The Chilling Story of the Hinterkaifeck Killings, Germany's Most Famous Unsolved Crime

A shrine to the victims of the Hinterkaifeck murders
A shrine to the victims of the Hinterkaifeck murders
Wikimedia // Copyrighted free use

The Hinterkaifeck farmstead was a lonesome place. Located near the woods outside the Bavarian town of Gröbern, about an hour's drive from Munich and a half-mile behind, or "hinter," the town of Kaifeck, it was the home of 35-year-old Viktoria Gabriel and her two children, 7-year-old Cäzilia and 2-year-old Josef, as well as her elderly parents Andreas and Cäzilia Gruber.

The family was known for keeping to themselves. Still, neighbors grew concerned on April 1, 1922, when young Cäzilia missed school and the entire family failed to show up to the church where Viktoria was a member of the choir. Cäzilia missed school again on April 3, and by then, mail for the family had begun to pile up at the local post office. On April 4, the family's neighbors decided to investigate. Lorenz Schlittenbauer, a farmer who lived nearby, led the search party.

What they discovered likely haunted them for the rest of their days.

In the barn, the search party found four brutally battered bodies covered with hay. Inside the house, they discovered the bodies of 2-year-old Josef and the maid, Maria Baumgartner. It had been Baumgartner's first day on the job—the previous maid had abandoned her position due to a fervent belief that the house and farm were haunted.

Nearly 100 years later, dozens of people have been arrested as suspects in the crimes, though no one has ever been found guilty. The Hinterkaifeck murders remain one of Germany’s eeriest—and most famous—unsolved crimes.

FOOTSTEPS IN THE SNOW

The reports from the family's autopsies, conducted by court physician Dr. Johann Baptist Aumüller, paint a horrifying picture of their injuries. The elder Cäzilia showed signs of strangulation and seven blows to the head, which left her with a cracked skull. The face of her husband, Andreas, was caked with blood, and his cheek bones protruded from shredded flesh. Viktoria’s skull was also smashed; her head showed nine “star-shaped” wounds and the right side of her face had been hit with a blunt object. The younger Cäzilia's lower jaw had been shattered and her face and neck covered in gaping, circular wounds.

While the elder Cäzilia, Andreas, and Viktoria likely died instantly from expertly delivered blows from a mattock—a pickax-like tool used for digging and chopping—the autopsy found that the younger Cäzilia likely remained alive and in shock for several hours after her attack. She had ripped her own hair out in clumps.

Inside the farmhouse, little Josef and the maid Maria Baumgartner had met a similar fate. Maria was killed by crosswise blows to the head in her chambers, and Josef by a heavy blow to the face in his cot in Viktoria’s room. Like the bodies in the barn, theirs were also covered: Maria’s with her sheets, and Josef’s with one of his mother’s dresses. The farm animals and a Pomeranian watchdog remained unharmed. Chillingly, they had even been taken care of and fed in the several days that passed between the murders and their terrible discovery.

Police initially suspected vagrants or other traveling men of ill-repute, but tossed out this theory after large sums of money were found within the house. Besides the bodies and the hay and bedsheets used to cover them, nothing had been disturbed—though the killer clearly remained at the farm for several days, feeding the animals, eating meals, and lighting fires in the hearth. When the police questioned the former maid about her belief that the property was haunted, she said she had come to that conclusion after constantly hearing sounds in the attic and experiencing an unsettling feeling of being watched.

Though Andreas did not believe her, he too had confided in neighbors about some strange happenings in the days before the murder: A newspaper he did not buy was found in his home, and a set of footsteps was discovered leading from the forest to the farmstead. The footsteps were set in pristine and unmarked snow, leading in only one direction. Nobody at Hinterkaifeck knew whom they belonged to.

To make matters even stranger, one of the family’s two keys disappeared shortly before the murder. Combined with the footsteps from the woods, sounds in the attic, and a smoking chimney in the days following the crime, these odd details paint a horrifying picture of a ruthless intruder who may have taken up residence in the house.

PRIVATE MYSTERIES

A black-and-white photo of the Hinterkaifeck farm a few days after the murders
The Hinterkaifeck farm a few days after the murders
Wikimedia // Public Domain

Suspicion eventually settled on several men connected to the family, in part because of some domestic turbulence at the farm.

Viktoria was a widow whose husband had died in WWI, and the parentage of her son Josef remains a mystery to this day. She had had a relationship with Lorenz Schlittenbauer—the man who had led the search party that discovered the bodies—and both had publicly referred to Josef as their child. They planned to get married—until Andreas interfered, and their relationship ended. Lorenz eventually married someone else; though he and his wife welcomed a baby, it tragically died a few weeks later.

Police zeroed in on Lorenz as a suspect. They theorized that—traumatized by the death of his baby and unwilling to pay child support for Josef—he had come to the farm (located only a few hundred yards from his own) and murdered Viktoria and her family. The theory was bolstered by the fact that those with him during the initial investigation had found his behavior suspicious; they said that he acted nonchalant, viewing and handling the bodies without signs of repulsion. He also knew his way around the farm.

The police questioned Lorenz extensively, but were unable to conclusively place him at the crime scene. His behavior could be explained by shock, they reasoned, and his knowledge of the farm by his relationship with Viktoria.

With Lorenz eliminated, police considered Viktoria’s husband, Karl Gabriel, a suspect, theorizing that he came back from the war and killed them. That theory didn't last long: They soon discovered that Karl had been reported slain in France almost a decade before, with many of his fellow soldiers attesting to seeing his body.

Another theory floated at the time was that Josef was actually the child of Viktoria and her own father, Andreas, and that one of them had killed the entire family before turning the mattock on themselves. Andreas's proclivities for incest and abuse were frequently discussed in the neighboring town; supposedly, Andreas had had other children with Cäzilia besides Viktoria, but she was the only one to survive his violent hands into adulthood. But none of the injuries to the bodies could be explained as self-inflicted, so it wasn't possible that the crimes were a murder-suicide perpetrated by Viktoria or Andreas.

The murderer had to be someone who didn't live at the farm. But who?

Only one thing could be stated with any degree of certainty: The crimes had been committed by someone who knew their way around a farm, as evidenced by the continued upkeep after the murders and by the expert wielding of the mattock. The brutality of the murders suggested that they had been committed by someone with a personal vendetta against one or several of the Grubers.

But police at the time failed to come up with answers and eventually closed the case—though it would not remain closed.

SILENT SKULLS

The Hinterkaifeck case has been reopened several times in the last 95 years. Even clairvoyants have been given a chance at it—in his book Hinterkaifeck: Spuren eines mysteriösen Verbrechens, author Peter Leuschner details how the bodies of the Gruber family and the maid were beheaded not long after the original autopsies and the skulls sent on to Munich, where they were examined for metaphysical clues. Sadly, the skulls did not speak.

In 1923, the farm was demolished, and the family lays buried—without their heads—in a plot in Waidhofen; the skulls were lost during WWII and never returned. Initial evidence gathered at the crime scene is either also lost or too ancient to give up any secrets, though in 2007 the Fürstenfeldbruck Police Academy took the Hinterkaifeck Murders on as a cold case. Because of the relatively basic forensic techniques employed during the original investigation, as well as missing evidence and the later deaths of some suspects, they were unable to conclusively identify the murderer—though they did all agree on a theory.

Out of respect for surviving family members of people related to the crime, however, that theory remains a secret. At this point, it seems unlikely the public will ever know who committed the murders, or why. Whatever secrets the Gruber family kept in life and death, they now slumber alongside them in the grave.

Alan Turing’s OBE Medal, Doctoral Diploma, Letters, and Other Memorabilia Found in Colorado Nearly 40 Years After They Were Stolen

Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images
Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

In 1984, a woman named Julia Schinghomes visited Alan Turing’s former school in Dorset, England, and made off with an entire collection of artifacts that had been donated by Turing’s mother.

According to The Guardian, library employees didn’t realize anything had been stolen until she sent them a letter expressing joy at having the items in her possession; since they hadn’t inventoried the collection in the first place, they weren’t even sure what was missing. The woman wrote again to notify the library that she would soon be mailing the items back, and she kept her word—sort of. A package containing some items arrived, and the librarians never heard from the woman again. However, certain key effects were still missing, including Turing’s OBE medal, his doctoral diploma from Princeton, his school report cards, a letter from King George VI, and more.

Then, in 2018, a woman named Julia Turing offered those items to the University of Colorado, Boulder for display, prompting an investigation that led to the Department of Homeland Security confiscating the items from her home in Colorado.

Now, Planet Princeton reports that the U.S. attorney for Colorado has filed a lawsuit calling for the artifacts to be officially forfeited to the U.S. government on the grounds that they were stolen and smuggled into the country illegally.

The lawsuit [PDF] reveals that the woman at the center of the drama is neither Julia Schinghomes nor Julia Turing—she’s Julie Ann Schwinghamer. She legally changed her name to Julia Mathison Turing in 1988, and, according to the court filing, Schinghomes was a side effect of sloppy handwriting rather than an intentional pseudonym. Although she claimed to be related to Alan Turing when she contacted the University of Colorado, she’s apparently just an especially zealous fan.

It’s unclear if there are plans to eventually return the items to their original home at Sherborne School. If they end up on the market, they could fetch a pretty penny—a notebook of Turing’s sold for more than $1 million in 2015.

[h/t The Guardian]

A Monkey Is On the Loose in Galveston, Texas—For the Second Time

Seregraff/iStock via Getty Images
Seregraff/iStock via Getty Images

Citizens of Galveston, Texas should keep their eyes peeled for a glimpse of a runaway capuchin monkey named Lilly.

According to Galveston’s The Daily News, Lilly went missing after her owner’s East End house was broken into on Monday, January 20. Local police don’t believe the thieves broke into the house in order to kidnap Lilly, so they’re assuming she escaped by herself during or after the crime. Initially, Lilly was believed to be dead, but according to Click 2 Houston, those reports were "premature" and police have resumed their search for the missing capuchin.

Galveston Police Department spokesperson Xavier Hancock told The Daily News that although Lilly is socialized, anybody who spots her shouldn’t try to catch her themselves—instead, they can call the police at 409-765-3702. Owning a monkey is against the law in Galveston, but the owner hasn’t been charged with any wrongdoing.

It’s not the first time that the area has hosted an elusive monkey. Back in September, there were reported sightings of an unidentified primate swinging through the trees in the nearby town of Santa Fe. Though no monkey was ever found, the situation stirred up a fair amount of online discussion and more than a little misinformation.

Some had originally identified the animal as a chimpanzee, but Bayou Animal Services seemed confident that it was a small monkey—maybe a capuchin—rather than an ape. And The Daily News reported at the time that one website had published stock video footage of a monkey along with its report of the incident, which caused some people to think the animal in the video was the actual one on the loose.

The mystery of Santa Fe’s anonymous monkey probably won’t be solved, but hopefully Lilly will be located and brought to safety soon.

[h/t The Daily News]

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