The horrifying case of the Hinterkaifeck Murders took place in 1920’s Germany. This is the chilling true story of the ghastly and brutal murder of an entire family.
A Sordid Tale
Hinterkaifeck was a farm near the German towns of Schrobenhausen and Ingolstadt. It was occupied by 63-year-old Andreas Gruber and his family. His family consisted of his 72-year-old wife Cazilia, and their 35-year-old daughter Viktoria Gabriel. Viktoria’s children, 7-year-old Cazilia and 2-year-old Josef, also shared the home. On March 31, a maid named Maria Baumgartner started working for the family.
Locally Andreas Gruber was a somewhat unpopular figure. He was seen as a miserly, ill-tempered and quarrelsome man. The opinion of him only worsened. Through the years rumours swirled around the area that Andreas had a sexual relationship with his daughter Viktoria. To substantiate the rumours in 1915 Andreas Gruber was sentenced to a year imprisonment for the crime of incest. His daughter was sentenced to a month for the same offence.
It was also claimed that as the result of their incestuous affair that Andreas was the actual father of his own grandchild, Josef. Although a neighbour, Lorenz Schlittenbauer, was named on the child’s birth certificate it failed to put a stop to the rumours about Andreas and Viktoria. This was mainly down to Lorenz himself. Several times he claimed he wasn’t the father and that the child was Andreas’s. This lead to Andreas threatening Schlittenbauer with legal action.
The threat seemed to not work as Lorenz Schlittenbauer took the step of reporting the crime. After being reported Andreas and Viktoria again faced prosecution for the offence of incest in 1919. However, they were both acquitted in 1920. Strangely this was after Schlittenbauer took back his claims about the paternity of Josef. He now said he was the child’s father. It has been claimed over the years this happened after Viktoria agreed to pay off Lorenz and cover his maintenance cost for the child (without her father’s knowledge). Another rumour also suggests she promised to marry Lorenz if the charges where dropped.
All Quiet On The Farm
On April 1, 1922, Cazilia (the grandchild) failed to attend school. Then the following day none of the family attended church, which was something they did every week. By April 3, little Cazilia had once again missed school. That same day the postman had noticed that the Gruber’s mailbox still contained letters from his previous visit. He also hadn’t seen anyone inside when passing the window, something he claimed he often would see. However, as several neighbours had seen smoke coming from the chimney during those days it seemed there wasn’t a great deal of concern.
On the 4 April Albert Hofner, a mechanic, worked on a feeding machine at the farm for several hours all without seeing a soul. When he arrived he tried to get the attention of the family but all he could see or hear was a dog barking. Upon completion of the job he did the same again but once more Hofner got no answer. Albert Hofner decided to tell a neighbour he hadn’t seen the family but had completed the job.
Later that day several neighbours made the decision to visit the farm to check that everything was okay. Upon there arrival they found that the doors were all locked so the men decided to break in. When they did they made a disturbing discovery.
A Truly Gruesome Scene
In the barn, they found the bodies of Andreas, his wife Cazilia and Viktoria. Upon further inspection, they also found little Cazilia hidden under some straw in the barn. As they made their way into the farmhouse they made the discovery of two further victims. The maid Maria and 2-year-old Josef. Unfortunately, by the time police arrived from Munich the crime scene had been severely contaminated. Dozens of prying locals who had walked all over the scene, it is even said that they were even making snacks in the kitchen.
Dr. Johann Babtist Aumuller, the court physician, carried out the autopsies on the six victims. He concluded that they had been murdered somewhere between the evening of March 31 and early morning April 1. All the victims had been killed after being bludgeoned with a pickaxe or similar object numerous times in the skull, all except Josef who received just a single blow. Traumatically his findings also revealed that 7-year-old Cazilia remained alive for several hours after the attack. During which time she pulled several clumps of hair from her head.
The Dr. took the step of removing all 6 victims heads. He sent them away to be studied further in Munich, at the time this was believed to be the best source of evidence. No further information was forthcoming from the examination of the heads. Years later the heads were lost in an air raid on the Court of Justice building in Augsburg during World War 2.
Police hypothesized that the victims in the barn had been lured there and killed one at a time. They then believed the killer made their way into the farmhouse to complete their terrible act by murdering the housemaid and Josef.
At first, the police surmised that the motive behind the horrific killings was robbery. This, however, was decided not to be the case as after further searches throughout the property police found quite a large sum of money on the premises.
What was more chilling was that authorities found evidence which led them to believe that the killer had remained at the scene for several days after the Hinterkaifeck murders. The killer seemingly fed the animals and milked the cows living on the farm. Was this done because the murderer would benefit financially from the murders so it made sense to keep livestock alive?
It wasn’t just after the murders that police discovered something strange had occurred. Further investigations revealed several interesting events leading up to the murders. Andreas had told neighbours about hearing footsteps in his attic. When he went up to look he could find nothing there. He also said he had found a newspaper on the farm that didn’t belong to anyone on the property. He also stated that a key or keys belonging to him had suddenly vanished.
Perhaps the strangest story he told his neighbours was that he had found some footprints in the snow leading from the forest and onto his home. Stranger still, there were no footsteps going away from the home. It was also said Andreas suspected an attempted break-in on the property.
The Hinterkaifeck Murders Through The Years
More than 100 suspects were questioned by Inspector Reingruber and his team about the Hinterkaifeck murders. These included a mixture of both locals and people that had just travelled through the area, although there was one interesting omission.
Somehow the mechanic who worked on the farm the day that the bodies were discovered wasn’t interviewed until 1933, some 11 years after the murders. To this day it is unclear as to why that was. Despite the high amount of suspects spoken to no one was charged with committing the atrocities.
Almost 30 years after the Hinterkaifeck murders it seemed the case may actually be solved. A woman named Kreszentia Mayer told priest Anton Hauber on her deathbed that her two brothers had been responsible for the grisly slaughter that took place on Hinterkaifeck Farm. The men in question where Adolf and Anton Gump.
Detective Inspector General George Reingruber had made Adolf a potential suspect in 1922. He was suspected of taking part in the killing of nine peasants with three other men, however, he was never arrested for the Hinterkaifeck murders. By the time he was named by his sister as a suspect, Adolf had himself passed away. Prosecutor Andreas Popp detained his brother Anton based on the evidence given by his sister. Anton was released shortly after as they had little to hold him. Following several years of investigation, Anton was cleared of any involvement in the murders due to a complete lack of evidence. Investigators also discovered the sister had been prone to making up stories.
So what about suspects since? Several theories have arisen and come up over the years. I will go over what I would say are the main ones that get brought up when talking about the Hinterkaifeck murders.
Back From The Dead
Possibly the most far-fetched theory is that Viktoria’s husband committed the murders. Why is it far-fetched? Well, the fact that Karl Gabriel was killed in 1914, 8 years before the murders. Makes him a highly unlikely killer wouldn’t you say. However, it’s not quite as straightforward as that.
Karl Gabriel was killed on the Western Front during World War 1. According to several stories though his body was never found. The theory goes that Karl actually survived and wasn’t killed during the war at all. After hearing that his wife had a child to her own father he decided to take his revenge in the most horrific way possible.
There is a problem with the theory. After digging around some German sites it seems there are actual statements that several soldiers did in fact claim to have witnessed Karl Gabriel’s death when he stood on a mine.
Is it an interesting theory? Yes. Do I believe it? Not a jot.
Another interesting theory based on Karl is that the murders were committed by a soldier from his unit. Perhaps Karl had told a story about his wife and how she was quite well off financially. The soldier would then take advantage of at the end of his service. The big problem with this theory is the fact the killings do not seem to be the result of a robbery. Maybe the soldier just wanted revenge for his dead friend against the family? Either way, it’s an interesting theory but again an unlikely one.
A Militant Group Attack
The second theory is the family were murdered by one of the extreme right or left wing political groups operating in Germany during the period. For over a decade after the end of World War 1, the communists and the Nazis engaged in acts that led to a fair amount of fighting and bloodshed.
Due to its location, it is speculated the farm may have been used as an arms repository, hideout or meeting place for one of the militant groups. The theory, therefore, implies that the murders were the result of reprisals from a rival group. Not quite as far-fetched as the husband theory. The family certainly were reported as been reclusive from the rest of the community. The location too does make it possible. Alas, as far as I can find there was never anything linking Andreas Gruber to any such political group.
The final theory seems the most likely of the theories that I have come across when reading and researching the Hinterkaifeck murders. Lorenz Schlittenbauer, the potential father of Josef, has been suggested by several to be the killer. As noted he was a potential father of Josef and he certainly seemed to have genuine feelings for Viktoria. At one point it is said he wished to marry her but Viktoria had made it clear her father would never allow it. How much hostility did that cause you have to wonder.
It is also known Schlittenbauer was the person that reported the incest between Andreas and Viktoria in 1919. Although it is unknown who reported them in 1915, I believe a well-educated guess would be that it too was Schlittenbauer behind the report.
Stories emerged over the years that days before the murders Schlittenbauer was told by Viktoria that she planned to sue him for money for Josef. It is said he was furious about this. He didn’t believe the child was even his. He also felt Viktoria was just been greedy, she was better off financially than most in the area, including Schlittenbauer.
Schlittenbauer was one of the neighbours that were the first to find the deceased in the barn. When the victims where discovered they were stacked on one another. Schlittenbauer at this point went directly to the bodies and started to move them. When he was asked why he was touching the bodies he said he was looking for his son, the son he had many times claimed wasn’t his.
Oddly enough immediately after the murders’ Schlittenbauer’s tune had gone from spreading rumours to claiming there was no doubt the child was his. Was this because he believed he may be a beneficiary due to Josef’s death? Also worth adding is that after the deaths Lorenz Schlittenbauer asked investigators if he would get back the money he had paid as maintenance towards the child. An odd question to ask after your child has been brutally murdered.
Schlittenbauer was seen as a suspect at the time by the police but they found no evidence against him. It was often rumoured by people in the area that he was the killer, including by one of the men he initially discovered the bodies with. Some 9 years later he was again interviewed as a suspect in Munich. Again no charges were made. In the statement he gave in 1931 Schlittenbauer was again back to his stance of not knowing who the father of Josef was.
To further on Schlittenbauer in 2007 a group of students at the police academy looked into the case. The entire group all came away believing that the same suspect was responsible. The police academy report didn’t name the suspect out of respect for the living relatives. People who read German or have taken the time to translate the report say it is quite clear that Schlittenbauer is the man they suspected. That paper can be found here (in German). Here is a short extract from the academies conclusion
There was one surprising thing to note, however, in the course of the project work: After a very short time of initial familiarization with the case, all members of the project group independently came to the same conclusion as to who must have been the true culprit. There is too much that speaks against him, hardly anything that exonerates him. Starting with investigation slip-ups, doggedly exclusion of this person as a main suspect, inexplicable actions of the Attorney of the State leading the investigation and familiarity with the scene of crime, to mention but a few.
Whether the killer acted entirely alone or had an accessory or confidant, does not make any changes in the execution of the crime and the identity of the culprit.
One name will always come to our minds in the context of this multiple murder at Hinterkaifeck.
The tragic truth is that this case will most likely never be solved. It is almost a century old and very little evidence survived the war. As in most unsolved cases, the Hinterkaifeck murders are just as likely to be committed by someone that has never been brought to any attention as they are by someone mentioned in one of the many theories. If you’d like to share your thoughts or other theories on the killings then please feel free to do so. Until next time.