The Mysterious Hinterkaifeck Murders

            Roughly 43 miles north of Munich, Germany, lies the small cement memorial dedicated to what was once a normal farmstead. The farmstead, known as Hinterkaifeck, was the home to the Gruber family (Grundhauser 2014).  Andreas, 63, and his wide, Cäzilia, 72, their daughter, Viktoria Gabriel, 35, and the children she had with her late husband, Cäzilia, 7, and Josef, 2. Along with the Gruber family, there was also their maid, Maria Baumgartner, 44. While Hinterkaifeck was not the formal name of the family farm, the name literally meaning “Behind Kaifeck,” the town the farm was near, it is the name that popular culture has chosen to refer to the farm and the events that occurred as. It is worth noting that while Kaifeck was the town many associated with the farm, the farm actually belonged to another town, Gröbern. In 1971, the land now famous for the unsolved murders was incorporated into Waidhofen, where is remains today. The farm itself was actually demolished less than a year after the murders occurred (Wikipedia).

            Before the murders even occurred, people reported strange things happening around the farmstead. While the reasoning is unconfirmed, approximately six months before the murders occurred the family maid quit. Many claimed she quit because she thought the farm was haunted, having supposedly heard strange sounds coming from the attic. In March 1922, Andreas found a newspaper he didn’t subscribe to in the property. He didn’t remember buying it, either, and no one else in the area subscribed to the paper, which was from Munich, either. They also found footprints in fresh snow, leading up to the farm’s machine room where a lock was broken. What made these tracks unnerving was that there were no tracks found leading away from the farm, leading to the conclusion that whomever made those tracks was still on the farm. They heard footsteps in their attic, but a search of the home turned up nothing and Andreas refused to contact the police about these strange occurrences. Before the murders, young Cäzilia reportedly told others that her mother, Viktoria, had taken off from the home into the woods nearby after a particularly volatile fight and was found that same night. The family also reported seeing a man with a mustache observing them from the edge of the woods (Wikipedia).

            Maria Baumgartner arrived on March 31, 1922, to begin working for the family as their new maid. Her sister was the one who dropped her off, and likely was the last person to see the victims alive. It is speculated that the family was lured out into the barn that night and slaughtered one-by-one, before the killer took their weapon – a mattock, similar to a pickaxe – and went inside to kill Josef, the toddler, in his crib and Baumgartner in her bedchambers (Wikipedia).

            It was four days before the murders were discovered. There were two coffee merchants that visited the farm on April 1st, looking to place orders with the farm. When they were unable to get a response at the door, they walked through the farm. While they had taken notice of the machine room door being open, but left without checking out why it was open. It was noted that the family missed their regular Sunday services that Sunday, and that Cäzilia had been absent from school without any form of excuse.  When the mail was delivered on April 3, 1922, the mail man, Josef Mayer, took notice that the mail hadn’t been picked up by the family in a couple days. It wasn’t until a repair man came to fix one of their machines on April 4th that someone finally sent people out to the farm to look for the missing family. While searching the farm for signs of the family, the men who had come to search found the family members in the barn and, shortly after, found Josef and Baumgartner inside the house (Wikipedia).

            Cäzilia Gruber had been bludgeoned to death in a horrific attack, and like his grandmother, so had Josef. The toddler’s face had been entirely caved in by the blows rained down upon him by whomever it was that committed these murders. The side of Viktoria’s head was collapsed and there was a hit to the top of her head that shattered her skull, along with some other wounds as well. Andreas’s face was apparently shredded and there was bone protruding from the wounds, broken. Baumgartner’s wounds suggested she died quickly, with just a few blows. The worst of the deaths appeared to be Cäzilia Gabriel, Viktoria’s seven-year old daughter. The poor child had survived her initial attack and it is believed she was tearing her hair out as she watched the rest of her family beaten to death (Grundhauser 2014).

            Investigators came from Munich to investigate the case, though by the time they arrived the scene had already been greatly disturbed. Several people had come into the farm between the time of the deaths and the time of the discovery. On top of those people, the court physician, Johann Baptist Aumüller, had performed the autopsies in the barn and the bodies were moved before the investigators arrived. Unfortunately, it was found during the investigation that 7-year old Cäzilia was likely alive for several hours after being attacked, her hair pulled out in tufts where she was found lying. While the family was buried on April 8th of that year, their skulls were removed for investigation and later lost, likely in the bombings that occurred during World War II (Wikipedia).

            There were many people interrogated at the time, including craftsman, locals, and vagrants from the area. Anyone who was around at the time of the murders who may have been looking to rob the farm was interrogated, but no leads came from these interrogations. The robbery theory went the way of the dodo after large amounts of money were found in the house, likely meaning that no robbery had occurred. As far as the investigators could tell, whoever committed the murders must have remained at the farm for some time after the murders. Someone had been using the kitchen, including freshly cutting meat, and the cattle had been fed during the time as well. Along with the evidence within the house, locals also remembered seeing smoke rising from the farm during the days after the murders. The case was officially closed in 1955, though a second look was taken at the case in 1986, and no one was ever charged with the murder. Several people were arrested and released, and over 100 people were interrogated in relation to the murders (Wikipedia).

             There are theories, of course, as to how the family members were lured out into the barn during the night. Initial speculation was that the sounds of disturbed animals drew the family out, but it was later tested and it seemed that human screaming could not be heard up at the house. With only a total of five crime scene photos taken, a lot is not known of how the crime scene truly looked. Investigators could not find enough evidence to put together the sequence of events, but believed that Viktoria was the first one lured out to the barn. After Viktoria, her mother Cäzilia was likely next, followed by her father, Andrea, and her daughter, Cäzilia. Based on a reconstruction done, it was also determined that Baumgartner had likely been killed before young Josef was (Wikipedia).

            For a while, people believed that the murderer, or murderers, had been hiding in the attic due to the stories Gruber had been telling in the months leading up to the murders. Investigators found shifted roof tiles and strange spots in the hay in the attic that fueled this belief for some time, but allegations that Andreas and Viktoria were pursuing an incestuous relationship lead to a new belief that these discoveries were related to their attempts to hide this relationship. There were sightings of possible perpetrators in the days leading up to the discovery of the bodies. Michael Plökl, an artisan, was passing by Hinterkaifeck when he noticed that there was smoke that smelled foul coming from the house. Whomever was burning something in the house approached Plökl, blinding him with a lantern so he was unable to see them. He left quickly and this sighting was not investigated. Simon Reißländer, a farmer and butcher, saw two people standing by the forest who quickly turned away when they saw him. Albert Hofner, the repair man who was on the farm doing repairs for several hours after the murders occur, wasn’t questioned until 1925. According to what he told police, the house was locked and he saw no one while he was there, but he believed someone was at the farm. He could hear the dogs barking inside and as he was leaving, he saw that one of the dogs was outside and the barn door was open. At the time that the murders were discovered, the dogs were inside and the barn door was closed (Wikipedia).

            There were several suspects, despite the case still being unsolved 98 years later. Viktoria’s late husband, Karl Gabriel, was among the suspects, along with: Lorenz Schlittenbauer, Anton and Adolf Gump, Karl and Andreas S., Peter Weber, Karl and Anton Bichler and Georg Siegl, Josef and Andreas Thaler, and Paul Muller (Wikipedia).

            Karl Gabriel was reportedly killed in World War I, in Aras, France in 1914. Reportedly, his cause of death was a shell attack on the city that December, but his remains were never recovered. Due to this, many began to suspect that perhaps he hadn’t actually died in the war and had found his way back just to find that his wife had had a child out of wedlock, reportedly with her own father. People felt that he had faked his death by switching his identity with a fallen comrade and killed the family in revenge; this was bolstered by reports from people claiming to have seen him in the time since his death. During World War II, some prisoners of war claimed they had been released by a German speaking Soviet officer that many began to speculate was Gabriel. This soldier was initially reported to have claimed to be the Hinterkaifeck killer, but the soldier who reported on this Soviet officer did change their stories later. That did not, however, stop the continued dispersal of this story (Wikipedia).

            Lorenz Schlittenbauer was another possible father of Josef Gabriel. In 1918, he became a widower and was believed to have begun a romantic relationship with Viktoria Gabriel. His initials appear on Josef’s birth certificate, but it is possible that the L.S. that appears could be the initials of an attending physician. The reason Schlittenbauer came under suspicion was related to the fact that he was one of the men who found the bodies. A few days before the murders, a house key went missing. At the time that the bodies were discovered, the group of men couldn’t get into the house because it was locked. Right after they discovered the bodies in the barn, Schlittenbauer somehow came up with a key and let them into the house where Josef and Baumgartner were. While it is possible that Schlittenbauer may have been given an extra key, he was a neighbor and possibly Viktoria’s lover, it did draw suspicion. He entered the house by himself, apparently going to find his son, Josef, at the time and was known to have disturbed the bodies before investigators arrived. In 1925, a local school teacher claimed to have seen Schlittenbauer at the remains of the farm and heard from him that the reason the bodies had been left in the barn was actually because the killer couldn’t bury them in the frozen ground. While many people viewed this as a possible link between him and the murders, it is also possible he would have known this because he lived in the area and would know how the ground was at the time. As for his motive: people believed he killed the family because Viktoria demanded financial support for Josef. Regardless of if he was the killer or not, he won defamation law suits against several people for the rumors before his death in 1941 (Wikipedia).

            Much like Schlittenbauer, Adolf Gump also had a rumored relationship with Viktoria Gabriel. While these rumors were not substantiated, his involvement with the murders of nine people in Silesia was known. It meant he was capable of this kind of crime and he was asked for an alibi for those days in 1922 that the murders occurred. His brother, Anton, came under suspicion when their sister claimed her brothers committed the murders while she was on her death bed in 1951. Adolf had died in 1944, but Anton was still alive and was remanded to police custody. The case against him could not be proven and was dismissed in 1954 (Wikipedia).

            A woman named Therese T. wrote a letter in 1971 claiming that she experienced an event related to the murders when she was a child. According to her claim, her mother had gotten a visit from the mother of the brothers, Karl and Andreas S., who claimed that her sons were responsible for the Hinterkaifeck murders. Reportedly, she wrote that the mother had lamented a penknife that Andreas had lost during the murders. A penknife was found at the time that the farm was torn down, though no owner was able to be found. It is possible, of course, that the penknife had belonged to one of the victims, and the previous maid claimed she had seen the penknife around the house while working there (Wikipedia).

            A coworker of Peter Weber, Josef Bert, was the one who presented Weber as a possible suspect. While they worked together, Weber spoke frequently of the farm and how there was an old couple who lived there with a child and grandchild. According to Bert, Weber contacted him about looking to kill the family and take the money, but seemingly nothing ever came of this contact (Wikipedia).

            The Bichler brothers became suspects when the maid who worked at the farm before Baumgartner brought their names forward. One of the brothers, Anton, had worked at the farm during a potato harvest, meaning he would know the layout of the home and the grounds. According to the maid, Anton frequently spoke with her about the families living in the home and claimed he thought they should be dead. She believed that a person she was having late-night conversations with was his brother, Karl, and noted that the dog that barked at everyone, didn’t bark at Anton. Another worker, Georg Siegl, had broken into the house a couple years prior to the murders and stolen some items. She was sure he, along with the Bichler brothers, were the ones who committed the murders. Siegl also admitted that he was the one who carved the handle of the mattock that was used in the murders and knew where it was kept (Wikipedia).

            The previous maid also put forward the names of the Thaler brothers. The brothers were already known to have been involved in several smaller criminal actions in the area before the murders, and the maid claimed that Josef Thaler would come to her window at night and ask her questions about the family. Josef also was known to have claimed to know who slept in what rooms within the house, along with that the family actually had a lot of money. The maid remembered there being someone else nearby when they spoke, watching the machine room (Wikipedia).

            In 2017, Paul Mueller (also known as Paul Miller) was produced as a suspect in the case by Bill James, author of the book The Man from The Train. James claimed that Mueller was responsible for the crimes, which bear a striking resemblance to crimes he is suspected of having committed in America (Wikipedia). Mueller was a suspect in the Villisca Axe Murders, where a similar series of death occurred. He was a German immigrant and it is thought he may have fled to Germany when suspicion fell on him for those crimes. He was also the only suspect in the murders of a family he worked for in West Brookfield, MA. Like the Hinterkaifeck murders, the family in West Brookfield, MA also ran a farm (Wikiwand).

            Unfortunately for the victims of the Hinterkaifeck murders, it is unlikely that the case will ever be solved. The evidence has been gone over again and again over the years, but the case has gone unsolved for so long it is near impossible to clean any other insights from the evidence. The Gruber and Gabriel families will unfortunately never have the justice they should have gotten 98 years ago, and the murderer will likely never be confirmed.

Grundhauser, Eric. “Hinterkaifeck Memorial.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 27 Oct. 2014, www.atlasobscura.com/places/hinterkaifeck-memorial.

“Hinterkaifeck Murders.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 16 May 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinterkaifeck_murders.

“Villisca Axe Murders.” Wikiwand, http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Villisca_axe_murders#/Paul_Mueller.

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