Hannah Kent
Hannah Kent, author of the novel Burial Rites about Agnes Magnusdottir and Sigridur Gudmundsdottir Twitter

It was on 14 March, 1828 when residents on Iceland's remote farm of Stapakot were awoken by a maid from a neighbouring property, who burst in to tell them two men were trapped in a fire.

But the men were already dead – clubbed with a hammer and stabbed 12 times before the house was set ablaze with shark oil.

Despite taking place almost 190 years ago, it's a crime that Icelanders have never forgotten, since the convicted killers were the last people ever executed in the country.

On Saturday (9 September), the case is set to grip Iceland once more as it is re-analysed by a mock court, Associated Press reports.

The retrial, conducted under modern rules before a three-judge panel, may shed light on the motivation for the slayings, the fairness of the original proceeding, and whether the two maids — Agnes Magnusdottir and Sigridur Gudmundsdottir — had been abused by the men they eventually killed.

The case has sparked endless speculation, a feature film and a pop song. The tenth book in Icelandic about the murders is set to be published and a documentary is in production. Seats for the retrial have long been sold out.

It will be held at the community center in Hvammstangi, a northwestern village near the murder scene, and will use handwritten court records from the 1828 case, which have been preserved in the National Library.

One of the judges — David Thor, a former judge at the European Court of Human Rights — told Associated Press that the original trial nearly 200 years ago did not address the motivation for the killings. It's not clear why Natan Ketilsson, a self-taught doctor, and his guest were killed.

"No one cared about the motivation behind the murders – that wouldn't happen in a modern court," he said.

"Today we would try to understand the motivation behind the murders and particularly how the two women, who had no other place to live, were treated by their master."

The two maids said the act was masterminded by Fridrik Sigurdsson, a 17-year-old who held a grudge against Ketilsson. He and Magnusdottir, 32, were put to death for their role in the killings. The other maid, a 16-year-old, was sentenced to life in prison in Denmark.

The case highlights differing attitudes toward capital punishment. In modern Iceland, the usual prison sentence for murder is 16 years or less. But in 1828, officials successfully argued for the death penalty, which had not been imposed in decades.

An axe was imported from Denmark to carry out the penalty and the brother of one of the victims was chosen as executioner.

Every farm was instructed to send a male representative to witness the event and afterward the decapitated heads were jammed onto a stick for public viewing.

Author Hannah Kent achieved international success with her novel "Burial Rites," which depicts the crime through the eyes of Magnusdottir, who was convicted of killing the two men and burning their bodies.

Kent, who said the case is still constantly in her thoughts, hopes the retrial may provide some insight.

"If the murders really were premeditated, I would want to know if something went wrong or if maybe this all happened more in the moment," she said. "Because to me, it has always seemed like a particularly clumsy murder."

She said readers have often asked her what the outcome of the case would be if it were tried under today's rules.

"I have never really been able to give them an answer until now," she said.