You are listening to: The Evidence Locker.
Support for today’s episode of Evidence Locker comes from Freetrade and June’s Journey.
Download the award-winning commission-free investing app FreeTrade today. Go to freetrade.io/evidencelocker and start investing with as little as £2 today.
Also, download hidden-object mystery game, June’s Journey and transport yourself right into the middle of a 1920s murder mystery today.
You can find links to Freetrade and June’s Journey in the show notes, or on our website.
Our cases have been researched using open source and archive materials. It deals with true crimes and real people. Some parts are graphic in nature and listener discretion is advised. Each episode is produced with the utmost respect to the victims, their families and loved ones.
If you were to arrive in the Galapagos Islands in the early 1930s, Floreana Island would be one of the few places you could stop and meet some people. There were three homes, all built by their European inhabitants. The landing beach was Post Office Bay, where a large mailbox stood. The mailbox was built in the 18th century by whalers hoping to send or receive mail to and from England.
In 1932, a sign on the letterbox said:
WHOEVER YOU ARE, FRIENDS:
Two hours from here is Hacienda Paradiso . . . a little spot where the weary traveller is happy to find some rest, refreshment, and peace on his way through life.
Life, this little bit of eternity chained to a clock, is so short after all; so let us be happy, let us be good.
At “Paradise” you have no name but one, “friend”.
We will share with you the salt of the sea, the vegetables of our little garden, the fruits of our trees, the fresh water running down from the rocks; we will share with you what other friends who passed by gave us. We will spend with you some moments of life and give you the happiness and peace that God put into our heart and mind since we have left the restless turmoil of the metropolis to the quiet of centuries which has laid its mantle upon the Galapagos.
Baroness Wagner, Robert Philippson, Rudolf Lorenz
People from far and wide knew about Baroness Wagner, who had claimed the title of Empress of the Galapagos for herself. She lived on Floreana Island with her two lovers and loved living a scandalous lifestyle.
Also on the island, were the Ritters and the Wittmers, two German families, with vast differences themselves. The island was too small for these strong-willed, pioneering individuals and before long, the explosive situation would end in tragedy. By the end of 1934, five of them were no longer alive, leaving countless unanswered questions.
In 1929, physician and dentist, 43-year-old Friedrich Ritter ran a well-established medical practice. He had been married to opera singer Mila Clark for just over 20 years, and he felt that he needed a change in his life. Hailing from a family of farmers, Ritter felt a strong connection to nature.
Ritter found a kindred spirit in one of his patients, Dore Strauch-Koerwin. 28-year-old Dore, a teacher, suffered from multiple sclerosis and fell in love with her doctor’s philosophical mind. As time went on, they felt they were being stifled by societal norms living in the ever-evolving city of Berlin.
After the First World War, average Europeans were still experiencing social and economic uncertainty. In the late-1920s political tensions were rising as the Nazi Party rose to prominence. No one could have foreseen that another war would erupt a decade later. In the repose, between the wars, people returned to nature and appreciated basic things in life. As aviation took the world by storm, stories of explorers across the globe captured the imagination of the world.
Friedrich and Dore were well-versed in travel literature and dreamed of a better life. They wanted to live off the land, enjoy a vegetarian diet and exist in peace without societal constraints. Friedrich followed the philosophy of Nietzsche and Lao-Tse and quoted both of them often. Part of his reason to go off-grid, was so he could finish his own theosophical work.
Dore was passionately in love with the doctor, and he felt that she was the only person who understood his philosophy. She agreed to follow her lover to the end of the earth to live the life they were talking about. She introduced her husband, a high school principal, to Friedrich’s wife, hoping they would find comfort in each other’s arms. They explicitly asked them to look after each other once they were gone.
Friedrich took his typewriter and set sail with the adoring Dore from Amsterdam on July 3rd 1929. This is a diary entry, shortly after he left Europe:
“Leaving behind me a lucrative practice of medicine in Berlin, I and my comrade were in fact turning our backs forever upon civilization and the society of our fellow men. Of our own free will and choice we are going into exile to seek – in the solitude of an almost desert island in the far Pacific – the independents the Peace of Mind the opportunity to cultivate a reflective powers to the fullest which are denied to man by the complexities of modern life.”
The Galapagos is made up of small, rocky and dry islands in the Pacific Ocean, about 1,000km off the coast of Ecuador. Some of the rarest animal species in the world can be found in the archipelago of islands, which makes it a desirable paradise for nature lovers. It was Charles Darwin’s visit to the islands in 1835 that brought the islands to the attention of educated Europeans. He published his drawings and theories, and everyone who read ‘The Origin of Species’ was intrigued and wanted to learn more about the exotic islands.
~ We’ll take a quick break for a word from one of our sponsors ~
FreeTrade is a multi-award-winning investing app that is accessible to everyone. Freetrade has revolutionised the way we invest – by refreshing outdated products and cutting out high commissions so you – the investor – can reap the benefits. Its’ great for beginners and experienced investors alike.
FreeTrade is FCA-authorised and FSCS-protected and enables you to buy and sell stocks, ETFs and investment trusts, all without commissions. No wonder Freetrade has been the winner of the British Bank Awards, 2 years in a row, 2019 and 2020, for the best online trading platform.
Freetrade doesn’t offer any speculative products, such as CFDs (spreadbetting) or products with leverage. And they don’t do day trading. They are all about long-term investing with a transparent pricing model and no hidden fees or inflated spreads. You can choose from thousands of stocks from the London Stock Exchange, AIM, NYSE and NASDAQ.
FreeTrade’s app is simple to navigate and offers options for new investors, as well as experts. You can start investing from just £2.
Go to freetrade.io/EVIDENCELOCKER and if you register and fund your account, you will get a randomly allocated free share, worth between £3 and £200, such as Greggs, Rightmove or Apple.
When you invest, your capital is at risk. The value of investments can go up as well as down and you may receive back less than your original investment
~ Now, back to today’s episode ~
In the 21st century, Galapagos is still – for the most part – undeveloped and remote. In 1929, it was one of the most isolated places on the planet. The couple from Berlin decided to set up home on Floreana Island, which is sometimes called Charles Island. It’s at the southernmost end of the archipelago, and the entire land area is 67 square miles. The small islet of Floreana had been a prison colony in the 19th century. That is until captors revolted against the warden who always put his vicious dog on them. The situation caused Ecuadorian authorities to shut down the prison, and all the dwellings were abandoned. In the early 1920s, Norwegian settlers made it to the island, but they found the challenges of colonizing the land insurmountable. There was too little water and hardly any food.
Friedrich Ritter and Dore Strauch-Koerwin arrived in Guayaquil, Ecuador and made the journey by ship to Post Office Bay on Floreana Island, where they arrived on the 17th of September 1929. They had trunks of supplies like metal sheets for housing and some essential household items. A 14-year-old native boy, called Hugo, helped them carry their belongings to a cave, which was to become a make-shift home while they looked for the perfect spot to build their house.
They found a place on a hill overlooking Post Office Bay. There were some remnants of an abandoned home, once owned by an Irish settler. Nearby was a tiny spring that provided water. Everything was exactly what they imagined their exiled home would be. Both Friedrich and Dore worked day and night to build their home, which only had two walls. They constructed the rooms around existing trees, and the veranda flowed into the garden. This jungle home was their paradise – a place they called ‘Friedo’, combining their names. Although they were never married, people referred to them collectively as The Ritters.
Tending to the land was back-breaking work, as they had to dig through layers of lava rock before reaching any type of soil worth planting something in. There was a spring with a small supply of water, but it was up a hill, walking on rocks through thorn bushes.
Because of the heat, they spend most days in the nude, only wearing hip-high boots to navigate their way through thornbushes.
Friedrich was very proud of their orchard and vegetable garden. They had brought some chickens with them, for eggs – as vegetarians, they needed nothing else. Their island-home was shared with tortoises, flamingos and lizards. However, large mammals like wild pigs, cattle and donkeys roamed the land too. Previous pioneers had brought the animals as a food source but left them behind when they absconded.
The Ritters used a gun, dynamite and rat poison to protect their crops from wild animals. Needless to say, it was quite violent and confronting for two pacifists who hailed from a well-developed European city. They tamed cats to help keep rats at bay, and Dore took a couple of Donkey’s as pets, training them to help with chores like carting water from the top of the hill. Dore was so lonely that the animals became her only friends.
The feverish armchair philosopher Friedrich was adamant to prove to the world that living in one’s own isolation, as a vegetarian, a person could live to a ripe old age, over 100. Hard work and healthy eating, fresh air and sunshine was his recipe to fulfil Darwin’s statement: survival of the fittest.
Using the post-barrel located at Post Office Bay, Friedrich sent letters and photographs to friends and family about their life. The recipients felt that Friedrich and Dore’s adventures were worth sharing and forwarded some notes and pictures to European news publications. People lapped up the stories, thinking the couple to be somewhat eccentric and odd. Others yearned to, one day, do the same as ‘Adam and Eve of Galapagos’. Without knowing, the two of them pretty much reached celebrity status back home.
Friedrich, a physician, knew that personal hygiene would be a challenge in the tropics. In preparation, he pulled out all his teeth when he was still in Berlin and swapped them for a pair of rust-proof steel dentures. Dore decided to take her chances, but in due course, her teeth started to rot, and Friedrich pulled it all out. They had no other choice, but to share the one pair of dentures for eating. Friedrich believed in the importance of mastication – chewing food until it is in its finest form before swallowing. For this, the steel dentures were ideal, like having cutlery in your mouth.
As time went by, Friedrich’s passionate, philosophical behaviour became more and more erratic. He bossed Dore around like a servant and told her what she should and shouldn’t do. He disagreed with the ritual of drinking coffee and forbade her to have any. He proclaimed to be a vegetarian, but if he was offered a steak or a piece of ham, he would never pass it up. His hypocrisy got to Dore, but she didn’t dare say anything.
After a while, Dore realised that she was NOT living the dream – far from it. Friedrich froze her out and would go for days without speaking to her. While he wrote pages and pages of philosophical musings, she was left to maintain the home and garden – a strenuous task for someone suffering from multiple sclerosis.
People who followed Friedrich and Dore’s story published in the American magazine, Atlantic Monthly, made the arduous journey across the Pacific to visit them. Dore was always happy to see someone – anyone! But Friedrich was extremely rude and made it clear that he didn’t want anyone over-staying their welcome. He wanted them to adopt his philosophy, but not in his backyard. His hostility wasn’t the only element chasing new settlers away. Most people found living conditions too hard and left in search of something new after a couple of months.
~ We’ll take a quick break for a word from one of our sponsors, June’s Journey~
The past week has been pretty exciting in playing June’s Journey. Along with June and her friends, Julián Reyes and Jack Hayes, I have helped to solve the murders of Harry and Clare van Buuren.
If you’re looking for spoilers, it’s not going to happen. The only tip I can give you, is that, if you reach the scene called ‘Julian’s boat’ in Chapter 6, the letter-A is near the basket – somewhere on the boat.
I’ve you have no idea what I’m talking about: June’s Journey is a hidden-object game, with an intriguing 1920s murder mystery backdrop. There are many twists and turns and it keeps you guessing, all the while relaxing. You’ll progress through the case, moving from one beautifully crafted scene to the next, looking for hidden objects and clues.
The story is broken up into chapters and you travel from roaring twenties New York, all the way to the Cuban jungle. And now that I’ve solved this case, I’m looking forward to the next one. For the moment, I’ve returned to my home base in upstate New York estate. If I decorate Orchard Island, the opulent estate, I’ll have more flowers, which serves as a currency of sorts, enabling me to unlock the next chapter.
Sometimes I prefer to see the beautifully painted scenes on a bigger screen – it makes the experience even more immersive. By downloading June’s Journey from Amazon or Facebook, I’m able to play it on my desktop too!
To join more than 3 Million murder mystery enthusiasts and puzzle solvers around the world, download June’s Journey for free from the App Store or Google Play, by clicking the link in the show notes.
~ Now, back to today’s episode ~
In August 1932, another German family arrived on Floreana Island. They were the Wittmers: Heinz, his pregnant wife Margret and Heinz’s 12-year old son Harry (from a previous marriage). Heinz learnt about the Ritters from an article he read in the newspaper, “Berliner Illustrirten”. At the time Heinz had a good job, working as secretary to the mayor of Cologne. But he was restless and suffered from the after-effects of the War. He was one of the fortunate ones who survived, but he knew there was somewhere else he had to be.
His son Harry was a sickly child and doctors advised Heinz to take the 12-year-old to a warmer climate. After reading Friedrich Ritter’s letters, Heinz Wittmer was drawn to the lifestyle on Floreana Island. The fact that his wife was pregnant was a concern. But the prospect of having a qualified doctor, Friedrich Ritter, as a neighbour, put them at ease.
Margret and Heinz’s son Rolf was born in January 1933. At the time, the Wittmer family was living in a disused pirate cave while Heinz and Harry were constructing their stone house close-by. Friedrich Ritter helped to deliver the baby – it was long and complicated – and fortunately, it all ended well. Rolf was the first person to be born on the island, and in later years a statue was built to honour him, Don Rolf.
Once on Floreana, Friedrich and Dore helped the Wittmers to build their own homestead, a stone home they called ‘Casa de la Paz’, House of Peace. The Wittmers preferred to keep to themselves, and there was not much interaction between them and the Ritters. Both households liked their space – they did not travel halfway around the world to live in each other’s pockets. They were in the Galapagos because they wanted to be alone. In later years the Wittmers became known as the ‘Galapagos Family Robinson’.
But the peaceful co-existence was shattered with the arrival of Austrian actress, self-proclaimed Baroness Eloise Wagner de Bosquet. She stepped onto Floreana Island on the 15th of October 1932, two months after the Wittmers arrived.
During the War, the Baroness worked as a secretary in Constantinople. When it all ended, she did not quite know where to go or what to do. Her love for performing landed her a role in a cabaret, where one night she met a French merchant, a man with the last name Bosquet. They got married and moved to Paris, where they lived with his mother. The mother did not like her new daughter-in-law and knew just how to get rid of her. Madame Bosquet invited a parade of eligible bachelors to her home, and before long, Eloise had not only one, but two German lovers: Robert ‘Bubi’ Phillipson and Rudolf Lorenz.
At the time Ecuador encouraged colonization of its islands. They were offering free plots of land with hunting and fishing rights. On top of all of that, settlers would not be required to pay taxes for 10 years. It was very inviting, and the Baroness dreamt of living on a tropical island with her men.
Bosquet filed for divorce, and as part of the settlement, the Baroness was given a boutique in Paris. She employed her suitors, Lorenz managed the store and Phillipson was the salesman. None of them knew how to run a boutique, and together they decided to chase an idyllic life on an island in the Galapagos. The Baroness sold the boutique, and – without settling debts – set off for Ecuador.
The idea of being a frontier-woman did not appeal to her at all. Baroness Eloise Wagner de Bosquet wanted a life of luxury. Her vision was to build a lush hotel for yacht sailing jet-set who traversed the Pacific. She would call the hotel ‘Hacienda Paradiso’.
The Baroness claimed that she was a descendent of the composer Wagner, but that was never proven to be a fact. Friedrich Ritter took one look at the flamboyant new arrival and her companions and immediately disliked them. He would go on to call Lorenz and Phillipson as ‘servile gigolos’.
Besides her two lovers, the Baroness also brought a group of young men with her – one more strapping than the other – to help with the construction of the hotel. An Ecuadorian man, Valdivieso, whom they’d met in Paris, served as translator and go-between, helping her make local contacts with influence.
The arrival of the Baroness and her entourage on Floreana Island caused a cyclone of conflict and scandal. The Baroness was so busy fooling around that nothing much ever came of the luxury hotel she had dreamed of – her home was never more than a hut with a couple of rooms. The threesome from Paris slept in the same bed, and the other residents of Floreana referred to the house as the Baroness’ harem.
The Baroness regaled everyone with colourful tales of her life. She told far-fetched stories of her adventures at sea and walked around the island with a gun and a whip. If anyone disagreed with her or annoyed her, the Baroness pointed her firearm at them. One of her hobbies was to shoot animals in the leg so she could nurse them back to health. In one incident, she aimed to hit a prospective lover in the leg, so she could nurse him back to health. When she accidentally shot one of her other lovers in the stomach. He survived and never reported the incident. A psychologist who studied the inhabitants of Floreana would later conclude that this behaviour was a sign of borderline personality disorder with sociopathic tendencies.
The Wittmers managed to keep to themselves and went about their business as before. This was not the case for Friedrich Ritter, who grew to despise the Baroness with every fibre of his being. Visitors who wrote articles about meeting the Baroness, sometimes called her the ‘Robinson Crusoe of Floreana’. This did not go down well with the other inhabitants of the island, as they realised their peaceful, insular life would never be the same again. Besides, Robinson Crusoe was Friedrich Ritter’s favourite book, he was not going to let the whimsical Baroness defame the legend.
Ritter wrote to Ecuadorian authorities in his capacity as a medical professional. He said there was a madwoman on the island who needed to be committed to an institution as soon as possible. The Governor of Galapagos made a journey to the island to follow up on the report. But instead of finding a solution to the conflict, he fell under the spell of the Baroness. She charmed him into allocating four square miles of the island to her – where she would build her hotel. The Wittmers and the Ritters were only given 50 acres each. The Baroness left Floreana with the Governor, spending a rumoured sinful couple of weeks with him at his private estate on San Cristóbal, also known as Chatham.
The Baronness returned to the hut-sized ‘Hacienda Paradiso’ and proclaimed herself as ‘The Empress of Floreana’. Her antics attracted people to the island, and passing yachts made a point of visiting the island to meet the Baroness. American Millionaires made trips, with the sole purpose of meeting her. Many of her visitors brought elaborate gifts and funded work she wanted to complete on ‘Hacienda Paradiso’.
Tensions rose among the permanent residents of Floreana, as the Baroness intercepted her neighbours’ mail. Before Friedrich Ritter’s letters were sent off to Germany, the Baroness edited it, making herself into the vibrant heroine – a seductive siren, luring sailors to her hut.
“The man isn’t born who can resist me,” she wrote.
She also concocted half-truths about the weird and wacky Ritters. She told stories to visitors to the island, who in turn, told international journalists. A wealthy science and exploration enthusiast from Southern California, Captain Hancock, visited Floreana on the Velero III. The captain who had become well-acquainted with the Germans on Floreana always brought supplies. He even brought a set of dentures for Dore. Captain Hancock was a cellist and entertained the islanders on his ship. On one occasion, he delivered international newspapers containing articles about their island community. Margret Wittmer recalled how the stories blew them away.
“Apparently, the Baroness is not only an Empress. She also has a court of 12 noblemen, has created a terror regiment and had doctor Ritter taken prisoner and led away in chains. We discussed it later with doctor Ritter we laughed heartily. The Baroness laughed about it as well and said she wonders who’s responsible for all such tales.”
With the help of the crew of Velero III, the Baroness and her lovers made a silent short film, called ‘The Empress of Floreana’. The Baroness starred as the terrifying, yet irresistible pirate.
But the co-inhabitants of Floreana did not often laugh together. And everyone knew the tall tales were distributed by the Baroness. She didn’t stop at that either. One night, Phillipson stole Dore’s donkey and released it in the Wittmer’s vegetable garden. Heinz saw their destruction to his crop and saw the donkey. Thinking it was a feral animal, he shot it.
A storm was brewing, anyone who came to the island could sense it. In his travel story, Monsumens Reise, Danish travel writer Hakon Mielche wrote:
“When Ritter and the Baroness have broken each other down to the level of the ground, when Paradise and Eden have gone down to smoking Hell, Wittmer will still be sitting outside his little comfortable house, sucking his pipe.”
In addition to fighting with the neighbours, the Baroness also brought conflict into her own hacienda. In fact, there was big trouble in paradise. Although Rudolf Lorenz was her favourite lover while they lived in Paris, the Baroness had turned her affections to ‘Bubi’ Phillipson. In the wink of an eye, Lorenz was out, and Phillipson was in. Gradually, Lorenz became more and more of a slave, doing back-breaking work at ‘Hacienda Paradiso’. On the insistence of the Baroness, Phillipson beat him up every chance he got.
Lorenz’ health began to deteriorate, and he realised that he had to get himself out of the abusive situation. He desperately wanted to return to Europe but would have to wait till the next ship arrived at Floreana, so he could catch a ride. The Wittmer family agreed that Lorenz could live with them in the meantime.
However, the Baroness and Phillipson left Floreana before Lorenz could. The Ritters recalled a visit from Margret Wittmer and Lorenz at the end of March, with the good news that the Baroness and Phillipson had left the island. According to Margret, the Baroness stopped by the Wittmer’s house and told her they were joining some friends on a yacht to Tahiti. This journey would take more than a month, and they were not likely to return. The Baroness left the hut and all her belongings to Lorenz who could do with it whatever he wanted to.
The Ritters literally jumped for joy when they learnt the Baroness was gone. Finally, they could have some peace again. But as they began to process the news, they realised that they had not seen a yacht in Post Office Bay. Crew members on passing boats also did not recall seeing a ship at the end of March. Friedrich and Dore grew even more suspicious of their neighbours when they went through the Baroness’ belongings and realized that she left absolutely everything behind. Dore felt that she would never have embarked on a journey without certain items, like her lingerie from Paris and her favourite book, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Back at Friedo, the Ritters came to the conclusion that Lorenz must have reached the end of his tether, snapped and killed his lover and her boyfriend. Because Lorenz had become close with the Wittmers, Friedrich and Dore assumed that they helped him to dispose of the bodies.
Rolf Blomberg, a Swedish journalist who visited the island, learnt about the disappearance of the Baroness and Phillipson and was the first to report on it. He listened to the Wittner’s account, which was the same account Rudolf Lorenz gave: the Baroness and Phillipson left Floreana for Tahiti and left all their belongings behind. The journalist also spoke to the Ritters who had nothing much to add, other than confirm that they left suddenly. The journalist reported that, on the morning of the 23rd of March, the Wittmers heard loud voices coming from the Baroness’ place. They ran to see what was going on and found the place in disarray, like the couple left in a hurry. Lorenz told them the other two had left to go to Tahiti. Then, he spent the following days dismantling the hut and selling odds and ends to the Ritters and Wittmers.
This account is strange because Margret Wittmer’s account clearly states that ‘Madam’ came to the Wittmer’s gate and called for Lorenz to say goodbye. After their departure, Lorenz was like a cat on a hot tin roof. He was all too eager to get away from Floreana Island and waited at Post Office Bay to see if he could spot a passing boat. When Thomas Howell, an American friend of the Baroness, came past on his yacht, Lorenz declined his invitation to catch a ride. Instead, he waited another couple of weeks and eventually, on the 20th of July convinced a Norwegian fisherman called Trygve Nuggerud to take him along.
The seas were high, and the currents strong, so Nuggerud wanted to wait it out a couple of days. His fishing boat, Dinamita, was not in the greatest of conditions, and he didn’t want to take the risk. Lorenz offered him more money, and eventually, Nuggerud caved, making the biggest mistake of his life. Lorenz said goodbye to the Ritters and the Wittmers and was relieved to finally get away from the place that had become his own personal hell. Tragically, he was never seen alive again.
On the 21st of August 1935, six weeks after Lorenz left, the residents of Floreana received news that he was missing. His plan was to go to Guayaquil, but that was quite a journey. First, they’d have to go to Santa Cruz Island, then San Cristóbal, from where Lorenz intended to take a ferry to Guayaquil, but they never made it there. It was presumed that Nuggerud’s motor had failed, and without sails, they were swept out to sea. With no further news, they all accepted that Lorenz did not make it.
It was a strange and quiet time on Floreana in the months that followed. The Ritters and the Wittmers tried to continue with their lives – the way it was before the Baroness arrived. Friedrich Ritter withdrew into his writing, and Dore was lonelier than ever. Her condition was getting worse, but she was expected to keep up the pace of the daily chores. The chickens weren’t doing well, and they were no longer laying eggs. Knowing that they needed protein, Dore and Friedrich decided to eat some home-canned chicken. The next morning, Friedrich was very ill. Assuming that it was food poisoning, Dore stuck her finger down her throat and vomited, hoping she would not get sick too.
He became shaky and feverish, and when paralysis set in after two days, Dore went to the Wittmers, asking for help. Ritter told Heinz Wittmer where his gun was, hinting that he wanted his neighbour to put an end to his agony, but Wittmer couldn’t bring himself to do it. During the violent thrusts of Friedrich’s illness, his hatred of Dore shone through. Unable to speak, he mustered up his last energy and scribbled a note. It said:
“I curse you with my dying breath.”
Friedrich Ritter died on the morning of the 21st of November 1934.
Heinz and Harry Wittmer dug a grave in Friedrich’s favourite corner of the garden at Friedo.
They wrapped the pioneer’s body in linen Dore had brought from Germany and buried him. Margret and little Rolf stayed with Dore at Friedo for a couple of days as she came to terms with the death of her significant other.
A month later the mummified remains of two Europeans were discovered on Marchena Island – the northernmost island of the Galapagos archipelago. It was the bodies of Rudolf Lorenz and fisherman Trygve Nuggerud. This was nowhere close to their intended destination of San Cristóbal. Eyewitnesses confirmed that the men made it to Santa Cruz, but must have run into trouble along the way, and made it to shore on the dessert island of Marchena. The unnamed deckhand who was only ever referred to as ‘an Indian’ was nowhere to be found. His fate remains a mystery.
Lorenz and Nuggerud had perished on the beach, due to dehydration. The crew who found them saw bones of birds and sea lions close to the bodies, proving that the shipwrecked men must have been alive for some time. But without water and nowhere to hide from the unforgiving sun, meat wasn’t enough to keep them alive. When they were found, they were lying next to Nuggerud’s boat, the Dinamita, with an upside-down flag on the mast – a make-shift distress signal. Nuggerud’s mummified hand was still clutching the rope.
The mysterious disappearances and deaths within a short succession of each other became known as The Galapagos Affair. To this day, all of the cases remain unsolved. Heinz Wittmer’s diary confirmed that there was a formal investigation into the disappearance of the Baroness and Phillipson. Wittmer talks about a group, led by ‘the Major’, who came to Floreana for a day. They questioned his family and looked around for evidence. They left that night, empty-handed.
In his book, The Galapagos Affair, author John Treherne theorises that, on that fateful March morning, the Baroness and Phillipson attempted to lure Lorenz into a trap, by talking about a supposed trip to Tahiti. Treherne considers the possibility that Lorenz knew it was a set-up and, with Friedrich Ritter’s help, either poisoned or shot the diabolical couple. Lorenz was a good shot and a great hunter – and the doctor was known to keep poison at Friedo.
Smithsonian scientist, Waldo L Schmitt, visited Floreana Island and its neighbouring isles throughout the early 1930s and knew all the intricate details of love and war among the inhabitants of Floreana. He kept detailed notes of conversations and recorded videos of his visits. He recovered a typed document, written by Friedrich Ritter.
He notes that neither himself nor Dore saw any yachts coming into Post Office Bay on the morning of the 28th of March. Their home had the best view of the bay, and if there had been a vessel, they would have spotted it for sure. In fact, there had been no ships in the bay since that January. He recalled the exact day in question because it was Dore’s birthday and Margret Wittmer and Rudolf Lorenz had come around with a cake and presents and the good news about the departure of the Baroness and Phillipson.
The Wittmers did not mention their suspicions regarding another death, that of Friedrich Ritter. According to Margret, Friedrich made a comment that it ‘would be ironic if a vegetarian would die of food poisoning‘. He also joked sardonically that his fate was sealed: he had wished the Baroness dead so many times, perhaps death was his punishment.
Margret Wittmer didn’t quite buy the story that Friedrich was suffering from food poisoning. She wondered why the doctor only fell ill the morning after eating the chicken and not during the night. From the start, she suspected that Dore had poisoned Friedrich because she had had enough of his emotional abuse towards her. Margret also knew that Friedrich had written his wife in Germany, asking her to join him. His was also planning on sending Dore back to Germany. Dore did not go to the Wittmers for help until Friedrich was frail – two days into his illness.
Shortly before the Baroness and Phillipson disappeared, Lorenz killed a wild pig with the nickname of ‘the satanic boar’, and the Wittmers and Ritters processed the carcass and canned the meat. However, it had become contaminated, and they couldn’t eat it. However, Friedrich fed it to his chickens. He theorized that if the chicken meat was boiled and canned, there would be no problem.
Dore said that when she prepared the chicken with Friedrich that night, they were concerned because it didn’t smell right, so they boiled it twice, hoping it would kill any bacteria. As a doctor, Friedrich should have known that reheating chicken multiple times was looking for trouble, even though he was not used to cooking meat.
In his diary, Heinz Wittmer noted that in the first weeks of November, his own chickens had died suddenly. He suspected a wild dog or a fox of being responsible, but in mid-November, he learnt that Ritter’s chickens had also died. Could it be that the chickens had some kind of fowl disease? Could it be that this contaminated the meat that caused Ritter’s death?
In the end, law enforcement in Ecuador ruled Friedrich Ritter’s death an accident and Dore was allowed to return to Germany as soon as she could find a way to leave the Galapagos.
In December the Velero III discovered the bodies of Lorenz and Nuggerud and arrived on Floreana to learn that Friedrich Ritter had also died. Dore was distraught and focused on her future plans, so when asked about the Baroness, she only spoke briefly. Entomologist, John Garth, diarised his conversation with Dore:
“When asked about the Baroness and Phillipson, Dore talks of hearing screams and alludes to the occurrence of terrible events, but she’s too distraught to give us anything in the way of details. Unsatisfied with Dore’s account, we proceed to the Wittmers, so we could hear their version of these happenings. We were startled to find the Baroness’ tin roof now residing atop the Wittmer’s home. The Captain’s query finds at Margret maintained that the Baroness and Phillipson boarded a yacht to Tahiti. I felt as if I was watching Sherlock Holmes at work, but after much relating and many questions, the Captain reached no definitive conclusions.”
Dore Strauch left with the Valero III and returned to Germany. She was determined to get Friedrich’s work out into the world, to make his dream of becoming an esteemed philosopher come true. She never succeeded, and the task fell on Friedrich’s nephew, and according to his foreword in Friedrich’s book, Dore refused to assist in any way.
Dore wrote her own book, titled ‘Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the “Galapagos Affair” about her experiences living in the Galapagos as a settler. She details her last days with Friedrich Ritter and makes no mention of his alleged ‘dying breath curse’ on her. She passed away in Berlin in May 1943, due to heart failure.
Dore Strauch-Koerwin always suspected Rudolf Lorenz had killed his ex-lover and his romantic rival and burnt their bodies in the acacia woods on the island. She claimed fire from acacia wood burnt so hot, it even incinerated animal carcasses. It was also possible that he fed their bodies to the sharks circling the island. Dore felt that the Wittmers most likely knew the truth and that they went along with the Tahiti story because they felt sorry for Lorenz.
Of the first settlers, only the Wittmer family remained on Floreana Island. They had another child, a daughter they called Ingeborg Floriana. When tourism to the island boomed in later years, they became wealthy. Margret Wittmer published her own account of life on the island, called Floreana. She passed away in 2000 at the age of 95. Until the end, she maintained that the Baroness and Phillipson left for Tahiti as she said all those years before. If she knew anything else, she took it to her grave.
Filmmakers, Dayna Goldfine and Dan Geller, made a documentary called The Galapagos Affair: Satan Comes to Paradise, using original footage and diary inscriptions, enabling the inhabitants of Floreana Island to tell their own story. It is a chilling account of everything that happened and is highly recommended viewing.
Today, about 100 residents live on Floreana Island, many of them are direct descendants of the Wittmers. Charles Darwin’s writings inspired all the original inhabitants of Floreana, especially through his famous quote:
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”
Perhaps Friedrich Ritter was too focussed on the first part of Darwin’s famous quote – survival of the fittest. The hard-working, non-sensationalist Wittmers embodied the second part – survival of the ones most adaptable to change. They stayed on the island forever, surviving to tell the strange tale of the Baroness and her lovers and the storm that their arrival on the island caused all those years ago.
If you’d like to read more about this case, have a look at the resources used for this episode in the show notes.
Also visit and like our Facebook Page at facebook.com/evidencelockerpodcast/” to see more about today’s case. If you like our podcast, please subscribe in Apple Podcast or wherever you are listening right now.
This was The Evidence Locker. Thank you for listening!
©2020 Evidence Locker Podcast
All rights reserved. This podcast or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the publisher except for the use of brief quotations in a podcast review.