Murders at Hinterkaifeck Farm: A Century of Mystery

Photo Credit: Watch Out by Mark Miller

A stalker watches a family for months. The stalker gains the confidence to move into the family’s home. For reasons undetermined, perhaps the exposition of their “haunting”, the stalker becomes a murderer. After the murders, the evil or insane murder lives in the home for a few days as though it is their own. Wears the clothes of the victims, eats their food, sleeps in their bed.

Books, movies, and urban legends have explored this scenario for decades. Unlike most urban legends, this sadistic scenario actually occurred on a small farmstead in Germany in the 1920’s.

The Hinterkaifeck Farm Murders

The elderly Andreas Gruber and his wife Cazillia were living on a small farm near Kaifeck, approximately 70 miles north of Munich, in Germany. Their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel and her two children, seven-year-old daughter Cazillia and two-year-old son Josef, as well as a newly hired maid named Maria Baumgartner, met their sickening ends on Friday, March 31st, 1922, at the end of a pickaxe. The murder weapon, hand-crafted by Herr Gruber, was not found until the farm was torn down a year after their deaths.

On Tuesday, April 4th, 1922, neighbors found the six bodies after noticing Cazillia’s absence from school and the Grubers’s failure to pick up their mail.

Neighbors and police found little Josef and the maid (on her first day of work, no less) murdered in their beds. The rest of the family was found in the barn, hastily covered in hay.

The murders were not quick. Especially for little Cazillia. She was the only one found to have struggled significantly. Police believed she lived for at least an hour after her attack. She was found with tufts of her own ripped out hair in her hands and had struggled out from beneath the hay the murderer threw over the corpses.

The deaths of the Grubers is tragic and disturbing in itself, but the story doesn’t end there.

The cows had been milked, the livestock fed. The neighbors reported smoke from the chimney for days after the murders occurred. Someone enjoyed a few meals at the table before suspicious neighbors came knocking.

Hinterkaifeck-Hof

Photo Credit: Andreas Biegleder

The Hinterkaifeck Farmstead on April 5th, 1922, five days after the murders.

Ominous Circumstances

The previous year had been particularly strange for the Gruber family, at least according to friends and neighbors. Their long-time maid quit at the end of 1921, claiming that the farm was haunted. Footprints in the snow led to the house but none away from it. Later, footprints in the attic were both heard and found. Objects were moved, keys were stolen. Andreas’s tool shed lock was tampered with. Perhaps Herr Gruber decided to hunt the presence out and was repaid with murder.

The Grubers weren’t the picture of familial tranquility and innocence.

Andreas and Viktoria were convicted of incest shortly after the death of Viktoria’s husband in 1914–and the neighbors knew.

The farm was in Viktoria’s name and she had withdrawn a large amount of her savings shortly before their deaths. This sum was found in the house in plain sight by police.

The lack of robbery combined with the brutal nature of the murders points to a sadistic or insane killer. The murderer’s choice to hang around, have dinner, sleep in the Grubers’ bed, and milk their cows indicates that the murders were not merely revenge killings–there was deep psychosis at work.

Suspects

Lorenz Schlittenbauer

Owner of the neighboring farm. Newly married but said to have fathered twelve children by three different women. Publicly declared himself to be Josef’s father, even paying alimony to Viktoria and Josef for a time.

Alibi: Schlittenbauer’s wife claimed he had been working in their barn that weekend, coming in to eat and sleep.

Possible Motives:

  1. Schlittenbauer hoped that he may be able to profit off of the empty farm.
    1. During the investigation, Schlittenbauer cared for the farmstead’s livestock and was eventually given them.
  2. Viktoria was preparing to sue the newly married Lorenz for alimony. He’d stopped paying.
  3. Viktoria may have voluntarily met with Shlittenbauer in the barn that night. An argument may have ended in her murder followed by the rest of the family’s. She was clothed in day dress, while the others were in sleeping outfits. She may have been killed first and earlier in the day and the others killed after her as they searched for her.
    1. Did she attempt to end their relationship?
    2. Did she confirm the rumors that her father was still her lover?
    3. Did she tell him that Josef was not his?
    4. Was she initially going to run away with him (hence her withdrawal of a large sum of money) and then change her mind?
    5. Was she going to pay him off for something and it went wrong?

The first possible motive satisfies the point of why the livestock were cared for after the murders but doesn’t explain why there was no real attempt to hide the bodies and evidence.

The last two possible motives point to a crime of passion or temporary insanity. They don’t explain why, with ample opportunity over three days, Lorenz Schlittenbauer wouldn’t have attempted to better conceal the bodies or provide himself a better alibi after the passion/insanity had worn off.

Other reasons for suspicion: Schlittenbauer was one of three neighbors to discover the bodies. Statements say that he was not disturbed by the corpses. However, as a veteran of World War I, the mangled bodies may not have been as shocking as they would seem today. His disturbance of the corpses may have been an attempt to check for survivors or identify the bodies.

Schlittenbauer’s proximity as the closest farm to Hinterkaifeck could also explain the supposed “haunted” happenings; he was close enough to easily stalk the Grubers from the nearby forest and he could have wandered in and out of the house and barn without being caught for months. If he was noticed in the yard he could have claimed that he had come to borrow a tool or visit Viktoria. The Grubers had a dog–the dog was present on the day the corpses were discovered, unperturbed by the weekend’s bloody visitor. The dog likely knew the murderer.

“Davo”

A serial rapist located in the area at the time of the murders.

Alibi: None.

Possible Motive: Insanity and sadism. Viktoria and the elder Cazillia had evidence of strangling along with the use of a pickaxe. The killer would have also known that little Cazillia wasn’t dead; he may have watched her struggle for hours to her death. These methods have been observed in subsequent rape and murder cases.

Other reasons for suspicion: Davo was seen for years afterward wandering the nearby forest naked. He was observed watching schoolchildren with the same sort of stalking behavior the Gruber murderer may have used.

Davo was accused of 67 murders–he was a local catch-all for any unexplained crime. He was clearly mentally ill and an easy target.

He escaped from jail (he was serving for a different crime) and was never seen in the area again.

A Paranormal Entity

There was little information concerning the history of the Hinterkaifeck farmstead. Photographs of the farmhouse indicate that it was an older building and the fact that it was demolished a year after the murders means it likely wasn’t new or it would have been too valuable to destroy.

A vengeful ghost attached to the farm is one possibility. A violent spirit or demon is another option. No real evidence of a paranormal entity committing murder has been found, ever, beyond superstition and legend. The dysfunction of the Gruber family may have attracted a source of evil, or those living nearby may have wished evil upon them due to their incestuous relationship. The likelihood of the paranormal attacker being a ghost as opposed to a demon is an interesting topic–the footsteps lend themselves to being a ghost but there were no sightings of a person.

Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband, died in 1914 in World War I. Several reliable eyewitness reports from his well-known comrades confirm his death, though his body was never found. His lack of a proper burial could cause his spirit to wander; perhaps he wandered home to Viktoria and found Cazillia was not his child, but his father-in-law’s, and that Josef was fathered by another man defiling his widow. This anger would explain the violence inflicted not only on Viktoria, but her father and children as well.

Who murdered the Grubers?

Desperate for leads, the police sent the skulls of all six victims to be analyzed by psychics in Munich. These clairvoyants offered no insight, and the outbreak of World War II led to the loss of the skulls. The corpses were buried headless in the nearby cemetery at Waidhofen.  

The question of who murdered the Grubers has haunted Germany for nearly a century. Over 100 suspects were interviewed, clear through to 1986. In 2007, some German police trainees used modern forensic techniques to analyze the remaining evidence and ruled out every suspect but one. This suspect left living relatives, and so the German police have declined to release the murderer’s name, though suspicions point to it being Schlittenbauer.

The farm was demolished in 1923. A white marble shrine marks the location.

I wonder where the heads are.  

 

What do you think happened to the Gruber family? If you were to use their story as the basis for a book, who would you make the murderer? Tell me in the comments.

 

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