Margret Wittmer's original letter in German was translated into English by Andrew Fraser, whose relationship to the author is unknown, pending further research. Revisions and corrections to this online page are [in brackets]. Mis-spelled words are corrected on first appearance, then left as is in the text.
How Mrs. Wittmer knew Mrs. Reif's address (street number omitted here for privacy) is unknown.
|MARGRET WITTMER||Isla Floreana|
Galapagos Ecuador S. A.
Mrs. Miriam (Ben) Reif
xxx - xx Avenue
Dear Mrs. Reif.-
As a result of the “Boys [sic, Voice] of America” and the “Voz de America” announcing on the radio that your sister, Miss Saydee Reiser, went missing on the Wittmer's farm, I take the liberty to explain the events from first hand, also in the name of the other settlers who have lived here for decades.
On 7th April the yacht “Yankee” dropped anchor at Black Beach. I will explain the exact events of the affair following my sighting of the yacht; I have known the “Yankee” under her former owner [Irving Johnson] since 1933.§
§ Margret Wittmer may have meant that she knew of the Yankee since 1933. For in that year the Johnsons visited Floreana, but did not visit the Wittmers. In Margret's Floreana Adventure she writes of the Johnsons (p. 109):
… whom we had missed seeing four years before. [They] had heard of Rolf's birth and wanted to come up to the Asilo de la Paz, but the baroness put them off.
The yacht itself—normally a magnificent object—gave a strong impression of neglect. At 3 p.m. four ladies came ashore and visited me in my house. We talked about the surrounding area, about the yacht and the voyage, and I showed the ladies a picture of what the yacht had formerly looked like. These four ladies were: Miss Saydee Reiser, Mrs. Martha Hunt, Miss Alma Slynn [sic, Flynn], and Miss Mary Naterson [sic?; Waterson in Jacob Lundh's account].
The ladies wanted to take a short walk to the nearby “Loveria” [sic, La Loberia]. Mrs. Hunt did not wish to, and went back aboard while the other three ladies went to Loveria, with one of my employees to show them the way.
Before the ladies departed, they looked around my guest-house, and Miss Reiser wanted to try out her Japanese Olympia camera (which she had recently bought in Panama) by taking pictures from the top floor.
An hour later the ladies returned, clearly filled with enthusiasm, and some time later four gentlemen from the yacht also came by. I gave some fresh cucumbers from the farm to Miss Reiser; she was very pleased and stated that they got no greens at all on the yacht.
They decided to return the next day at 7 o'clock and make an excursion to the “Ritters' place.”
At 7 a.m. on 8th April three ladies and three gentlemen came and said that they preferred to go up to our farm and then to pass by the Ritters' place. I objected bacause it would take two hours—eight kilometers —and asked if Miss Reiser would not stay behind. She said no, she was a good walker, and as there was nothing to see on board, it was necessary to pass the time somehow. I then said “Have a nice time, and I will see you when you return.”
Off went Mrs. Hunt, Miss Reiser, Miss Naterson and three gentlemen, one of whom (I later learned) was the cook.§
§ Identified by Jacob Lundh as Jaydee Jones.
At 10 o'clock a Japanese fishing boat, the “Maru 7” arrived. The captain came to us with his speedboat, and after loading it full of bananas and other vegetables my son Rolf went with him back to the large fishig boat. On his return at 12 o'clock he rowed his small boat over [to] the yacht “Yankee” to greet the captain who hadn't yet shown himself. While our son Rolf was atill aboard the yacht, two of the three gentlemen came back.
At 3 p.m. a man came ashore and asked if the old lady was with us. We said no.
At 5 p.m. my son Rolf went to the farm. On the way he met the ship's captain and engineer, who said that Mrs. Hunt had returned from the walk and had said that Miss Reiser had lost her way.
How Miss Reiser had got lost they could not explain. As soon as my son Rolf arrived up to the farm, he and my daughter Ingeborg [“Floreanita”] searched all over our property. They shouted and fired shots but there was no reply and no trace of where Miss Reiser had gone.
The next day a search party set out, consisiting of 5 persons from the ship, the head of the Ecuadorean Navy Station, the nurse, two further settlers (Messrs. Cruz), my son Rolf, and my daughter Ingeborg (whose husband was undergoing medical treatment in mainland Ecuador). From dawn to dusk in a temperature of 30 degrees [Celsius = 80° Fahrenheit], they searched Miss Reiser's assumed route, the length and breadth of the bush, shouting, blowing horns, shooting, firing flares as it got dark, with the end effect . . . . . . . nothing.
On Friday three further men joined in, a settler named Paredes, his son Santiago and our employee Eloy Quentano, and the search went along the coast with the yacht while another group crossed straight through the bush to the coast. End result . . . . . . nothing. At 9 o'clock in the evening the captain came and told me that he could not wait any longer as he had to pick up more passengers in Tahiti and he would get there too late.
As a result of our protests and [illegible] the Navy chief of the island ordered the yacht's captain Mr. Derek Lumbers to go to San Cristobal and to inform the Governor of the islands and to bring more help.
[Two lines illegible]
We could not inform San Cristobal by radio, as the [illegible] (Navy Station?) has no radio and my daughter's husband, who was also a radio-operator, was on the Continent. Captain Lumbers explained that his radio equipment was only set for coastal reception, and as the Galapagos Islands are 500 nautical miles distant from the coast, the operatiing radius was insufficient. This meant in effect that if something should happen aboard the yacht, the captain could not obtain any help, because after all Tahiti lies 3,000 miles from the Continent.
The next day the search continued with 5 people from the yacht staying here. And once again the end result . . . . . nothing.
On Sunday morning the “Yankee” returned bringing a police officer, a doctor and a further three men. All the gentlemen immediately went up in order to organise the continuing search on Monday.
The bush was thoroughly combed from a height of 300 meters down to the sea. The search continued until Wednesday, then everyone came down and the police officer took evidence from the settlers living here.
While these were being recorded, Mr. Olson and Mrs. Hunt came ashore and asked if they could live with me until our island steamer “Cristobal Carrier” would drop anchor here in Floreana. This would be in 10 days time, and both tourists wanted to pass these days in Floreana, because, they said, the atmosphere on the yacht was not good.
When I asked Mrs. Hunt how it was at all possible for an old lady to be left alone, she replied “She is gone, it is nobody's fault, she was a very demanding person.”
We here had assumed, as we were always being told, that Miss Naterson and her boyfriend Vision [sic, Ed Vinson] had been the last to have been with Miss Reiser. Now Mrs. Hunt recounted, and she also gave it in writing to the police officer, that “ she (Mrs. Hunt) had had a stone in her shoe, and on account of this she had told Miss Reiser to wait a moment, but Miss Reiser had declined to do so on the grounds that she would break her stride. When she had removed the stone from her shoe, Miss Reiser was no longer there, and she (Mrs. Hunt) thereupon returned to the coast.” Mrs. Hunt further recounted that she had already heard the hens on our farm, and the cow-bells too, which meant that she was only a few minutes away from the farm.
To that I would like to say that there are absolutely no stones at all in that district, and when someone has marched for two hours, he will certainly go for the further 5 minutes to be able to sit and drink water or coffee, that is, to rest a little before striding a further two hours back down to [the] coast.
[Entire paragraph illegible]
Mr. Olson and Mrs. Hunt could not stay in Floreana because the “Yankee” and her crew together with the tourists, had to return to Chatham as prisoners until the Governor had recorded the statement and evidence.
Some more unhappy figures in this unhappy business were Miss Naterson and the boyfriend Ed Vision:-
Together they had arrived at my daughter's farm. Ingeborg, my daughter asked them if any more tourists would come to the farm. The answer was “Yes, one lady more.”
How could Miss Naterson and Vision know that only one more lady would come, when as they declared, they had left both elderly ladies behind?
The record stated that these two were the last to have seen Miss Reiser, Mrs. Hunt equally maintained that she was the last.
Be that as it may, the affair is quite shady and in my opinion really dirty.
The American authorities got moving, a jet came in and in the jet was a helicopter. The helicopter came to Floreana and Rolf my son flew three times each one hour and 15 minutes almost never above 30 meters height over the whole district, what the pilot and Rolf saw were donkey bones, very small cow bones, but they did not find a body.
On 28th April an Ecuadorean warship came with 28 men all of whom went on the search, and again nothing. . . . .
Captain Derek Lumber[s] was advised by the Governor that he would have to pay for the search and also for all the meals and accommodation which Ingeborg, our daughter has made for all the men and in addition she had participated in the search.
Walter Cruz, who was leading the search on the coast, was put ashore with the other island people and two from the ship at a place which we call Saddle Point. As the “Yankee” had no small boat, the people had to swim from the ship to the shore, as a result of which Walter Cruz lost his watch, another a pair of shoes, and someone on the yacht almost lost his life. Santiago, the other searcher, lost two nails from his hand as he clung to a lava-block in order to survive the next wave.
After all the evidence had been recorded from the people who live here and who barely make a living with great difficulty and . . . . . the police officer presented the . . . . . . to the settlers and to . . . . . [illegible words].
The captain, who had [illegible] taken the yacht to Chatham and had not once [illegible] to ask how (it was going) said right away that he had no money and that he would not pay. He would of course inform his “Windjammer Company” but doubted whether the firm would pay.
As the Windjammer Company has such a “good” reputation I assume that one has to turn to you.
I enclose exact copies of the original invoices presented. In total they come to 413 USA Dollars, and to prevent the Windjammer Company sending you a higher bill, I am forwarding you the complete (details).
Please let me know if you couldn't decide to come here for a few weeks, to satisfy yourself on the spot about what happened. You can easily reach the Island from Guayaquil with the island steamer “Cristobal Carrier” which comes every 3 weeks.
The exact address of the shipping company is “Cetuga” Guayaquil Malecón, and you can obtain precise details, so that you do not need to wait too long in Guayaquil after your flight.
Here in my guest house you will be very well looked after; all the scientists from the Darwin Foundation who were here were very satisfied. The owner of the San Francisco “New Chrounicle”, Mr. Perlmann,§ can give you the best information about my guest house.
§ Presumably San Francisco Chronicle Science Editor David Perlman.
It would always be beneficial to talk to one of Miss Reiser's family, and also for you to continue the search, for you are certainly the most interested in clearing up this affair.
I have taken the liberty to write to you in German, on the assumption that the names Reiser and Reif are of German origin, and that you have a command of the language. I could just as easily have written in Spanish or English, but in a translation one cannot say everything which one can in one's mother-tongue.
In expectation of your reply, I greet you, whilst expressing our deepest sympathy for you and your family. Six months ago today I lost my life-long companion after 32 years of marriage, and thus I am particularly able to judge what such a loss means.
With best wishes,