Gallery C

Germany's "Who-done-it?"
Page 3
Page 2

The Hinterkaifeck Murder Case Of 1922

By James Donahue

Among the great unsolved murder cases is the gruesome ax killing of six members of the Gruber family at the Hinterkaifeck farmstead, a remote site north of Munich, Germany, on March 31, 1922.

Books, television shows and various criminal investigators have examined the Hinterkaifeck murders over the years because of the strange flexion involved in the story as reported in police files and by various professional investigators.
The murder victims were Andreas Gruber, 63, his wife, Cazilia, 72, their widowed daughter, Viktoria Gabriel, 35, and her two children, Cazilia, 7, and Josef, 2, plus the maid Maria Baumgartner, 44.

The bodies of Andreas, his wife and their two daughters were found piled on top of one another in the barn. The murdered maid, who had just started working for the family that day, and the two-year-old boy were found in their beds. All had been killed by an apparent ax blow to the head. 

Police theorized that the killer, or killers, lured family members into the barn one at a time to be killed. Then the killers entered the house and finished off the maid and child while they slept. The killings are believed to have occurred on a Friday night.

The crime was not discovered until Tuesday, the following week, when people in the area went to the farm to check on the well-being of the family. Young Cazilia failed to show up for school, Viktoria, who sang in the church choir, did not go to church on Sunday and the mailman noticed that nobody was picking up the mail.

Among the people who found the bodies was a neighbor, Lorenz Schlittenbauer, who police said became an immediate suspect because of his familiarity with the buildings. Schlittenbauer also pulled the bodies off of each other, and interrupted the crime scene. It later was learned that he had been a suitor of Viktoria and some believed may have even fathered her youngest child, Josef.

Authorities learned in the course of their investigation that Viktoria always claimed Schlittenbauer was the father of her son, and that she was planned to sue the man for alimony payments. Schlittenbauer, who had since married another woman and had a child by her, was mourning this child the very week of the killings. The child had just died a few days earlier.

While Schlittenbauer remained among the prime suspects in the case, he was never charged.

Residents of the area told stories of a strange incestuous relationship that had been rumored about the Gruber family. Many believed that Josef was really the offspring of his grandfather, Andreas.
There were other strange parts to the Hinterkaifeck story that left investigators baffled. For starters, the new maid, Maria Baumgartner had just been hired to replace a woman who fled the farm about a month earlier. The former maid said she could not stay because she believed the house was haunted.
Then Andreas came upon some strange human footprints in the snow that lead from a nearby woods to the house but did not return. He told friends in town about the incident, but did not contact the police. Also he said his set of keys went missing a few days before the murders. He also talked about hearing footsteps in the attic but did not elaborate. Was the killer already lurking in the house?

Police also were baffled by the fact that the animals on the farm had been fed and cared for throughout the weekend and right up until the bodies were discovered. The animals also included the family dog which was found on a leash in the barn, and still alive. Neighbors recalled seeing smoke coming from the chimneys that weekend. Also there were signs that somebody was preparing meals in the kitchen.

There was money and other valuables found in the house, so police ruled out robbery as a motive.