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The Mystery of the Galapagos Affair

In 1929, Dr. Friedrich Karl Ritter, an eccentric Berlin doctor, arrived on Floreana Island with his mistress/patient Dore Strauch. Dr. Ritter had a medical degree, but he believed that the power of the mind could cure many diseases: today, we would call him a “holistic” doctor. They had each left their respective spouses to set up a sort of Eden in the far-off Galapagos Islands, and their scandalous affair made them into popular subjects for the European press.


Arrival of the Wittmers


Before long, they started getting curious visitors who came all the way from Europe. Most didn’t last long, but in September of 1932, Heinrich and Margret Wittmer arrived with Heinrich’s 12 year old son from a previous marriage, Harry. They set up a homestead not far from Ritter and Strauch. The Wittmers and the Ritters didn’t have much in common besides being German, and the two groups basically kept to themselves, which seems to be how they liked it.


The Baroness Arrives


Their peace and tranquility was about to be severely disrupted, however, with the November, 1932 arrival of “The Baroness.” Looking like the star of a bad S&M movie – she regularly wore black boots and riding pants and kept a whip and a pistol handy – she went under the name of Eloise Baroness Wagner de Bosquet and claimed to be Austrian nobility. She moved into an abandoned Norwegian settlement in Post Office Bay with her retinue of three men: Germans Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Phillipson and Ecuadorian Felipe Valdivieso.


The German men were apparently both love slaves, and the Ecuadorian was there to do all the work. It was the Baroness’ plan to construct a magnificent luxury hotel, to be called the Hacienda Paradiso.


Trouble in Paradise


Not long after her arrival, the three groups of settlers began to have problems. The Wittmers and Dr. Ritter and Ms. Strauch suspected that the Baroness was stealing items and mail from them and lodged several official complaints. The governor of Galápagos was eventually forced to come to Floreana to check out the reports, but he apparently fell under the spell of the Baroness and even invited her to his home.


By March of 1934, the situation of all three groups had taken a turn for the worse. The area was suffering from a severe drought, heightening the tension and requiring more work from everyone. Dr. Ritter was becoming more and more abusive to Dore Strauch, forbidding her from doing non-essential work (such as planting flowers). According to the Wittmers, Strauch showed no signs of wanting to leave the doctor in spite of his increasing violence and cruelty.


A Mysterious Disappearance


Meanwhile, at the Baroness’ camp, Rudolf Lorenz had apparently fallen out of favor, and Phillipson was beating and starving him. Lorenz would often show up at the Wittmer home for food, and would stay until the Baroness and Phillipson came for him.


One day, the Baroness and Phillipson vanished. According to Margret Wittmer, they told her that they were going to Tahiti on a ship that was waiting for them in the harbor. There is no evidence, however, that there ever was such a ship and a search of their home indicated that they had taken almost none of their possessions with them, including items that they would have wanted even on a very short voyage. They also never turned up in Tahiti.


Many locals and historians believe the two were murdered either by Lorenz or Ritter and the others went along with the Tahiti story.


The Deaths of Rudolf Lorenz and Dr. Ritter


Not long after, Lorenz left the islands on board the ship Dinamita, bound for Guayaquil. The Dinamita also vanished, and the bodies of Lorenz and the ship’s captain were later found, mummified and dessicated, on Marchena Island, where they had died of dehydration and starvation.


In December of 1934, Dr. Ritter died after eating some chicken that had gone bad. As he died, he cursed Dore Strauch, leading many to believe that she had poisoned him.


The Enduring Mystery of the Galapagos Affair


Although there have been many inquiries, no one has ever gotten to the bottom of the disappearance of the Countess and the deaths of Lorenz and Ritter, and “The Galapagos Affair” remains one of Latin America’s most enduring mysteries to this day.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
30 Oct 2009

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