The Galapagos Affair

A murder mystery story 

The so-called Galapagos Affair gained worldwide attention in 1935. After several mysterious events happened amongst mostly german settlers at the island of Floreana in 1934. In the course of which three people died under partly unexplained circumstances and three others disappeared without a trace.

The media around the globe reported on the events and it spawned several books and movies.

Starting in the late 1920s, several groups of german dropouts settled on the at that time uninhabited island of Floreana, in the south of the Galapagos archipelago. 

The Wittmer family, Floreana Island.

The Wittmer family, Floreana Island.

The Characters

Friedrich Ritter, a doctor from Berlin, with his life partner Dore Strauch, a teacher, switched partners before leaving Europe. They both travelled to Floreana, while his wife moved in with her husband back in Germany. We should also mention that both of them had all of their teeth removed to prevent dental problems.

Inspired by Ritter, Heinz and Margret Wittmer, from Cologne, settled 2 years later with their 12-year-old son, Harry. 

Margret was pregnant when arriving in Floreana, and their son Rolf was the first child officially born in Floreana. 

The Baroness and her “servants”

Genesis

A woman named Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet, possibly an impostor, who called herself “The Baroness” settled on the island. Accompanied by her two lovers, Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Philippson. This distracted the quite conservative lifestyles of the other settlers. This will later turn out to be the beginning of the end.

The baroness wanted to build a luxury hotel there, called Hacienda Paradiso. But the project never came to life. Philippson was part of that love triangle in the beginning. Later he was treated more and more like a work slave by the other two.

From the beginning, life on the island wasn’t easy. The growing leadership claim by the baroness burdened living together. She tried to control the incoming mail and food deliveries. In her eyes ‘unwelcome visitors’ were violently kicked off the island. A Norwegian settler who visited the island for hunting was expelled at gunpoint.

In 1934, a series of events ended the supposedly peaceful life in paradise.

Satan came to Eden

After the baroness told the Wittmers that she and Philippson were planning to leave the island towards Tahiti. They both suddenly disappeared without a trace. It’s not clear if Lorenz was involved in the disappearance. He sold all of their belongings and hired a Norwegian fisherman to bring him to San Cristobal island. There he wanted to catch a ship back to Europe. 

It’s blurred what happened next. Lorenz’s and the fisherman’s corpses were later found on Marchena Island, where they probably died of thirst. The boat and an Ecuadorian ship-boy who was with them were never found. 

Friedrich Ritter died soon after of food poisoning. Dore Strauch is a possible suspect for his death.

The Galapagos Affair

Dore Strauch, Friedrich Ritter

Last Judgment

Many publications in newspapers around the world followed. Most famously by Georges Simenon. He wrote articles for a French newspaper about it as well as a novel, ‘Ceux de la soif’.

The events were so famous at some point, that even Franklin D. Roosevelt took a trip to Floreana in 1938 to meet the Wittmer family. Unfortunately, they were not home. 

Margret Wittmer survived all protagonists of the Galapagos Affair, dying in the year 2000, at age 96 on ‘her’ island. Her descendants still live there today. 

Besides numerous media coverages over the decades, there is also a great documentary about the affair. The Galapagos Affair: Satan came to Eden by Daniel Geller and Dayna Goldfine, and should not go unmentioned:

 

President Roosevelt in Galapagos

President Roosevelt