She promised a paradise of love and freedom in the sun but now we were her slaves with our lives at stake …
by DUNWOODIE HALL
Life was becoming more unbearable for us as time passed until she had made us her slaves.
The name of Baroness Eloise Wehrborn is now virtually forgotten in the dusty pages of history. Yet a little over a quarter of a century ago this voluptuous noblewoman from Vienna shocked European high-hats first as a sexy belly dancer in the cabarets of every capital city and then as the self-appointed Empress of a Pacific island which she ruled with a Colt .45 slung around her curvy waist.
No story in the annals of violence can match the fantastic and bizarre account of the itchy-fingered Baroness who turned her tropical paradise in the Galapagos Islands into a hell-hole of murder and lust. From her crude castle of stones, clay and palm logs, Eloise ruled like a female Napoleon, brandishing the ugly .45 with which she shot to death a number of victims in her mad drive for power.
From the time she was 16, Eloise was a problem child to the Austrian family that boasted of an old noble lineage. Instead of finishing her education at the convent, she escaped and set her sights on Paris. There in the Left Bank she achieved a kind of notoriety with her escapades among the cult of free-love practitioneers. The Wehrborn nobles in time managed to drag her back to Vienna in an effort to square the family's good name.
But there was no denying the rambunctious young Baroness. She became involved in one scandal after another until her family finally let her go on the stage as an actress. Since she did not have any histrionic talent, the producers lost interest in her, and Eloise drifted into dancing. As a single she worked out a neat routine in which she flaunted her semi-naked charms to the delight of the nightclub trade.
The bistro impresarios were more than eager to book her not only because of her ties with the nobility but because she gave the night owls what was then a very daring show. Things went along fairly nicely for the Baroness as she dreamed of scaling the heights of show business. This was not be be, however. For although the taverns capitalized on her royal background legitimate showmen were wary about signing her up.
Inasmuch as Europe failed to appreciate her “talents,” she would find power, admiration and love among the enchanted isles of the Pacific Ocean. In her fanciful paranoia she evolved a fantastic scheme of running off to one of the Galapagos Islands with two men who were devoted to her for the same reasons Adam was to Eve. Thus in July 1932 she left Marseilles with Paul [sic, Alfred] Rudolph Lorenz, who was her dancing instructor, and Robert Philippson, weakling son of a wealthy German merchant.
The trio's wild plan met with a temporary snag when they arrived in Panama. They had to wait several months there until they could scrounge up a ship to take them to the Galapagos. Thus only in December of 1932 did they eventually land on the tiny isle of Floreana in the Galapagos. Hardly had the boat, which brought them to Floreana, disappeared over the horizon when the crazed Eloise showed her true colors.
She stripped off her lady-like clothing to the bare essentials. Strapped around her hips was a low-slung holster with a pearl-handled revolver. From her suitcase she extracted a short, but mean-looking whip. Both Lorenz and Philippson looked upon this act as quaint, something of a delightfully eccentric touch. Their surprise was turned into sheer amazement, however, when Eloise—her blonde hair bobbing in the sea breeze—jerked out the Colt, fired two shots in the sand, gave a short snap with the whip and proclaimed herself Empress of the Galapagos Islands.
No two men could have been more stunned than Lorenz and Philippson. They had pictured this jaunt as one of romance and excitement. Now they recognized the Baroness was simply out of her mind. She had been plotting an entirely different set-up from what the two would-be adventurers had anticipated. And when Eloise informed them they would serve as her “slaves,” the men realized they were the dupes of a twisted mind that would know no bounds.
So Lorenz and Philippson played ball with the Baroness; it was their only chance. Yet Eloise, in spite of her fiery pretensions, hardly made any demands of her two male slaves other than an occasional nocturnal visit that kept her satisfied.
For the most part life on the lonely island went along all right—as reasonably as any two healthy males could expect. The trio worked side by side in building a shelter and a set of traps to catch food from the sea. By using her sharp-shooting skill, Eloise hunted down an occasional rodent-like animal in the woods, so there was meat aplenty for everyone. One day, however, the Baroness came back from a hunting trip and announced there were some other people on “her” island.
The two strangers were nudists who had been living on Floreana for over a year. They were Dr. Karl [sic, Friedrich] Ritter of Hamburg [sic, Berlin], Germany, and a lovely young woman by the name of Matilde Weyl [sic, Dore Strauch Koerwin] who described herself as Dr. Ritter's “secretary.” They told the Baroness they had every intention of staying put on the isle for a while, even though she had screeched at them: “Go! You are not wanted here!”
Eloise backed up this command by easing the ugly revolver from her holster.
“I will give you until sunrise tomorrow to leave my island. Otherwise I shall shoot you both,” she threatened.
Neither Dr. Ritter nor Miss Weyl took Eloise seriously at all. For one thing they suspected the gun was a toy, and for another they noted that her male associates did not share her wrath or put on a tough act. So they figured all would blow over if they stayed on their side of the island.
True to her word, nevertheless, the Empress of the Galapagos went gunning after them. She first came across Matilde bathing herself in a sort of homemade pool and without any warning pumped the off-guard brunette full of lead slugs. Loading her Colt again, Eloise abandoned Matilde to die and took after Dr. Ritter. He had heard the shots, and as he came running out of the foliage, Eloise killed him with four thundering shots through his chest.
It wasn't long after that several other inhabitants of the island were found. There were four of them, newcomers to Floreana: Mr. and Mrs. Arthur [sic, Heinz] Wittmer, a nine-year-old son who was blind and an infant daughter [sic, son]. Surprisingly, the Baroness did not make any initial demands on the Wittmer family and let them alone. Yet the four of them disappeared without a trace. It is suspected that Eloise murdered them one night and cast their bodies into the sea, but she never indicated any such action to either Lorenz or Philippson.
As time went on, life for the two prisoners turned increasingly unbearable. Eloise became more and more cruel. With her whip she now took to lashing Lorenz and Philippson at the slighest provocation. In her maddened frenzy she seemed to enjoy being vicious. This cruelty reached its peak on the morning of September 22, 1933.
That day a shipwrecked honeymoon couple, Federico and Juana Rosario of Ecuador, were washed ashore. They staggered their way to Eloise's “palace” of mud, stones and logs and related how their small yacht had capsized in a storm the night before. On hearing this Eloise burst into a maniacal laugh that lasted fully five minutes. When finally the delirious roar ceased, she ordered the young couple stripped of their garments and tied to a tree.
Mercilessly she thrashed the boy and girl until her arm tired. Then she had them tied, still naked, to a make-shift raft and set them adrift without any food, water or medications. Luckily, the newlyweds were picked up by a freighter later that day, and if it hadn't been for the livid wounds across their backs, none of the authorities would have believed a word of their story of the mad female dictator who reigned her island with an iron hand.
The tale the Rosarios told prompted a team of investigators to go out and search for the so-called Empress. Because the young couple had no idea which of the many islands they had landed on, they could not clue the authorities to the right trail. It took some time of hit and miss explorations before the law finally came close.
In the meantime Eloise added another shipwreck victim to the list of unfortunates coming into her realm. In October 1933 a handsome young sailor by the name of Carlos Molinas was the sole surviror of a vessel wrecked near Floreana. The treatment he got from Eloise, when he struggled his way ashore, was entirely different from what the other trespassers received. The Empress welcomed the husky mariner with open arms and accorded him royal courtesies. For a month Carlos provided a fresh diversion for Her Highness' perverted appetite.
But one morning at breakfast Eloise put an end to the marooned sailor's insular paradise. She suddenly rose from her table, spit at him, unlimbered her revolver and in one swish shot him in the stomach five times. As Carlos' blood ebbed away on the white sands, Eloise performed her ghoulish dance of death. This grisly episode was too much for Lorenz and Philippson, and they decided to make their getaway.
By now the search-party from the mainland was hotter on the trail. In December on the barren island of Marchena, a few miles away [sic, about 105 miles due North] from Floreana, the striped [stripped?], riddled corpse of Paul Rudolph Lorenz was found; in his pockets were his passport, a collection of unmailed letters and a small diary in thinly coded German telling of Eloise's ill-starred reign of terror. Nearby, next to a battered homemade skiff, was the body of Robert Phillipson [sic, Trygve Nuggerud], full of lash marks and two bullet holes over his left eyebrow.
As for the demented Baroness Eloise Wehrborn, no trace of her was ever found. What could have happened to the lunatic blonde with dictatorial aspirations is anybody's guess. Though she appeared to have vanished into thin air, it's generally believed that the Mad Empress of the Galapagos was the victim of a voracious school of man-eating sharks.