It was the early part of the month of June in 1865, and there were as yet few people living in the region, let alone spending summers on islands. A stranger was sure to be noticed right away. The man rowed over from Gananoque in a skiff and took a room at a hotel in Fisher’s Landing. He spent a few days exploring the Islands and fishing, keeping pretty much to himself. Recalled one local man in the sleuthing of the events that were to follow, “He was about 30 years of age, with black hair, eyes and beard, well dressed, very uncommunicative, dark as a Spaniard, and very restless.”
No doubt there were some that warmed to the stranger when he employed a few carpenters to help put up a cabin on Maple Island. The cottage was built on a bluff and had a good view over the river, but was itself screened from view from the water by bushes. The work was done in short order, and again the man kept to himself, with just his books and a violin for company.
One night, there was an orange glow across the water over the island. People in the area assumed there was a fire, but figured that the man would have escaped and that he would show up at the village the next morning. When he didn’t arrive, a party went out to see what had happened. What they saw set the whole village to talking. The man had been murdered. His throat had been slashed and there were cross-shaped knife cuts in a triangular pattern on his chest.
Now as it happened, a week before the murder several men, assumed to be southerners by their accents, had been seen around various hotels. Interestingly enough, they had set out by skiff supposedly for Alexandria Bay, the evening of the murder.
The cuts on the dead man were recognized as a sign for the secret society, the Knights of the Golden Circle. The most popular theory floated in the Islands was that the stranger was none other than the Treasurer of the society, a man named John A. Payne, who had made off with $100,000 of the blood money paid to the society for the assassination of President Lincoln. It appeared that Payne had been hunted down and killed for running out on the society. The murder was never solved and exactly what transpired that night on Maple Island will never be known.
This story was recorded in The Picturesque St. Lawrence, written as a souvenir of the Thousand Islands by J.A. Haddock in 1895