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Hinterkaifeck

(The following was originally published under the same title at StevenHuff.net on September 23, 2007. I decided to post it here to have a truly fascinating and old-school unsolved crime as the top story on the blog while I’m on hiatus.)

Cäzilia plucks.

Weißt du, wieviel Sternlein stehen
(Do you know how many little stars there are)
An dem blauen Himmelszelt?
(In the wide blue sky?)

One tuft of hair, two tufts of hair.
Pluck. Sting, pain.
Grandfather to one side, mother on the other.
They are silent. They are still.

Weißt du, wieviel Mücklein spielen
(Do you know how many little flies play)
In der hellen Sommerglut?
(In the clear heat of Summer?)

Pluck. Sting, pain.

It is cold, the straw is sticky, and something warm is in her eyes.
She pulls her hair, it reminds her that she is alive.

Pluck. Sting…

Weißt du, wieviel Kinder frühe
Stehn aus ihren Bettchen auf,

(Do you know how many children,
Get up early from their bed,)

Daß sie ohne Sorg’ und Mühe
Fröhlich sind im Tageslauf?

(That they’re without worry and sorrow,
Happy all day long?)

Cäzilia dies.

*****

In 1922, World War I had already brought Germany to its knees. War would come again in 1939. The Nazis would scourge the pages of history with their crimes. Horrors such as the massacre at Hinterkaifeck would seem minimal by comparison.

But the deaths at Hinterkaifeck were not forgotten. The mystery was never truly solved.

German true crime fans still puzzle over Hinterkaifeck. English-speaking true crime fans who hear of it can’t help but want to know more. And there isn’t much out there in English about this particular mass murder.

Few true tales of murder are as strange or chilling as this one.

*****

Hinterkaifeck was the name of a little farm located in the forest, 43 miles or so north of Munich, not far from Ingolstadt.

Andreas Gruber, the 63-year-old owner, was not too well-known to his neighbors. An odd, taciturn man, he was not well-liked, either.

Living with Andreas at Hinterkaifeck were his 72-year-old wife, also named Cäzilia; his widowed daughter, Viktoria, age 35; the younger Cäzilia, Viktoria’s 7-year-old daughter; Viktoria’s young son Josef, age 2; and a servant, Maria Baumgartner, age 44.

On March 30, 1922, Maria Baumgartner was the newest resident of Hinterkaifeck. A servant named R. Kreszenz had quit the farm in 1921, claiming a “strained atmosphere.” Kreszenz even hinted that the farm might be haunted.

Strange things did seem to happen there. Equipment broke down. Crucial rings of keys went missing. At some point prior to March 30, old man Gruber found a newspaper in his house that wasn’t typically distributed in the area. The postman had no knowledge of the paper being delivered.

The day Maria Baumgartner arrived, Andreas Gruber noted something so odd that the usually retiring man told a few neighbors about it.

Gruber found tracks in the snow, leading from the forest to his house.

Gruber saw no evidence that the owner of the tracks ever returned from house to wood.

Strange as this was, Gruber apparently saw no need to tell the local authorities.

Four days after Gruber spoke of the tracks in the snow, some concerned citizens headed out to his farm. The young Cäzilia had been inexplicably absent from school.

There they found a scene from a nightmare.

Everyone, the 5 members of the Gruber family and Maria Baumgartner, had been hacked to death.

Autopsies were done in the barn, where Gruber, his daughter, wife and little Cäzilia were killed (possibly NSFW). Maria Baumgartner was murdered in her room. Josef was hacked to death in his bassinet (link is safe for viewing).

The murder weapon was determined to have been a Kreuzhacke, or pickaxe.

It may have taken little Cäzilia two hours to die as she lay on the straw, pulling out handfuls of her hair.

Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller removed all the heads of the dead, as the worst damage had been done there. The 6 victims were buried headless.

The skulls were ultimately lost during confusion and chaos at the end of World War II.

The following year, the farm was torn down. Today all that remains is a field and a monument reminding any passers-by of the crime.

*****

The local police were overtaxed at the time, but they worked hard to solve the murders at Hinterkaifeck. Still, hysterical residents near the farm tried to take matters into their own hands, hunting for wild-eyed tramps, starting for some time at every rustle in the forest. Any stranger on the road was considered suspicious.

Police established a reward, and questioned some solid suspects. No arrests were ever made.

One logical suspect was the man who was listed on little Josef’s birth certificate as his father, a nearby farmer named Lorenz. Viktoria, who was said to be beautiful, had been briefly involved with the man.

The motive? Josef was believed by most familiar with the Grubers to be Andreas’s child.

In 1919, both Andreas Gruber and his daughter Viktoria were imprisoned for the crime of incest. After all, the old man had publicly declared after his son-in-law’s death in the trenches during World War I that his daughter didn’t need another man — she had him.

Other suspects included Viktoria’s husband, Karl Gabriel. He’d supposedly been killed in France, but his corpse was never found. The theory was that Gabriel had found out about the incest and committed the murders in revenge. Police even attempted to find some trace of Karl Gabriel in the French Foreign Legion.

The investigators into the massacre did, over time, come to some concrete conclusions about the killer or killers of the Grubers and Ms. Baumgartner. These conclusions only added to the eerie aura that has always enveloped this crime.

The killer(s) of the Grubers did not intend to rob the family. The Grubers had money — a good deal of cash was found in the farmhouse. It was untouched.

The killer(s) stalked the family. There was some evidence of someone hiding out in the attic of the house, in addition to Andreas Gruber’s haunting report of a one-way set of tracks leading from forest to dwelling.

A truly strange determination was made about events immediately following the murders. As six people lay dead or dying in the barn and in the farmhouse, the killers ate a meal. Then they fed the cattle.

*****

Some sources say that the last investigations into the murders at Hinterkaifeck took place in 1986.

However, an article was published in several U.S. papers in June of 1955 indicating that the authorities in Germany had closed the case.

MUNICH, Germany, June 13. The state prosecutor has closed the records without a conviction on one of the most gruesome crimes in Bavarian history — the pick-ax slaying of six persons 33 years ago.

One of two suspected slayers is dead. The other cannot be brought to trial under the German statute of limitations…

In 1941, in the middle of World War II, a woman made a deathbed confession to a priest. She said that her two brothers committed the murders at Hinterkaifeck. A Bavarian-based newspaper published a story about this admission in 1952, but it gave no source.

The priest was questioned, but he only confirmed the names of the brothers, nothing more.

One brother had died in France in 1944. In the early ’50s the remaining brother was an elderly man living on a pension. He spent several weeks in custody, but his story as to what had transpired that night in 1922 changed each time he told it. He was released without charge.

Motive? Again, it was allegedly the incestuous relationship between Viktoria and her father. The 1955 English language article stated that one of the brothers had been enraged by this, and his rage drove him to kill the family.

In 1978, author Peter Leuschner published (in German) a book about Hinterkaifeck.

In his book, Leuschner apparently mentioned a man named Friedrich Haarmann, a criminal who certainly had it in him to kill 6 people.

Haarmann became known to history as Fritz Haarmann, a truly vampire-like serial killer who terrorized Hanover (5 hours from Ingolstadt) in the early 1920s.

But Haarmann tended to kill a very specific type of victim, and none of the victims at Hinterkaifeck fit the bill. Fritz Haarmann killed male prostitutes and vagrants. He apparently got a sexual thrill from drinking the blood from his victims’ throats. It was even alleged that Haarmann (he was dubbed “The Butcher of Hanover”) made some of his victims into sausages that he sold on the black market.

While Haarmann’s preferred victims were young, good-looking men, he was nothing if not a versatile criminal. He cheated other criminals, informed on them to the police, and generally did what the most complete psychopaths usually do — anything evil that comes to mind.

Something about the idea that Haarmann might have killed the Grubers and Maria Baumgartner just doesn’t make much sense.

Then again, nothing about such crimes ever makes much sense.

*****

Ultimately, Hinterkaifeck is one of those crimes that will remain unsolved and maintain its mystery and ability to chill as a result. It is the stuff of horror films, after all. The scene could have been scripted by Poe. Many reports indicated that it was storming the night of the murders. Theories of the crime state that those killed outside were lured by the sound of an untethered farm animal, perhaps a cow with a bell on its neck.

Taken in with the evidence of someone stalking the family, possibly peering down on them from the attic, and you have a scenario that may never lose its power to raise gooseflesh.

And then there is the coda to the murders. A little girl laying on a gory bed of straw between two dead bodies, snatching out clumps of her hair as she bleeds to death. The power inherent in the story of this particular long-unsolved multiple murder may be there, in that imagined swing of little Cäzilia’s hand through the dark.

Pluck. Sting, pain.

Such a detail conducts a chill from the the skin into the bones.

The bones, where memories of evil so often abide.

Sources not otherwise linked:

http://www.geocities.com/hinterkaifeck/;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hinterkaifeck;
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Parthenon/6865/hi.html;
http://www.newspaperarchive.com/;
http://www.mamalisa.com/?t=es&p=454&c=38 ;
The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers, by Michael Newton;
As is stated in the English Wikipedia article, there does appear to be a new movie about the murders currently in production (link goes to German-language site).