The Disturbing Story Of The Unsolved Hinterkaifeck Murders
On a Friday night in late March, 1922, a German family and their new maid were murdered at their remote farm. Law enforcement interviewed several suspects in an effort to find the person - or people - responsible for the shocking murders of six people.
More than a century later, however, no one has ever been charged with the horrifying killings that occurred at the farm in Hinterkaifeck, a small Bavarian homestead. The Hinterkaifeck murders remain one of Germany's oldest unsolved murders of a family.
In April 1922, A Family And Their Maid Were Found Murdered At Their Farm In Hinterkaifeck, GermanyPhoto: Andreas Biegleder / Wikipedia / Public Domain
On April 4, 1922, Lorenz Schlittenbauer noticed his neighbor's mail stacking up at their farm in rural Hinterkaifeck. Worried something was wrong at the farm, Schlittenbauer recruited fellow neighbors Jakob Sigl and Michael Pöll to help him investigate.
Finding the home's front door locked, the men headed to the barn, where they discovered the bodies of Viktoria Gabriel (35); her daughter, Cäzilia (7); and Viktoria's parents, Andreas Gruber (64) and Cäzilia Gruber (72). Each family member was killed with multiple blows to the head. The bodies had been stacked on top of each other and covered by a board and some hay.
Wanting to investigate the home, the men found a hallway connecting the barn to the main house. Inside, the men found the bodies of the family's 44-year-old maid, Maria Baumgartner, and Viktoria's 2-year-old son, Josef. Both Maria and Josef had been bludgeoned to death in their beds.
Someone Lived In The House For Days After The Murders
Although the murders at the Hinterkaifeck farm weren't discovered until April 4, police determined the family had all died on the evening of Friday, March 31. This had been Maria Baumgartner's first day working as the family's maid, and her sister later confirmed everyone was alive when she visited Maria at the farm that afternoon.
The following day, two coffee salesmen came by the farm, but no one answered the door; however, smoke was coming from the chimney, and someone had seemingly fed the family's livestock. A repairman also arrived at the house on April 4 but found no one there.
The mail piling up, the family missing church on Sunday, and Cäzilia not showing up for school all led to the search of the barn and the eventual discovery of the murders.
The Police Investigation Was Immediately Compromised
The closest police department to Hinterkaifeck was in Munich, Germany, about 45 miles away. After discovering the bodies, Schlittenbauer and the other men alerted their families and fellow neighbors about the gruesome murder scene at the farm.
By the time lead investigator Georg Reingruber arrived from Munich, dozens of people had walked through the crime scene, destroying evidence and, in the process, compromising the police investigation.
Despite the tampered crime scene and virtually no forensic testing available at the time, police theorized the killer (or killers) had somehow lured the four family members out to the barn one by one to murder them before returning to the home to kill Maria and Josef.
Autopsies Revealed The Likely Manner Of Death
On April 5, 1922, Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller conducted autopsies on the victims of the Hinterkaifeck murders. He subsequently determined they had all died by blunt force trauma to the head, and the weapon was likely a pickaxe or mattock. Dr. Aumüller also noted there were strangulation marks on the older Cäzilia.
As for the younger Cäzilia, she likely took hours to die trapped beneath her family's bodies. Investigators found Cäzilia holding fistfuls of her own hair, and her head had several bald patches. Dr. Aumüller suspected the little girl probably died from a combination of her injuries and shock.
A Series Of Strange Events Occurred Before The Murders
In the months and weeks leading up to the killings, a number of strange events occurred at the Hinterkaifeck farm. Six months prior, the family's previous maid reportedly quit after hearing footsteps in the attic, which made her believe the house was haunted.
Neighbors also told police Andreas Gruber found footprints in the snow that began at the woods surrounding the farm and ended at the barn. However, he could find no footprints leading away from the barn. This revelation led to the theory that the killer hid in the barn and perhaps the attic, which some thought accounted for the footsteps the previous maid heard.
Andreas also mentioned his keys had gone missing, and he found a newspaper he didn't subscribe to in the home. He declined to borrow a gun from one of his neighbors to protect himself and his family.
Rumors Spread That Viktoria And Andreas Had An Incestuous Relationship
Seven years before the residents of the Hinterkaifeck farm were murdered, Viktoria and Andreas were accused of incest after someone submitted an anonymous report. Both the father and daughter were put on trial and eventually found guilty. Andreas served one year in prison, and Viktoria served either one year or one month, according to differing reports.
While many people believed Viktoria's 2-year-old son, Josef, was the child of Lorenz Schlittenbauer, the man who started the search of the farm on April 4, some of the Grubers' neighbors believed the child was the product of Andreas's incestuous relationship with his daughter.