Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Farmhouse murders shake town

By Matthew Wendler

It was a cold day in late Mar. 1922 and a winter storm from the night before had caused snow to cover the ground. Andreas Gruber was the owner of the old Hinterkaifeck farmstead in the small town of Wangen, Germany. The farm was set in a rural location surrounded by woodland and was inhabited by Gruber’s family. In the early morning, Gruber found the door to the farm’s machine room open. It’s lock had been broken and a trail of footprints could be seen in the snow leading to the door. Gruber followed the tracks and noticed they had come from out of the woods. There were no footprints found heading away from the property. 

Gruber asked his family about the footprints, but none of them claimed to have wandered in that area. Fearing of a possible intruder, Gruber searched the property, but was unable to locate anyone. Following the discovery, the Gruber family began to hear strange noises coming from the attic, but they were unable to find a cause. Some of their belongings had been moved around different areas of the farm, a pair of house keys went missing, and a newspaper the family didn’t read was found inside the house. Andres confided in his neighbor Lorenz Schliteenbauer with this information. Schliteenbauer offered him a gun for protection, but Andres refused. 

A new maid by the name of Maria Baumgartner started working for the Grubers Mar. 31, 1922. The family’s previous maid had quit six months earlier, leaving under the belief the farm was haunted after claiming to hear noises coming from the walls and the attic. 

Residents of the town stopped hearing from the Grubers following the day Baumgartner was hired. Both a mail man and a repair man had stopped by the farm, but neither were met with any greeting. 

Locals also noticed the family didn’t attend Sunday mass as usual. Despite these details, a few individuals close to the farm noticed smoke rising out of the Gruber’s chimney. 

Schlittenbauer sent his sons to check on the Grubers Apr. 4, 1922. When they returned, Schlittenbauer was informed they hadn’t seen anyone there. Schlittenbauer rounded up a group of men and went over to the property to investigate. Inside the barn they found four bodies, buried under hay and piled one on top of each other.

Andreas Gruber, age 63, his wife Cäzilia Gruber, age 72, their daughter Viktoria Gabriel, age 35, and her daughter Cäzilia Gabriel, age 7, were quickly identified as the deceased. They had all been murdered. 

The men went to check inside the house and discovered two more bodies. Viktoria’s other child Josef Gabriel, age 2, was found beaten to death in his bassinet. In another room, Baumgarter, age 46, was found lying in her bed, dead like the others.

Police investigated the farmstead Apr. 5 and were able to rule out robbery as a motivation after large sums of money were found to have remained on the property. They noticed the cows had been recently milked and that the animals had been well fed. A low supply of food was present in the kitchen as well. The details served as indication that the murderer continued to live on the farm after slaughtering the family. The murders are believed to have taken place Mar. 31, 1922. 

An autopsy was performed inside the barn during the investigation. It was found that each victim had sustained several skull and facial wounds, many of which appeared to be star-shaped. Two of the victims were also found to have been strangled along with the blunt force trauma. The bodies were decapitated postmortem by the district court physician and the heads were sent away for further analysis, which was a common practice used at the time. The heads; however, had eventually gone missing. 

Many of the locals grew suspicious of Schlittenbauer. It was known that he wanted to marry Viktoria, whom he started seeing after the death of his first wife. Schlittenbauer believed Josef was his son, but was denied access to the child. It is rumored; however, that Andreas was actually Josef’s biological father. Viktoria and Andreas were once arrested after it was discovered they had an incestial relationship, causing many locals to disapprove of the family. 

Despite all of this, Schlittenbauer was forced to pay alimony. It is theorized he murdered the family because of all this; however, this is unlikely as he had his own family to attend to. The murderer had stayed at the farm for days and his family would have been able to vouch for his whereabouts. 

One other suspect people have theorized was Karl Gabriel, who was Viktoria’s husband believed to have been killed by a mine explosion in 1914 during World War I. It is theorized Gabriel actually survived the incident and found out about Josef’s birth in his absence. While it explains a motive, the idea seems very far-fetched as there is no evidence to support that Gabriel survived his time at war. One thing that refutes this theory is that there have been a few soldiers who fought alongside Gabriel that claimed to have witnessed him die.

It’s possible the person who murdered the Grubers had no connection to the family at all as there is no evidence to disprove this. Whether or not there was a true motive for taking the Gruber’s lives is unknown. 

The farmstead was torn down a year following the murders. During its destruction, a mattock was discovered, covered in dry blood. The mattock found was constructed by Andres himself and would have been left in a tool shed. It was instead found hidden in the attic and is presumed to be the murder weapon. A monument dedicated to the victims was erected in Hinterkaifeck’s place. One hundred years have passed since the day of the murders and the case still remains unsolved. 

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