Mystery of the month: The Hinterkaifeck murders
Were the Hinterkaifeck murders committed by a human – or sinister supernatural forces?
In the 1920s, a German family and their maid were brutally murdered at their isolated farm in Bavaria. Known as the Hinterkaifeck Murders, this bizarre case has caused intrigue ever since. So strange is it that many people believe the only explanation is paranormal…
The family in question were Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber, their widowed daughter, Viktoria, Viktoria’s children, Josef and Cäzilia, and the family’s housekeeper, Maria Baumgartner. They were not popular locally. A sullen bunch, they kept themselves to themselves. It was rumoured that Viktoria’s two-year old, Josef, was the product of an incestuous relationship with her own father, Andreas. He was said to be so infatuated with her that he’d forbidden her to marry again and kept her under close watch.
Six months before the murders, the Gruber’s maid, Maria, abruptly quit. She said she was hearing strange noises in the walls, and disembodied footsteps in the attic, and was too scared to carry on working there.
Although the family had also noticed odd things happening round Hinterkaifeck farm – footsteps in the snow leading up to the house, peculiar noises in the attic, things going missing – they still thought their maid was just mentally disturbed.
She was eventually replaced by Maria Baumgartner. Tragically, Maria’s first day on the job was also to be her last… When young Cäzilia repeatedly failed to show up at school, the local townspeople became concerned. A few of them headed out to the Grubers’ farm to check on the family. They stumbled on the scene of a horrific massacre. The bodies of the three adults and Cäzilia were piled up neatly in the barn, and covered with straw. Maria and Josef were lying in pools of coagulated blood in their beds.
The autopsies later revealed that they’d all been hacked to death with a pickaxe.
It was determined that the date of the murders was 31 March 1922 – but this got the townsfolk scratching their heads. Many thought they’d seen smoke from the Gruber chimneys after this date. Even more curiously, all the livestock on the farm had been fed and cared for.
But why would someone kill the family, then stick around?
Suspicion fell on a man by the name of Lorenz Schlittenbauer. Viktoria had always claimed he was actually Josef’s father and she’d been planning to sue him for alimony payments – could that have been his motive for the brutal murders?
Others wondered if Viktoria’s husband, Karl Josef, hadn’t died in the trenches during WW1 after all. Had he come home to find his wife shacked up with her father, and decided to exact revenge?
The paranormal aspects of the case have also come under scrutiny – the ‘ghost’ in the attic, the unexplained footprints in the snow. Were vengeful supernatural forces behind the deaths – or had an actual living person snuck into the house?
If so, that would mean that the murderer had been living, undetected, in the house for at least six months before the murders… Nobody was arrested for the murders, and to this day, the case remains unsolved. As a weird aside, the skulls of the victims were removed after their autopsies, and allegedly sent to clairvoyants, to see if they could find out more about the murderer.
However, the heads were never returned. The bodies were buried without them.