The beach at North Seymour Island in the Galapagos | Image: David Adam Kess
There is a spellbinding story that is part of the history of the Galapagos Islands. The settlers who braved the mostly uninhabited islands during the 1930s were a colorful mix of flamboyant, private and eccentric personalities. Friedrich Ritter, a German dentist, was first. He fled to the islands after beginning an affair with a patient of his. Incredibly, prior to Ritter and his paramour departing for the islands, they removed most of their teeth and had them replaced with one stainless steel false set they shared!
Heinz Wittmer was another early Galapagos settler. Then there was the showy, bombastic Baroness Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet. Not one but two lovers accompanied the Baroness, Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Philippson. She and her boy toys declared their intent to build the first hotel in the Galapagos. The Baroness, with her habit of traversing the tropical terrain in silk lingerie, brought worldwide attention to the islands. The international newspaper coverage incensed Ritter, who enjoyed the admiration he received for his public profile as a rugged settler.
Wittmer, always the quiet, private one, lived without incident with his wife and sons as Ritter and the Baroness publicly feuded. If their fighting wasn't bad enough, the lovers of the Baroness began to feud as well. The Ritters accused the Baroness of stealing their mail and spreading false rumors about them.
This tropical soap opera continued unabated until March 1934, at which time the Baroness and her lover Philippson disappeared. The Wittmers claimed that friends of the Baroness had arrived and taken her with them to visit Tahiti, yet no sightings of a ship near the islands had been made on the day of the couple's disappearance. The Baroness also left behind essential personal effects, which was unlike her. The lovers never reached Tahiti and were never seen again.
Ritter and his girlfriend maintained that the other lover of the Baroness, Lorenz, had killed her and Philippson. Lorenz left the islands after their disappearance; he asked a fisherman to ferry him to the mainland. Yet both he and the fisherman were found dead of hunger and thirst several months later on Marchena Island. A short time afterward, Ritter died of food poisoning; some believed that his lover poisoned him after their relationship grew argumentative. She returned to Germany, leaving the Wittmers as the sole settlers left.
If you think this sounds like the basis of a movie, you're not alone. A 2014 documentary film was made about the settlers, the trailer of which is below. It's currently avaiable to stream on Netflix. While I haven't yet seen it, it seems to be generally well reviewed and I look forward to watching it.
But this isn't the only story of intrigue taking place on islands. Read nine more such stories here.