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The mysterious massacre at Hinterkaifeck

An isolated farmhouse in Bavarian Germany.  It is winter, 1922.

Six months before the Gruber family was murdered, their maid quit.

Not an unusual event itself, except for the reason.

She was terrified of the house, claiming it was haunted.

Before you write her off as a superstitious nut, you should know there were a lot of strange things happening at the small farmstead known as Hinterkaifeck.

Personal items kept vanishing. Other items, like an unfamiliar newspaper, were found in the home, and no one could explain how they got there.

Footsteps were heard in the attic, but no reason for them was ever discovered.

For some reason, the Gruber family, which included sixty-three-year-old Andreas Gruber, his seventy-two-year old wife Cäzilia, and their thirty-five-year-old widowed daughter Viktoria Gabriel, never went to the police about these events. Also living in the home were Viktoria’s children: Cäzilia, 7, and Josef, 2, and a new maid, Maria Baumgartner, 44.

A few days before the worst happened, Andreas found footprints in the snow leading from the edge of the forest to his home. Around the same time, a set of keys went missing.

On April 4, concerned neighbours visited the house to make sure the Grubers were okay, as the family hadn’t been seen for several days. What greeted them was a scene of unimaginable horror.

gruber family massacreAndreas and Cäzilia, along with Viktoria and her daughter, had been brutally murdered. They’d been killed with a mattock, a weapon that’s a cross between a pick and an axe. Chillingly, the little girl had survived for several hours after the attack, pulling out her hair in clumps.

The maid and the little boy had been slaughtered in their bedrooms. It was a grisly end to Maria’s very first day of work at Hinterkaifeck.

When the police arrived, they discovered a bizarre crime scene. It was obvious the murderer had spent considerable time in the house. The farm’s animals had been fed and taken care of, and neighbours had seen smoke rising from the chimney at Hinterkaifeck after the family was dead. Whoever the mysterious killer was, he’d felt comfortable enough in the home to cook himself a few meals.

The most obvious motive for the massacre was robbery, but the police ruled that out when they found a large sum of money  in the house. The Munich investigators questioned over a hundred suspects, but no one was ever charged with the crime.

And that’s far from the most disturbing thing about this case. In an attempt to solve the mystery, the corpses were beheaded, their skulls sent to a clairvoyant in Munich. However, the skulls went missing and were never returned. As a result, the Gruber family was buried without their heads.

The case intrigues people to this day, but no one has been able to solve it. Why do you think the killer stayed in the house for so long, without making much effort to hide his presence?

For more eerie unsolved mysteries, read The Dyatlov Pass Incident or Whatever Happened to Elisa Lam? 

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  1. Denise D Hammond

    The house itself is spooky looking. There is an unsolved murder here in West Bloomfield that happened in 1967 (the Deconick family). A few years ago I went on a tour of the house. The current residents say it isn’t haunted, but I thought the place was creepy.

    • JH

      I’ll have to look into that one, Denise.

      Thankfully, this particular house was torn down about a year after the murders. Creepy that the killer was living with them all along!

  2. Alex J. Cavanaugh

    I remember that story. Scary to think someone was stalking them, maybe even living in the house with them. And losing their heads was just weird.

    • JH

      It is creepy. It brings to mind all those horror movies where the killer was in the house all along. *shiver*

      What confuses me is why the murderer didn’t try to hide his presence. It’s almost like he wanted to be discovered.

  3. Madeline Mora-Summonte

    That is so creepy! Maybe the maid who quit was in cahoots with someone, a boyfriend maybe? But the fact that nothing was stolen is so strange.

    And the part about their heads? I can’t even think about that. Shudder!

    • JH

      Well, if she was, it’s strange she would have called attention to the noises in the attic, etc., by saying the house was haunted. I believe she had a bad feeling and followed her intuition. Smart woman.

      Yeah, gotta love medical science in the early 1900’s. How did they die, coroner? “I don’t know…let’s send them to that psychic in Munich!”

  4. Lisa S.

    Ugh. What a crushing story.
    Perhaps some sort of madman – a neighbour with an unrequited crush on Viktoria? Or someone in a long-standing dispute with the family?
    Strange events indeed.

    • JH

      It is very creepy. Imagine being murdered by someone who was living in your attic all along.

  5. Patricia Lynne

    These sorts of stories are so fascinating because of the mystery involved.

    • JH

      I agree–especially the fact that the killer was in the house. Gives me the creeps!

  6. Birgit

    I have never heard of this before. It is very intriguing and one wonders if they ever saved any evidence to use for DNA analysis. What made me chuckle (I know I am gruesome) was that the police decided it was a good thing to remove the heads to send to a psychic and then they go missing?? What did the clairvoyant have to say about this? Oopsy!

    • JH

      I imagine the clairvoyant said, “I see them going on a long journey…”

      There is a distinct lack of workable evidence in this case because of how old it is. Even if they had something that DNA samples could be taken from, how would they compare it against a subject?

      I’m afraid this one is destined to remain unsolved.

  7. Roland Yeomans

    Buried without their heads? Brrr. The ghost of Mark Twain says I shouldn’t be so unnerved — politicians attend Congress without theirs all the time!

    Have you heard of the murder of the Sultan in New Orleans in the late 1880’s? Of course, now revisionists have tried to say it never happened. http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20151524_20351271,00.html

    Always an interesting post. Roland

    • JH

      Thanks, Roland. And thank Mark Twain’s ghost too.

      I haven’t heard that story, but something appears to be wrong with the link. It led me to a dead zone. (Not as interesting as it sounds.)

  8. Chrys Fey

    If a maid says a house is haunted, you listen because a maid would know. They spend more time there and go all over the property, and will know before the residents/family.

    I feel terrible for the little girl for surviving for hours after something so horrible like that.

    • JH

      Me too, Chrys. It’s a sad story.

      I’m not blaming the victims, but I wish they would have taken the strange noises and missing items more seriously.

    • Citaa

      Yes, and very often the maid’s room (bedroom) is in a less preferable part of the house, maybe further from the family than other bedrooms. Houses may have been purposely built so that the maid could be housed that way, away from the family.

  9. Susan Scott

    I had chills reading this J.H. and even more so as the story progressed. Obviously a psychopath and perhaps even known to the family … perhaps a family member even, kept in secret. And their daughter Viktoria, how come she was widowed .. in what way did her husband die?

    Thanks for the chill of the day … 🙂

  10. Shannon Lawrence

    I’ve long wondered if this person was living in the attic. They were isolated, so it doesn’t surprise me that they just hung out for awhile. There was an American serial killer who was known to have a white dog with him. I can’t remember if he was one of the ones thought to ride the rails or not, but I *think* he was. His slasher name is escaping me. Anyway, he was known to sit in the house, make himself a meal, hang out, and this was around the 70s or 80s, with neighbors directly next door on either side. Did he want to be caught, or was he simply so sure of himself that he didn’t care? No idea.

    • JH

      Hey Shannon,

      Thanks for commenting! My guess is that he was living in the attic the whole time, based on what I’ve read.

      The dog-owning serial killer sounds creepy. Thanks for sharing!

  11. Julaine

    If I remember correctly, there were a couple of theories revolving around the daughter Viktoria. She was considered widowed because her husband never returned from the war (WWI) but his body was never found so for many years he was the number one suspect. The 2 year old son was widely rumored to be her father’s incestuous child and for a time she had a lover in the local village that was also considered as a suspect.

    Regardless, hindsight indicates that whoever killed them managed to remain on the property on and off for months before and days after the murders. Bizarre and chilling.

    • JH

      Thanks, Julaine, and welcome to my blog. It is bizarre and very strange.

  12. Sven Edelönn

    I min hjärna är lösningen på Hinterkaifeck-morden ganska enkel! Eftersom det inte är bevisat till 100 % att Viktorias man Karl Gabriel verkligen dog på fronten så torde det vara denne man som är mördaren. 1/ Motivet är givetvis det något bisarra faktum att Andreas utnyttjade Viktoria på ett icke sedesamt sätt. 2/ Att mordvapnet är en s.k. mattock (kombination av flåhacka och korp) som skyttegravs-soldaten Karl var synnerligen bekant med säger väl det mesta! Det lär finnas ett flertal sätt att massakrera sex personer med olika vapen/ redskap som torde vara betydligt enklare att hantera än just denna flåhacka/ korp! D.v.s. om man inte är väldigt van vid att jobba med detta verktyg. 3/ I den krigsmiljö Karl hade befunnit sig, några år innan mordet, där dödande till slut blir rena vardagsmaten gjorde också att han utan vidare mäktade med detta illdåd vilket väl ingen normal funtad människa hade mäktat med. 4/ Att en stor summa pengar fanns kvar efter det att Karl lämnat huset är också slående och ett mycket starkt bevis för att morden var av högst personliga skäl och inget annat. 5/ Karls känsla för husdjuren/ familjens hund och att dessutom stanna ett par dagar är ytterligare ett starkt bevis som pekar på denne f.d. frontsoldat. 6/ Resten av bevisen är rena “skåpmaten”; fotspåren i snön när Karl kom gående från skogen för att embarkera sig uppe på vinden några dagar innan han slog till, den tidning han hade med sig och som hittades, den försvunna nyckelknippan, försöket till inbrottet i verktygsskjulet…I klartext; it had to be Karl !

    • JH

      Thanks for your theory! You could be right.

  13. Ani

    This case is obvious to crack. While reading the statements in German of various neighbors plus the autopsy report ( or at least what was left of it), I can clearly state that this was a religious murder, performed out of moral retaliation motives.

    The German statement of the neighbor included details of how evil the Gruber family was ( they were suspected of killing their own children by negligence), how Viktoria was constantly offering herself to him sexually and also how she was witnessed to have incest with her own father. The neighbor himself offered to marry Viktoria ( clearly stated in his police statement) with one condition towards her father: that Gruber will stop sleeping with her. The father didn’t like the proposal and they were never to marry. In the neighbor statement, there is one very significant key phrase that he has used: “God has done well striking this family with His right hand in the right place. These people were evil.”

    Now, it’s vital to remember ALL the head wounds ( including the baby’s) were on the RIGHT side of their skulls.

    Numerology: the killer WAITED for a profecy, If you ask me. Without the maid, they would have been 5. With the maid:6. Take the date of the killing: March 31 1922. Add 3 for the month with 3 from the date: another 6. Add all the other numbers 1+1+9+2+2 makes 15. Add 1+5 together and you get another 6. There you have it people! 666. So my take on this: it was either the neighbor or someone from church, definitely someone who was intimate with them, knew about the maid and their private life. This was also planned! The new maid comming exactly in the night of the murders Is not a coincidence. Can’t believe it wasn’t solved by now….


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