Humans can't be owned

A tyrant pays the price for his mistreatment of the women in his house

 

Þingeyrarsandur is just east of Illugastaðir. You can take a guided horse ride and visit the farms and the surrounding locations of where our murder story takes place. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

As I mentioned in the previous blog, I'll be telling the story of Agnes, Friðrik and Sigríður as it was told by them in their witness testimonies. Their testimonies varied slightly, each to their own favor. I tried to stick to the parts they all agreed on. Some parts I leaned towards which sounded most logical or reliable.

Friðrik was a known thief and a scoundrel. Although that doesn't make him a liar, it does make his testimony less reliable. When Sigríður had finished her testimony and was escorted out of the court, she crossed path with Agnes. She was heard tell Agnes to tell the truth, because that's what she did. Nonetheless, the discrepancies in all three testimonies were minor.

The otherworldly parts of this story was told in the previous blog. 

On September 9th, 2017, a mock-trial was created to see what kind of a sentence the trio would have be charged with had it happened today. All the court documents were revisited. They told a clearer story of what was truly going on within the walls which Natan occupied.

The main individuals in this story are:

Sigríður Guðmundsdóttir (1811-1839)  housekeeper  at Illugastaðir.
Friðrik Sigurðsson (1810-1830) farmer's son in Katadalur.
Agnes Magnúsdóttir (1795-1830)  maid  at Illugastaðir. Born in Búrfell
Natan Ketilsson (1792-1828) from Illugastaðir.
Daníel Guðmundsson (1803? - ?) laborer at Geitaskarð. Engaged to Agnes. He was 25 years old at the time of the murders.
Þorbjörg Halldórsdóttir (1786? - ?) Friðrik's mother. She was 42 years old at the time of the murders.
Gísli Ólafsson (? - ?) Friðrik's uncle (his father's brother)

The mock-court in 2017

Natan, a self-educated doctor and a farmer, became the sole owner of Illugastaðir in 1826. He hired Sigríður on as his housekeeper when she was only 14 years-old. In the spring of 1827, Agnes came to work on the farm as his maid.

During this time period in Iceland was something called vistarband  (contractual laborer). If you were landless, you were forced to contract yourself to a farmer. Normally, these were annual contracts. This meant that during their contract period, the farmers owned the laborers, as if they were children.

The laborers were not allowed to leave the community without their owner's permission, unless they had a written permission from the priest or others in higher positions.

The only thing a laborer could do to get away, was to wait out the annual contract and find a different farm to hire them. The contracts usually went from spring - spring. 

It is believed that Natan had a sexual relationship with Sigríður as soon as she arrived at the farm at age 14.

Illugastaðir in Vatnsnes, the home of Natan and the place he was murdered. The old farm house that was burned down was near the current farm house, slightly closer to the water. If you look closely, you can see a circle in the grass where the farm used to be. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

In the summer 1826,  Natan told the 16 year-old Friðrik he could have all the gold that his lover, Rósa stored for him at Vatnsendi. He just had to find it first. Þorbjörg Halldórsdóttir, Friðrik's mom, dreamt that Natan had buried the money under floor in the food storage.

Friðrik went to Vatnsendi in search for his money. When he got there, he made an attempt to seduce Skáld-Rósa (Skáld-Rósa was Natan's lover). He then asked for permission to sleep with her that night. Rósa was pregnant at the time with Natan's baby and had no desire to sleep with him. She begged her husband, Ólafur, not to let him stay the night.

When everyone was asleep, Natan tiptoed into the storage room and began digging. He didn't find anything and told his mom that she should sleep better. Friðrik was furious and was certain Natan had fooled him. He wasn't going to let him get away with it without some kind of revenge, even murder.

The farm Vatnsendi where Skáld-Rósa lived and were Friðrik went searching for the money.  Magnus - Dynur og Saga

Friðrik was still talking about revenge and wanted to kill Natan. He discussed his plans with his parents and his uncle Gísli, mentioning it would be smart to burn down the farm house to get rid of evidence. The murder was to take place during Christmas 1827. This wasn't something Gísli wanted to do, but he was terrified of Friðrik. 

Christmas came and went without the execution of Friðrik's plans.

In the beginning of Þorri (mid-winter), 1828, Friðrik and Gísli went to Illugastaðir. They arrived around bed time and snuck into Natan's barn and waited. Sigríður came out to the barn to meet them. Out of the blue and slightly nonchalantly, Friðrik asked her to marry him.

   -  At the time, Friðrik was engaged to Þórunn Eyvindsdóttir, a maid at Katadalur. She was 32 (14 years older than him), but in those days age wasn't viewed the same as it is today. Late in 1828, Þórunn gave birth to Friðrik's child.  -

The ruins of Natan's shed/barn. Magnús - Dynur og Saga

Sigríður didn't know if it was even an option, because she belonged to Natan, her husband (owner), who had also promised her marriage. Friðrik told her that Natan had no intentions to keep his promise. Sigríður felt she was stuck with Natan. She wasn't sure she could endure more of his skammir that she so often had to endure.

   - When telling the courts about the abuse, Sigríður used the word Skamma (Skammir in plural form). This is nearly impossible to properly translate into modern language as it can mean different types or levels of abuse. It could mean extreme rage, scold, physical abuse, shame or rape. It is highly suspected that Agnes and Sigríður suffered tyrannical physical and sexual abuse. - 

Sigríður agreed to marry Friðrik. The best way to make that work was to kill Natan and take his belongings. With Natan dead, they could take over the farm and valuables.

  The scribble at the top shows the location of Natan's shed/barn. The scribble near the farm house is pointing at a circle which shows the ruins of Natan's burned down farm house. This circle is mentioned in the previous areal photo.  Magnus - Dynur og Saga

Agnes wasn't home when Friðrik came over to talk to Sigríður. When she told Agnes everything Friðrik had said, she was scared he would actually kill Natan.  

The following Sunday, they all went to mass in Tjarnarkirkja. Agnes and Sigríður spoke to Friðrik in private. Agnes had written a letter to Rósa on Vatnsendi from herself and another letter on behalf of the illiterate Sigríður to her mother at Stóra Borg. It was important that Natan didn't know about the letters, so they needed Friðrik to deliver them.  

Tjörn farm and Tjörn Church (Tjarnarkirkja). The church that was there in the early 19th century is gone. I was unable to find any photographs of the original church. The current church was built in the years 1930 to 1940 out of cement. Sigurður J.Líndal og Stefán Á.Jónsson

The church at Tjörn, Vatnsnes. It is called Tjarnarkirkja. Jóna Þórunn

Tjarnarkirkja is located near the western tip of Vatnses and as most churches, has its doors facing the ocean. You may remember this from a previous blog here where I explained that the church doors were to face the ocean and should always be open. As long as they are open, the ships on the ocean would be kept safe. In the right hand corner of the photo, Agnes' and Friðrik's grave can be seen.  Jóna Þórunn

Friðrik agreed to stop by Illugastaðir after Natan was gone on his next trip to pick up the letters. In Sigríður's letter, she begged her mom to save her from Natan. She didn't know what to do anymore and wanted her mom to come pick her up at the next cross mass (cross mass is twice a year: May 3rd and Sep. 14th).

Around the same time, the district administrative officer, Vorm Símonarson Bech , from Geitaskarð was sick and needed Natan's healing abilities. He sent Daníel Guðmundsson, his hired laborer, to Illugastaðir to tend to Natan's sheep in the meantime. 

Agnes was very happy to see Daníel when he arrived. She had been a laborer at Geitaskarð before coming to Illugastaðir. She was there at the same time as Daníel and the two of them had developed a romantic relationship

Geitaskarð around 1900.  This is where Daníel was a hired laborer. The farm belonged to Warm Bech, Natan's cousin (or uncle), who was also the area's District Administrative Officer. Natan was a hired laborer at Geitaskarð for a short time. He was then hired on at Illugastaðir. Soon after he became a hired laborer at Illugastaðir, he inherited the farm. Héraðsskjalasafn Austur-Húnavatnssýslu

During Daníel's ten day stay at Illugastaðir, he continued his relationship with Agnes. They even talked about getting married, but they didn't own any land and had no money to acquire one. Without land, they couldn't get married. 

Monday March 5, 1838 Friðrik stopped by Illugastaðir on his way home from Stapakot. The women were set on killing Natan and offered to pay Friðrik money for helping them. If he refused, they would just do it themselves. Friðrik stayed the night at Illugastaðir keeping the women and Daníel company. The four of them chatted far into the night. 

On the tenth day, Natan returned home. The same day, Friðrik returned from his trip as well. On his way home, he stopped by at Illugastaðir with a letter from Rósa to Agnes and a letter to Sigríður from her mom. Worried Natan would find out about the letters, he handed them to Daníel, to give to the women.

Friðrik hadn't been home long when Daníel came knocking on his door at Katadalur. He was on his way home to Geitaskarð and wanted to have a word with Friðrik. He wanted to encourage Natan to go through with his plans.

Katadalur seen in southward direction. Katadalur is on the left and Egilsstaðir on the right. Courtesy of Mats Wibe Lund


Katadalur seen in northward direction. Katadalur is on the right and Egilsstaðir on the left. The family on Katadalur were known for the rumors as scoundrels and thieves. Courtesy of  Mats Wibe Lund

Two days after Daníel left, Natan noticed that four of his sheep were missing. He blamed Agnes and Sigríður for it. The women paid dearly for the missing sheep. The abuse was unbearable and they feared for their lives. Agnes couldn't stand it any longer and escaped.

Agnes escaped to Tjörn where the priest lived. This was the next proper step in what women were supposed to do when seeking help from their owner's abuse. It appears there wasn't much consolation from the priest, because soon after her arrival, she headed to Ásbjarnarstaðir. There she found shelter and stayed under their care for one week. 

Ásbjarnarstaðir in Vatnsnes. Photo taken in 1981. If you look closely or zoom in, you can see a turf house right behind the farm house.  Aðalheiður Jóhannesdóttir

The day after Daníel visited Friðrik at his farm, he went to see Sigríður about the murder. 
He knocked on the door and Sigríður went outside to talk to him. He had come to kill Natan. 

The two of them decided that after dark that same day would be a great opportunity. The only ones on the farm were Sigríður, the three-year-old Þóranna Rósa and Natan. Friðrik was to go up in the mountain by Illugastaðir and wait there in hiding until dark.

Once it was dark, he snuck back down to Illugastaðir to kill Natan. He met with Sigríður first to ask her if she wanted to wait outside or come with him inside to kill him. But Sigríður had had a change of heart. Natan had been so good to her that day, that she didn't want to go through with the murder. Annoyed, Friðrik told her that he wasn't coming back again to do it and left.

Illugastaðir farms and the mountain where Friðrik hid. Reading with Kit 

On the way home, he stopped by Ásbjarnarstaðir where Agnes was staying. Friðrik didn't quite understand the seriousness of killing Natan if they kept backing out. He planned on killing him whether they liked it or not. 

Agnes had really wanted to kill Natan and didn't want to delay it any longer. She reminded Sigríður of the skammir they both received from Natan and told her to go and beg Friðrik to go ahead with his plans. Sigríður did as she was told and went to Katadalur. Friðrik was easily persuaded and soon agreed to do it. 

Shortly after, Vorm Bech again needed Natan's medical attention. Before leaving, he told Sigríður that Agnes was not allowed back on the farm while he was gone.

As soon as Natan left, Agnes returned home. 

As Vorm always did, he sent someone to Natan's farm to tend his sheep while he was gone. Daníel had offered to go, but Vorm refused and instead sent Pétur Jónsson or better known as Fjárdráps Pétur (Pétur the Sheep Killer). 

   - Pétur (and Jón Arnason) from Botnastaðir had killed 30 sheep (belonging to Pétur Skúlason) in a grotesque manner and had been charged for the crime by the Icelandic courts. They were still waiting for the Danish king to approve their sentence. -

The two women didn't like Pétur and due to his low standing in society, they weren't afraid to show it. When he got to the farm, the women were seen spitting in his face.

Botnastaðir is located east of Vatnses. Left: Botnastaðir farm in 1964  Halldór Jóhannesson; Right: Seen down towards Botnastaðir. Halldór Jóhannesson

On Monday, March 12th, 1838, Natan had finished tending to Vorm and rode back home. On his way home, he stopped by Katadalur. Friðrik gave Natan milk to drink and offered him spirits. When it was time for Natan to leave, Friðrik accompanied him on his way back home.

The next day was going to be Natan's last day. 

Tuesday, March 13th, Friðrik headed out to Illugastaðir. As a cover story, he said he was on his way to Tungukot. He tried to get Gísli, his uncle to go with him, but he was sick and couldn't go, so he went alone. 

It was dark when Friðrik arrived at Illugastaðir. He hid in the barn and waited for Agnes and Sigríður to meet him there. When they finally showed up, Natan and Pétur had gone to bed. 

Friðrik didn't know that Pétur was still there and was reluctant to follow through with the plans. The women begged and again offered him money.

Katadalur. This is where Friðrik and others would have travelled to get to and from Katadalur farm. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

It wasn't hard to convince Friðrik. After all, Natan had threatened to kill him when they met in Hvalfjörður some time earlier. He had witnesses to verify this. Agnes suggested they knock the two men unconscious with a big hammer. Sigríður had brought a hammer for the job.

The three of them tiptoed into the baðstofa (living room). The first sign of day was approaching. Agnes tiptoed over to the window by Natan's bed while Friðrik walked towards Pétur. While standing over him, he lifted the hammer and slammed it into his skull, knocking him unconscious. Sigríður stood in the doorway.

Agnes grabbed the child and told Sigríður to take her outside and keep her away.

Friðrik's hammer was about to hit Natan in the head when Natan grabbed the shaft, softening the blow to his head. Friðrik then hit him a few more times and soon Natan was quiet. 

Agnes ran into the hallway to light a lamp. When she walked back into the baðstofa, she had a rag covering her eyes. She didn't want to see what was happening, nor did she want Natan to recognize her. 


What's left of the old farm house on Illugastaðir. Sigrún Huld Þorgrímsdóttir

Natan was moving. He was completely out of it and began calling out to his frændi (uncle or cousin), Vorm, asking for mercy. Believing Vorm was attacking him, he promised to pay him all the money he owed him. 

Friðrik looked over at Pétur and saw that he was moving as well. The fact that the men were still alive startled Agnes so that she dropped the light. 

Friðrik was besides himself and reached into his pocket for a knife. He always carried a pocket knife with him. He began stabbing Natan until he was certain he was dead. In all he stabbed him eight times. He then walked over to Pétur and began stabbing him too. He stabbed him about four times. 

Agnes stood above Natan's body and said out loud to Natan, where he lied dead, that he would never again abuse (laspútera) her or any other women ever again.

   - Laspútera and Skammir are said to mean the same thing. -

Friðrik went out into the hall to grab another light. Agnes and Friðrik scoured the baðstofa for valuables. They grabbed the linens and a chest and brought it over to the storage room. There Friðrik opened the chest and took out what he considered valuable. He had promised his mom to bring her all the medicine he could find. Agnes didn't care about the valuables. She just wanted Natan dead.

With the two bodies on the floor, the duo picked up the bodies and put them into Natan's bed. They then proceeded to smear the bed and the bodies with whale fat (omega oil). Then they lit the bed and the bodies on fire and walked outside.

Image from the 1996 film Agnes . Maria Ellingsen

They stood outside watching the fire. Once the fire had engulfed the entire baðstofa and the rafter was about to fall down, Agnes and Friðrik left for Stapakot. 

The plan was that Agnes would go down to Stapakot farm and tell them about the fire. Friðrik was to go to Tungukot, as he had previously claimed, and pretend he had slept outside during the night.

When Agnes got to Stapakot, she told Jón, the farmer, that Illugastaðir was in flames and both Natan and Pétur were inside.

Sigríður was waiting in the barn with the child when Agnes returned with Jón and Árni from Tunga. The women told the men they were getting ready for bed when they saw Pétur searching for sheep. 

They must have fallen asleep soon after, because the next thing they remember was waking up to Natan's bed on fire. There was a light in the window by his bed that had started the fire. 

Soon after, the trio Friðrik, Agnes and Sigríður were arrested and charged with the murder of Natan and Pétur. 

The Icelandic court sentenced all of them to death. They were to be beheaded with their heads put up on sticks. Once the Danish king had reviewed their sentence, he changed Sigríður's to a lifelong slave labor in a prison in Denmark.

Guided tour to the locations of the story. Here they stopped at the location of the beheading. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

The guided horse ride tour at the site of the execution. The story teller is showing the location of where the bodies were first buried. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

Agnes and Friðrik are now buried in sanctified dirt at Strandarkirkja. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

Vesturhópsvatn. At the end of this water is the farm Vesturhóp where Rósa, the mother of Natan's little girl and where Friðrik went to search for his money. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

Fog over Vesturhóp. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

The guided horse ride tour standing around Natan's and Agnes' grave at Tjarnarkirkja. Magnus - Dynur og Saga

1. Illugastaðir where Natan lived and the murder took place; 2. Stapar where the beheading took place; 3. Katadalur where Friðrik lived; 4. Ásbjarnarstaðir where Agnes stayed when she ran off; 5. Tjörn where Agnes and Friðrik are buried; 6. Tunga where Árni who helped investigate the crime lived. Map

In 2017, their cases were reviewed and they were given a sentence as if the crimes had been committed in 2017.

The mock court  prison sentencing:  

Friðrik: 7 years in prison. The low sentence was due to his age. He was 17 when he committed the murders.
Agnes: 14 years in prison. Her sentence was the highest due to her age.
Sigríður: 5 years in prison.


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