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Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair

Who Killed "The Baroness?"

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Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair

“Baroness” Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet and Robert Philippson in 1934

Photographer Unknown

The Galapagos Affair: Sex, Murder and Mystery in The Enchanted Islands

The Galapagos Islands are a small chain of islands in the Pacific Ocean off the western coast of Ecuador, to which they belong. Not exactly a paradise, they are rocky, dry and hot, and are home to many interesting species of animals found nowhere else. They are perhaps best known for the Galapagos finches, which Charles Darwin used to inspire his Theory of Evolution. Today, the Islands are a top-notch tourist attraction. Normally sleepy and uneventful, the Galapagos Islands captured the world's attention in 1934 when they were the site of an international scandal of sex and murder.

The Galapagos Islands

The Galapagos Islands are named after a sort of saddle which is said to resemble the shells of the giant tortoises that make the islands their home. They were discovered accidentally in 1535 and then promptly ignored until the seventeenth century, when they became a regular stopping point for whaling ships looking to take on provisions. The government of Ecuador claimed them in 1832 and no one really disputed it. Some hardy Ecuadorians came out to make a living fishing and others were sent in penal colonies. The Islands' big moment came when Charles Darwin visited in 1835 and subsequently published his theories, illustrating them with Galapagos species.

Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch

In 1929, German doctor Friedrich Ritter abandoned his practice and moved to the Islands, feeling he needed a new start in a faraway place. He brought with him one of his patients, Dore Strauch: both of them left spouses behind. They set up a homestead on Floreana Island and worked very hard there, moving heavy lava rocks, planting fruits and vegetables and raising chickens. They became international celebrities: the rugged doctor and his lover, living on a far off island. Many people came to visit them, and some intended to stay, but the hard life on the islands eventually drove most of them off.

The Wittmers

Heinz Wittmer arrived in 1931 with his teenage son and pregnant wife Margret. Unlike the others, they remained, setting up their own homestead with some help from Dr. Ritter. Once they were established, the two German families apparently had little contact with one another, which seems to be how they liked it. Like Dr. Ritter and Ms. Strauch, the Wittmers were rugged, independent and enjoyed occasional visitors but mostly kept to themselves.

The Baroness

The next arrival would change everything. Not long after the Wittmers came, a party of four arrived on Floreana, led by "Baroness" Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, an attractive young Austrian. She was accompanied by her two German lovers, Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz, as well as an Ecuadorian, Manuel Valdivieso, presumably hired to do all the work. The flamboyant Baroness set up a small homestead, named it "Hacienda Paradise" and announced her plans to build a grand hotel.

An Unhealthy Mix

The Baroness was a true character. She made up elaborate, grand stories to tell the visiting yacht captains, went about wearing a pistol and a whip, seduced the Governor of Galapagos and anointed herself "Queen" of Floreana. After her arrival, yachts went out of their way to visit Floreana: everyone sailing the Pacific wanted to be able to boast of an encounter with the Baroness. But she did not get along well with the others: the Wittmers managed to ignore her but Dr. Ritter despised her.

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