On a cold day in March of 1922, outside of the small town of Ingolstadt, Germany, about 60 miles north of Munich, one of the scariest crimes of the 20th century occurred.
On a farmstead known as "Hinterkaifeck," a farmer, Andreas Gruber, and his family: his wife Cäzilia, his adult daughter Viktoria, Viktoria's seven-year-old daughter, also named Cäzilia, her two-year-old son Josef, and a live-in maid named Maria Baumgartner were brutally attacked and murdered. The bodies in the barn were stacked on top of each other and hay was thrown over them.
The scariest part? There was evidence that the killer had been secretly living in the attic of the farmhouse for as long as six months before he or she committed the brutal attacks.
The murders have never been solved. Here's how it all happened...
Andreas Gruber, his wife, daughter, and granddaughter were all murdered in the barn on the farm. It appears from the evidence that the killer somehow lured them into the barn, one by one, and hacked them with his mattock.
After attacking the four oldest family members, the killer went into the house and found the youngest, baby Josef, asleep in his mother's bedroom. The killer murdered Josef in the same way he had the others, then went to find the maid. The maid, Sara Baumgartner, was attacked and killed in her room in the farmhouse. One of the victims didn't die right away...
One of the most gruesome details of the murders is that the 8-year-old daughter, Cazilia, did not die immediately after being struck by the mattock like her mother and grandparents did. Police believe she was still alive when the killer left the barn and she was so scared or in so much pain, she pulled out her hair. Tufts of hair were found clutched in her hands when the bodies were discovered.
After the murderer did the crimes, they didn't leave right away...
The killer who had just murdered 6 people apparently decided he would stick around a while after the crime. Neighbors of the Grudens reported seeing smoke in the chimney and there was evidence that the killer had tended to the cows and fed the family dog. He also fed himself.
Because of the smoke in the chimney, the neighbors didn't think anything when the family missed church on Sunday or when young Cäzilia missed school one day. It wasn't until Cäzilia missed a second day of school, and the family had not been seen otherwise, that neighbors went to the farm to investigate and discovered the horrifying scene in the barn and in the house.
Was this someone that already knew the family? Possibly a drifter looking for a place to stay for a few days?
Six months before the murder occurred the family's maid quit. She complained that the house was haunted. The family reported that they occasionally heard footsteps in the attic. In the weeks just before the murders, Andreas told neighbors about some strange happenings that were occurring around the farm. Things like footsteps in the snow that led to the house, but no footsteps walking away. He also said that a set of keys had gone missing and he had found a strange newspaper that was not his in the house.
Interestingly, the Grubers had a dog that neighbors said could be heard barking whenever a stranger came to the farm. Everyone has a neighbor with an annoying dog like that. But the weekend of the murders, the dog was never heard.
Did the dog know the killer? Was the dog comfortable with the killer because he had been living secretly on the farm for some time, perhaps interacting with the dog?
Another question, what's the deal with the new maid?...
Maria Baumgartner was hired by the Gruber family right before the murders happened. In fact, she had only just moved the farm that very day. Little is known about Maria, and it's unlikely that she was anything more than an innocent victim, given the weird circumstances that happened around the farm before her arrival.
As for the culprit, understandably, there was a massive investigation to catch the killer...
Over 100 people have been interviewed by authorities in the wake of the brutal crime. Some interviews have been as recent as 1986, more than 60 years after the crime. Still, though, no truly viable suspect has emerged, nothing more than a few weak theories, really. Police have never been able to even confirm a motive. There was nothing stolen from the property, so robbery was ruled out. Andreas was a rough and tumble kind of guy that probably had a few enemies, but none angry enough to kill him and his whole family in such a brutal way. It was a baffling mystery. But people do have their theories...
Viktoria's husband, Karl Gabriel, was declared missing in action and presumed dead while fighting in World War I. It was in 1914, six years before the murders, when he was last seen by his fellow soldiers, and while many reported having seen him killed, his body was never found nor recovered. One theory that has developed over the years was that Karl was the murderer, angry that Viktoria had a two-year-old son that was obliviously not his.
But where had Karl been for the previous 8 years? Why would he hide from the family? Where has he been in the years since?
This story gets even weirder...
Years earlier, in 1915, Andreas and his daughter Viktoria were found guilty of carrying on an incestuous relationship. Andreas spent a year in prison as a result, while Viktoria served a one month sentence. Four years after his release, in 1920, Viktoria had a son, Josef. The father of the son was unknown to their friends and neighbors, and remains unconfirmed today. Some believed the father to be Lorenz Schlittenbauer, a man who lived nearby that might have carried on an affair with Viktoria, but many others were convinced that Josef's father was Viktoria's father Andreas.
Did someone discover that the father and daughter were still having an illegal and immoral relationship, and decide to take matters into his own hands? Perhaps even Schlittenbauer felt jilted and angry at the family if Josef was indeed his son?
And then there's this next disturbing fact...
In the days and weeks after the murder, all manner of tests and investigations were done with the bodies. At some point, the heads were removed, likely by the coroner, and sent to a so-called "clairvoyant" and other investigators in Munich, 90 miles away. Nothing came from it, but for some unknown reason, the heads were never returned, and all 6 bodies were buried without them, which only adds to the creepiness of the entire story. Eventually, it seems the heads were lost completely in the chaos that engulfed Germany in the 1930s and 40s.
Decades and decades later, new information about the crime emerged...
An elderly woman contacted police in 1999 claiming that an old landlord of hers, who had died many years previously, had information about the murders. The tip was never revealed to the public, but apparently, it did lead to a new suspect, who had also died long before 1999. So nothing came of it in the end.
And then, nearly a decade later, new information came to light...
In 2007, a group of students at a German policy academy studied the crime again, this time using modern forensic techniques. The results were that they identified one very likely suspect, but because that suspect was long dead, they chose not to reveal the suspect's name for fear of reprisal on the suspect's living family members who were innocent, obviously. Basically, they said that since he was dead, it didn't matter and it was more important to protect his living relatives.
It's been nearly 100 years since the Hinterkaifeck Murders and the case is no closer to being closed today than it was then. Even with two suspects in more recent years coming to light, obviously, there wasn't enough to convince police to close the case. While we will probably never know who brutally murdered that family in 1922, we can be sure it will continue to inspired ghost stories, as it has for the last century.
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