The Hinterkaifeck Murders took place on the evening of March 31, 1922, when a mysterious aggressor killed six residents of a small Bavarian hamlet located about 70 kilometers (43 mi) north of Munich, Germany.
The six victims included the maid Maria Baumgartner, Viktoria Gabriel, 35, Andreas Gruber, 63, Cäzilia Gruber, 72; Viktoria’s children, Cäzilia, 7, and Josef, 2, and the couple’s widowed daughter Viktoria (aged 44).
They were all discovered dead, having all been hit on the head. The murderer (or perpetrators) spent three days with the six victims’ corpses. The killings are regarded as one of Germany’s most horrifying and perplexing unsolved crimes.
The victims had been brought inside the barn one by one, and four bodies were piled up inside. The family and their previous maid had heard unusual noises from the attic before the occurrence, which caused the maid to leave. The case has never been fully resolved.
The property was destroyed less than a year after the murders and the murder inquiry, exposing new evidence, including a mattock buried in the attic and a pen-knife in the hay in the barn.
What Happened at Hinterkaifeck?
About a few hours before the attack, strange things started happening in and around Hinterkaifeck. The household maid had left six months before the attack. It is popularly believed that she left because she thought the house was haunted after hearing strange noises in the attic.
In March 1922, Andreas Gruber discovered a peculiar Munich newspaper there. He couldn’t recall purchasing it, so at first, he thought the mailman had misplaced the newspaper. No one in the area had a subscription to the newspaper. Thus, this was not the case.
Gruber claimed to have found tracks in the new snow leading from the forest to a broken door lock in the farm’s machinery room just days before the murders, which he then reported to his neighbors.
Later that night, they heard footsteps from the attic, but Gruber couldn’t find anyone when he investigated the building. He informed multiple others of his purported sightings, but he declined assistance.
Therefore, the information was not reported to the police. The seven-year-old Cäzilia Gabriel told a schoolmate that her mother, Viktoria, had left the farm the night before the crime was committed following a physical altercation and had only been discovered in the forest a few hours later.
How the Hinterkaifeck Murders Took Place
The new maid, Maria Baumgartner, arrived at the farm in the afternoon of March 31, a Friday. After accompanying Maria there, Maria’s sister departed the farm. Most likely, she was the last person to see the residents still alive.
Viktoria Gabriel, her seven-year-old daughter Cäzilia, and her parents Andreas and Cäzilia were allegedly enticed to the home barn through the stable in the late evening and then killed one at a time there.
The murderer (or murderers) struck the family in the head with a mattock from the family farm, killing them. The murderer entered the living area and, using the same murder weapon, killed Baumgartner in her bed-chamber and baby Josef while he slept in his cradle.
Discovery of the Hinterkaifeck Bodies
The bodies weren’t found until four days after the killings. Hans Schirovsky and Eduard Schirovsky, two coffee vendors, showed up in Hinterkaifeck on April 1 to collect orders. They knocked on the door and the window but got no response, so they wandered around the yard looking for someone.
Before they decided to depart, they realized that the gate to the machine house was open. The following school days saw Cäzilia Gabriel absent without justification, and the family skipped church on Sunday.
On April 4, assembler Albert Hofner traveled to Hinterkaifeck to fix an engine. He claimed that he had not seen any family members and had only heard the dog inside the barn and the sounds of the farm animals outside.
He began his repair after waiting for an hour and finished it in around four and a half hours.
To reach the family, Lorenz Schlittenbauer sent his son Johann (16) and stepson Josef (9) to Hinterkaifeck at around 3:30 p.m. Schlittenbauer went to the farm the following day along with Michael Pöll and Jakob Sigl after they reported that they had not seen anyone.
When they entered the barn, they discovered Andreas Gruber’s bodies and those of his wife Cäzilia, daughter Viktoria Gabriel, and granddaughter Cäzilia. The family’s youngest member, Josef Baumgartner, Viktoria’s son, and the chambermaid, Maria Baumgartner, were found dead shortly after.
Inspector Georg Reingruber and his team looked into the killings. The number of people who had interacted with the crime scene, moved bodies and objects, and even prepared and consumed food in the kitchen complicated the first investigations.
The autopsy was carried out in the barn by court pathologist Johann Baptist Aumüller the day after the bodies were discovered. Even though the murder weapon itself wasn’t there, it was determined that a mattock was the most likely choice.
The young Cäzilia had ripped her hair out in tufts while lying in the straw, evidence that she had been alive for some hours following the assault. The victims’ skulls were removed and transferred to Munich for additional analysis.
Initially suspecting robbery as the cause, the police questioned roving artisans, vagrants, and several locals from the nearby villages. They gave up on this notion after a sizable amount of cash was discovered inside the residence.
It was obvious that the perpetrator(s) had been at the farm for several days because someone had fed the cows, consumed all of the bread in the kitchen, and recently sliced meat from the pantry.
The police started to compile a list of suspects because the crime scene did not reveal any apparent motives. No murderer has ever been located despite numerous arrests, and the files were closed in 1955. Nevertheless, before Kriminalhauptkommissar Konrad Müller’s retirement, the final interrogations happened in 1986.
Inconsistencies in the Hinterkaifeck Family Murders
The victims were most likely enticed to the barn by noises from the animals’ noises coming from the stable, according to the inspection report of the judicial commission. However, a further test showed that, at the very least, no human screams from the barn could be heard in the living area.
Michael Plöckl, an artist, passed through Hinterkaifeck the night following the incident, three days before the remains were found. Plöckl noticed that the oven had been preheated. He had been blinded by the man who had come up to him with a lantern, and upon having a sense of increasing dread, he had hurried on his way.
Plöckl also observed that the smoke emanating from the fireplace smelled foul. There was no investigation into this incident, and nothing was looked into to see what had been burned that evening in the oven.
The farmer and butcher Simon Reißländer noticed two unidentified persons at the edge of the woodland on April 1 around 3 a.m. while returning home near Brunnen. The strangers turned around when they saw him, so their faces were hidden.
Later, when he learned of the murders in Hinterkaifeck, he speculated that perhaps the foreigners were responsible.
An unknown person allegedly stopped a Waidhofen resident in the middle of May 1927 at midnight. He questioned him about the crime before yelling that he was the murderer and sprinting into the woods. No name was ever given to the visitor.
Who Murdered the Hinterkaifeck Family?
The Hinterkaifeck killings are still unsolved since the killer was never found. In the family’s barn, the bodies of Andreas, his wife Cäzilia, their daughter Viktoria, and their seven-year-old granddaughter Cäzilia were discovered. Nonetheless, over the years, there have been multiple suspects.
Karl Gabriel, Viktoria Gabriel’s spouse, supposedly perished in Arras, France, in December 1914 due to a shelling strike during the First World War. His remains, however, had never been found. After the killings, people started to wonder if he had perished in battle.
Josef was born when Viktora Gabriel’s husband was away. Josef, a two-year-old, was thought to be the son of Viktoria and Andreas, whose incestuous “relationship” was acknowledged in court and widespread in the community. They were both found guilty of incest by the community while he was raping his daughter.
War prisoners from the Schrobenhausen region who had been prematurely freed from Soviet captivity after the Second World War claimed they had been sent home by a German-speaking Soviet officer who claimed to be Hinterkaifeck’s murderer.
However, some of these persons later changed their words, making them less credible. Karl Gabriel was suspected to be the Soviet officer because, according to witnesses who claimed to have met the man after he was said to have died, Gabriel had expressed a desire to visit Russia.
Lorenz Schlittenbauer is thought to have had a connection with Viktoria Gabriel and fathered Josef shortly after the death of his first wife in 1918. Locals were skeptical of Schlittenbauer early in the inquiry because of several questionable activities he took on soon after the bodies were found.
Schlittenbauer and his companions arrived to investigate, but all the doors were locked, so they had to breach a fence to get into the barn. Schlittenbauer presumably used a key to unlock the front door after discovering the four deaths in the barn, and he then (suspiciously) went into the home alone.
Although it’s also plausible that Schlittenbauer, as a neighbor or as Viktoria’s potential lover, was given a key, a key to the residence had gone missing a few days before the killings.
Schlittenbauer allegedly claimed that he went into the house to look for his son Josef when questioned by his friends about why he had gone in alone while it was unknown if the killer might still be present. Schlittenbauer is known to have disturbed the dead at the scene, potentially jeopardizing the inquiry.
Schlittenbauer was the subject of neighborhood suspicion for many years due to his peculiar comments, which were perceived as evidence of knowledge of information that only the murderer would remember.
Hans Yblagger, a local teacher, found Schlittenbauer touring the ruins of the demolished Hinterkaifeck in 1925, according to his information in the case files. Schlittenbauer responded when questioned why he was there that the culprit had been unable to bury the family’s corpses in the barn at the time of the murder due to the frozen ground.
Although he may have just been making an educated guess, given that he was a neighbor and familiar with the surrounding terrain, this was seen as proof that Schlittenbauer had intimate knowledge of the state of the ground at the time of the murders.
Another theory held that Schlittenbauer killed the family as retaliation for Viktoria’s need for financial assistance for little Josef. Schlittenbauer filed and won several civil slander lawsuits before he passed away in 1941 against people who called him the “murderer of Hinterkaifeck.”
Adolf Gump and Anton Gump
Due to his ties to the Freikorps Oberland, Adolf Gump was identified as a suspect as early as April 9th.
Adolf and Anton Gump were the subjects of a prosecutor’s investigation into the murders at Hinterkaifeck in 1951. On her deathbed, Kreszentia Mayer, their sister, asserted that Adolf and Anton were responsible for the killings.
Anton Gump was subsequently placed into police prison, but Adolf had already passed away in 1944. However, after a short while, Anton was once more dismissed, and in 1954, the case against him was eventually dropped because it could not be established that he had taken part in the crime.
Andreas S. and Karl S.
Therese T, a lady, mentioned the following incident in a letter in 1971: She saw her mother receive a visit from the Karl and Andreas S. brothers’ mother when she was 12 years old. The mother stated that the two murders in Hinterkaifeck were her sons from Sattelberg.
During the chat, the mother remarked, “Andreas grieved that he misplaced his penknife.” A pocket knife that couldn’t be firmly attributed to anyone was discovered during the farm’s demolition in 1923.
The knife, however, might have belonged to one of the murder victims. This path was taken without getting somewhere. Former Hinterkaifeck maid Kreszenz Rieger was positive she had already seen the penknife in the yard while performing her duties.
Josef Betz named Peter Weber as a potential suspect. The two shared a room while working as laborers in the winter of 1919–20. Betz claims that Weber mentioned the isolated farm Hinterkaifeck.
Weber was aware that only one elderly couple, along with their daughter and two children, resided there. He most likely was aware of the relationship between Gruber and his daughter. In a hearing, Betz stated that Weber had advised killing the older man to obtain the family’s money.
Weber stopped discussing the offer after Betz declined it.
Siblings Bichler and Georg Siegl
Kreszenz Rieger, the previous maid, worked at Hinterkaifeck from about November 1920 until September 1921. She believed the killings were the work of the brothers Anton and Karl Bichler. Since Anton Bichler assisted with the potato harvest at Hinterkaifeck, he is familiar with the location.
According to Rieger, Bichler frequently discussed the Gruber and Gabriel family with her. Anton allegedly said the family should all be dead. The maid emphasized throughout her interrogation that the farm dog, who growled at everyone, never barked at Anton.
She also claimed to have had a nighttime conversation with a stranger through her window. The maid thought it was Anton’s brother Karl Bichler. She believed that Georg Siegl, who had worked at Hinterkaifeck and was aware of the family’s riches, could have helped Anton and Karl Bichler perpetrate the murder.
Siegl was alleged to have entered the house illegally in November 1920 and taken several items; however, he denied this. He did admit that he had carved the murder weapon’s handle while he was employed at Hinterkaifeck and that he was aware the murder weapon would have been kept in the barn passage.
The former maid, Kreszenz Rieger, claimed that the Thaler brothers were also implicated. Before the crime, the brothers had already conducted several small-scale burglaries in the neighborhood. Josef Thaler allegedly asked Rieger questions about the family while standing outside her window at night, but Rieger refused to respond.
In conversation, Josef Thaler asserted that the family was wealthy and claimed to know who was sleeping where. Rieger noticed that another person was around when they were speaking. She said Josef Thaler and the stranger had shifted their eyes skyward and glanced at the machine house.
In his book The Guy from the Train, author Bill James suggests that a man named Paul Mueller may have been responsible for the Hinterkaifeck murders. James believes Mueller murdered dozens more victims based on research in American newspaper records.
Mueller was the only suspect in the 1897 murder of a Massachusetts family, and James believes Mueller was responsible.
The murder of an entire family in their small home, the use of a pick axe’s blunt edge as a weapon, and the apparent lack of theft as a motive are all similarities between the Hinterkaifeck murders and Mueller’s alleged crimes in the United States.
After the heinous 1912 murder of two families in a single night in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and a related family murder weeks later a few hundred miles away in neighboring Kansas, private investigators and journalists started to notice and publicize patterns in family murders across state lines.
James speculates that Mueller, described in contemporary media as a German immigrant, may have left the US for his homeland.
Will The Hinterkaifeck Murders Ever Be Solved?
The murders have been the subject of numerous books and newspaper stories. Josef Ludwig Hecker published several articles in the Schrobenhausen Zeitung that rekindled interest in the killings.
The Leuschner novel inspired the 1981 documentary Hinterkaifeck – Symbol des Unheimlichen, directed by Hans Fegert and shot on Super 8 with sound. Ingolstadt held frequent screenings of the movie.
Reinhard Keilich’s play Hinterkaifeck – Deutschlands geheimnisvollster Mordfall (1991) was created ten years later. Kurt K. Hieber simultaneously made a second documentary that was shot on location and broadcast on television and in nearby theatres.
Also in 1991, the Abendzeitung (München) published a series of pieces titled Die sechs Toten vom Einödhof – Bayerns rätselhaftestes Verbrechen and the radio station Funkhaus Ingolstadt broadcast the documentary Hinterkaifeck – auf den Spuren eines Mörders.
Fifteen police academy students from Fürstenfeldbruck’s Polizeifachhochschule studied the case in 2007 utilizing cutting-edge forensic methods. They validated the thoroughness of the inquiry in their final report (in German), but they also questioned the absence of qualified forensics.
Notably, the lack of fingerprint collection was challenged because it was already standard procedure. All writers of the report independently agreed on the primary suspect in the case, even though it is almost probable that the murderer(s) cannot be identified anymore.
Nevertheless, his name was not mentioned out of respect for his descendants.
The murders at Hinterkaifeck are briefly discussed in the final chapter of Bill James and Rachel McCarthy James’ 2017 novel The Man from the Train. The writers discuss the potential that Paul Mueller, the titular serial killer they believe murdered numerous American families in identical circumstances between 1898 and 1912, committed the crimes in Germany.
The killings linked to Mueller, such as the Villisca axe killings, were random nighttime home invasions in or near small railroad towns that resulted in entire families being bludgeoned to death with an axe’s blunt end.
A sadistic and necrophiliac attraction likely sparked these killings of prepubescent girls. The writers state that it’s “more or less a toss-up” whether Mueller is the Hinterkaifeck killer but conclude that “there’s no solid reason to suppose that it’s not him.”
Next, read about the Man Who Dissolved Bodies in Acid in Mexico and about the Case of Leonarda Cianciulli, The Woman who made Soap out of her Victims!
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