Exposed to the Elements: A Strange 1920s Death on the Scottish Island of Iona

Nora Emily Fornario, known as Netta, was a young woman in England who had a lifelong fascination with magic. She studied occult subjects along with like-minded friends in the 1920s. Netta was drawn to Scotland, specifically the island of Iona, which was considered to be a place where the world of spirits was closest to the world of people. It was sacred to both pagans and Christians, and sported many fairy mounds.  

Netta told her maid that she was heading to Iona to perform a magical healing ritual and would stay indefinitely. On the island, she found lodging at an isolated farm with an older woman named Mrs. MacRae. With her wild dark hair, clothing inspired by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and extensive silver jewelry, Netta had a distinctively metropolitan look that stuck out in rural Iona. MacRae reported that the young woman spent her days wandering the island's beaches and moorlands. At night, she would enter into mystical trances in hopes of contacting Iona’s spiritual realm. Netta told MacRae that she once fell into a trance that lasted an entire week, and should the same happen during her stay, under no circumstances was a doctor to be called.

MacRae had become used to Netta’s eccentricities, but one Sunday morning in mid-November, she noticed her lodger’s behavior had become frantic. She had the wide-eyed look of someone who was deeply frightened. Netta explained to MacRae that she believed she was being psychically attacked from a distance.

Netta's behavior was increasingly strange, until the day she went missing. Her body was found on November 19, 1929, naked and covered with scratches. Her cause of death was recorded as exposure. But how did she really die? Ninety years later, there are plenty of theories, which you can read about at Mental Floss.

(Image credit: Flickr user IrenicRhonda)

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