Inside island where lighthouse keeper driven mad and then raped and executed neighbours

A tiny abandoned atoll in the Pacific ocean that was once fought over by colonists has a lurid history full of murder, madness and bird poo.

Clipperton Island lies around 600 miles off the west coast of Mexico and today is owned by France.

It was once known as Passion Island, after French sailors came across it during the early 18th century, but its current name comes from an English pirate called John Clipperton who fought in the War of Spanish Succession.

He used the 2.3 square miles of land as his hiding place and is even said to have buried treasure there.

The tropical island held rich deposits of guano – accumulated bird and bat poo that can be used as fertiliser – and by 1856 the US had clamed it under the Guano Islands Act.

France also laid claim to Clipperton and in 1897 Mexico sent a warship to annex the island as well as build a colony there.

The British then took their turn in 1906 and set up a Pacific Island Company guano mining settlement in conjunction with Mexico, which resulted in the building of a lighthouse, a railway and barracks.

Operations were over seen by a Mexican captain called Ramón Arnaud, the first and only Governor of Clipperton, who drowned in 1917 while on a raft trying to reach a passing ship.

Britain pulled out, though, in 1908 due to its company being bankrupt and by 1914 there were at least 100 people living on the island, including men women and children.

However, the Mexican Revolution around that time severely cut the land off from vital food supplies and its inhabitants began to die either from scurvy or starvation and were largely left to fend for themselves.

By this time only one man remained, a reclusive Lighthouse keeper called Victoriano Álvarez, and handful of women and children.

A deluded Alvarez soon declared himself king of the island and began an evil reign against the females, enslaving, killing and raping them until only three women and eight children were left.

His terror was thankfully brought to an end by his reportedly favourite victim, Tirza Rendón, who killed him.

On July 18, 1917 the US Navy ship Yorktown rescued the remaining women and children days after Alvarez’s death.

The US briefly occupied Clipperton after the end of WWII but since then it has been left an uninhabited French territory with only occasional visits from scientists, fisherman and, unintentionally, a few castaways.

In 2005 Colombian author Laura Restrepo published a fictional account of Arnaud’s time on the island, ‘Isle of Passion’.

But perhaps a more appropriate title for the island was used in a TV documentary of 1978.

Famous diver Jacques-Yves Cousteau and his team, along with a 1917 survivor, visited the atoll to film ‘Clipperton: The Island that Time Forgot’.