The Spooky, Unsolved Story of the Hinterkaifeck Murder Mystery

Warning: Graphic content ahead. This article covers a real-life murder case and contains disturbing photos. Viewer discretion advised.

The murders at Hinterkaifeck farmstead have captured the imagination of the public for nearly a century. In the quiet woods of rural Bavaria in 1922, a family of five and their maid were brutally killed with a mattock. The murders stunned the local community and launched an investigation that remains unsolved to this day.

The Hinterkaifeck case stands out for its gruesome nature and the eerie events leading up to the crime. In the months before the murders, the family reported strange happenings around the farm, such as footsteps in the attic and newspaper disappearing from the kitchen. After the murders, tracks leading away from the farm suggest the killer remained there for days before disappearing back into the woods. With many theories but no concrete evidence, the Hinterkaifeck murders have become one of Germany’s most infamous cold cases.

This overview explores the killings, the victims and prime suspects, the baffling investigation, and the enduring mystery that makes this case so captivating decades later.

The Gruber Family and Farm

The Gruber family consisted of 63-year-old Andreas Gruber, his wife Cäzilia (72), their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel (35) and her two children, Cäzilia (7) and Josef (2). They lived on a farm called Hinterkaifeck located deep in the remote forests of Bavaria, Germany. It was a sprawling farmstead comprising the main house, barn, tool shed, chicken coop, and dog kennel.

Andreas Gruber was known as an unfriendly, abusive man who didn’t get along well with others in the village. He was rumored to have an incestuous relationship with his daughter Viktoria. Despite owning a large farm, the family lived in poverty and was constantly borrowing money from neighbors. Cäzilia Gabriel worked as a maid and helped out on the farm after her husband’s death. The two grandchildren attended school in the nearby village.

The farmland had been in the Gruber family for generations and the isolation of their farm led them to be self-sufficient, with livestock providing milk and eggs, crops providing vegetables, and an orchard providing fruits. Even with no modern amenities, the farm prospered prior to the tragic events in 1922.

Timeline of Events Leading Up to Murders

In the months leading up to the murders, Andreas Gruber reported some strange occurrences happening on the Hinterkaifeck farm.

In late 1921, he told neighbors about finding footprints in the snow leading from the forest to the farm but not back. He also heard footsteps in the attic and noises that suggested someone may have been living up there secretly. Andreas Gruber and the maid Maria thought nothing of it at first, believing it was likely a homeless traveler looking for shelter in the attic. But the noises continued, along with keys disappearing and a newspaper that no family member claimed to have brought in.

In mid-March 1922, the house keys disappeared again after the maid Maria had left them on a table. This resulted in all the locks being changed, but then a few days later, a new key was mysteriously left on the table. These strange events unsettled the family and caused them to suspect someone had sinister intentions. However, they could not have imagined the tragedy that would soon unfold at Hinterkaifeck.

The Murders

In the evening of March 31, 1922, someone lured the 6 inhabitants of Hinterkaifeck farmstead to the barn one by one and killed them with a mattock (a farming tool similar to a pickaxe).

Andreas Gruber, the 63-year-old patriarch, was believed to be the first victim. He was lured to the barn and killed by a blow to the head. His body showed signs of a fierce struggle with the perpetrator. Next was his wife, Cäzilia, 72 years old. She was killed in the barn after going to check on Andreas. Her autopsy showed evidence of strangulation in addition to head trauma.

Their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel, 35, and her 7-year-old daughter Cäzilia were also killed in the barn. The autopsy found severe blows to their heads from the mattock as the cause of death. The family maid, Maria Baumgartner, was killed in her bed in the main house after the others were dead. She appeared to have been asleep when the attack happened. Josef, the 2-year-old son of Viktoria, was killed by a powerful blow to the face in the main house. He slept in his mother’s room and was likely killed shortly after Viktoria.

The brutal and systematic way the family was murdered indicated it was carefully planned and executed by someone familiar with the farm and grounds. The perpetrator showed no mercy, even killing young children in cold blood. The bodies showed extreme violence beyond what was required to kill them.

Discovery of Bodies

On April 4th, 1922, neighbors came to the Hinterkaifeck farm because none of the Grubers had been seen for several days. The neighbors found the bodies of the 6 victims – Andreas and Cazilia Gruber, their widowed daughter Viktoria, and her children Cazilia and Josef. The bodies were discovered in the barn, stacked underneath a large amount of debris and animal feed.

It appeared the adult victims had been lured to the barn one by one, where they were killed with shots to the head and a mattock (a pickaxe-like farming tool). The two children were believed to have been murdered in the home, as evidenced by the blood found in their beds. The perpetrator then moved their bodies to the barn to conceal them from the rest of the victims.

The killings were estimated to have occurred 4-7 days prior, around March 31st, 1922. The exact date of the murders has never been conclusively determined. It was a chilling discovery for the local community, which started a complex murder investigation to find whoever was responsible for the horrific homicides of the Gruber family members and their maid.

Investigation

The initial investigation into the Hinterkaifeck murders focused on several key findings and potential suspects.

  • Fingerprints were found in the attic and on a closet door that did not match any of the Grubers or their maid. This suggested an unknown perpetrator. Investigators believed the killer hid out in the attic and fed the cattle to avoid detection.

  • Neighbors reported hearing footsteps in the attic and seeing smoke from the farmhouse chimney prior to the murders, indicating someone was living there undetected.

  • A suspicious unidentified man was reportedly seen near the farm around the time of the murders. He matched a description provided earlier by Andreas Gruber of a prowler he had encountered lurking on the property. This man was investigated as a prime suspect but never identified.

  • Several people were questioned based on suspicions or motives, including Lorenz Schlittenbauer, who had a dispute with the Grubers over land, and Viktoria Gabriel, who was dismissed as the maid. But there was no concrete evidence against any suspects.

  • The Munich police conducted autopsies and gathered forensic evidence, but investigative techniques at the time were quite primitive. With no fingerprint database, reliable blood typing, or modern DNA analysis, the investigation stalled.

  • Ultimately, the identity of the killer remained a mystery. The case went cold and was eventually shelved without an arrest. The perpetrator responsible for the horrific Hinterkaifeck murders was never found.

Theories on Perpetrator

Over the decades, various theories have emerged about who was responsible for the gruesome Hinterkaifeck murders, with no definitive answer. Here are some of the main theories:

  • Lorenz Schlittenbauer – He was rumored to be the father of Viktoria Gabriel’s infant child, but denied paternity. Some speculate he killed the Grubers out of anger over Viktoria’s pregnancy and to silence them. However, he had an alibi at the time of the murders.

  • Fritz Baar – Viktoria’s earlier lover was abusive and had made threats against the family when she left him for Josef Gabriel. He was questioned but had an alibi.

  • Unknown vagrant – Some think an unknown drifter or vagrant committed the crimes. The missing food and moved items point to someone secretly living in the attic before the murders. However, locals were confident no stranger could navigate the remote farm unseen.

  • Josef Gabriel – Viktoria’s deceased husband became a suspect when an autopsy showed he died up to a week before the rest of the family. Some theorize he killed them in a jealous rage over Viktoria’s pregnancy before dying of his head injury. But who killed Josef remains unclear.

  • Murder-suicide – One theory suggests Andreas Gruber murdered his own family before killing himself, possibly due to incestuous relations. But evidence of others living in the attic contradicts this.

Despite extensive investigation, the killer’s identity remains a mystery to this day. The Hinterkaifeck murders have become one of Germany’s most infamous cold cases.

Aftermath

The gruesome murders caused intense public interest and media speculation at the time. However, as the investigation stalled, public interest eventually faded. The farm at Hinterkaifeck fell into disrepair and was eventually demolished in 1923.

For several decades, the former site of the farm became overgrown with vegetation. Locals considered the area haunted and avoided it. In the 1960s, the land was cleared and trees were planted. It became part of the extensive forest area between the municipalities of Waidhofen and Polling.

The story of the Hinterkaifeck murders continues to capture public interest to this day. The shocking and puzzling nature of the unsolved crimes has cemented the incident as part of Bavarian folklore. The Hinterkaifeck case remains one of Germany’s most infamous unsolved murder mysteries. The abandoned farm site retains an aura of mystery and intrigue. Some locals still believe the area surrounding the former Hinterkaifeck farmstead is haunted.

Impact and Legacy

The Hinterkaifeck murders have had a lasting cultural impact and are remembered for being an unsolved mystery in Germany. The sheer brutality of the crimes, happening in a quiet farmstead, captured the public imagination and became part of 20th-century criminal history in Germany.

The mystery surrounding the identity of the perpetrator and the lack of justice continues to haunt people. Hinterkaifeck has inspired many fictionalized accounts, TV documentaries, films, and books examining unsolved murders from various angles. Some notable cultural references include:

  • The 2009 movie [The Hinterkaifeck Murders] by director Estella Bracher presents a fictionalized account and theory of who killed the Grubers.

  • In 2013, students at the [Hochschule für Fernsehen und Film München] produced a documentary with various experts offering their theories about the mystery.

  • [Tannöd] was a bestselling novel published in 2009 by Andrea Maria Schenkel, loosely based on the murders. It was later adapted into a movie in 2009.

  • An exhibit called [Hinterkaifeck: Murder on the Farm] toured through Germany in 2016-2017, featuring information and artifacts related to the crimes.

  • The case has been covered extensively by shows like Lore, Buzzfeed Unsolved True Crime, and various true crime podcasts.

So even after 100 years after the crimes, Hinterkaifeck remains an unsolved mystery in the public consciousness and continues to intrigue each new generation. Though the killer was never found, the legacy of Hinterkaifeck endures as one of Germany’s most notorious unsolved murder cases.

Conclusion

Despite nearly 100 years passing since the shocking murders at Hinterkaifeck farm, the case remains one of Germany’s most infamous unsolved crimes. Several key facts endure about the perplexing mystery:

  • Six people—the entire Gruber family and their maid—were lured to the barn one by one and brutally murdered with a mattock in March 1922.
  • Evidence showed that the killer(s) spent time living in the farmhouse before and after the murders, feeding the cattle, eating food, and burning evidence.
  • Numerous strange occurrences took place in the months before the murders, including unexplained footprints in the snow around the house, an unfamiliar newspaper appearing on the premises, and more.
  • Andreas Gruber told neighbors he had noticed odd events happening around the farm but did not report anything to the police before the murders.
  • Despite an extensive investigation at the time, and continued fascination with the case ever since, no one was ever charged with the crimes.

The Hinterkaifeck murders have become legendary not only due to their brutality but also because of the eerie circumstantial evidence and the troubling unanswered questions that still shroud the events nearly 100 years later. The enduring mystery of who murdered the six victims in such a calculated, horrific way continues to haunt and fascinate the public. While we may never definitively solve this cold case, Hinterkaifeck remains etched in history as one of Germany’s most chilling unsolved crimes.

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