Brent Swancer July 29, 2021
Some mysterious disappearances and deaths are odder than others. Sometimes there is a perfect storm of weirdness brewing, and it all leads the case to be held up high as a truly bizarre anomaly. Back in 1929 there was just such a case, which involves the trifecta of a strange occultist, a mysterious island, and bizarre clues that have been unsolved to this day.
Born in Cairo, Egypt in 1897, Netta Fornario was born to an English mother and an Italian father, and spent her first years in Italy before moving to London after the death of her mother in 1898, being put in the care of her maternal grandfather, a tea dealer by the name of Thomas Pratt Ling. As she grew older, Netta got caught up in the occult, supernatural, and spiritualism, which was all the rage at the time in London, going on to become a member of an offshoot of the occult movement the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, called the Alpha et Omega Temple and she would also become an officer in a Co-Masonry lodge in West London, which was a freemason lodge accepting both men and women. With a deep fascination with occult rituals, demons, fairies, and magical healing practices, Netta would perhaps be labelled as already quite odd by many people’s standards, but her life was about to take a deep turn into the bizarre, and a weird unsolved mystery.
In the summer of 1929, Netta suddenly and without explanation left her home in London and made a journey out to the small, quiet Scottish island of Iona. Lying about 1 mile from the coast of Mull, Iona is a tiny speck of rock, just 1 mile wide and 4 miles long, yet it has a long history as a place of great magic and spiritual power, used for ceremonies and ritualistic purposes since the ancient Celts and Christians, and thought to be the realm of fairies and other supernatural creatures. It is very probable that the island’s mystical reputation had attracted Netta to this wind slashed place surrounded by stormy seas, but since she did not tell anyone back home of her intentions it is hard to say. Once on the island, which back then only held a population of less than 200, she took up lodgings with a local named Mrs. MacRae, and since she had packed a large amount of her belongings, it was clear that she had intended to stay on the island for quite some time. Upon arriving and settling into her new abode, she promptly went about freaking everyone out with a series of odd and bizarre behavior.
She began to wander around the island aimlessly during the day trying to contact the “spirits” she believed to be living there, and by night she would go into deep trances, sometimes for days on end, from which she would come out of claiming that she had received communications from the spirit world. Indeed, she often told of being contacted by spirits telepathically, and her clothing was also eccentric, consisting of a tunic and long flowing cape. Netta seemed to show an intense interest in the ancient Christian sites around the island, visiting as many as she could during her long, meandering hikes, and before long she was well-known around the island as being an eccentric weirdo. As the days went by, the increasingly spooked Mrs. McRae also claimed that she had witnessed odd phenomena orbiting her houseguest, such as one incident in which Netta’s jewelry went from silver to a dark black in color overnight for no apparent reason, and she also spied Netta carrying out arcane rituals on more than one occasion.
This went on until autumn, when Netta sent a cryptic message to her housekeeper in London stating that she had a “terrible case of healing” that she felt she had to perform, and that she would be gone for longer than expected. However, on November 17, she flew into a panicked frenzy and began frantically packing her bags to leave. When Mrs. MacRae asked her what was wrong, Netta allegedly claimed that she was under severe telepathic assault and had to return to London at once. When Mrs. MacRae calmly told the distraught woman that there was no boat running to the mainland that day, Netta apparently became enraged and locked herself in her room. Oddly, she would emerge a short time later in a much calmer state and proclaim that she had decided to stay on the island after all, before going out for one of her walks. She would never return.
When she failed to come back that evening, her room was searched to find that she had left all of her belongings behind, her clothes were neatly folded, her bed made, as if she would come back home at any minute. A search was launched the following day, yet despite the island’s small size it would take 2 days to finally find Netta dead upon a “fairy mound,” or a magical mound or hill thought to be a home for fairies, near Loch Staonaig. The crime scene and state of the body were odd to say the least. A large cross had been etched into the turf on the ground with an ornamental knife that was found lying nearby, upon which Netta’s body was sprawled out, dressed in nothing but a thin black cloak. The body itself was covered with myriad scratches and the soles of her bare feet feet were bloody and raw, perhaps because she had been frantically running over rough, treacherous ground. A further examination of the body did not provide any more answers and the coroner was not able to ascertain just how or when she had died, finally settling on the explanation that she must have died of a combination of exhaustion, heart failure, and hypothermia considering the frigid temperatures and the fact that she had not been dressed for the cold. The police could find no other clues, although one article in the Oban Times would claim that “a number of letters of ‘strange character’ were also taken by the police, who passed them on to the Procurator-Fiscal for ‘consideration.” It is unknown what these letters contained or what connection they have to the case.
Not everyone thought the case was so closed. Fellow members of her occult order would disagree with the official cause of death and claim that she had been killed by a potent psychic attack from far away. There is also the question of why that cross had been carved and why she just happened to have been found on a fairy mound. Was there some supernatural element to any of this? The island is very small, with only a few residents who all know each other, and no one was found to be a suspect, leaving everyone wondering who could have done such a thing. In the end we are left to wonder. What happened to Netta Fornario? Why was she out there running around barefoot with merely a thin cloak on such a cold night? What had caused the scratches on her body and why had her feet been so torn up? Had she been running from someone or something? What was the reason for her incredibly odd behavior upon reaching Iona and what significance do the mysterious letters found in her room have? It remains a mystery to this day.