Floreana's Little Shop of Horrors (late 1920s-1934) | Galapagos Unbound

Post-WWI Blues? Go to the Beach

The roaring ‘20s saw a flurry of expatriates, and some made their way to the Galápagos high with the hopes of living an idyllic, beachside life. With the Ecuadorian government offering plots of land as well as hunting and fishing rights—all free and untaxed—the Galápagos found itself being quite the draw.

Friedrich Karl Ritter, a rather eccentric theosophist, decided to settle in Galápagos to test out his theories regarding raw food. He took his girlfriend and devotee, Dore Strauch Koerwein, with him to Floreana after leaving their mutual spouses together back home in an unorthodox, switcheroo arrangement.

Friedrich and Dore soon became a veritable Adam and Eve, and Friedrich’s articles for The Atlantic Monthly magazine fashioned the Galápagos as the à la mode yachting destination. More settlers tried their hand at living there, but soon found that despite its paradisiacal appearance, Galápagos living wasn’t all sunshine and sea turtles.

However, 1932 saw the arrival of Heinz and Margret Wittmer with son, Harry, from Germany. Due to philosophical and lifestyle differences, however, the couples rarely interacted.

“The Baroness” Arrives (Most Likely Amidst a Storm and Foreboding Music)

Paradise took a sinister turn, however, with the highly (self)touted arrival of an Austrian who referred to herself as “Eloise Wagner de Bosquet.” She brought along two lovers, Robert Phillippson and Rudolf Lorenz, and built a ramshackle “Hacienda Paradise” as a hopeful hotel for affluent yachtsmen visiting Floreana.

Eloise self-nominated herself as “Empress of Floreana,” and she became disparagingly known by the Wittmers and Dr. Ritter as “the baroness.” In turn, Margret Wittmer claimed a non-legitimate title for herself after giving birth to her son, Rolf, whom she considered the first Floreana “native.” Add in a Galápagos drought and the Galápagos settlers found themselves at a frontier of hostility worthy of the Wild West.

As many could guess, the Baroness found relations with her two lovers fraught with turmoil, especially after coming to prefer Phillippson. Lorenz found himself abused, physically and mentally. The two men turned to fiticuffs, which only ended up with Lorenz banished and turning to the Wittmers for sanctuary.

Disappearances and Deaths: Oh My

As Magret later told it, the Baroness subsequently announced her and Philippson’s immediate and unexpected departure from the Galápagos Islands by joining up with friends purportedly anchored in Post Office Bay. In doing so, the Baroness apparently left all Galápagos property and possessions to Lorenz. Mysteriously, the Wittmers—whose house overlooked Post Office Bay—never reporting any ship sightings around the time.

The Baroness and Philippson disappeared from history; they were never heard from or seen again.

Shortly after, Lorenz joined up with a passing fishing ship. Lorenz and the captain, Nyggerud, set off in dangerous weather. Nyggerud’s and Lorenz’s mummified bodies were found on Marchena Island, side by side; they appeared to have died from thirst on the waterless island.

Death kept coming in the Galápagos Island. Self-professed vegetarian Dr. Ritter passed away in 1934, ostensibly from spoiled meat.

Dore Strauch thereafter returned to Germany, where she authored the book Satan Came to Eden describing her time on the island and its harrowing end. According to Dore, Lorenz murdered his lover and his rival with the corroboration of the Wittmers.

The only trace of the Baroness’ fallen domain was a sign posted up at Post Office Bay, reading:

Two hours from here is Hacienda Paradise … a little spot where the weary traveler 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 Galápagos. 
Baroness Wagner 
Robert Philippson 
Rudolf Lorenz

A Bittersweet Ending

Harry Wittmer drowned in a boating accident in 1951, though his family went on to great things. Margret Wittmer spent the rest of her days on Floreana, and her book, Floreana, Poste Restante, became well-known. Their son, Rolf, innovated Galápagos’ ecotourism industry by setting up a tour boat company, Rolf Wittmer Turismo, Ltd.