So Spake Mo...
Far away, on the island of Floreana on the outer edge of the Galapagos, two lovers came to settle, to build their hermitage and live out their philosophy. Everything in their grand experiment from the shape of their garden, to their meatless diet (carefully reinforced by the removal of their teeth before they departed Germany), to their nudist lifestyle followed Dr. Friedrich Ritter’s mystical re-interpretation of Nietzschean and Taoist philosophy. His mistress Dore Strauch-Koerwin cleaved to Dr. Ritter’s philosophy long before their departure, embracing a swinger lifestyle and ultimately leaving behind her husband (and Dr. Ritter’s wife) to cross two oceans.
For a time their sculpted world remain isolated and perfect, visited only by the wealthy and curious for Dr. Ritter did publish papers on his grand experiment. The pair were not unknown. But the situation in Germany after WWI had left many people seeking somewhere to start a new life. And so came former soldier Heinz Wittmer, his pregnant wife Margret, and Heinz’s son Harry.
The Wittmers were the sturdy, practical sort and set immediately to establishing a homestead. They did not pretend to be the philosophically rarefied sort of company Dr. Ritter and Dore would easily tolerate.
Dr. Ritter and Miss Dore Strauch-Koerwin, source unknown
But more immigrants were soon to arrive. Enter the Austrian Baroness Eloise Wagner de Bousquet with her two German lovers Rudolf Lorenz, a former business partner, and Robert "Bubi" Philippson, one of their salesmen. The Baroness soon announced her intentions to build a luxury hotel Hacienda Paradiso for tourists—the reality of which became a two-room corrugated-tin hut. But the fame of the now “Empress of Floreana” and Dr. Ritter, the Philosopher brought the yachts to the bay nonetheless.
Baroness Eloise Wagner de Bousquet and Robert Philippson, source unknown
What they shared in fame, they did not share ideals. Petty infighting began. The Baroness’s men deliberately caused Dore’s beloved donkey to be shot by Heinz Wittmer. Deliveries of food and clothes were confiscated by both Ritter and the Baroness. Accusations and theft ran rampant. Violence threatened.
But the jabs did not remain merely between households. Dore whose condescension had always kept the Wittmers carefully at bay, now pleaded for Margret to visit more often as Ritter became verbally and physically abusive. Lorenz ended up on the Wittmers’ doorstep beaten and deathly ill, a victim of Philippson’s rage for failure to do the Baroness’s bidding.
Lorenz's passport, Lorenz on the island, source unknown
And thus paradise ended.
While harboring the ailing Lorenz, Margret Wittmer received a visit from the Baroness. The woman left directives that Lorenz was to watch over the Hacienda while she and Philippson join some friends and sail on to the South Seas. Overjoyed to finally be rid of her, Ritter advised Lorenz to sell what he could and make ready for the next ship able to take him back to civilization. Lorenz took the opportunity to make his escape from the island.
Wittmer's house, source unknown
Nearly a year later, vegetarians Ritter and Dore sat down to a meal of canned chicken—their usual source of protein, eggs, having been exhausted. They had recognized that the meat was spoiled and had taken precautions, but the next morning Ritter woke with signs of botchalism and after a rapid and excruciating
decline, he succumbed. Dore returned to Germany shortly thereafter.
Dr. Ritter before leaving Germany; Dore Strauch-Koerwin on the boat after Ritter's death
How simple. And yet…
The Baroness and Philippson were never heard from again. And the boat that the Wittmers’ claimed whisked the pair away? Researchers can find no evidence of a yacht traveling through the islands at the time of their disappearance. All the while, journal entries record that Lorenz feared for his life in their presence and that Philippson and Ritter engaged in violent altercations before the disappearance. Despite the yacht claim, during life, Ritter put forth the hypothesis of a double suicide due to the failure of their hotel. After his death, an article he had written sloppily accused Wittmer of murder. Disagreeable or desperate?
sensationalism in the popular press, photo credit: Men's Daring Action magazine
And Lorenz? He never made his escape. His mummified remains along with that of his ship’s captain were found on the desert island of Marchena. Were they swept off course when the motor cut out and simply marooned? The boat and the cabin boy were never found.
Nuggerud (ship captain) and Lorenz in life, their mummified remains on Marchena, source unknown
As for Ritter, Dore and the cats had eaten the same meal. Neither showed any signs of ailing. In addition to damages of verbal and physical abuse, Dore at this point firmly believed the Baroness and Philippson to be murder. And while she believed the now absent Lorenz to be involved, some speculate she may have suspected her lover’s involvement as well. Certainly she knew of Ritter’s intention to leave her and his rekindled relationship in his wife back in Germany. Or was it really because she couldn’t bear to leave his side that it took her nearly two days to seek help for his condition?
Dore and Friedrich, photo credit: Hancock Expedition
The last surviving member of the colony, Margret Wittmer passed away in
2000 at the age of 95.
And she never did tell.
Margret Wittmer, source unknown
So Spake Me…
So I stumbled across that story when I was researching the Galapagos Islands for Kaitlin and Cam’s story SPECTRE OF INTENTION and I had to laugh. And not just because I have a morbid sense of humor.
As a teenager back in the one-stoplight town of Jerome, Idaho, I’d often speculated about how even more humiliating it must have been in those ancient medieval villages when love affairs ended badly. The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker, they all lived within a one-mile radius of each other and never, ever moved away. Mortification and hatred…for life.
But this story, it just kept going. Backwards, then, into my even younger days preparing a model of a Martian colony. A gold-plated dome to keep out the radiation, mechanical solutions for drinkable water, breathable air, my friend Rene and I researched deeper and deeper as our clay and foil colony came to life. But then we hit a show-stopper. NASA didn’t believe conscious humans could make the trip. They suspected that six months locked in a tin can with another human being would drive anyone stark raving homicidal. And that was going to need one hell of a workaround, more than our 7th grade minds were up for!
Now couple all that with the fact that the players in our story were already at the psychological fringe of society. A man who removes his own teeth least he be tempted to eat meat…but then builds himself a set of metal ones—just in case. A woman who declares herself empress of the island…but then takes her power from abusing the lovers in her traveling harem.
Those mummified remains never stood a chance.
Unsolved Murder Mystery: The Galapagos Affair, Who Killed “The Baroness?”
Satan Came to Eden
The Wittmers of Floreana
The Last Days of a Paradise
Love, Jealousy Add to Mystery of Death on “Enchanted Isles”: Tantalizing Bits of Galapagos Drama Told as Bodies are Found
What Happened on Galapagos? The Truth of the Galapagos Affair as Told by a Lady from Cologne
Debunking the Baroness
The Lust Mad Empress of Galapagos
The Story of Place