Lokrum Island (photograph by Eric Hossinger)
From Hawaii to the Mediterranean, and from the lakes of Canada down to the tropics of Malaysia; these islands are some of the most beautiful destinations in the world. However, our focus here is not on beaches. Rather, we'll be investigating the tales of vengeance and murder that lurk behind the palm trees, the restless ghosts that haunt the golden sands.
Join us as we take a look at seven cursed islands from around the world.
Italy’s "Isola della Gaiola" lies just off the coast of Naples, and is formed from two small, scenic islets. The location was held in high regard by the ancient Romans, who built a temple to Venus on the smaller of the two islets — known then as “Euplea.”
The larger islet holds a villa, abandoned now, while the smaller is scattered with Roman-era ruins. There are stories that Virgil, the legendary poet and reputed magician, spent some years here teaching his students on Gaiola Island.
From the early 19th century, there are stories about a hermit who lived on Gaiola Island, or, as he was known then, the “Wizard.” It was not long after this that the present-day villa was constructed on the larger of the two islets, to be connected to its twin by way of a narrow bridge.
Gaiola Island, Naples, Italy (photograph by Baku)
The island’s curse doesn’t get mentioned until later, when a story emerged to explain the premature deaths suffered by so many of the island’s subsequent inhabitants.
In the 1920s, the villa on Gaiola Island was owned by the Swiss businessman Hans Braun. He was later found murdered on the island, his body wrapped up in a rug. Not long after, his wife drowned in the sea. The next owner was German Otto Grunback who was taken by a heart attack while living on the island. Maurice-Yves Sandoz, another owner, would later commit suicide in a Swiss mental hospital. The next, a German industrialist by the name of Baron Karl Paul Langheim, was plunged into economic ruin and disaster.
Years later, the head of Fiat, Gianni Agnelli, would buy the island villa. Not long after, his only son committed suicide, leaving him with no heir. When he began grooming his nephew Umberto Agnelli to take over the company, Umberto contracted a rare form of cancer and died at the age of 33. The multi-billionaire Paul Getty was the next to buy the island, just a little while before his grandson was kidnapped. The last investor to attempt to tame Gaiola was Gianpasquale Grappone... who ended up being incarcerated when his insurance company collapsed.
Nowadays, the villa on Gaiola Island remains uninhabited as it slowly falls into ruin.
The linked islands, with Gaiola on the right (via Google Maps)
Hawaii, United States
The Palmyra Atoll is located roughly 1,000 miles south of Hawaii, and it has no permanent human population. On August 30, 1974 however, it was the site of at least one grisly murder.
Palmyra North Beach, Hawaii (photograph by Clarkma5)
Eleanor “Muff” Graham and her husband Malcolm decided to camp on one of the islands as they were yachting around the Pacific. Here they encountered ex-convict Buck Duane Walker, who was sailing through the atoll that summer with his girlfriend Stephanie Stearns.
On August 30, the Grahams invited their neighbors aboard their own yacht, the “Sea Wind,” for dinner. The two guests arrived, and later claimed to have found the boat empty — the Graham couple seemed to be still out on a fishing trip. Waiting until the morning, Walker and Stearns eventually suspected that the Grahams had met with an accident, and they sailed the yacht back to Hawaii.
Eleanor Graham’s body was discovered in 1981 when a human skull washed up on a beach near the site of the supposed fishing accident. The rest of her bones were discovered inside an aluminum box along the coast, and forensic tests suggest that she was beaten over the head, dismembered, and had her face burnt using a welding torch.
In 1985, Buck Duane Walker was found guilty of the murder of Muff Graham. The body of Malcolm Graham III however, has never been found.
Palmyra Atoll from the air (photograph by Erik Oberg)
On this quiet, peaceful atoll, the gruesome events of that night were enough to add fresh fuel to myths of a curse that had long been attached to the island. It’s not uncommon to hear Pacific travelers speak of the “Palmyra curse,” and dating back to WWII there have been reports of boats and aircraft disappearing in the area around the Palmyra Atoll. Testifying at the trial of Buck Duane Walker, the geologist Norman Sanders commented:
“Palmyra is one of the last uninhabited islands in the Pacific. The island is a very threatening place. It is a hostile place.”
A shipwreck off the coast of Palmyra Atoll (via USFWS Pacific)
The Langkawi Islands off the coast of Malaysia are where verdant rain forests, scenic waterfalls, and white sand beaches belie a sordid tale of jealousy, murder, and supernatural vengeance.
Langkawi island hopping (photograph by Emran Kassim)
Despite lush, tropical forests that are believed to have existed for as long as 450 million years, Langkawi has only recently become a popular tourist destination with the construction of their first duty free port in the late 1980s.
Before that, these islands were largely avoided by locals who feared their curse. Legend has it that a beautiful island girl called Mahsuri, married to the warrior known as Wan Darus, had once lived on the island. During the time of the Burmese-Siamese War (towards the end of the 18th century), Wan Darus was called away — and some time later, Mahsuri offered shelter to a handsome traveller named Deraman.
Though her offer was made out of pure generosity, other women on the island grew jealous of Mahsuri’s handsome visitor — and stories soon spread about an alleged affair. When one day their jealousy grew to a peak, Mahsuri’s neighbors attacked her, stabbing the girl to death in a rice field.
Cenang Island, Langkawi, Malaysia (photograph by Loke Seng Hon)
According to the story, Mahsuri placed a curse on the island as she lay dying in that field; she vowed that the island would be destroyed, and see no prosperity for a full seven generations. Not long after that, more and more of the superstitious islanders began to leave and the Langkawi Islands were largely abandoned for decades. It is only now, more than seven generations after the supposed murder, that locals — and tourists — are returning to the islands once more.
photograph by Marc van der Chijs
Peche Island sits on the Canadian side of the Detroit River, and despite being located just alongside urban Detroit, Michigan, it remains uninhabited to this day. The reason? Well, one of the more popular local explanations for the lack of life on the island is a century-old curse.
A local myth tells of the formation of Peche Island: it was created from the drifting body of a Prophet, the Keeper of the Gates of the Lakes, who was cast into the waters of Lake Huron by the warring winds.
Peche Island, Canada (photograph by Angela Anderson-Cobb)
The story of the curse arrived much later. Around the turn of the 19th century, a French Canadian family by the name of Laforet established a homestead on the island. By 1883, they were involved in a property feud with a businessman, grocer, and whiskey distiller by the name of Hiram Walker.
According to the surviving Laforet descendants, in the fall of 1883 a group of Walker men forced their way into the home of the heiress Rosalie Laforet, forcing her to sign over the property deed to Hiram Walker. “They threw $300 on the table and told Rosalie to be out by spring of 1883,” wrote a Laforet family source.
Over the following months, there came attacks on the island, and the winter stores were ruined. Eventually the Laforet family was forced to depart their home in despair. As she left Peche Island, it is said that Rosalie Laforet, who was familiar with "the ways of the natives," placed a curse upon the land: “No one will ever do anything with the island!” she is said to have cried.
The Walkers moved in soon enough, building a vast mansion reported to have a total of 40 (or by some accounts, 54) rooms, an orchard, a carriage house, and a golf course.
The Walker triumph, however, was short lived.
West Peche Island beach (photograph by Jodelli)
The lawyer son Willis Walker died not long after he had handled the purchase, at the age of only 28. Hiram Walker himself suffered a stroke, before passing away in 1899. Another son, Edward Chandler Walker, died at a young age in 1915. By 1926, when prohibition saw an end to the family distillery business, the Walker dynasty had more or less faded from history.
In 1929, the Walker mansion burned to the ground, and today the island remains desolate and uninhabited save visiting boaters – in exactly the same state that it was when Rosalie Laforet uttered the words of her curse.
Foundation of the Walker mansion on Peche Island in 2012 (photograph by jodelli/Flickr user)
Lokrum is one of a series of beautiful islands off the coast of Croatia. Just 2,000 feet from the port of Dubrovnik, it has long been inhabited, with recorded mentions dating back as early as the 11th century, when Lokrum was the site of a Benedictine abbey and monastery. The monks took advantage of the favorable climate by harvesting exotic fruits on the island. This gave birth to its name, "Lokrum," coming from the Latin "acrumen," meaning a sour fruit.
Lokrum Island, Dubrovnik, Croatia (photograph by Bracodbk)
Stories about the island’s history vary, though one popular telling has it that Lokrum was once struck by widespread fires. The locals prayed to Saint Benedict, vowing to build a monastery if their homes were saved. According to the legend, their prayers were answered by heavy rain, which extinguished the fires, and so the abbey and monastery were built.
When the French came in 1798, the monks were ordered off the island, and as the last Benedictines left in 1808, they supposedly held a mass during which the island was cursed. By 1859, the island was the property of the Habsburgs, and Archduke Maximilian Ferdinand had a regal mansion and botanical gardens constructed on Lokrum. When he later became Emperor of Mexico, and was executed not long after, locals were quick to blame it on the curse.
Lokrum Cove (photograph by Jennifer Boyer)
Even today, the people of Dubrovnik are delighted to share tales of fishing boats swallowed by the sea, or of pleasure seekers who visited Lokrum Island overnight... never to be seen again.
View of Lokrum Island from Dubrovnik (photograph by Col Ford and Natasha de Vere)
The South Pacific has long been home to stories of witch doctors and their spells, but few such stories have had such widespread effect as the "Curse of the Cook Islands."
In 1911, the New Zealander William John Wigmore leased a plot of land from the Cook Islander More Uriatua. More decided later that he wanted his land back, and refused to give his approval to the intended copra plantation. An argument ensued, and Wigmore shot More dead. Wigmore was deported, and in 1913 More's daughter, Metua A More, is said to have placed a curse on the island.
Rarotonga Beach, Cook Islands, New Zealand (photograph by Tristanb)
The exact terms of that curse stated that any business venture conducted at the plot of land known as Vaimaanga would be fated to ruin. It seemed to work, too. In the 1950s and 60s, plans to construct a commercial citrus orchard fell flat on their face, as did a proposed herb plantation and a later pineapple growing business.
In the late 1980s the Sheraton hotel chain bought the land, and invested more than $60 million into an intended holiday resort. The project was plagued by setbacks though, dogged by one failure after another, until a point where an estimated $120 million had been pumped into the doomed endeavor.
On May 25, 1990, a full 77 years after the initial curse was placed, Metua’s grandson More Rua returned to the spot in order to reinforce the curse. Dressed in the Kakau and Rakei Taunga, the ceremonial dress of a Cook Island high priest, Rua conducted the ritual armed with a war spear.
Avarua Rarotonga, Cook Islands (photograph by David Holt)
With the base of his spear, Rua struck a commemorative plaque that celebrated the commencement of the Sheraton hotel project. Supposedly the rock shattered, and the cracks spread deep down into the earth beneath the building site.
In 1993, with 80% of the Sheraton project finished, the construction ground to a final halt. Before long, squatters began occupying the concrete shell while a gradual process of irreversible decay set in. Now the Sheraton resort — designed to be a palatial 200-room holiday complex — lies trashed and abandoned in this island paradise.
Sunset on the Cook Islands (photograph by Rchard/Flickr user)
Connecticut, United States
The first of the three was placed in 1639 by a local Paugusset chief. The island had been considered spiritually significant by local tribes, and when disputes arose between the Paugusset and the new settlers of the land, the retreating chief placed a curse on the island.
Charles Island at Silver Sands State Park (photograph by Andrew K.)
Another curse would be placed on the Charles Island soon after, by none other than the notorious pirate Captain Kidd. It was during his last great voyage that Kidd stepped foot on the island, and there are suggestions that the Scots sea dog may well have hidden some of his bounty here in Connecticut. In those stories, it’s reported that Kidd placed a curse on the island so that anyone who should disturb his buried treasure would be struck with certain death.
A third curse on the Charles Island comes courtesy of a Mexican emperor, the 16th century Emperor Guatmozin, to be exact. The legend goes that Guatmozin was captured and tortured by Cortez’s soldiers, as they pressed him for the location of the hidden treasures of the Aztecs. He never gave it up, but in 1721, a group of Connecticut sailors supposedly stumbled across a treasure horde hidden in a Mexican cave.
photograph by Kenneth Casper
Naturally, the brave sailors brought their loot back home. However, as one and then another of their crew were stricken by a series of bizarre and fatal accidents, the last remaining sailor decided to ditch the treasure. He buried the cache of Aztec gold — along with its curse — on the Charles Island, where some say it remains to this day.
For even more strange and wondrous tales of water-locked locales, view more islands on Atlas Obscura >