Mys­tery of the month: The Hin­terkaifeck mur­ders

Were the Hin­terkaifeck mur­ders com­mit­ted by a hu­man – or sin­is­ter su­per­nat­u­ral forces?

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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.

Dis­turbed

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?

The­o­ries

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.

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