Murder on the Island

Main Piece

When JJ was growing up in Massachusetts, he used to go to a fishing camp that would take a day trip to a tiny island off the coast of New Hampshire. Every year, they would tell a “true story” about an abandoned red house on the island:

“A family used to live in that red house, with a wife and husband, and their maid. The husband made his living fishing from the island. The husband and wife would sleep upstairs, while the maid was downstairs. Once, the wife’s sister came to visit, and slept downstairs with the maid. There had been some longstanding conflict between the husband and the wife’s sister, since she hadn’t wanted her sister to marry him.

The maid woke up in the middle of the night to a scream. She found the wife’s sister dead in her room. She ran upstairs and woke up the husband and wife: “You sister’s dead! You have to get out of here!” The maid goes back down to check on the sister. The husband tries to help his wife escape through the second story window, but as soon as her head is out, her head got chopped off by an axe! Then the husband is freaking out. He runs downstairs and finds that the maid is dead, next to the wife’s sister.

He hops in his rowboat and starts trying to row to shore, but it’s the middle of the night, and it’s miles to shore. He starts rowing, he’s falling asleep, his hands are getting tired, he’s starting to let go of the oars. It’s winter so it’s freezing cold. He dips his hands into the water to freeze his hands to the oars. It works and he finally arrives to a city in New England, and goes to a hotel. He’s covered in blood trying to tell them what happened. His hands are completely frostbitten. They arrest him on the spot. He got convicted and sent to jail. Up until his death he denied it and said there was someone else on the island.

On his deathbed he admitted to murdering everyone.

Or so they say he confessed…”

Informant background

JJ is a student at the University of Southern California. He is from Newburyport, MA.

Performance context

This story was told during a folklore collection event that I set up with a diversity of members from the USC men’s Ultimate Frisbee team. We were in a classic folklore collection setting: sharing drinks around a campfire, in a free flowing conversation.


JJ’s story, along with every scary story I collected for this project, professes to be a “true story.” While the plausibility of this is in question, the effect of even the plausibility of this story having happened causes an extra layer of fear and fascination for the story—especially since the story is almost always told while the listeners are actually at the site.