In 2014, Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller released ‘The Galapagos Affair: Satan Comes to Eden,’ a documentary that chronicles some of the first settlers that arrived at the Galapagos Islands in the 1930s. Keep reading for the true story of the amazing characters who make up the tale, including the famous Baroness of Galapagos and her lovers, and the murder mystery that followed.
Floreana Island: The early settlers
Floreana Island has long attracted visitors and early settlers, as it is one of the only islands with a potable water supply. Pirates used it as a hideout, whalers used it as a post office, and in the 1930s the first permanent settlers came.
German doctor Friedrich Ritter and his lover Dore Strauch came to the island seeking solace from life in Germany. The couple wanted to farm the land and live in peace while leaving behind the modern world. Although life was basic and hard, their Robinson Crusoe lifestyle on the island caught the attention of a research party, whose pictures of Ritter and his companion were published in Europe.
Soon a new family joined them on the island. Heinz and Margret Wittmer had heard about Floreana Island and decided to move from Germany as well. Whilst the two couples were hardly friendly, they did share a healthy respect for each other and gave each other plenty of room. But this would all change with the arrival of the next settlers.
Arrival of the Baroness & her lovers
The Galapagos Affair movie focuses on the mystery behind Baroness Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet and her two lovers, Rudolf Lorenz & Robert Phillipson. The Baroness came to the island to build a hotel and quickly disrupted the peace that was forged between the two other couples.
The Baroness was quite the character, openly wild, greeting passing ships in skimpy swimwear, with a pistol and whip. Soon the earlier settled couples began to suspect that the Baroness was intercepting their missives back to Europe which were published in the papers. The versions she sent were rewritten to make her exploits the center of the attention, and she openly declared herself as Empress of Floreana island. Not surprisingly the original settlers were far from impressed by the overwhelming attitude of the new settler, and a rift formed between them.
At the same time, life was not entirely rosy in the Baroness´ household, as Lorenz was often mistreated by the Baroness and her other lover Phillipson, and would often seek refuge with the Wittmers. This added to the conflict between the settlers and began to make daily life increasingly unpleasant.
The Galapagos Affair: Mysterious disappearance & death
This is where the Galapagos story takes a sinister and mysterious turn, as, on 27th March 1934, the Baroness and Phillipson disappeared altogether. According to Margaret Wittmer, they set sail on a passing ship towards Tahiti, however, no such ship was ever recorded as having reached Galapagos shores or supposed its destination. Strauch´s account is quite different, as she claims to have heard a long unmistakable scream, and then silence before the disappearance, and remembers no ships passing in the night. To this day no one knows of their fate except that their belongings were found in their residence, but no traces of them.
To add further to the mystery, the Baroness’ other lover, Lorenz, left very soon after as well. Trying to return back to Germany, he hopped on a small passing boat towards San Cristobal Island, but neither he nor the Norwegian sailor ever made it there. Months later their remains were found mummified on Marchena Island (far from San Cristobal) where they had died from dehydration.
One final twist to the compelling Galapagos Affair story is that Friedrich Ritter also died very soon after from food poisoning, eating chicken that had gone off, although many (including Margaret Wittmer) suspect Dore Strauch of deliberately poisoning him. Strauch returned to Germany soon afterward, writing about her exploits and later seeking treatment in a sanatorium.
So this left Heinz and Margret Wittmer as the sole survivors of the Galapagos Affair. They stayed on the island, gave birth to children there, and eventually would open up a hotel that still exists there today. Their direct descendants also operate yachts and tours at the islands.
So what really happened on Floreana Island?
It has been suggested that the Baroness & Phillipson may have been murdered by her other spurned and mistreated lover Lorenz and that the Wittmer´s helped to cover the story up; or perhaps was Strauch herself involved in some way? Why was Lorenz discovered on Marchena Island, so far from his destination San Cristobal? And why did Ritter die so soon afterward, and under suspicious circumstances?
In truth, we are unlikely ever to know as Margaret Wittmer passed away in the year 2000 and was the last person who could feasibly have solved the incredible Galapagos Affair mystery.
For more information about visiting the Galapagos Islands and learning more about the sites on Floreana Island from the Galapagos Affair, contact a member of our team.