Case of the Month: Hinterkaifeck

The coffins of the Hinterkaifeck murdersCase of the Month: Hinterkaifeck from 1922.

On March 31, in 1922, six people were murdered behind the hamlet of Kaifeck, Bavaria, Germany. The murder weapon was a mattock which is similar to a pickaxe. It has a long handle with a stout head that combines both an axe blade and a cutter, or a pick and a cutter. The one who wielded it knew how to handle it. I have not been able to find a scanned in autopsy report but the descriptions of the autopsy reports state that all six victims were murdered in cold blood with a pickaxe.

The victims were all related. Andreas Gruber (63), his wife Cazillia (72), their widowed daughter Viktoria (35), her two children Cazilla (7) and Josef (2), and the family maid Maria Baumgartner (44). Maria had arrived at the farm just hours before her death.

The murder weapon was found a year after the slaughter when the farm was torn down. The farm had been searched extensively and K9 units were used as well. Despite that, they did not find the murder weapon in 1922. The weapon was identified by George Siegl, a farm hand. Siegl had helped out during harvest times and stated to police that he knew first hand that Gruber had made the mattock himself. Siegl also explained that this mattock was kept with all other farm equipment in a tool shed.

The trauma all six victims suffered has led to the speculation that several weapons had to be used. However, the original documentation is incomplete or lost. Aside from the exact number of murder weapons, the motive remains a mystery. There is speculation galore but so far, nothing sticks except this: the crime was committed by someone who knew how to run a farm, was familiar with livestock, was comfortable enough to stay at the farm after the murders in the company of the family dog, was strong enough to wield the mattock so many times, did not care for money, and most importantly had a personal reason for this crime.

Autopsy results as described here:

  • Cazillia Gabriel (daughter Viktoria Gruber): lower jaw shattered, cervical injury due to shock, severe head injuries. Skull was smashed with several blows and her neck revealed a wide gaping, transverse wound. On the right of her face was a circular wound. Her face was smeared with blood. In her cramped right hand fingers were hair pieces.
  • Cazillia Gruber (wife of Andreas Gruber): bruising near the right eye, seven blows to her head, one in triangular shape. Signs of strangulation, skull cracked.
  • Viktoria Gabriel (mother of Cazillia and Josef): nine “star-shaped” wounds to the head, strangulation marks on the neck, right side of the face smashed with a blunt object. A small round injury of a pointed tool on the upper skull. Smashed skull.
  • Maria Baumgartner (maid): killed by crosswise blows to the head, face crusted with blood, one head wound was 4cm deep and blood-encrusted probably resulted from a sharp hoe.
  • Josef Gruber (son Viktoria Gruber): killed by a heavy blow in the face, top of the bassinet stroller destroyed.
  • Andreas Gruber (husband Cazillia Gruber): right half of the face smashed, cheek bones protruding, flesh seemed shredded, face caked with blood.

All descriptions are awful but it looks like Viktoria and her mother received the most attacks on their heads. Also, they seem to be the only ones with signs of strangulation on their necks.

Before March 31, Gruber had described to neighbours things that had happened in the past days and weeks. Things that made his maid (before Maria) leave the farm. Footprints coming from the dense forest behind the farm but none leading back. Footsteps heard in the attic. An unfamiliar newspaper showed up. Keys went missing. When Gruber one day checked his tool shed he could tell from the damage that someone had tried to pick the lock.

Nobody knows exactly when the murders started. The autopsy reports could give us a clue if they indicated how long each person had been dead. Reading online about this case, people believe that all six were butchered one by one. Josef was killed while in his cot in his mom’s bedroom. Maria was killed in her bedroom. Gruber, his wife, their daughter, and grand-daughter were murdered in the barn.

Though we lack estimated times of death we know that the grand-daughter died last from one horrifying detail: she had torn her own hair out. Apparently alive long enough to either witness the butchering or see “just” see the dead bodies before she was struck, the girl expressed the horror the only way she had left.

Hinterkaifeck shrineThe corpses were all beheaded. The skulls were sent to a lab but are now considered lost. All victims were placed without heads in their coffins. The entire farm was demolished in 1923. The only thing left is a shrine.

Why did I mention that the one who committed this crime stayed at the farm afterwards? Someone had fed the livestock, had eaten food from the kitchen, and neighbours noticed smoke coming from the chimney as usual though the Gruber Family was already dead.

This person had all the time in the world to ransack the farm but for some reason, did not take anything from the large sums of cash police later found on the farm. Robbery was not the motive. It was personal.

The speculation is that Viktoria’s husband Karl Gabriel might not have died in the French trenches during World War I after all. Gabriel was reported killed in 1914. According to Wikipedia his body was never found.

However, if you dig around German websites you will find information from people who served with Gabriel, saw him being hit, and saw his corpse. Granted, now his remains are almost impossible to find but too many of those who served with him, left statements.

All who were questioned confirmed that Gabriel was killed instantly from a mine-shell. Some also described his dead body: Gabriel was on his back, his skull slightly split open, his mouth opened through which they were able to see the damage to his lower jaw. Despite this, he was instantly recognizable hence their steadfast statements confirming his death.

Also, there was speculation whether he mentioned his in-laws wealth or real estate and that this might have given someone the idea to stalk the family and ultimately murder them. But if that is true, why did they not take the cash? Some soldiers mentioned that Gabriel never spoke about his family or their wealth.

In 2007, students from the Fürstenfeldbruck Police Academy got the task to investigate the case once more using modern criminal investigative techniques. They concluded that it is impossible to solve this crime after all the time that had passed. Evidence is missing or was never taken from the farm. Crime scene sketches were not made and finger print traces were not taken or were not properly preserved. Possible suspects have passed away. They did consider one person to be the main suspect but do not name that person in their report out of respect for still living relatives. Again, there is suspicion but no hard evidence. The report can be found here.

One thing was clear to the students and they did put that in the report: this was personal and it was a crime of passion. I agree that this was personal but disagree that all six murders were crimes of passion.

The first one might have been a crime of passion. This is where those estimated times of death would come in handy. Had Viktoria been dead the longest we could speculate that maybe a disgruntled lover had taken revenge. There was a former lover: Lorenz Schlittenbauer. But even if he did kill Viktoria, did her really have to kill three more in the barn to cover up and then two more in the farm-house? And then stay at the farm to take care of the livestock?

Speculation again says that little Josef was Schlittenbauer’s son. If so, could he really have butchered his own two-year old? The incestuous relationship between Viktoria and her father was court documented. An acquittal followed but there was enough reason to prosecute in the first place. I read in papers that Viktoria’s children were not registered as baptized. That means there does not seem to be an official “birth certificate” hence speculation to their exact ages. Police questioned Schlittenbauer but were never able to pin anything on him. And with him eliminated, the case grew cold.


In the series “Case of the Month” I highlight an old cold case. These posts are never an in-depth analysis and of course, more information can always be found online and in newspaper archives. The goal of these posts is to get the case back in the spotlights, to get people talking about it again, and if anything … to make sure that we do not forget the victims. Just because their cases are cold does not mean that we can close the book on them.

Sources for more information:


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  6. […] The chilling tale begins six months prior, however. The previous family maid, whose name is unknown, had left the residence under the suspicion that the farmstead was haunted by an ominous presence. Andreas chalked it up to her being “mentally disturbed”. In the month prior to their untimely deaths, Andreas, who was not well liked by the community, due to his abusive nature, had claimed to find footsteps in the snow coming from the forest and leading to the farm, but none going back out. He then claimed to find things missing, things out of place, and more so, to find an unfamiliar newspaper on the front porch, and that he heard footsteps in the attic the night before. He claimed that he had found scratches on the lock to the family tool shed, as if someone had tried to break in and steal. Lastly, he claimed that the keys to the house had inexplicably gone missing. On the evening Friday, March 31, 1922, the family welcomed Maria Baumgartner as the new housemaid, and showed her to her room. A few hours later, none would remain alive. […]