The Hinterkaifeck Axe Murders

In the last days of March 1922, in a remote area of what is now Bavaria, Germany six people were brutally murdered. Their killer, it seems, had been lurking in their home for weeks or months before the attack and decided to make himself at home on their farm in Hinterkaifeck after their murders.

Andreas Gruber (63), his wife Cäzilia (72), their grown daughter Viktoria (35), their maid Maria Baumgartner (44), and Viktoria’s two young children Cäzilia (7), and Josef (2) lived on a farm just outside the hamlet of Kaifeck. The farm was far enough from the hamlet as to be called Hinter (behind, in German) Kaifeck.

The Grubers kept mostly to themselves on their homestead but had a level of notoriety in the town. It wasn’t all flattering notoriety either; with rumors circulating that Viktoria’s youngest child was a product in incest, and stories of Andreas’ temper well known. Still, they were a fixture and were known to most of the people in their hamlet.

Viktoria had been widowed in World War I, her husband Karl reportedly killed in the French trenches. A neighbor of the Grubers, Lorenz Schlittenbauer, publicly claimed paternity for Viktoria’s son Josef and paid alimony to her and her father  while living with his wife and their infant. Schlittenbauer was among the initial search party to discover the Grubers’ remains when the farm was eventually searched.

The trouble, though, started approximately six months before in roughly September of 1921. The Grubers’ then maid suddenly quit one day, saying she felt that the house was haunted. She cited strange noises in the attic and objects moving out of place when no one was home as reasons she couldn’t stay in the house any longer. It took Andreas and Cäzilia a while to find a replacement for her.

In the intervening autumn and winter months the Grubers, too, began to notice small things occurring on their farm. A set of keys to the house went missing, occasionally food or other small items would disappear. Andreas once found a foreign-language newspaper in the house that had no possible reason for being there, and all the while members of the family could hear faint scuffling noises in the attic, or breathing sounds in the walls.

Then, about a week before the end of March, Andreas was heading out to check the roof of their old barn as they had received a heavy snow the previous night. As he stepped out of the house, being the first one awake that morning he saw a set of deep, human footprints in the snow. They lead from the edge of the forest that their farm backed up against, directly to the farm house. Andreas circled the house looking for where the tracks eventually lead but could find nothing. One set of footprints leading up to the house and none leading away.

He mentioned this to some neighbors while he was in town that day, as well as telling them about the other strange happenings that had descended on the family as late. When he headed back home that night it was to tell the family that their new maid, Maria Baumgartner, would begin work that Friday.

 

Friday, incidentally, was the last day any of the Grubers would be seen alive.

 

What would be found four days later, on Tuesday April 4th,  were the bodies of Mr. & Mrs. Gruber, Viktoria, and young Cäzilia, stacked in the barn like cordwood, each having sustained massive injuries to the head. The court physician, Johann Aumüller, performed the autopsies in the barn and stated his belief that Viktoria’s daughter Cäzilia had probably lived the longest, with evidence that she had torn large chunks of her own hair out and ripped at her clothing for hours before finally succumbing to her injuries. Inside the house the search party found young Josef and the brand new maid Maria in a similar state of disrepair.

Aumüller concluded that the family had been killed in the late evening hours of March 31st, the previous Friday. In questioning the neighboring farmers this seemed to be incongruent as they stated that they had seen smoke rising from the chimney of the Gruber farm all weekend, and the animals in the barn had been tended and cared for in that time. Indeed there was evidence that someone, at least, had been living in the house since Friday with signs of recently prepared meals and a slept in bed however even the police called in from Munich, some 50 miles away, were never able to say for certain who killed the Gruber family and Maria Baumgartner or why. For over a year, they weren’t even able to find the murder weapon.

It wasn’t until late 1923, when the case was well and truly cold and the farm was being demolished that the single piece of solid evidence came to light.

In the remains of the attic of the Gruber farm house, blackened with old blood and a year’s neglect, the police found the murder weapon. A chisel-edged mattock.

 

 

No arrests were ever made and no one knows, for sure, who lived in the Grubers house with them before killing them.

 

 

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This is a very, very well covered case and like most well covered cases without a confession or conviction, theories abound. Below are just a few of the podcasts that cover the Hinterkaifeck and inject some detail, theory, or supposition about this 100 year old case.

 

 

Stuff You Should Know
Lore
Generation Why
Strange Matters Podcast
Mysterious Topics
The Witching Hour