CLOSE

6 Uninhabited and Mysterious Islands With Bizarre Pasts

Getting away from it all on a deserted island sounds like a wonderful way to live, doesn’t it? But then again, there are some islands you can’t live on, some you aren’t allowed to visit, and some that have terrifying pasts that may give you nightmares—even by reading about them.

1. Daksa

The island of Daksa in the Adriatic Sea near Dubrovnik, Croatia, was the home of the Franciscan Monastery of St. Sabina from 1281 CE to the 19th century. The small island also has a villa and an ancient lighthouse, and it was little used after the monastery closed, and even less so after what happened in 1944. At the height of World War II, Partisans came to Dubrovnik and rounded up 53 men suspected of being Nazi sympathizers, including the mayor of Dubrovnik and the local parish priest. They were never seen alive again. They were taken to Daksa and executed without trial.  

In 2009, two mass graves were unearthed on the island. DNA samples were taken from the victims of the Daksa Massacre, and some were identified. The remains finally received a proper burial in 2010, 66 years after they were executed. But there are tales of the ghosts of the victims haunting the island, still crying out for justice. The little island is for sale, and has been for several years—without any takers.

2. Clipperton Island

Clipperton Island is a coral atoll south of Mexico and west of Guatemala in the Pacific. It was first claimed by the French, then Americans, who mined it for guano. Mexico took possession in 1897, and allowed a British company to mine guano there. Around 1910, Mexico sent 13 soldiers to guard the island. They were joined by their wives and some servants, and soon children were born. Another island resident was a reclusive lighthouse keeper named Victoriano Álvarez. In 1914, supply ships stopped coming due to the Mexican Civil War, and malnutrition set in. The soldiers living on the island started to die off, until only three of the wives and their children remained. Victoriano Álvarez, the lighthouse keeper, also survived.

Álvarez seized control of the survivors and declared himself king of the island. He spent the next few years terrorizing the women and children of Clipperton Island, until they banded together to kill him. In 1917, the last surviving islanders, three women and eight malnourished children, were rescued and evacuated by an American ship. Ownership of the island reverted to France, which manned a lighthouse on Clipperton Island, but after World War II it was completely abandoned. There are now only occasional scientific expeditions to the atoll.

3. North Brother Island

North Brother Island in the East River in New York City is a protected nesting area, and therefore off-limits to the public. The island has quite a lurid history, spanning 130 years. Riverside Hospital opened a quarantine facility for smallpox patients on the 20-acre island in 1885. The hospital later took in patients with other communicable diseases, like typhoid. It was here that Typhoid Mary was housed involuntarily for two decades until her death in 1938.

The hospital closed in 1942, but the buildings were used for veterans' housing for a while, and then as a rehab center for young drug addicts, until corruption, abuse, and rights violations forced the facility to close for good in 1963. The island was purchased by the City of New York in 2007. The buildings still stand in their ruined state, and are said to be haunted by the many who died or suffered there.

4. Lazzaretto Nuovo

Lazzaretto Nuovo is an island situated at the entrance of the lagoon that envelops Venice, Italy. It was a monastery in medieval times, then in 1468 was designated as a quarantine area for ships approaching Venice, to protect the city from the plague. This continued until the 18th century, when the quarantine facilities were abandoned, and Lazzaretto Nuovo became a military base. The Italian Army abandoned the site in 1975, and it suffered years of neglect. Community efforts have since turned it into a cultural museum site, now supported by the Italian Ministry of Arts and Culture. The island is currently open for tourism.

5. Ernst Thälmann Island

Ernst Thälmann Island is a tiny piece of land located in the Gulf of Cazones off the coast of Cuba. It has always been uninhabited, and is casually set aside to remain in a pristine condition. It has a great deal of biodiversity, and includes a healthy reef. The island’s historical name was Cayo Blanco del Sur until 1972, when Fidel Castro hosted a state visit for East German leader Erich Honecker. Castro’s welcome included a renaming of the island in honor of Ernst Thälmann, who was a German communist revolutionary executed by the Gestapo in 1944. Castro ceremonially handed the island over to the German Democratic Republic, though the territory was never legally given away. A bust of Thälmann was erected on the island, and stood there alone until it was toppled by hurricane Mitch in 1998.

Ernst Thälmann Island is the center of a "war" between the Republic of Molossia, a micronation which consists of one household in Nevada, and East Germany, which ceased to exist in 1990. The rationale is that since Castro gave the island to East Germany in 1972, and the territory was not mentioned in the documents that dissolved East Germany, the island is the last remaining part of the German Democratic Republic. This “war” has been going on since 1983.

6. Palmyra Atoll

Located 1000 miles south of Hawaii, Palmyra Atoll is a territory owned by the United States, and it is officially uninhabited (though a handful of "non-occupants" working for The Nature Conservancy or the U.S. government temporarily inhabit the island). The U.S. military built an airstrip there during World War II, which has fallen into disrepair, although it is still used for infrequent supply runs. The atoll is now administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife agency, with the exception of Cooper Island, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy.

The atoll was formed by a growing reef that caused quite a few shipwrecks, one in which resulted in a rumored cache of gold on the land. It is said to be haunted by the sailors who died there, and it was also the setting for a sensational double murder in 1974 that became the basis for the novel and then miniseries called And the Sea Will Tell.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Food
8 Surprising Uses for Peeps
iStock
iStock

You can eat marshmallow Peeps, and you can put them in someone's Easter basket. But that's just the beginning of what you can do with those small blobs of sugary goodness. Branch out and use your Peeps in new ways this year.

1. S'MORES

Peeps are marshmallows, and can be toasted over a campfire just like their plain, non-sugar-coated brothers—which means you can make classic S'mores out of them. Best of all: You don't even need a campfire to do it. Serious Eats has a recipe for them that they call S'meeps, which only requires that you pop them in the oven for a short time. If you're a Peeps purist, forget the graham crackers and chocolate and enjoy the unique taste of campfire-toasted Peeps all by themselves.

2. WREATHS

Vanessa Brady at Tried & True has made several Peeps wreaths that are sure to inspire you to do the same. (She even has a tutorial to get you started.)

3. PEEPS-KABOBS

If you want to trick a kid into eating a fruit salad, just serve it up on a stick—with a marshmallow Peep in the middle. Blogger Melodramatic Mom made these for an irresistible after-school snack for her kids.

4. ART SUPPLIES

With their consistent shape and size, and variety of bright colors, Peeps can be used as pixels for larger artworks. Ang Taylor made this Mario jumping a Piranha Plant out of marshmallow chicks and bunnies. To be honest, there are many ways Peeps can be used as an art medium, as we've seen many times before (like in this collection of Peeps dioramas).

5. CAKE TOPPERS

Peeps chicks and bunnies are ready-made decorations that will easily stick to cake frosting and make for desserts that are both seasonal and colorful. If you need a recipe, check out this one for a Marbled Cake with Peeps and M&Ms. See some more cake decorating tips here.

6. PEEPS POPS

There's no danger of misshapen cake pops or drippy lollipops when you start with a Peep on a stick. Michelle from Sugar Swings made these candy pops out of marshmallow Peeps, and using Peeps left her plenty of time to decorate them as Star Wars characters. Michelle has plenty of other Peeps pops ideas you can try out, too.

7. PEEPS KRISPIES TREATS

We've seen that Peeps can be substituted for marshmallows in recipes, but remember that Peeps come in a variety of colors and can be bought in small batches. That makes them really useful for coloring separate portions of your Rice Krispies treat recipe. Kristen at Yellowblissroad has a recipe for Layered Peeps Crispy Treats, and a video of the process at Facebook.

8. DIORAMAS

Using Peeps as characters in a diorama, where you can let your imagination run wild, has become somewhat of an Easter tradition. Kate Ramsayer, Helen Fields, and Joanna Church put their heads together to recreate the Broadway musical Hamilton in marshmallow with a diorama that featured the lyrics to the show's opening number.

While The Washington Post has suspended its annual Peeps Diorama Contest after 10 years, other newspapers—including the Twin Cities Pioneer Press and the Washington City Paper—plus local libraries across the country are carrying on the tradition and holding Peeps diorama contests. But you don't have to enter a contest to have fun making a scene with your family.

This piece originally ran in 2017.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
crime
The Bloody Benders, America's First Serial Killer Family
iStock
iStock

In 1870, a group of new families moved to the wind-ravaged plains near what would become Cherryvale, Kansas. They were Spiritualists, a religion that was foreign to the homesteaders already in the new state, but locals tended to accept newcomers without asking too many questions. Two of the families moved away within a year, discouraged by the difficult conditions, and the others kept to themselves. But the Benders were different.

At first, they appeared be a normal family. John Bender, Sr., and his troupe settled near the Great Osage Trail (later known as the Santa Fe Trail) over which innumerable travelers passed on their way to the West. The older Bender, called "Pa," made a claim for 160 acres in what is now Labette County. His son John (sometimes called Thomas) claimed a smaller parcel that adjoined Pa's land, but never lived on or worked it. The Benders also included "Ma" and a daughter named Kate, who advertised herself as Spiritualist medium and healer. Ma and Pa reportedly mostly spoke German, although the younger Benders spoke fluent English.

The group soon built a one-room home equipped with a canvas curtain that divided the space into two areas. The front was a public inn and store, and the family quarters were in the back. Travelers on the trail were welcome to refresh themselves with a meal and resupply their wagons with liquor, tobacco, horse feed, gunpowder, and food. Kate, who was reportedly attractive and outgoing, also drew customers to the inn with her supposed psychic and healing abilities. These men, who usually traveled alone, often spent the night.

The trail was a dangerous place, and there were many reasons for travelers to go missing on their way out West—bandits, accidents, conflicts with Native Americans, disease. But over the course of several years, more and more people went missing around the time they passed through Labette County. It usually took time for such disappearances to draw attention—mail and news traveled slowly—but that all changed in March 1873 after a well-known physician from Independence, Kansas, named Dr. William York seemingly disappeared after getting off the train at Cherryvale. Dr. York had two powerful brothers who were determined to find out what happened to him: Colonel Edward York and Kansas Senator Alexander York.

Colonel York led an investigation in Labette County. When questioned, the Benders denied all knowledge of York's disappearance, although Ma Bender "flew into a violent passion," in the words of The Weekly Kansas Chief, when asked about a report of a woman who had been threatened with pistols and knives at their inn. Ma defended herself by claiming that the visitor had been a witch, a "bad and wicked woman, whom she would kill if ever she came near them again.”

Around the same time, the township held a meeting at the Harmony Grove schoolhouse; both male Benders were in attendance. The townsfolk decided to search every homestead for evidence of the missing—but the weather turned bad, and it was several days before a search could begin.

Eventually, a neighbor noticed starving farm animals wandering the Bender property. When he investigated the inn, he found it empty: The Benders had fled. The volunteers who later arrived for the search noted that the Benders' wagon was gone; little else had been taken from the home besides food and clothing.

Though the house was empty, all else seemed normal—until someone opened a trap door in the floor. What they found beneath it was chilling.

The trap door, located behind the curtain in the Benders' private quarters, led to a foul-smelling cellar, which was drenched with blood. Horrified, the group lifted up the cabin from its foundations and dug into the ground, yet found nothing. The investigation then turned to the garden, which was freshly plowed; neighbors recalled that the garden always seemed freshly plowed.

Working through the night, the volunteers first unearthed York's body. The back of his head had been smashed, and his throat slit. Soon, they found more bodies with similar injuries. Accounts differ about the number of bodies excavated from the site, but totals hover around a dozen. In all, the Benders may have committed as many as 21 murders. Their terrible work garnered the family only a few thousand dollars and some livestock.

Investigators later pieced together the group's modus operandi. It's believed that guests at the inn were urged to sit against the separating curtain, and while dining, would be hit on the head with a hammer from behind the curtain. Their body was then dropped into the trap door to the cellar, where one of the Benders slit their unfortunate victim's throat before stripping the body of its valuables.

One man, a Mr. Wetzell, heard this theory and remembered a time when he had been at the inn and declined to sit in the designated spot near the curtain. His decision had caused Ma Bender to become angry and abusive toward him, and when he saw the male Benders emerge from behind the cloth, he and his companion decided to leave. A traveler named William Pickering told an almost identical story.

The crimes created a sensation in the newspapers, drawing journalists and curiosity-seekers from all over the country. "Altogether the murders are without a parallel," read an account reprinted in The Chicago Tribune. The Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported over 3000 people at the crime scene, with more trains arriving. A book published in Philadelphia soon after the murders were discovered, The Five Fiends, or, The Bender Hotel Horror in Kansas, described how "large numbers of people arrived upon the scene, who had heard of the ... diabolical acts of bloody murder and rapacious robbery. Hardened men were moved to tears." The house in which the murders took place was disassembled and carried away piece by piece by souvenir seekers.

1873 stereographic photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders
An 1873 photo of the excavated grave of a victim of the Bender murders

Senator York offered a $1000 reward for the Benders, and the governor chipped in another $2000, but the reward was never claimed. In the years following the sensational crimes, several women were arrested as Ma or Kate, but none were positively identified. A number of vigilante groups claimed to have found the Benders and murdered them, but none brought back proof. The older Benders were allegedly seen on their way to St. Louis by way of Kansas City, and the younger Benders were supposedly seen heading to an outlaw colony on the border of Texas and New Mexico, but no one knows what ultimately became of them.

Investigators were likely hampered by the group’s deceit: None of the Benders were actually named Bender, and the only members who were likely related were Ma and her daughter Kate. "Pa" was reportedly born John Flickinger in the early 1800s in either Germany or the Netherlands. "Ma" is said to have been born Almira Meik, and her first husband named Griffith, with whom she had 12 children. Ma was married several times before marrying Pa, but each husband before him reportedly died of head wounds. Her daughter Kate was born Eliza Griffith. John Bender, Jr.'s real name was John Gebhardt, and many who knew them in Kansas said he was Kate's husband, not her brother.

Today, nothing remains to indicate the exact location where the Bender house stood, although there is a historical marker at a nearby rest area. Though rumors still surround the case—some say Ma murdered Pa over stolen property soon after they fled, others that Pa committed suicide in Lake Michigan in 1884—after 140 years, we will probably never know what really happened to the Bloody Benders.

A version of this story originally ran in 2013.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios