In this article:
- The Hinterkaifeck murders are a century-old cold case dating back to March 31, 1922 that resulted in the death of all six members of the Gruber family in their homestead near Munich, Germany.
- Among the murdered individuals were Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber, their daughter Viktoria, their grandchildren Josef and Cäzilia, and the family’s maid, Maria Baumgartner.
- Officers from the Munich Police department were able to identify the murder weapon, a pick-axe-like tool called a mattock, but not the suspect.
- Theories as to who was responsible for the Hinterkaifeck murders range from disgruntled farm hands, a neighbor, and even Andreas Gruber’s own siblings.
- German police students who use the case as an example during training have long since identified a primary suspect, but they refuse to name the person.
The Hinterkaifeck murders are one of the classic cold case mysteries within the true crime community. Like the murders surrounding the Axeman of New Orleans, much of the mystery around this cold case has remained unresolved because of how much time has passed since the incident and the present day.
As of the time this article was written, it’s already been a century since the Gruber family was murdered in their homestead in Bavaria.
And yet, questions about the killings are still abuzz online due to the strange claims of hauntings at the family home, wild theories about the killer’s identity, and the fact that the German police have already admitted that they know who the suspect likely was.
Except they won’t tell us.
Strange Occurences at a Farmstead in Kaifeck, Bavaria
The Hinterkaifeck murders may have shaken the quiet hamlet of Kaifeck, but the family had long suspected that something wrong was happening around their homestead.
Just a few days before his death on March 31, 1922, the Gruber family’s patriarch, Andreas, had told neighbors that he saw footprints in the snow around the farm leading to the machine room.
Andreas investigated the source of the footprints and noticed they were coming from the Hexenholz, a nearby forest whose name ominously translates to “Witches Wood.” More troubling, however, was that he didn’t find a second set of footprints that could prove that whoever came to his house had also left.
Earlier that month, Andreas also found a newspaper on the property that could only have come from a publication in Munich, a German city located around 51 miles from Kaifeck, that no one in the area was subscribed to.
He decided to ask his neighbors, all of whom lived a considerable distance away, whether they had noticed anything or anyone lurking around the area and whether they were having similar occurrences on their farmsteads.
Of course, they all said no. But one neighbor asked Andreas to remember exactly why Krescence Rieger, the family’s previous maid quit six months prior: she thought the house was haunted.
In a small town like Kaifeck, everybody knew that the old maid was deathly afraid of the house, claiming that she would often hear footsteps in the attic even though she knew all of the family members were already asleep in their rooms.
Another key detail: All of the family members had noticed keys going missing in the house.
Though Andreas brushed her off as a neurotic, 7-year-old Cäzilia may have been inclined to agree because she would fall asleep at her school in Waidhofen after being kept awake all night by her mother, Viktoria.
Viktoria Gruber, a 35-year-old widow, is said to have suddenly run into the woods the night before. It’s not clear what made her do so, but reports say that there had been a “violent quarrel” leading up to it. Cäzilia followed her into the forest and found her crying hysterically.
Perhaps realizing that his busy family couldn’t keep up with housework and keep an eye on Viktoria at the same time, Andreas Gruber hired a new maid, Maria Baumgartner.
Maria’s sister accompanied her to the farm on the afternoon of March 31, 1922, and likely would have been a victim as well if she had decided to stay a bit longer. Fortunately for her, she decided to go home before the evening, leaving her sister to a gruesome fate.
The Hinterkaifeck Murders Are Discovered
It took four days for the Gruber family and Baumgartner to be discovered and for the Hinterkaifeck murders to be reported.
In a time when there wasn’t a lot of entertainment to be had at home, socializing with neighbors was people’s chief pastime so the Gruber’s neighbors and acquaintances quickly noticed that the family had been oddly quiet.
Despite this, the smoke that continued to come out of the homestead chimney kept them from suspecting that the Grubers had been murdered.
The morning after the murders, Hans and Eduard Schirovsky, two brothers who went from door to door to sell coffee, dropped by to ask for their order. While the farm would typically be buzzing with activity from the crack of dawn, it was eerily silent on April 1st, leading the brothers to investigate.
Hans and Eduard walked around the property in search of the Grubers but did not enter any of the buildings or the family home. They noticed that the farm’s machine room gate was wide open.
Cäzilia’s teachers had also noticed her absence and, even odder, the lack of a heads up that she would be absent. The Grubers were regular Sunday church attendee types. They weren’t the kind to let their children be absent for so long without so much as a letter to their school.
They did not show up to Sunday church either.
On April 4th, Albert Hofner dropped by to fix the family’s food chopper. He didn’t see or speak to any of the Grubers, but because all the animals and farm dog could be heard from the barn, he likely assumed that the family had left for a bit.
Hofner spent four hours fixing the food chopper. He didn’t notice anything amiss.
Meanwhile, Lorenz Schlittenbauer, a neighbor, was wondering where his neighbors were. After his sons weren’t able to find the Grubers, he finally decided to head over with two other neighbors.
Together, they found the bodies of the murdered Grubers strewn on the barn floor with Josef and Baumgartner were found dead inside the house. Newspapers later dubbed the case “The Hinterkaifeck Murders.”
The Hinterkaifeck Murder Investigations Lead To More Questions
The Munich Police immediately showed up to investigate the Hinterkaifeck murders. It was among the biggest cases of its time and the horrific cruelty of the massacre meant that news spread throughout Kaifeck like a wildfire, terrifying citizens.
The bodies of the murdered family victims were carried away for an autopsy though it was likely that no thorough search of the homestead was undertaken nor that the crime scene was properly secured since the police initially didn’t find the murder weapon which was left in plain sight inside the house.
The autopsy revealed the following:
- Cäzilia, 7 years old: Found with severe head injuries that left her skull smashed and her neck gaping open. She was gripping a clump of her own hair in her right hand that she had torn out of her head.
- Cäzilia Gruber, 72 years old: Strangled, skull cracked due to seven blows to the head.
- Viktoria, 35 years old: Strangled, smashed skull, “star-shaped” wounds left on the head.
- Maria Baumgartner, 44 years old: Killed by blows to the head with a sharp hoe-like object.
- Josef, 2 years old: Face smashed in.
- Andreas Gruber, 63 years old: Right side of the face smashed and stripped of flesh in the process, revealing the cheekbone.
All of the family members aside from Josef had been found inside the barn with little to no signs of a struggle, suggesting that each of them had somehow been lured there one by one and then killed. Only the elder Cäzilia and Viktoria were strangled.
Investigators noticed other odd things in the house.
Aside from the animals being in good health, there was evidence of several meals being made and eaten inside the house prior to their arrival. This could only mean that the killer had been staying at Hinterkaifeck for the four days it took for the bodies to be discovered.
The Grubers had no recent enemies that could serve as obvious suspects. Combine this with their former maid’s fear of the homestead being haunted and a lot of people, then and now, were inclined to think that the Hinterkaifeck murders were paranormal in nature.
But that ignores a hidden detail about the Grubers and Schlittenbauer: Both he and Andreas were rumored to be in a relationship with Viktoria. Yes, the daughter.
Who Killed the Gruber Family?: Suspects for the Hinterkaifeck Murders
There are a ton of suspects for the Hinterkaifeck murders with some claims going as far as to say that there have been around a hundred since the case first reached national newspapers in Germany. Only one of the suspects stands out, though, and it’s Lorenz Schlittenbauer.
Lorenz Schlittenbauer had everything he needed to murder the Gruber family in their home at Hinterkaifeck.
He was a neighbor which meant he had the opportunity to sneak in and commit the deed at the best possible opportunity. It would also explain how familiar the culprit was with the property.
Schlittenbauer was also a farmer himself which would explain why the animals at the barn were somehow fed and had water even though the family had been dead for four days before they were found.
Most importantly, Schlittenbauer had a motive for committing the Hinterkaifeck murders: He was being made to pay child support for Josef, Viktoria’s 2-year-old son, because he was known to have maintained an affair with her since 1918.
Josef, who was born five years after Viktoria’s husband died in WW2, was suspected to be her son by her father Andreas.
This wasn’t just empty speculation. Records show that Viktoria and Andreas Gruber were convicted in 1915 for having an incestuous relationship with each other.
The scandal only grew after neighbors noticed that Andreas was extremely jealous with regard to Viktoria, often forbidding her from leaving home aside from when she would go to church. He had also forbidden her from remarrying.
The Munich Police Department figured that Schlittenbauer was the suspect for the Hinterkaifeck murders because he had the easiest access to the Grubers and a strong possible motive, especially compared to other suspects they considered.
Schlittenbauer didn’t exactly help his cause either. Remember the missing keys? How about the two other men who came with Schlittenbaeuer to check on the Grubers?
According to them, the barn’s gate was locked so they had to break in, but later, Schlittenbauer revealed that he had a key to the front door of the house.
He entered the house alone.
The Hinterkaifeck Murders Solved?
Lorenz Schlittenbauer’s odd behavior and remarks, one of which included saying that the ground was frozen at the time which is why the killer didn’t bury the bodies, led all of Kaifeck to believe that he was behind the Hinterkaifeck murders.
These suspicions hounded Lorenz for the rest of his life. Up until he took his final breath in 1941, Schlittenbauer was filing defamation cases against people who claimed he was the killer.
A year after the Hinterkaifeck murders, the Gruber homestead was demolished, revealing the murder weapon, a mattock, which had been sitting in the attic this entire time.
Decades after they occurred, the Hinterkaifeck murders have become thought experiments for students at German police academies studying cold cases. But in 1999, one woman reached out to the authorities claiming that her landlord, an even older gentleman, had told her in 1935 that he had personal knowledge of who committed the Hinterkaifeck murders.
At that point though, the Hinterkaifeck murders had taken place so long ago that all potential suspects were already dead. There was no point in investigating it further or going public with the information that the police had gathered over the years.
And so the Hinterkaifeck murders remain, as far as the public is concerned, unsolved.