A murdered sailor haunts the sheriff investigating his death

Photo 1: Seyðisfjörður. Courtesy of Yvonne Lin

For those travelling on cruise ships or other tours by water may have stopped by Seyðisfjörður. This town is perhaps best known for its quaint church with the rainbow path. What may come as a surprise is that this little town used to give Reykjavik a run for its money. About 130 years ago, Seyðisfjörður was Iceland's largest city and was giving Reykjavík a hard competition in culture and diversity. It was not uncommon for  foreign merchants and ship owners to settle down on the east coast of Iceland, especially in Seyðisfjörður.

Photo 2: Seyðisfjarðarkirkja. Courtesy of Charlotte Dupont

On Suðurgata 2 in Seyðisfjörður is a guesthouse called the old apothecary. As the name implies, this used to be a pharmacy. The owner of the pharmacy was The Danish Hans Jörgen Ernst (1862-1929). The house was his home, his pharmacy and in the attic he rented studio apartments.

Photo 3: Hans Jörgen Ernst was a knight of  the Order of the Dannebrog. Courtesy of  Héraðsskjalasafn Austfirðinga

Photo 4: The Old Apothecary Guesthouse on Suðurgata 2, Seyðisfjörður. Courtesy of Frank Hukriede

Axel Valdemar Tulinius (1865-1937) was a newly graduated law student who had served some time as a policeman in Copenhagen. He then moved to Reykjavik and worked as a deputy attorney for the magistrate (sheriff) until he was appointed the county sheriff over Seyðisfjörður. He would not arrive in Seyðisfjörður until July 1894.

Photo 5: Axel V. Tulinius was 29 years old when he got the job as the sheriff in Seyðisfjörður. Courtesy of Héraðsskjalasafn Austfirðinga

Only three months before Axel's arrival, on May 5th, 1894, the Scottish trawler, M.A. Dodds sailed in to Seyðisfjörður harbor. It had been fishing right outside the east fjords and were about to head back to Scotland. The ship crew disembarked in the contemporary town, drank and acted rowdy. They behaved as the stereotypical expectations of drunken sailors. Although all too familiar with sailors and their reputations, the natives of Seyðisfjörður shook their heads at the misbehaving crew. Before they knew it, the sailors staggered onboard the trawler and off they went on their way back home to Scotland.

Photo 6: Fishing trawler outside Seyðisfjörður in ca. 1900. Courtesy of Cornell University Library

Axel arrived in Seyðisfjörður and needed a place to live. He was able to rent a studio apartment in one end of the attic at Ernst's pharmacy.  In one corner of the room was his bed with a curtain as a make-shift wall and his office on the other side of the curtain. The room had two windows. 

Axel had barely settled into his small studio when he received a message from Iceland's governor (district officer), the Danish Magnus Stephensen (1836-1917).

Photo 7: Magnus received the Cross of Honor of the Order of the Dannebrog. Courtesy of Unknown.

Governor Stephensen had received a request from the authorities in Aberdeen, Scotland to look into a missing person case. It so happened that when the trawler M.A. Dodds arrived back home in Aberdeen, it was missing its chief engineer, John Stephenson of Cotton Street, Aberdeen, Scotland. 

The crew was giving conflicting accounts of what happened. There seemed to be a somewhat consistent account that John had fallen overboard during a bad storm between the Faeroe Islands and Shetland Islands. 

One of the sailors came forth with a completely different account of John disappearing while they were docked in Seyðisfjörður. It had fallen on the governor to find out if anyone in Seyðisfjörður had information about the missing engineer.

Having barely unpacked, Axel was rolling up his sleeves for his first case. He went from house to house, knocking on all the doors in the area in and around the fjord. Nobody seemed to know anything, except the tale of the same old story of jolly drunken sailors. 

There was one bit of potential valuable information he got out of his house visits. There was an Icelander seen partying with the Scots by the name of Páll Jökull.

Photo 8: Axel went from door to door all along the fjords asking for information about the chief engineer, John. Photo of Seyðisfjörður in ca. 1900. Courtesy of Cornell University Library

Axel came to a dead end. He was unable to use any of the information gathered to find out what could have happened to John from Aberdeen. Then on October 2nd, 1894, some fishermen who were fishing outside Seyðisfjörður in a place called Brimnes got a body caught on their line. 

Photo 9: Brimnes is on the outer part of the fjord. In this photo it would be on the left side (exiting the fjord). Courtesy of Famille Songe

Axel was sitting in his office when the pharmacist Ernst walked in and asked him if he had heard about the body that was caught in the fishing line earlier in the day. Axel had not heard about this and didn't believe this to be a true story, because had it been true, surely he would have been one of the first to know.

Photo 10: It was evening and Axel was getting ready for bed when Ernst came upstairs to tell him about the body that got caught in the sailors' net. Courtesy of CaptainOates

The pharmacist left and a little later Axel got ready for bed. While lying in bed, he was unable to fall asleep. He lied there for several hours just thinking about what Ernst had told him and that it was probably true. The body was most likely the engineer from Aberdeen. At some point, Axel drifted off to sleep.

When Axel woke up the following morning, he was convinced the story was true. He got ready for the day and headed down to the harbor to rent a boat. Axel brought with him a few men, including the photographer Eyj ólfur Jónsson (1869-1944) and together they headed out to Brimnes. 

When they got there, Axel walked over to the first man he saw and asked where the body was. The man pointed at an old shack out on a field. They went into the shack and carried the body out into the field where Eyjólfur photographed the body.

The body was in pretty bad shape. All that was left of the arms were just bones. Same with his head. All substance was gone leaving only the skull. All ligaments and muscles had been stripped off the neck too. Other than that, the trunk was pretty much in tact. He was still wearing his clothes which were covered in oil and fat. 

The clothes were typical sailor clothes with feather boots. The clothing, even the boots, appeared specific for a machine engineer. On the buttons on the trousers was printed Aberdeen and in one of the pockets they found one pence. The body appeared to have been through a violent event. In fact, it was so badly treated the men had a difficult time studying it.

Axel's hunch was right. It was John, the chief engineer from Aberdeen. The county doctor, Guðmundur Scheving and Dr. Jón Jónsson arrived to examine the body. After they had cut open the body and done a thorough examination, they determined John had been unconscious when he died. 

After the examination, they respectfully prepared the body to be delivered back home in Aberdeen to his wife where the Vice-Consul, L.M. Hansen gave him an honorable burial. The Seyðisfjörður residents decorated the coffin in beautiful flowers and all flags were flagging half-staffed. The coffin was ceremoniously carried onboard the ship. Among those who traveled with the body to England was the pharmacist, Ernst.

Photo 11: Seyðisfjörður. The body was sent off in a beautifully decorated coffin. John´s body was to return back to his grieving wife in Aberdeen. Courtesy of  specchio.nero

During Axel's investigation, he found out that there had been much drunkenness on board the ship. The trawler had been lingering uncontrolled out in the ocean by Seyðisfjörður. On the ship, the sailors hadn't been friendly with each other and fighting and screaming could be heard all the way to land. 

A large dog could be heard barking as well. It turned out that they had tied metal around John's arms and thrown him overboard, sinking him to the bottom. This was the reason why the body took so long to come up to the surface. Eventually, the meat on the arms was pulled off as the body floated to the surface.

Photo 12: Seyðisfjörður private camping. Courtesy of Pieter Morlion

Axel's first case had finally been solved and come to an end. One may think that John's story ends here. John's body may have left Seyðisfjörður, but did his spirit? After John's case was closed, Axel was tired after long investigative days and went to bed early. 

Frustratingly, Axel couldn't sleep. The moon was shining bright and the weather was calm and clear. Axel could feel that he wasn't alone in the room. He could feel that John was there with him. he lied awake in bed unable to fall asleep. 

Outside, the weather was calm and he could see the moon shining bright from his window. He got out of bed and pulled away the curtains so the moon would light up the room. He looked at the clock and it was already between 3 and 4 in the morning and he hadn't even fallen asleep yet.

Photo 13: Axel was awake in bed in his attic studio apartment when he saw John back from the dead in his bedroom. Source: Dagblaðið Vísir

Axel crawled back into bed. He was feeling very tired and dozily stared at the door. Suddenly the door started opening very slowly. As the door opened, he could see the Scottish engineer standing in the doorway. There was something wrong with the way he looked. 

The Scottish man didn't look like he did when he was alive, but rather he looked exactly as he did when they found him. Axel could see the hollow eye sockets in his skull. The moonlight shone between the teeth and his skeleton arms hung down his sides. The dead Scottish man looked angry and Axel was certain he wanted to hurt him.

John's corpse floated slowly across the floor, heading straight for Axel's bed. He wasn't going to just lie there and wait for the attack. Half-naked, he jumped out of bed to face the monster. He was actually afraid of the dark, but this time he felt no fear. 

Axel spoke to him in Icelandic asking him why he was there and told him to leave him alone. Dead John didn't seem to acknowledge anything he said but instead continued towards him. Once within reach of each other, John attacked Axel with all his might.

Photo 14: A beautiful house with the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. Courtesy of Mekanoide 

John threw his bare skeleton arms around Axel's arms. Valiantly, Axel fought back and eventually gained control. He pushed the Scottish man backwards out the door which was wide open. He then slammed the door shut and locked it. 

Axel grabbed some matches to light a candle and read for the rest of the night. He was still wide awake when the rest of the house woke up in the morning.

Photo 15: Seyðisfjörður. Courtesy of Joe Parks

The following two nights the Scottish man haunted the Ernst family on the bottom floor. In fact, he visited the pharmacist so frequently that he stopped sleeping at night. After a few nights of terror, John stopped appearing and was never seen or heard of again in the house on Suðurgata 2.


  1. Thanks for the link of our photo on your blog :) it reminds us of our beautiful trip to Iceland.
    Thanks. Famille SONGE ;)

    1. Thank you so much. I’m glad it brought back positive memories❤️


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