Posted on: September 10, 2014

I came across the story of Isola La Gaiola when a series of newspapers ran articles on it’s supposed curse very recently. Situated close to coast of Naples, bathed in gorgeous Italian sunshine, you would think this place would be an ideal Mediterranean retreat for some rich tycoon, reclusive celebrity, or Lottery winner. And yet the island has been abandoned for many years now. No one dares live on it, for the simple reason that every past owner has suffered some terrible misfortune. Grim tales of suicide, murder, illness and financial ruin dog this intriguing place.

Isola La Gaiola is in fact two small rocky islands linked by a footbridge. Buildings stand decaying amidst it’s cobbled streets, and religious relics lay dotted around. It was first inhabited at the beginning of the 19th century by a hermit nicknamed “The Wizard”, who lived largely on the generosity of local fishermen. In Napoleonic times the island was used as a defence stronghold. Sometime in the 19th century a large villa was built, which still stands, white and crumbling, in its distinctive terracotta courtyard. The dark tales of the curse first begin in the 1920s when it’s owner, Hans Braun, was found murdered. Shortly afterwards his wife drowned in the sea around the islands.

From then on no owner was to know peace on the island. The roll-call of doom which met every owner thereafter is truly depressing. The next owner, Otto Grunback, suffered a fatal heart-attack on the island. The next owner committed suicide. Baron Karl Paul Langheim ended up in total financial ruin. Gianni Agnelli, the head of Fiat, lost his only son to suicide. Then his nephew Umbert, whom he was grooming to take over from him, died from a rare form of cancer at the age of 33.

The eccentric tycoon, John Paul Getty, (a man so famously mean he installed a pay-phone in his English mansion, for the use of guests), bought the island, and his grandson, John Paul Getty III, was kidnapped soon afterwards. Getty suspected the teenage boy was playing a hoax on him and refused to pay the ransom demand. Soon afterwards the kidnappers sent an envelope to Getty containing a lock of the boy’s hair as proof … along with one of his ears. Getty refused to pay the initial demands of the kidnappers, but did eventually concede to pay $2.2 million, as that would be tax deductible! His grandson was released. When he rang his grandfather to thank him for paying the ransom (eventually), it is said that Getty refused to come to the telephone.

John Paul Getty III was a truly tragic figure. He became a drug addict, because of the trauma caused by the kidnapping, and as a consequence suffered a stroke in 1981, which left him blind, paralysed and unable to speak, until he died in 2011.

The last owner of the island was jailed when his insurance company folded in 1978. Since then the island has lay abandoned, and no one seems to have been tempted to take it on. It is in the care of the local region. Can a place be truly cursed though? One could argue that with huge amounts of money comes huge amounts of stress. Great wealth does indeed attract such dire risks as heart-attacks, murder, suicide, financial ruin, and kidnapping. And Getty for instance would have been a pretty strange cove, even if he hadn’t bought the island.

Tales of curses can hit powerful, rich families for instance. The most famous being that of the Kennedy clan in the United States. You can also have cursed objects, such as the Hope Diamond, and cursed cars are very common, such as the one James Dean was driving when he was killed, and the car in which the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were travelling in when they were assassinated, thus sparking the outbreak of World War One. There are even cursed films (usually horror films such as ‘The Exorcist’, ‘The Amityville Horror’, ‘Poltergeist’, and ‘The Omen’), in which crew and actors have been said to suffer more than their fair share of calamity and misfortune.

Cursed houses are far from uncommon. I remember being told about a big house just outside the village where I grew up, where people swore that every owner had suffered misfortune in one way or another, and spoke of it as “an unlucky house”. Again, we come back to the rub of the matter: is it the place, the object, or the family that are cursed, or simply that having a lot of money can automatically bring its own curses? Would the Isola la Gaiola have its forbidding reputation if only ordinary people had ever lived there? Now there’s a thought …



Pictures of Isola La Gaiola are truly stunning.

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