Arts, Culture & Media

A new film unearths the true story of a 1930s murder mystery in the Galapagos

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Credit: USC Special Collections / Zeitgeist Films

Baroness Eloise von Wagner with her lovers Robert Philippson and Rudolf Lorenz in THE GALAPAGOS AFFAIR: SATAN CAME TO EDEN

Call it Paradise Lost.

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It was the 1930s. A handful of Germans pack up their lives and move to one of the most remote places in the world — the Galapagos archipelago. They settle on one of the most remote islands — Floreana.

They wanted to live like pioneers. But their story takes a turn when two of the islanders disappear under suspicious circumstances.

A new film, "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden," chronicles the tale of how these unlikely pioneers ended up on Floreana and the mysterious disappearances that followed.

The filmmakers came upon the murder mystery while aboard a boat working on a nature documentary on the Galapagos.

“We’d gone down to the Galapagos assuming there were no human inhabitants and it was really just a place devoted to tortoises and Darwin’s finches and iguanas,” said filmmaker Dayna Goldfine. “Much to my surprise, I pulled this book off the shelf and it was about the human history of the islands.”

Goldfine was surprised to discover a chapter devoted to a murder mystery.

But it wasn't until years later the filmmakers found 16 mm film footage at the University of Southern California that told the tale of Floreana Island.

"That was the key to unlocking this whole movie because we didn't know that footage was there for the first couple of years we were mulling over what to do, if there was a way to make the movie," said filmmaker Dan Geller. 

Once they had the archives, the filmmakers pieced together what happened to the settlers.

Next, Goldfine and Geller hired actors to be the voices of the characters.

The impressive cast includes Cate Blanchett and Diane Kruger.

The first settlers of Floreana were Berlin doctor Friedrich Ritter and his lover Dore Strauch.

"Dore and Friedrich were in many ways living out their own embodiment of Adam and Eve and they were called the Adam and Eve of the Galapagos," said Goldfine. “Despite the fact that they went to find utter solitude, they were discovered by the tabloids, mostly because letters they wrote home to friends and family were published. The friends and family sent them off to the papers."

The next couple to come to Floreana were the Wittmers.

And soon after came the unusual threesome of Baroness Eloise von Wagner Bosquet and her two 'companions'.

"She left from Paris where she had a little boutique, a little clothing store," said Geller. "None of this would suggest that this woman was so outlandish to have multiple lovers, the intention to build a hotel for American millionaire yachtsmen stopping by and perhaps even the quest to become a Hollywood movie star."

The Baroness and one of her lovers disappeared soon after they had set up camp on Floreana.

"Some argue that she boarded a boat to Tahiti with one of her lovers because she gave up on the plan for the hotel," Geller said. "But if you watch the movie you'll figure out pretty quickly that there is no way, at least in my opinion, that she could land anywhere else in the world without drawing attention to herself."

The disappearance of the Baroness and her lover remains the unsolved mystery of the Galapagos.

The film "The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden, is in theatres on Friday.

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