The California Native International Adventures

Since 1983

From The California Native Newsletter:

Ghosts of the Galapagos

By Ellen Klein
Packing a pearl-handled revolver, a riding crop and three lovers, the Baroness Eloisa von Wagner Bosquet disembarked on the Island of Floreana, in 1932, and declared herself “Empress of the Galapagos.” She was not alone on the island. Baroness von Wagner

Two other German families preceded her. Dr. Friedrich Ritter, an eccentric philosopher, and Dora Strauch were first to arrive, inspired to seek solitude on this remote island by William Beebe's book, Galapagos, World's End, which described a place of primitive beauty (they were also motivated by their spouses' discovery of their two-year affair). Next, Heinz and Margarita Wittmer, seeking a better life for their sickly son Harry, settled in old pirate caves, built a farm, and ruined the Ritters' solitude.

After her dramatic entrance, the Baroness made her estate near the beach. Before long she imposed fees on the other residents for goods delivered by boat, and enforced them with her revolver. Her disregard for the others was typified by her bathing in the island's only drinking water.

Of her lovers, Alfred Lorenz was her favorite. When she replaced him with Robert Phillipson, Lorenz, hurt, left her and revealed the details of her sordid past—she had been a dance hall girl and perhaps a spy.

The others grew more and more furious with her antics and petitioned the Governor of the Galapagos. He visited the Island and the Baroness showered him with attention, winning his favor.

Lorenz was desperate to return to Germany. Impoverished, he pleaded with the Baroness for help, but she responded with violence. Meanwhile, Dr. Ritter began abusing Dora.

Tempers and temperatures flared in 1934. The Baroness announced that she and Phillipson were moving to Tahiti. No one saw her leave the island. Her packed suitcase was found, but her money and valuables were gone. Lorenz finally left the Island on a small fishing boat, which was never seen again. His decomposed body and that of the boat's captain were found on a beach at Marchena Island.

That same month, Dora went for help, saying that Dr. Ritter had eaten some spoiled canned meat—yet Dr. Ritter was a vegetarian! On his deathbed, he wrote an unaddressed note, saying “I curse you with my last breath.”

Did Lorenz kill the Baroness and Phillipson, dragging their bodies to the shark infested waters? Did Dora, brutalized by Ritter, kill him? Did Margarita, who ended up with the Baroness' possessions, murder all three? These questions are among the many mysteries in the strange history of the Galapagos Islands.

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