The Hinterkaifeck Massacre in 1922 is probably Germany´s most mysterious unsolved murder case. Hinterkaifeck was the name of a small farmstead outside Groebern, between the Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen (approximately 70 km north of Munich). Andreas Gruber (63) lived with his wife Cäzilia (72) and their widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel (35) – the official owner of the farm – and her two children Cäzilia (7) and Josef (2).
They are said to have kept mostly to themselves. Gruber in particular is described as a stand-offish brute who is said to have beaten and terrorized his children, of whom only Viktoria survived. Viktoria was a popular member of the church choir, known for her beautiful voice. It was common knowledge that Gruber had an incestuous relationship with his daughter and actively prevented her from marrying again. His wife apparently had knowledge of the situation, but did little to stop things.
A few days prior to the crime, Andreas Gruber told neighbors that he had discovered footsteps in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to the farm...however, there were none leading back. He also talked about hearing footsteps in the attic and finding an unfamiliar newspaper on the farm. Furthermore, one of the two existing house keys went missing several days before the murders, but none of this was reported to the police.
Six months earlier, the previous maid had left the farm, claiming that it was haunted; the new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived on the farm on 31 March 1922, only a few hours before her death.
Some weeks before the fatal night, Viktoria had withdrawn all her money from her bank account and borrowed some from her half-sister (Gruber was Cäzilia´s second husband), to invest in the farm. A donation of 700 goldmark was left in the confessional of the church. The priest traced it to Viktoria, and she told him it was “for missionary work”.
It is believed that the older couple, as well as their daughter Viktoria and her daughter Cäzilia, were somehow all lured into the barn one by one where they were slaughtered brutally. The perpetrator(s) then went into the house where they killed two-year-old Josef who was sleeping in his cot in his mother’s bedroom, as well as the maid, Maria Baumgartner, in her bed-chamber.
On the following Tuesday, the 4th of April, some neighbours went to the farmstead because none of the inhabitants had been seen for several days, which was rather unusual. The postman had noticed that the mail from the previous Saturday was still where he had left it. Furthermore, young Cäzilia had not turned up for school on Monday, nor had she been there on Saturday. The family also had been absent from church on Sunday, which was unusual, given Viktoria´s position in the choir.
The day after the discovery, court physician Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller performed the autopsies in the barn. It was established that a pickaxe was the most likely murder weapon. The corpses were beheaded, and the skulls sent to Munich, where clairvoyants examined them without result. The autopsy also showed that the younger Cäzilia had been alive for several hours after the assault. Lying in the straw, next to the bodies of her grandparents and her mother, she had torn her hair out in tufts. The skulls were never actually returned to the bodies and the entire family has been buried without heads. The traces of the skulls have been lost in history. They very likely were destroyed when the forensic department in Nuremberg burned down during WWII.
More than 100 suspects have been questioned through the years, but to no avail. At the time, Inspector Georg Reingruber and his colleagues from the Munich Police Department made a diligent effort to solve the murders. The police first suspected the motive to be robbery, and interrogated several inhabitants from the surrounding villages, as well as travelling craftsmen and vagrants. The robbery theory was, however, abandoned when a large amount of money was found in the house. Only the paper money was gone, while considerable amounts of gold coins and valuables had been left.
It is believed that the perpetrator(s) remained at the farm for several days – someone had fed the cattle, and eaten food in the kitchen: the neighbours had also seen smoke from the chimney during the weekend...and anyone looking for money would have found it.
The victims had been hit with precision and a lot of hatred, their heads had been split but their bodies had apparently not been hit. Whoever did this must have been familiar enough with using a pickaxe to do so without thinking.
At some point, the death of Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s husband who had been reported killed in the French trenches in 1914, was called into question. His body had never been found and two people claimed to have encountered a German-speaking Russian officer after WWII, who claimed to be “the Hinterkaifeck killer”. A former friend of Karl´s also claimed to have met him in the 1920s. These accounts have been proven wrong and the death of Karl Gabriel seems ascertained enough to discount this theory.
Many of those who study this case consider little Josef the key to it all. Why kill him, too? Maybe because he knew and recognized the killer? At two years, he would have been able to say something like “uncle xxx was here”, even if he might not have understood everything else that went on.
When little Josef was born, Viktoria claimed for Lorenz Schlittenbauer to be the father. He denied it and reported Viktoria and her father to the police for incest. On Viktoria´s request, probably garnished with the hint of a chance to marry the wealthy widow, Schlittenbauer withdrew his report later and confirmed to be the father. He had to pay an alimony of several thousand marks to the Grubers, which Viktoria gave him. With this down payment, it was agreed that he was free of any responsibility and Andreas Gruber was made the child´s guardian. In fact, this kind of deal was illegal even then. A TV documentary on the case revealed that shortly before she was killed, Viktoria planned to sue Schlittenbauer for alimony payments.
Lorenz Schlittenbauer had remarried at that point. His first child with his new wife had died and been buried only a few days before the murder. There was speculation that Schlittenbauer having to pay for a child that he couldn´t be sure was his while his own child had not lived triggered the killing spree.
Schlittenbauer was obviously familiar with the Grubers´ farmstead. He was one of the men who went to investigate after the family had not been seen for days and discovered the corpses in the barn. He had apparently no problem handling them, pulling those lying on top of each other apart. The other two told him not to disturb anything but he said he had to make sure where “his boy” was.
According to one of the other two men, Schlittenbauer “disturbed everything there was to disturb” and displayed a surprising familiarity with the farm. Schlittenbauer may have stayed on the farm until the police arrived, feeding the cattle. He even had a meal there himself. Just like the unknown perpetrator, he was apparently not disturbed by the presence of the corpses. Even though people were a bit more familiar with death and dead people back then, the other two men were rather shaky seeing the slain victims.
In spite of his apparent worry about “his boy”, he does not seem to have minded the decease of the family a lot: Years later, he said during an interrogation that the "Lord had his hand in the right place when this happened, these were bad people. He did not exclude the two children."
Schlittenbauer had no alibi for the night of the murders. According to his family, he spent the night at their barn to watch out for burglars after having heard of Gruber´s findings.
Schlittenbauer lived only 350 metres away from Hinterkaifeck, so he could have easily gone over there and back without his absence being noticed. And years later, when the murders were discussed in the local pub, Schlittenbauer repeatedly talked in the first person when speculating about how the killer may have gone about and referred to him as “I”.
While some of Schlittenbauer's behavior makes him look suspicious and a lot of open questions remain. Schlittenbauer is by no means the only suspect and there has been rampant speculation...but no killer has been identified for certain and nothing has been proven.
In 2007 the students of the Polizeifachhochschule (Police Academy) in Fürstenfeldbruck got the task to investigate the case once more with modern techniques of criminal investigation. Their final report is kept secret. To this day, many hobby investigators continue to investigate the case. - hinterkaifeck.net / hinterkaifeck-mord.de / armchairdetective.wordpress.com
NOTE: There are two movies with the name “Hinterkaifeck”: one by Hans Fegert from 1981, and the other by Kurt K. Hieber in 1991.
“Hinter Kaifeck” is a mystery thriller from 2009 made by director Esther Gronenborn and producer Monika Raebel, starring Benno Fürmann and Alexandra Maria Lara.
In 2006, German writer Andrea Maria Schenkel wrote a novel with the title "Tannöd" where she tells the story of Hinterkaifeck using different names for the locations and people involved. Also the novel "The Murdered House", written by French writer Pierre Magnan, is allegedly inspired by this case. In this novel, the youngest victim of the massacre survives and returns to the farm as an adult to investigate the crime.
Munich journalist Peter Leuschner wrote two books with the title "Hinterkaifeck. Der Mordfall. Spuren eines mysteriösen Verbrechens." in 1979 and 1997. The second book is an extension of the first book. The title means "Hinterkaifeck. The Murder Case. Traces of a mysterious crime". In this book, Leuschner quotes the original police files.
Kaifeck Murder (Hinter Kaifeck) Trailer - Film - German
Hinter Kaifeck Trailer
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