Podcast Episode 302: The Galápagos Affair

Image: Smithsonian Institution Archives

In 1929 a German couple fled civilization to live on an uninhabited island in the Eastern Pacific. But other settlers soon followed, leading to strife, suspicion, and possibly murder. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Galápagos affair, a bizarre mystery that remains unsolved.

We’ll also meet another deadly doctor and puzzle over a posthumous marriage.


Damon Knight invented a way to compose stories without having to write them.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, why do we regard some tastes as bad?

Photo: Captain Allan G. Hancock, Dore Strauch, and Friedrich Ritter at Floreana. Smithsonian Institution Archives, Record Unit 7231, Waldo L. Schmitt Papers, Box 90, Folder 4, Image No. SIA2011-1149.

Sources for our feature on Floreana:

Dore Strauch, Satan Came to Eden: A Survivor’s Account of the “Galápagos Affair,” 1936.

Margret Wittmer, Floreana: A Woman’s Pilgrimage to the Galápagos, 1989.

John E. Treherne, The Galápagos Affair, 2011.

Elizabeth Hennessy, On the Backs of Tortoises: Darwin, the Galapagos, and the Fate of an Evolutionary Eden, 2019.

Alexander Mann, Yachting on the Pacific: Together With Notes on Travel in Peru, and an Account of the Peoples and Products of Ecuador, 1909.

K. Thalia Grant and Gregory B. Estes, “Alf Wollebæk and the Galápagos Archipelago’s First Biological Station,” Galápagos Research 68 (2016), 33-42.

Hans-Rudolf Bork and Andreas Mieth, “Catastrophe on an Enchanted Island: Floreana, Galapagos, Ecuador,” Rapa Nui Journal: Journal of the Easter Island Foundation 19:1 (2005), 5.

David Cameron Duffy, “Galapagos Literature — Fact and Fantasy,” Noticias de Galápagos 44 (1986), 18-20.

Gavin Haines, “Cannibalism, Nude Germans and a Murder Mystery: The Secret History of the Galapagos,” Telegraph, Feb. 12, 2018.

Oliver Smith, “Cannibalism, Murder and Chronic Obesity: 10 Island Paradises With Dark and Deadly Secrets,” Telegraph.co.uk, Aug. 9, 2017.

Allison Amend, “In the Footsteps of Charles Darwin,” New York Times (Online), June 20, 2017.

Trevor Seymour, “Murder on Seduction Island,” [Surry Hills, New South Wales] Daily Telegraph, June 25, 2002, 26.

Shiela Waddell, “At the Ends of the Earth,” Glasgow Herald, Nov. 20, 1999, 12.

Mitchell Smyth, “Satan in Paradise — Lust and Murder on a Desert Isle,” Toronto Star, Oct. 22, 1994, L2.

Katherine Woods, “From Utopian Dream to Nightmare,” New York Times, May 24, 1936.

“Woman Is Leaving Galapagos ‘Eden,'” New York Times, Dec. 9, 1934.

“Desert Isles’ ‘Ruler’ Escapes Eviction,” New York Times, Jan. 23, 1934.

Stephanie Merry, “‘The Galapagos Affair: When Satan Came to Eden’ Movie Review,” Washington Post, May 8, 2014.

Stephen Holden, “Seeking Eden, They Fled to Far Isle; Hell Followed,” New York Times, April 3, 2014.

Andrea Crossan, “A New Film Unearths the True Story of a 1930s Murder Mystery in the Galapagos,” The World, PRI, April 4, 2014.

Moira Macdonald, “‘The Galapagos Affair’: A Murder Mystery in Paradise,” Seattle Times, April 17, 2014.

Alan Scherstuhl, “Murder in Paradise in The Galapagos Affair,” Village Voice, April 2, 2014.

Ryan Gilbey, “Death in Paradise: Ryan Gilbey on The Galapagos Affair,” New Statesman, July 28, 2014.

Listener mail:

“Cremation Medical Certificate,” gov.uk, Jan. 2, 2009.

“Doctors’ Fees, Cremation Forms & Certificates,” beyond.life (accessed June 22, 2020).

Trevor Jackson and Richard Smith, “Harold Shipman,” BMJ 328:7433 (Jan. 24, 2004), 231.

“Harold Shipman (1946–2004),” Biography, April 27, 2017.

John Philip Jenkins, “Harold Shipman,” Encyclopaedia Britannica (accessed June 22, 2020).

This week’s lateral thinking puzzle was contributed by listener Alon Eitan.

You can listen using the player above, download this episode directly, or subscribe on Google Podcasts, on Apple Podcasts, or via the RSS feed at https://futilitycloset.libsyn.com/rss.

Please consider becoming a patron of Futility Closet — you can choose the amount you want to pledge, and we’ve set up some rewards to help thank you for your support. You can also make a one-time donation on the Support Us page of the Futility Closet website.

Many thanks to Doug Ross for the music in this episode.

If you have any questions or comments you can reach us at podcast@futilitycloset.com. Thanks for listening!


Hi, everyone. This is just another update — I need to keep the Futility Closet website suspended for another month, through July, because the libraries I use are still closed due to the pandemic. We’re still producing the podcast in the meantime, and the archives are here if you’d like to browse them. If I can’t start up again in August I’ll post another update here. If you have any questions you can always reach me at greg@futilitycloset.com. Take care of yourselves!


Podcast Episode 301: Tschiffely’s Ride


In 1925, Swiss schoolteacher Aimé Tschiffely set out to prove the resilience of Argentina’s criollo horses by riding two of them from Buenos Aires to New York City. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Tschiffely’s unprecedented journey, which has been called “the most exciting and influential equestrian travel tale of all time.”

We’ll also read an inscrutable cookbook and puzzle over a misbehaving coworker.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 299: Ursula Graham Bower and the Nagas

Image: Wikimedia Commons

In 1937, Englishwoman Ursula Graham Bower became fascinated by the Naga people of northeastern India. She was living among them when World War II broke out and Japan threatened to invade their land. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Bower’s efforts to organize the Nagas against an unprecedented foe.

We’ll also consider a self-censoring font and puzzle over some perplexing spacecraft.

See full show notes …


Hi, all. Just another update here — all the libraries here are still closed, so I need to keep the Futility Closet website suspended through June, as I can’t do the research until they reopen. We’re fine here otherwise, and we’re still producing the podcast each week in the meantime. At the moment there’s no word on when things might return to normal; if I can’t start up the site again in July then I’ll post an update here. If you have any questions you can always reach me at greg@futilitycloset.com. Stay safe!


Podcast Episode 298: The Theft of the Mona Lisa


In 1911, the Mona Lisa disappeared from the Louvre. After an extensive investigation it made a surprising reappearance that inspired headlines around the world. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the painting’s abduction, which has been called the greatest art theft of the 20th century.

We’ll also shake Seattle and puzzle over a fortunate lack of work.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 297: A Sinto Boxer in Nazi Germany


In the 1930s, Sinto boxer Johann Trollmann was reaching the peak of his career when the Nazis declared his ethnic inferiority. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll describe Trollmann’s stand against an intolerant ideology and the price he paid for his fame.

We’ll also consider a British concentration camp and puzzle over some mysterious towers.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 296: The Little Giants

Image: Flickr

In 1957, 14 boys from Monterrey, Mexico, walked into Texas to take part in a game of Little League baseball. What followed surprised and inspired two nations. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll tell the story of the Monterrey Industrials and their unlikely path into baseball history.

We’ll also have dinner for one in Germany and puzzle over a deadly stick.

See full show notes …

Podcast Episode 295: An Unlikely Attempt on Everest


In 1932, Yorkshireman Maurice Wilson chose a startling way to promote his mystical beliefs: He would fly to Mount Everest and climb it alone. In this week’s episode of the Futility Closet podcast we’ll follow Wilson’s misguided adventure, which one writer called “the most incredible story in all the eventful history of Mount Everest.”

Well also explore an enigmatic musician and puzzle over a mighty cola.

See full show notes …