The following article involves disturbing subject matter. Proceed at your own discretion.
Hinterkaifeck, meaning behind the town of Kaifeck, Germany was the setting for one Germany’s most grisly and longest unsolved murder. On April 4th, 1922 six bodies were found hidden under piles of straw in the Gruber family barn. The victims? Andreas Gruber (grandfather), his wife Cazila, their daughter Viktoria, Viktoria’s children—7 year old Cazila and 2 year old Josef—and their new maid, Maria, who had just arrived that to replace the old maid who had left 6 months before.
This sounds like the opening scene of an episodic mystery on Netflix, right? Fine, except that the peculiar detail of this macabre tale is that it is absolutely true. More notably, it would make for an anticlimactic TV drama because of one peculiar fact: The murders have gone unsolved to this day, and nobody has ever been charged. This is my investigation.
A few days before the murders, Andreas Gruber found a set of footprints in the snow outside his house originating from nowhere. The footprints seemed to have come out of thin air, but then led into the barn. When Andreas went in the barn to see who they came from, there was no-one to be found. A newspaper from Munich was found inside the house, which Andreas never bought and was not common in the region. The maid, who left six months before the murders, quit because she claimed that the farmland was haunted. She often heard sounds in the attic and, when she went up to see who it was, there was never anybody there. She always felt that someone was watching her, giving her a very unsettling feeling.
On March 31st, the new maid Maria arrived at the house, that fateful day. One by one, Andreas, Cazila the grandmother, Viktoria, and Viktorias daughter Cazila, were led out to the barn and murdered with a blunt farm tool similar to a pickaxe called a mattock. The two year old Josef and Maria were murdered in their beds as they slept. The longest to stay alive out of the six was seven year old Cazila, who according to autopsy reports (which was performed by a priest), witnessed the rest of her family being murdered and was ripping her hair out in clumps.
The house wasn’t investigated until 4 days later. During that time, there was evidence to suggest that the murderer stayed there for a long period of time as the neighbours had reported of seeing smoke come from the chimney, the cattle had been obviously fed well, and food had been taken and eaten in the kitchen. The neighbours grew worried over the four days as Viktoria, who was apart of the church’s choir, did not appear for practice or service. Cazila also failed to go on the bus and appear in school. On April 4th, the neighbours led a search party and came upon the grisly scene at the Gruber home.
The suspect most often considered as the murderer is a man named Lorenz Schlittenbauer. He claimed to be the father of two-year-old Josef (Gruber), but he was, in fact, married himself and had two kids by his own wife. He is on record for paying money to Andreas and Viktoria as child support. This is where a motive enters the picture. Before the murders, Viktoria was planning to sue Schlittenbauer for alimony payments while rumors began to circulate about Josef’s true parentage. But the story gets trickier still. You see, there is a theory that Josef is, in fact, the son of the father and daughter Andreas and Viktoria, accused of having an incestous relationship. As Viktoria and Schlittenbauer were courting at the time, Viktoria thought it would be easier to claim that Schlittenbauer was the true father and raise the child herself. Many think that this son was not at all related to Schlittenbauer, though he was paying alimony under that assumption. Even more oddly, Schlittenbauer was among the group that served as a search party and had, on record, moved bodies and evidence upon discovering the gruesome scene.
There were other suspects: Viktoria’s late husband who supposedly died in the trenches of World War One, but his body was never found. Some believe that he may have returned to avenge Viktoria’s infidelity while he was off at war.
To this day no culprit has ever been charged with these murders. Schlittenbauer remained the prime suspect but was never arrested due to a lack of any evidence (though he clearly had a motive). Every suspect or witness is, by now, already dead and their memories have been relegated to local lore. Ninety-six years later, the murders still haunt Germany.