The Hinterkaifeck Axe Murders

The Hinterkaifeck Axe Murders

  • In 1922, the German public was shocked when a farmer Andreas Gruber and his family were brutally slain to death with a rusty pickaxe.
  • The farm was taken care of during the weekend: the food was eaten, the cattle was fed, the dog was let out. Smoke was rising from the chimney.

The time: March, 1922. The place: the Hinterkaifeck, a small Bavarian farm nestled in the woods about 70 km north of Munich. Andreas Gruber, aged 63, farmed the land with his wife, 72-year-old Cäzilia and their daughter, the widow Viktoria Gabriel, aged 35. Viktoria’s children also lived at the farm. A daughter, aged 7, also named Cäzilia, and a son, 2-year-old Josef. Karl, Viktoria’s husband, was presumed to have been killed fighting in the Great War, although his body was never recovered.

The family had been without a live-in maid for the previous 6 months. The last maid had abruptly resigned and left the post, claiming that the farm was haunted. Gruber put her statements down to the over-active imaginings of a superstitious lady. A replacement maid, 44-year-old Maria Baumgartner, had finally been appointed and was due to arrive on Friday, March 31.

In the days leading up to Maria’s arrival several strange goings-on occurred. Gruber discovered footprints in the snow that lead from the forest to the farm, but no return footprints. He heard footsteps in the attic but when he looked, no-one was there. A mysterious newspaper appeared in his kitchen. It didn’t belong to any of the residents. Somebody had broken into his tool-shed. A few days later his house keys disappeared.

Maria arrived on the Friday as expected and began to settle in. At some point during the evening an unidentified home-invader lured Gruber, his wife, Viktoria and her daughter into the barn one by one where they were ambushed and murdered in grisly fashion. The killer’s weapon of choice was a mattock, a digging / chopping tool similar in appearance and application to a pickaxe. The adults died from their wounds shortly after the attacks but it took the younger Cäzilia several hours for death to finally come. It would have been a relief by that point. The helpless youngster had torn out her own hair in the midst of the agony and insanity of her suffering.

Having mercilessly dispatched these four, the murderer’s cruel work was not yet complete. They stalked into the farmhouse and killed Josef in his cot. They entered Maria’s sleeping quarters and hacked her to death like the rest. Now the killer made themselves at home, eating of the family’s food, availing themselves of the fireplace and even tending the cattle. If there were any doubt, the motive for this sickening crime was not robbery. Gruber kept a large sum of money in the house, not particularly hidden, and the killer did not search for this. They stayed at the farm for several days before disappearing.

On Tuesday, April 4, concerned neighbours came to investigate because the mail was stacking up, young Cäzilia had been absent from school and none of the family had been seen out in the fields at their daily chores. Upon discovering the gruesome find the neighbours alerted the police. One Inspector Georg Reingruber headed up the investigation. Over 100 suspects were questioned, even as recently as 1986, but nothing of use was ever found and the mystery remained. The early investigation focused on inhabitants from surrounding villages, travelling salesmen and tramps. The question of whether Karl Gabriel had actually died in the war was raised. Some of his brothers-in-arms reported having seen him die and these witnesses were considered credible by police.

In 2007 the case was turned over to Fürstenfeldbruck Police Academy students. They concluded that the case was by now unsolvable due to the length of time since the crime, lack of evidence from primitive investigative techniques, lost evidence (what little was there) and the deaths of suspects. However, they did privately identify a prime suspect whose identity was not made public out of respect for surviving relatives.

One year after the attacks the farm was demolished and replaced with a shrine in memory of the victims.

The Hinterkaifeck Axe Murders Memorial
The Hinterkaifeck Axe Murders Farm
The different various scenes discovered are marked with numbers.
Unsolved mysteries, Crime
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