Islands, whether fictional or real, have long been the subject of myths and mysteries. Just think of Atlantis or the Oak Island pit. And there are plenty of other islands with mysterious or creepy stories attached to them.
10Isola La Gaiola
At first glance, Isola La Gaiola seems like a perfect example of the beauty and romance of southern Italy. Situated in the Gulf of Naples, the island is split into two sections joined by a rough stone bridge. Surrounded by ruins dating back to Ancient Rome, the island is at the center of Gaiola Underwater Park, an area famous for its rich marine wildlife. At one time, Isola La Gaiola was a status symbol for the rich, with Europe’s wealthiest vying for ownership. Today, the island stands deserted—due in part to the string of unfortunate incidents that plagued its former owners, leading to rumors that the island is cursed.
Fittingly, the island’s first recorded inhabitant was a hermit known only as “the Wizard,” who lived there in the early 19th century. Later, a rustic villa was built. Talk of a curse began in the 1920s, when the owner of the villa was found murdered, his body concealed inside a rolled-up carpet. Shortly afterward, his wife apparently drowned in the gentle seas of the Gulf.
The island then passed to a wealthy German named Otto Grunback, who soon suffered a heart attack while staying there. The next owner, a Swiss pharmaceutical tycoon, went insane and committed suicide. So did the son of legendary Fiat head Gianni Agnelli. His nephew, who had replaced his son as heir to the Fiat empire, died of an extremely rare type of cancer shortly afterward. Yet another owner bankrupted himself with his lavish spending, while J. Paul Getty’s grandson was famously kidnapped shortly after he purchased La Gaiola.
The island and its decaying villa have been abandoned since its last owner was jailed in connection with the collapse of his company. Unsurprisingly, nobody has been rushing to buy it.
Located 1,600 kilometers (970 mi) south of Hawaii, majestic Palmyra Atoll became the unlikely location of a murder mystery that captivated the world. Malcolm “Mac” Graham and Eleanor “Muff” Eddington were wealthy residents of San Diego who bonded over a shared love of sailing. Married in 1961, the couple spent six years sailing around the world on an extended honeymoon. The two quickly became beloved in the yachting community, always happy to entertain on their ketch, the Sea Wind.
Having loved their honeymoon to bits, the Grahams planned another extended trip in 1974. This time, they would take in Hawaii, Palmyra, and then see where the winds took them. On July 2, they arrived on the atoll, which is really a series of smaller islands joined together by the US Navy during World War II. Here is where the story takes a turn for the worse. Shortly after the Grahams anchored off Palmyra, a couple calling themselves Roy and Stephanie Allen arrived in a decrepit, unseaworthy boat.
In reality, “Roy Allen” was an escaped convict named Buck Duane Walker. “Stephanie Allen” was his girlfriend, Stephanie Stearns. The Grahams quickly grew afraid of Walker, who was often seen trying to kill fish with a pistol. Eventually, Mac Graham radioed a friend in Hawaii to say that Walker was bringing over a cake in an apparent attempt to patch things up. The Grahams were never heard from again.
Eleven years later, a jury found Walker guilty of killing Muff Graham, whose charred body had been found washed up on the shore of Palmyra with an apparent gunshot wound. It is likely that he killed Mac as well, with an acquaintance testifying that Walker had boasted of making him “walk the plank.” Stephanie Stearns was acquitted of all charges. The exact string of events leading to the couple’s disappearance will likely never be known, as Walker died of cancer shortly after being paroled in 2007.
The mysterious disappearance of two Germans on the world-famous Galapagos Islands reads like a soap opera and murder mystery all in one. Although mostly uninhabited, a few people began to settle on the Galapagos during the 1930s. One of the first was Friedrich Ritter, a German dentist who eloped to the islands after starting an affair with a patient. Before arriving, the couple removed most of their teeth, replacing them with a stainless steel false set they shared between them. The shell-shocked former soldier Heinz Wittmer was another settler, as was an eccentric woman who called herself Baroness Eloise Wehrborn de Wagner-Bosquet.
The Baroness pitched up with two lovers, Rudolf Lorenz and Robert Philippson, declaring her intention to build a hotel on the islands. The flamboyant Baroness soon captured the interest of newspapers around the world, not least for her habit of parading around tropical landscape in silk lingerie. This infuriated Ritter, who was used to being the center of attention for his rugged life on the island, and a feud quickly developed. Meanwhile, Wittmer lived quietly with his wife and sons, leading one visitor to predict that when “Ritter and the Baroness have broken each other down to the level of the ground, when Paradise and Eden have gone down to smoking Hell, Wittmer will still be sitting outside his little comfortable house, sucking his pipe.”
Things went from bad to worse when the Baroness’s two lovers started fighting, with Philippson repeatedly beating the smaller Lorenz, who started spending a lot of time with the Wittmers to avoid the trouble at home. Meanwhile, the Ritters accused the Baroness of stealing their private mail and spreading rumors about them.
Then, in March 1934, the Baroness and Philippson disappeared without a trace. According to the Wittmers, some friends of the Baroness had arrived and whisked her away to Tahiti. However, there were a couple of issues with this story. For starters, no one saw a ship near the island on the day the Baroness and Philippson supposedly left. Furthermore, the Baroness left essential belongings behind, which was unlike her. The couple never reached Tahiti.
Ritter and his girlfriend firmly believed that Lorenz had killed the couple and somehow convinced the Wittmers to cover for him. For his part, Lorenz wasted no time in leaving the Galapagos, convincing a fisherman to ferry him to the mainland. However, both Lorenz and the fisherman were found months later on Marchena Island, dead of thirst. It’s probable that they were stranded there after their engine failed. A short time later, Ritter died of food poisoning, although many believed that his own lover had deliberately poisoned him because their relationship went sour. She soon went back to Germany, leaving the Wittmers alone on the island.
The Baroness and her lover were never found and it was never proven that Ritter was murdered. In 2014, a film was made about the tragic story of the islanders.
Japanese marine geologist Masaaki Kimura is convinced that the massive stone structures in the water off the island of Yonaguni Jima are the remains of an ancient Japanese city, probably submerged during an earthquake. Kimura, who has been investigating the structures for many years, believes that the underwater city could be up to 5,000 years old.
However, not everyone is convinced that the structures are man-made. Some, like geologist Robert Schoch, believe that tectonic activity provides a perfectly reasonable explanation for the rectangular stone ridges, since sandstone tends “to break along planes and give you these very straight edges, particularly in an area with lots of faults.” And in spite of Kimura’s work, the Japanese government is not interested in declaring the area a heritage site or investing in further research.
But Kimura isn’t giving up on his theory, insisting that faces and animals can be discerned carved into the stones. Kimura believes that at least 10 of the underwater structures resemble human buildings, including temples, arches, and even a castle. To support his theory, Kimura points to the fact that history’s largest recorded tsunami occurred in the area in 1771, suggesting that a similar event could have happened in prehistory. Some have even speculated that Yonaguni Jima might be the fabled site of Mu, an Atlantis-like land that supposedly vanished beneath the waves thousands of years ago.
Islanders in the Maldives are convinced they saw the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 fly overhead before it disappeared. According to residents of Kudahuvadhoo, a jumbo jet flying at a low altitude passed over the island at around six in the morning. Although some have suggested it might have been a different aircraft, the islanders insist that they know what seaplanes look like and that the plane they saw that morning was definitely a jet like MH370.
Adding to the mystery, a strange object apparently washed up on a local beach shortly after the plane went missing. Thinking it might be an explosive, residents immediately notified the police, who called in the local defense force. The military confirmed that the object was not any type of explosive but declined to comment further on just what it might be. However, a local newspaper reported claims that it could be a fire suppression bottle from MH370.
So far, nothing has come of the reports, since investigators insist that MH370 couldn’t have been anywhere near the Maldives. In April, aviation technology expert Andre Milne began trying to raise funds to search for debris near the islands.
5The Chase Vault
In 1808, the sad death of baby Mary Chase marked the start of the legends surrounding the Chase family tomb in sunny Barbados. The tiny baby’s body was placed in a metal coffin in the vault. A mere four years later, the family suffered another loss when young Dorcas Chase committed suicide by starvation. A month later, the father of the two girls, Colonel Chase, died as well.
As a couple of pallbearers carried the Colonel’s coffin into the crypt, they noticed something strange. Mary’s coffin was standing upright in a corner. Thinking that somebody had broken into the tomb, the men returned the casket to its rightful place and made sure the tomb was securely locked.
No one thought any more of the incident until four years later, when the crypt was opened for another funeral and the mourners were shocked to find that none of the coffins were in their original places. Stories about terrifying noises emanating from the crypt and horses drowning themselves began making the rounds. Three years later, the crypt was opened again, revealing that the coffins had been thrown about violently. The governor, Lord Combermere, decided that he was going to get to the bottom of these incidents and pressed his signet ring into the wet cement after the crypt was sealed. Additionally, he poured sand all over the floor in order to identify any footprints.
In 1820, the crypt was opened for the last time, revealing the coffin of Colonel Chase leaning against the door and the others haphazardly strewn about. The sand on the floor was undisturbed. The coffins were then removed from the crypt and reburied in other parts of the cemetery. Since then, it has been speculated that floodwater might have risen up through the limestone floor, causing the coffins to float around until the waters receded. Since the theory cannot be formally proven, the moving coffins remain a mystery.
4The Marieta Islands
On Mexico’s Pacific Coast, the indigenous Huichol people still follow the ancient rituals of Father Sun and Mother Ocean. The Huichol believe that these rituals ensure balance between the gods, who join together on the uninhabited Marieta Islands, where the sea meets the setting Sun.
But the real mystery of the islands lies in the center of Isla Redonda, where a perfectly round hidden beach can be found, completely concealed from the sea, like the hole in the middle of a donut. According to experts, such a beach is unheard of in a volcanic island. Interestingly, before the islands were made a protected area at the urging of Jacques Cousteau, they were used for military testing. As a result, it has been speculated that the beach might have been formed by a particularly powerful explosion on the island.
Since no one can be certain whether the beach was formed through erosion or with the help of a bomb, it remains a strange and mysterious geological feature.
3 George’s Island
George’s Island was a happy place until 1876. Situated off the coast of Labrador, the island was a favored haunt of fishermen and holiday makers. Then, tragedy struck. The schooner Walrus was blown toward the island by a storm. Realizing that the ship would founder on the rocks, the captain ordered his men into the lifeboat, hoping to make it to safety on shore. Unfortunately, all but one crew member apparently drowned after the boat struck a rock and capsized.
At least, that was the story the survivor told the fishermen who eventually rescued him. But when a different group of fisherman landed on George’s later in the year, they were shocked to stumble upon the mutilated bodies of three men. All three were missing their heads. Further inland, the fishermen found another body, this time with multiple axe wounds to the head. They also found two tents, apparently built from a ship’s sail.
The fishermen’s employer later visited the island to bury the bodies. He discovered some badly decayed papers and a photograph of an unknown woman but no other clues. It was assumed that the dead men were the Walrus‘s captain and crew, murdered by the only survivor, who had already disappeared into the wilds of Labrador, never to be seen again.
In 2012, the holiday of a lifetime turned tragic for Canadian sisters Audrey and Noemi Belanger when their bodies were found in their hotel room on Thailand’s Phi Phi Island. Their autopsies revealed that both women had extremely high levels of the insecticide DEET in their system. Reports soon emerged alleging DEET was being used in a drink called 4×100, which normally included cough syrup and kratom leaf extract.
However, Carl Belanger refused to believe that his daughters would knowingly drink something that hazardous. The distraught father publicly accused the Thai government and hotel staff of covering up the circumstances surrounding their deaths. He pointed out that the government had claimed his daughters’ bodies were found 12 hours after death, whereas the evidence indicated that it had actually been well over 48 hours.
Carl Belanger also pressed for investigators to follow up on video footage showing a man entering a hotel room with Audrey and Noemi. It was believed that two Portuguese men might have information about the deaths, but they were allowed to leave Thailand without being questioned by police. To this day, it is a mystery how and why the two sisters ingested the insecticide found in their bodies.
1The Brazilian Atlantis
The legendary lost continent of Atlantis has captured the imagination of generations of explorers, with many wishing they could make a discovery that would turn myth into reality. In 2013, it seemed that a group of Brazilian geologists might have done just that.
Working with Japanese scientists, the Brazilians announced that they had found granite around 2,500 meters (8,000 ft) underwater. Since, granite is only formed on land, the discovery pointed to the existence of an ancient continent now lying submerged on the ocean floor. Further supporting the theory was the discovery of quartz deposits, which also only form on land. According to the researchers, the granite found resembled a cliff and they expect to make further discoveries confirming the existence of the submerged continent.
That hasn’t happened yet, so the exact cause of the granite in the ocean remains a mystery. Some have even speculated that the researchers might just have stumbled upon ballast dumped from a ship, although admittedly the odds of that happening in the middle of the vast ocean are astronomical. While the potential new continent is unlikely to be the mythical Atlantis, it might be the closest we get.
Estelle lives in Gauteng, South Africa. She would love to visit some of the islands on this list.