The Sinister Series of Accidents on La Gaiola


Three famous islands lie in the Gulf of Naples: Capri in the south, Ischia and Procida in the north. All three are popular tourist destinations and known far beyond Italy, but none of them has such an eventful history as a tiny island just off the coast of Naples: La Gaiola.


Strictly speaking, La Gaiola is a double island consisting of two rocky platforms of a few square metres, connected by a narrow stone footbridge. It is said that the island was once part of the nearby mainland. During the Roman Empire, it is said to have been separated from the coast by order of General Lucullus and given the name “Euplea.” In honour of the Roman goddess Venus Euplea, a temple was built on the rock, but today there is nothing left of it.

In the 19th century, the double island was used as a base to protect the Gulf of Naples from attacks from the sea. In the first half of the 19th century, La Gaiola was first inhabited for some time by a hermit called the "sorcerer", who lived off the alms of the fishermen. At the end of the 19th century, an Italian politician had the magnificent villa built that still stands on La Gaiola today. Among others, the writer Norman Douglas is said to have been the temporary owner of the island with the villa on it.


Up to this point, things seem largely harmless, except for the strange "sorcerer", about whom, however, nothing more is known. The horror began in the first half of the 20th century. According to the stories, the first victim was a Swiss man named Hans Braun, who owned the island around 1920, and was found dead in his villa, wrapped in a carpet. Shortly afterwards, his widow is said to have drowned herself in the sea in deep mourning. The next owner, a German perfume dealer named Otto Grunback, died of a heart attack shortly after acquiring the island.

Other sources say that the first victim was Elena von Parish, a German woman. When she returned to the island on a stormy night in 1926 with the cable car that had been built in the same year, the cable broke loose, and the woman was lost forever in the sea. Hans Praun and Otto Grumbach - yes, even the names differ in this version - who had hosted Elena von Parish on the island, could not get over the tragic incident. They chose suicide, one in the villa, the other a few years later in Germany.


The subsequent owners of La Gaiola were not blessed by luck either: Maurice Sandoz, Swiss writer and son of entrepreneur Edouard Sandoz, lived on the island in the 1950s. Convinced he would go bankrupt, he eventually ended up in a psychiatric clinic in Switzerland, where he took his own life in 1958. The next owner was a German steel industrialist named Paul Karl Langheim, who allegedly led such a dissolute life on La Gaiola that he was financially ruined.