This blog’s exploration of unsolved mysteries begins with a family massacre that still puzzles investigators and armchair detectives to this day – the Hinterkaifeck murders.
*Note: As this case is very old, much of the research available on this mystery comes from other mystery blogs and independent investigators, as the case files themselves are generally unavailable to the public and primarily in German. For this reason, there may not be a lot of hyperlinks, as many blogs go over the same information.
Situated between the small Bavarian towns of Ingolstadt and Schrobenhausen, the Hinterkaifeck farmstead housed a family of six: Father and farmer Andreas Gruber, his wife, their daughter Viktoria, Viktoria’s children Cäzilia and Josef, and their new maid, Maria. The family was generally well-off and self-sufficient, but the family was known to be relatively recluse to the outside community.
Prior to the family’s untimely demise (we’ll get to that soon), strange things began happening around the Hinterkaifeck homestead. The family’s first maid suddenly packed her bags and quit about a week prior to the murders, fearing that the farm was haunted after hearing unbodied footsteps and voices around the house. A few days later, townspeople recount Andreas mentioning strange phenomenon happening, like unexplained foot prints leading up to his barn, finding an unfamiliar newspaper in his home, losing a set of keys and hearing footsteps in his attic.
Several days later, people in the town had not heard from any members of the family, and grew worried. Little Cäzilia had not shown up for school. Viktoria, a regular singer in the church choir, had not been present for Sunday service. A few people formed a search party, headed to Hinterkaifeck, and searched the property.
What they found shocked the entire town.
On March 31, 1922, the entire family at Hinterkaifeck had been brutally slain. Andreas, his wife, and Viktoria’s bodies found in the barn, while Viktoria’s children were found dead in their beds.
The townspeople quickly sent for more help, but were baffled. Although the family had been dead for several days at that point, the farm’s livestock and dog had been fed, the house’s furnace had been maintained, and neighbors even reported seeing smoke in the family’s chimney the day prior.
It became a disturbing, multi-layered case.
Who killed the family at Hinterkaifeck and proceeded to play house, and why did they do it?
The quiet, reclusive family at Hinterkaifeck had their fair share of secrets and controversies that makes this mystery even more intriguing.
It was Personal
The original theory for this case was that it was a robbery gone wrong. However, large amounts of money and gold jewelry were found throughout the house, debunking this idea.
Instead, the evidence points toward the murder being of personal nature. In the barn, all of the bodies were carefully stacked and covered with hay. In the house, the bodies were also covered with blankets, as if they were sleeping. This may indicate that the killer felt a personal connection to the family, or even felt remorse for their crime.
Evidence also suggests that Viktoria, Andreas, and his wife were each lured into the barn where they were killed one by one. This likely means that they all knew the killer enough to all follow them somewhere.
The gruesome nature of the killings also suggested that the act was not done out of necessity, as to kill witnesses, but out of passion. Additionally, the successful maintaince of the farmstead for several days after the murders suggests the killer had knowledge of the family’s home.
Viktoria was Probably the Target
Autopsies of the bodies found that all of the victims’ cause of death were blows to the head by a pickaxe, which was later found hidden in the floor by a fireplace in the home. However, Viktoria’s autopsy also revealed that she was the only member of the family to also have been strangled prior to hear death, even if it did not kill her. Although not proven, some theorists believe that Viktoria was also dead the longest, meaning she was killed first.
Further investigation revealed that Viktoria was actually the owner of the farmstead, and the land was in her name. But, this revelation just scratches the surface of a much deeper rabbit hole of family drama that centered around Viktoria.
In 1914, Viktoria married a man named Karl Gabriel, who owned Hinterkaifeck. But, in August of that year, Gabriel joined the army to fight in WWI, and in December, the family received word that he had died in action. However, his body could not be found. In January of the next year, Viktoria birthed her first child, Cäzilia.
But, here’s the bombshell: In May of 1915, a neighbor caught Viktoria being raped by her own father, Andreas.
Andreas served some jail time for the incest, but it was rumored that the abuse was ongoing, and he was often also violent toward his wife. This abuse was also mental, as Andreas severely restricted Viktoria and did not allow her to be social.
A Rocky Break-Up
Later in 1915, Viktoria began to be courted by a local man named Lorenz Schlittenbauer. However, when Viktoria announced that she was again pregnant with little Josef, Lorenz vehemently denied that he was the father when asked to pay child support and instead went to the police to accuse Andreas of further incest.
However, a short time later, Lorenz redacted his accusations, quietly left Viktoria and married another woman.
This was not to say that this drama was over. Viktoria apparently was preparing to sue Lorenz for alimony payments.
Lorenz was easily the prime suspect in this case, as he not only seemed to have the most motive in wanting to escape future payments and the family’s drama, but also had a strange reaction to the case itself.
Lorenz was a member of the first search party to Hinterkaifeck, and according to reports, “displayed a surprising familiarity” with the farm. Not only did he know his way around and where to look for the bodies, he seemed unnaturally calm upon their discovery, and even fixed himself a meal at the house after searching.
On the night of the murders, Lorenz told his family that he would be sleeping in his own farm’s barn to watch over the livestock. He lived close enough to Hinterkaifeck to make it to the farm and back overnight, and he was known by the family.
Karl Gabriel, Viktoria’s Former Husband
Some theories suggest that Viktoria’s former husband, Karl, did not actually die in the war, and instead found his way home to Hinterkaifeck. The theory proposes that upon seeing Viktoria’s infidelity either with Lorenz or her father, Karl got upset and killed the family.
It is also possible that Karl was responsible for the unexplained phenomenon, like the paper and footprints, if his family had not known that he had returned. However, it is probable that Karl did actually die, and a number of eyewitnesses confirm that he passed on the battlefield.
As advanced forensic measures that could determine a homicide from a suicide were not developed in the 1920s, it is possible that Andreas could have killed the entire family before turning the axe on himself. Not only was he known for violence, it is possible that his daughter’s relations with Lorenz, or any other man, may have enraged him. Similarly, if Viktoria was preparing a new lawsuit against Lorenz for alimony, Andreas may have feared more scrutiny about his incestuous relationship. However, this would not explain how the farm was maintained for several days after the killings.
Most theorists agree that Lorenz was probably the killer, and I agree with them – but with a twist. Here’s what I think went down:
Even though Lorenz had remarried, he still wanted to keep tabs on Viktoria, especially when word got around that she may sue him again, so he could find out what was really going on. So, he periodically kept watch on the family while they were at home, thus explaining the lost keys, mysterious footprints, and footsteps in the attic.
When Andreas heard that Viktoria was preparing to sue Lorenz, he got angry with her, feared Lorenz would accuse him of incest again, and that he would lose everything. So, while standing in the barn, he began to strangle Viktoria with the intent to kill her to stop her plan.
However, because Lorenz was snooping around the farm, he saw what was happening, and attacked Andreas with a pickaxe to save Viktoria and killed him. After seeing what he had done, he realized he could have no witnesses, and killed the rest of the family.
For a while, Lorenz banked on the family’s reclusiveness and thought that if he did some things around the farm for a few days while also stopping at his own home, no one would suspect a thing. However, he got nervous, and decided to play the role of the concerned citizen to throw suspicion off himself – and the rest is history.
With twists and turns galore, it’s likely this case may never be resolved. The investigation was revived in 2007 for cadets at a German police academy to solve, and the investigators found a solid lead to the culprit. But, they say they will never reveal the name, as the person still has living ancestors.
What do you think? Who killed the family at Hinterkaifeck, and why?
That’s it for this week – be sure to check back next Sunday for a new case, and as always, never stop searching for the truth.