On the night of March 31, 1922, at a small farm called Hinterkaifeck, hidden in the woods about 43 miles north of Munich, six people were brutally hacked to death by a pickaxe. Five were members of the same family. The sixth person was their maid who had just completed her first day of work with the family. These murders have never been solved. For nearly 100 years, many have wondered about the murders. But, even today, no one knows what really happened to the Grueber family and their maid, other than that they were murdered in cold blood. And without their heads, their souls still wander the area.
Hinterkaifeck was less than a mile north of the little town of Kaifeck, Germany. It was never an official place but became well known for the grisly murders. As a small town, everyone in Kaifeck knew of the Gruebers. The family members killed were Andreas Grueber, age 63, his wife Cazilia, 72, their widowed daughter, Viktoria and her two children, 2 year old Josef and 7 year old Cazilia. Also murdered was the maid, Maria Baumgartner.
Six months before the Hinterkaifeck murders, the previous maid quit after telling Andreas that the farm was haunted. She was too scared to stay there any longer. She was certain that ghosts lived in the house because she heard footsteps in the attic and other noises, too. She just couldn’t take it anymore. When she quit, a thick cold fog was rolling towards the house from the forest. She got her things and left the farm.
In early March, 1922, Andreas told neighbors in Kaifeck that he saw heavy boot prints in the snow that weren’t made by family members. They led from the woods straight to the farmhouse but not back again. He also said he heard footsteps and odd creaky sounds above him in the attic. Andreas had trouble sleeping. He found an unfamiliar newspaper on the porch, and a ring of keys to the house and farm buildings went missing several days before the crime. And someone had tried to break the lock on the tool shed. Did the owner of the footprints in the snow leave the farm, or was he hiding in the attic in Hinterkaifeck for weeks or months prior to the killings?
On April 4th, people started to wonder about why no one in the family had been seen for days. It was unusual for Viktoria to miss church where she sang. Her daughter was not in school. No one had gotten their mail from the post office in days. But, neighbors saw signs of life coming from the house all weekend. They decided to check on the Gruebers. The farmstead was eerily quiet, but the dog was barking like crazy. The dog was tied up in the barn but was typically a house dog. The livestock was well fed and okay. Then they saw the bodies in the barn, stacked one on top of the other, bludgeoned to death in the head area. In the house, they found the young son had been murdered in his bed. Maria, the maid, had also been killed while sleeping. All of the bodies were covered in either hay or sheets.
Autopsies were done in the barn. The doctor decided to separate the heads from the bodies. He decided that a pick axe had been used, but the tool wasn’t found until much later. It was believed that they were lured one at a time to the barn, maybe one after the other to see what had happened to the others who had left before.
In the house, they saw that someone recently ate there. The person who killed them may have walked to the house, lived in the attic, killed them, and stayed in the house afterwards. A lot of valuables and money were left in the house, so robbery wasn’t considered a motive.
The people in the village knew that Andreas physically abused his wife and had an incestuous relationship with his daughter. Many thought he was the true father of Josef. Some thought that Viktoria’s former boyfriend Lorenz Schlittenbauer was the killer. Some thought that he was Josef’s father, but most believed that the father was Andreas. Because of the brutal nature of the murders, it was thought to be a crime of passion. But police couldn’t find any evidence to blame Lorenz.
Viktoria’s ex-husband was supposedly killed in World War I, with other soldiers saying they saw his body on the battlefield. But some villagers thought he was really alive and responsible for the murders. Some believed it was his ghost who killed them all.
All were killed by smashing blows to their heads. Viktoria and her mother had the most attacks on their heads. They had signs of being strangled but not to death. Disturbingly, investigators knew that Viktoria’s daughter Cazilia was the last to die, after witnessing the brutal killings, and may have survived the initial attack for a while. She was found with clumps of her own hair in her clenched fingers.
Over the years, police questioned at least 100 potential suspects, as recently as 1986. Police got so desperate that at one point they even hired psychics to handle the skulls of the murder victims.
The farm itself is long gone. It was torn down in 1923 by the Kaifeck villagers. All that stands there now is the shrine. The memories and ghosts of those events wander through the trees.
So many things about this case still can’t be explained. Why did the killer hide at Hinterrkaifeck for at least six months before committing the murders? Was it the ex-husband who was supposed to be dead, or was it his ghost? Was it the ex-boyfriend? The boot prints in the snow and the sounds heard in the attic were probably made by the murderer, but why would the murderer stay so long after the killings, eat there, use the fireplace, and take care of the animals? Perhaps only the wandering souls know the truth.
In a cemetery in a nearby town, the bodies were finally buried, but no heads. The doctor who performed the autopsies in the barn sent the heads to Munich for further examination, but they were never returned. The skulls were lost during the confusion of World War II, and no one knows where they are, another spooky part of the story. The six headless bodies are buried alongside the memorial, their souls wandering through the woods.