed! J. Dennis Robinson’s meticulously detailed account solves the famous Smuttynose Murders once and for all. It is entertaining, fascinating, and horrifying, all at the same time." —Emerson W. Baker, History Professor at Salem State University and author of The Devil of Great Island and A Storm of Witchcraft

"Enjoyed every page! This book is a reader’s delight, combining the thrills of a murder mystery with the intrigue of a courtroom drama—all of it played out against a colorful backdrop of nineteenth-century New England fishing communities and island resort hotels." —Carolyn Gage, Maine playwright

"For decades there have been many questions about the murderous events that took place on the historic Isles of Shoals back in 1873—taking the lives of two innocent women—but J. Dennis Robinson expertly and skillfully peels away the legends and myths to get to what really happened. Highly recommended." —Brendan DuBois, award-winning mystery author of Fatal Harbor

"Spoiler Alert! 'This book is not a whodunit. We know who did it.' So says author J. Dennis Robinson, whose reexamination of the Smuttynose murders is a form of the finest forensic journalism. 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...

"Eighteenth-century history with twenty-first century cultural sensibility . . . a riveting tale told by a truly gifted and graceful teller of tales. I loved it!" —Rebecca Rule, New Hampshire–based author

"An outstanding book. I predict this will become the gold standard for works about the historic Isles of Shoals." —Jane E. Vallier, author of Poet On Demand: The Life, Letters and Works of Celia Thaxter