Working from contemporary German primary sources, this week we go in deep and take a look at the mysterious case of the Hinterkaifeck murders, a gruesome event from Germany in 1922, surrounded by suspicion and intrigue, but never solved.
Das Wiki (German) – A German language wiki on the case. Really it is the only resource you will ever need. Rammed full of primary sources, holding hundreds of police statements, layouts, everything. It’s a one stop shop on Hinterkaifeck. Also has links to a discussion forum on the case
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The Hinterkaifeck Murders
Post war Germany was a difficult and at times bleak period. In the rural heartland, amongst the farms of Bavaria lay Groben, a small hamlet populated by farm hands and peasants. The isolated and suspicious community toiled with the rigors of daily life of to earn money that became increasingly worthless as the days passed. On the outskirts of a small patch of wood, half a Km outside of Groben lay Hinterkaifeck farm, an old stone building home to the Gruber family. In the winter of 1922, strange events were to befall the residents, scaring away the maid and seeding unease. These events however, merely foreshadowed a much darker future for the Grubers, one that would end in brutal fashion and that has held no answers for almost a hundred years.
This is dark histories, where the facts are worse than fiction.
Hinterkaifeck, Germany, 1922
Built between 1862 and 1864, Hinterkaifeck farm, owned by the Gruber-Gabriel family, was situated in Bavaria, Southern Germany, surrounded by vast, flat farmland and isolated by forest trees. To the South lay the border of witchwood, a small and dense patch of woodland that continued to stretch along the Western boundary of the farm. The closest neighbour was half a Km to the East, at the end of a long dirt road, in Grobern, a small village hamlet made up of 25 buildings with a population of around 75 people, the vast majority of which were peasants and farmers. The larger village of Waidhofen was situated 2.5km to the south and the city of Munich sat 70km away to the North of the vast farmland. The town of Kaifeck, which the farm took its name, sat around 1 km away.
The farm building was a large stone structure, resembling an “L” shape, with the living quarters atop the long end of the “L”, and attached a stable, a barn which took the corner and a machine house which made up the shorter, bottom of the “L”. Outside in the large, open yard was a small tool shed and bakery which doubled as a laundry room as well as a well which supplied the farm with water.
The history of the gruber-Gabriel family, is mired with rumour and hearsay. In general, they were well known and thought to be a relatively well off family. You could go so far as to say that they were widely disliked within the local area. Their negative image is a sentiment that is repeated time and time again within the numerous contemporary testimonials of the family which painted them as hard working, helpful in matters of business, but reclusive in their private life, never hosting visitors or travellers and extremely guarded with their money, which, if we are to believe all the local talk, was a healthy sum. A statement given to police in 1922 by Kressenz Bichler, a local farmer who occasionally worked with Andreas, summed the family up as such:
“The Grubers were very diligent and frugal. They lived very withdrawn lives and if possible avoided any interactions with other people.”
Still, rural germany of the early 1900s was not an easy time to live and the family had worked hard amid war, famine, hyperinflation and political turbulence. Andreas Gruber was the patriarch and father, who lived with his wife Cazilia, his daughter Viktoria and two grandchildren. The grand-daughter was also named Cazilia and the grandson Josef. The deeds to the land had passed to Cazilia senior in 1885 and after their marriage in 1886, Andreas took co-ownership until 1914, whereby sole-ownership was passed down to their daughter, Viktoria.
Andreas was 62 years old and led the farm work on Hinterkaifeck. He is spoken of as helpful, but at times vicious man who was rumoured to beat his wife and children. His second child was born in 1919 but had died aged two years old and in a statement to the police, it was clear that rumours once again twisted through the village concerning the Grubers. Lorenz Schlittenbauer, who had known the family since birth and lived on a neighbouring farm said of Andreas concerning his children:
“The children probably died due to lack of care and not being fed enough. I myself and also my father had often experienced hearing the children locked in the cellar for days as we passed by the farm. I’ll tell you frankly, the people were not good.”
Andreas had forbidden his daughter Viktoria to remarry after the loss of her first husband and had twice been convicted of crimes against morality for an incestuous relationship with her between 1907 and 1910 and again in 1919.
Andreas’ wife Cazilia was 72 years old and was widowed from her first husband in 1885, after which she inherited the deed and took full ownership of Hinterkaifeck until her marriage one year later to Andreas in 1886 where she signed over co-ownership. She had lived a difficult life and had reportedly been beaten by her father and later her husband Andreas. Nevertheless, she was tough and spoken of merely as “A busy woman” by those from the village.
Viktoria was born one year after the marriage of Andreas and Cazilia and was 25 years old. She was the first child of Andreas and Cazilia, her sister Sofia was born two years later, but died aged two years old. She had previously married Karl Gabriel in April of 1914, however after a short and unstable marriage, compounded by Andreas’ hostile actions towards the husband, Karl had been drafted to fight in the first world war 8 months later and died serving Germany on the front lines, leaving behind Viktoria, who was pregnant with their daughter Cazilia junior. Tall and slim, she was relatively well spoken of and was said to be the only one of the grubers who often left the farmstead and spent time in Waidhofen, where she sung in the church choir. In May of 1915 she had been sentenced to one month prison service for an incestous relationship with her father Andreas and in 1919, she gave birth to her second child, Josef whose father was a hotly disputed fact in the area.
The two grandchildren, Cazilia and Josef were 7 and 3 years old. Cazilia was attending school in the nearby village of Waidhofen.
The paternity of Josef is a complicated knot and was the subject of much talk in Groben. Viktoria claimed a local man from a neighbouring farm, Lorenz Schlittenbauer was the father of Josef, who she had previously had a short relationship with in 1918. She had supposedly been forbidden from marrying him by her father Andreas, who locked her in the wardrobe when he came to ask her for marriage. Lorenz denied the child as his and promptly reported Andreas and Viktoria to the police, stating the child was born from a further incestuous relationship. Andreas was convicted for a second time but one month later, Lorenz rescinded his claim, accepting Josef as his son and Andreas was released from prison. He was ordered to pay a one off sum of 1800 marks (about 600 dollars in today’s money and adjusted for inflation), although he later claimed that with her father in jail, Viktoria had come crying to him, begging for his help and that he had received the money to pay the child support from Viktoria herself, which suggests that the Gruber family were hoping to buy Lorenz’ statement of paternity as a means to exonerate her father and free him from jail, which seemingly worked.
It’s hard to extract fact from rumour and many of the statements pertaining to the Gruber family are derived from hearsay and gossip, either from the local village folk or from the maids that worked at the farm over the years. It’s clear however, that they were not a well understood family, whose reclusive tendencies likely had a role to play in the suspicions and feeling of the local people. Despite all this bad feeling in the area however, they worked hard and survived the harsh environment for many years, but things were about to get very strange on Hinterkaifeck.
Stranger things on Hinterkaifeck
As winter drew in around hinterkaifeck in 1921, a sinister series of events fell upon the homestead. The bitter, dark nights brought more than just a cold chilled air and several strange occurrences foreshadowed a grim future for the Grubers.
At first there were footsteps in the attic. The maid who worked on the farm at the time had had such trouble sleeping through the continuous soft thudding above their heads that by the time she finally decided enough was enough and quit her position on the farm, she was pale and gaunt and utterly exhausted from lack of sleep. Viktoria had reportedly told people whilst out shopping of the noises in the attic also and Cazilia junior had also had trouble sleeping due to the nightly commotion and had at one point fallen asleep in class. When asked if she was having trouble at home, she told the teacher that she had been chasing her grandmother through the woods the night before, though the reasons for her night time flight were never established.
Andreas himself had heard the steps and finally, with the loss of the maid, took it upon himself to investigate, telling neighbours that he was not afraid, as he had his rifle ready. His searches amounted to nothing however and no-one was ever found on or around the farm, yet still the footsteps thudded across the wooden beams. Suspecting burglars, Andreas searched around the outhouses and found that the door to the machine house had been tampered with, the metal of the lock seemed to have been torn and ripped from a crushing tool and the wood around the door showed scratches, though nothing was removed or stolen from the property. Andreas asked around with his neighbours, though all claimed to have seen nothing suspicious.
As the winter drew on into the early months of 1922, Andreas found a series of footsteps from the nearby treeline of the witchwood that led to the farmhouse, however no tracks led away. This incident was confirmed by several people who had spoken to Andreas about the possibility of burglars in the area and the postman who had seen the tracks himself. The postman also mentioned a curious event, whereby members of the family had asked him if he had mistakenly delivered or dropped a newspaper, as they had found a Munich Newspaper on the edge of the wood, nearby their property, though no one living there had bought nor in fact, ever read a paper from Munich, nor did they ever travel so far away. The postman merely confirmed that he had not mislaid any post and found it quite strange that the Grubers were so concerned. The postman however, could probably sleep at night, without the thudding of footsteps above his head or tracks being left to his house in the snow…
Lorenz Schlittenbauer later told police in a statement of how Andreas had approached to ask if he had seen his house key recently, as the only key to the house had been lost and Andreas was completely at his ends, suggesting that someone had stolen it rather than it being misplaced, he had searched high and low across the entire farm but turned up nothing.
At least the new maid was ready to start work and on the afternoon of March 31st, 1922, Marie Baumgartner arrived on the farm to work as a live in housemaid. As the night drew in around the farm and the animals fell silent in the barn, Andreas and his family were eating their first and last meal prepared by the new maid. By the time the sun would rise over the tops of the trees and thaw the ground of the farms yard, the entire family would be dead.
One by one
On Saturday 1st of April, whilst speaking with a coffee merchant, Lorenz Schlittenbauer was asked if he had seen any of the Grubers, as he had stopped in on his rounds, but found no one at home, a situation most unusual for the reclusive family and most merchants were accustomed to finding them at home whenever they needed to conduct business at the farm. Lorenz mentioned he had not, but thought little of the situation. However as the days past and whispers reached out across the village, suspicions begun to arise. Several other traders and merchants stated they had not seen anyone at the farm and a mechanic who visited the farm to fix one of the machines found the door to the machine house locked and no one at home when he knocked. In fact, he dismantled the door to the machine house, undertook his work and once finished, put the door back together and yet throughout the whole time, saw no one. Two of Victoria’s friends had stopped by the farm on Sunday morning to meet Viktoria for their regular journey to church in Waidhofen, however met no one there, and the entire Gruber family did not attend church that Sunday. On Monday, the schoolteacher took notice of Cazilias absence from school, she often missed days, so her missing class on Saturday was not thought of as unusual, however missing Saturday and the following Monday was less common. Many people noted an unusual quiet coming from the farm as well as a lack of smoke from the chimney. In the Solitude of Groben, the sound of machinery and farm work would easily have carried across the flat fieldland and the sounds of daily work was a familiar drone, ringing through the air. The farm had been noticeable for its lack of activity for four days. For a family that was not well liked in the village, word soon spread of their absence and there were many who noticed the fact that hinterkaifeck stood silent.
On the afternoon of 4th April, Lorenz Schlittenbauer asked two of his sons to go and check on Hinterkaifeck farm. In a statement to the police, he said:
“I asked my two sons, Johann and Josef to go to Hinterkaifeck farm and knock on the windows and have a look if they could see anyone inside. I also told them to let the Grubers know that the mechanic had fixed their engine. Shortly thereafter, my sons came back and said they had not seen anyone, though they had heard something whining in the barn along with the cattle.”
Now showing real concern for the lack of activity on hinterkaifeck, Lorenz went to two of his neighbours, Jakob Sigl and Michael Poll, and the three men went down to the farm to investigate. Arriving at 5 pm on Tuesday the 4th April, the rusted gates of Hinterkaifeck creaked at the hinges as the group stepped into the barren yard. All the doors to the various sections of the building were closed except the machine house, which was left unlocked by the mechanic. The three men entered and once inside found a door leading to the barn, which they rammed open. As Lorenz entered the barn, followed by Jakob and Michael, there were several young cattle standing in the doorway connecting the barn to the stable at the far room of the large room, but otherwise the building stood empty and still. The barn was dimly lit as the light outside began to fade. As Lorenz approached the animals he stumbled across a pile of hay on the floor, causing Michael to gasp from behind him. Michael let out a short sharp sentence, that bounced of the walls of the stone barn: “There’s a foot!”.
Lorenz stopped and looked down at the bundle of hay on the floor covered by a large wooden board, he had not noticed himself stumble, but now, looking down and moving the board and hay aside and pulling the foot out to the corner of the barn, Lorenz could clearly see the body of Andreas Gruber. Under the hay, the three men also found the bodies of Cazilia junior, Viktoria and Cazilia senior stacked on top of each other, crudely covered with hay in an attempt to conceal the gruesome scene. Andreas was dressed in his trousers and undershirt, Cazilia junior in her nightshirt, Viktoria was fully dressed, but had no shoes on and Cazillia senior was also fully dressed. All of the victims had severe and gruesome facial and head injuries.
Jakob and Michael left the barn to stand in the yard, whilst Lorenz continued further into the building. The Grubers dog, a pomeranian, was tied in the stable, but otherwise the building was in good order and the cattle had feed in their trough. As he entered the house, he found the body of Josef, still in the remains of his cot which had been demolished. Opening the door to the yard and reconvening with the two men, all three entered the sleeping quarters and found the feet of the maid poking out from under the foot of the bed. Lorenz shifted the large wooden frame aside and uncovered the body of the maid, fully dressed, her backpack still packed next to her body from her arrival to hinterkaifeck on Friday. She too had large head wounds and lay lifeless.
A complicated investigation
In the days after the discovery of the bodies, initial investigations were underway immediately. The locals were reportedly very fearful and it took much of the police resources communicating with them about the goings on, taking statements and keeping them away from Hinterkaifeck farm. Although no official autopsy report exists, a telegram in the police files details the injuries to the victims as such:
Cazilia senior: 7 large head wounds, a cracked skull, the right side of her face had severe wounds, exposing bone.
Andreas: The right side of his face and head had been torn open and skull smashed.
Viktoria: Injuries to the right side of the face, cracked cranium, 9 star shaped head wounds and the right side of her face and skull had been smashed.
Cazilia junior: A shattered skull, she reportedly had been found with tufts of her own hair in her hands, thought to have been torn out from pain of death. Doctors surmised that she had probably died 2-3 hours after the incident and was the only one of the victims that had had any chance of being saved after the attack.
Josef: Shattered skull. His cot had been smashed by a severe blow, breaking it where it stood.
Marie: Right side of her face and skull had been smashed.
All of the victims suffered severe head injuries from a blunt object which was considered as the cause of death outright. Police quickly pieced together a mode of killing that entailed the perpetrator luring each member of the family into the barn one by one, possibly by untying cattle, whereby he made short work of dispatching them before moving on to the next. They then entered the house and killed Josef in his cot and finally the maid.
On the 5th April, Criminal Inspector Georg Reingruber arrived at the crime scene from Munich, though only stayed a few hours before departing. These few hours were all the head of investigations and his team ever spent physically at the scene and instead chose to communicate remotely via telephone and telegram for the remainder of the cases life. The majority of the manpower on the ground came from the local town of Schrobenhausen, though an incomplete list showed that upwards of 50 investigators worked on the crime scene from numerous divisions and local municipalities. Over 100 statements were taken from the villagers and surrounding farms and a 100,000 Mark reward was advertised for information regarding the murderer, which rose quickly to 500,000 Marks.
Due to the victim’s state of dress, Maries backpack still being packed, Cazilias absence from school on Saturday and as many smaller details arose, it was generally accepted amongst the police that the murders had taken place on the night of 31st March. However, the possibility also begun to arise that the perpetrator had stayed on the farm for some considerable time after the act, possibly even days. Although somewhat conflicting of the idea that the farm was seen as quiet, motionless and devoid of life over the weekend, there were several statements too, that people had seen smoke coming from the Bakery ovens chimney in the days after the accepted time of murder. One statement made by Michael Plockl, unfortunately now lost in full was recorded in part during the prosecution and stated that:
“One witness noticed that on the morning of Saturday April the 1st, the oven door was closed, but half open in the evening. The chimney had given out smoke in the evening and he saw a fire in the oven and an electric torch in the forest nearby the farm.”
The dog, tied in the barn was reported on as though he looked to have not been fed, although several statements claimed that the cattle had all seemed to have been fed, as the commotion and noise they would likely to have made from missing meals would have been heard among the people of the village, however the farm had sat silent and Lorenz Schlittenbauer commented in his statement concerning the discovery of the bodies that the barn was clean and in good order.
The police were quick to begin naming suspects and publicly made efforts to be seen as proactive. In the months that followed, the list of suspects grew, fortunately for all involved, gaining in credibility and most were less questionable than the first.
Josef Bartl had escaped a mental asylum and was the original suspect of the case. Criminal Investigator Reingruber alerted police to the possibilities of bartl almost immediately and searches were ordered to find the man, however all deemed unsuccessful. Reingruber has faced criticism over the years for his premature judgement on Bartl and it appears that the brutality of the crime and the known escape of the madman were the only connecting factors to the initial suspicions of police. There is one story of Bartl begging a stranger for something to eat and a place to hide and when they offered him a suggestion, Bartl gave them a 100 Mark, stained with blood. This further peaked the police interest, however upon forensic investigation, no traces of blood linked the coin with Hinterkaifeck and bartl was never found. The obvious case against Bartl as the murderer is the lack of any proof whatsoever that he had ever been to the farm, nor knew of it’s existence. There is also the fact that the hospital he had escaped from lay over 70 Km away. Despite the initial link with the murder investigations, he is seen as a fringe suspect in modern times.
Initially, finding that some marks were missing from victims wallets and after finding very little in the way of paper money in the house that was well suspected of being there, the police concluded that the brutal scene was that of a robbery that had gone wrong.
Anton and Charles Bichler
Following the suspected burglary lead, two brothers from Groben were also initial suspects. Anton Bichler was known to have had an intimate relationship with one of the previous maids on Hinterkaifeck and had worked on the farm during harvests. The Bichlers were known in the area after having being convicted of several petty thefts and they had spoken openly about coveting the wealth that the grubers were apparently stashing on Hinterkaifeck. They were arrested in April for the murders, but were later released as both could provide watertight alibis that kept them away from the area, working in the town of Schrobenhausen before and after the night of 31st march.
After taking a detailed inventory of the house and finding large sums of gold marks and valuables, investigations moved away from robbery as motive, however, in doing so the investigations opened up to a slew of suspects and motives based around local gossip and hearsay.
One of the more out there suspects of the time was karl Gabriel, Viktorias dead husband. In a letter dated 29th April, 1922, the police in Schrobenhausen contacted Munich and asked the following:
“After the comprehensive investigations into the murder case have hitherto produced no result, I would urge the police authorities to make enquiries at the care centres in Munich, as well as other offices in Bavaria, whether the husband of the murdered owner, named Karl Gabriel, while according to a death announcement dated 12/12/1914 and published in the Schrobenhausen weekly, should have fallen at Neuville and not returned with a prison transport just before the murder.”
This was seemingly a desperate move by the police, but the relevant questioning was nevertheless carried out. Their thinking behind the suspicion of Karl Gabriel was based around their initial suspicions that the perpetrator was seemingly well acquainted with the layout and goings on of the farm and that no body had ever been returned from the war after his reported death. The police surmised that if karl had in fact survived, he may have returned to the farm to find that Viktoria had had a child, rumoured to be from an incestuous relationship with her father, offering a powerful motive and as such, he may have flipped and taken his vengeance out on the family.
When we look at the suspect clearly however, the suspicions quickly begin to fall apart. Firstly, if he were to return, where had he been in the seven years prior? There are also strong rumours deduced from numerous statements that Karl and Viktoria had had an unhappy marriage, he had left the farm at one point in their short married life and returned to stay at his parents. He reportedly had had a tough time living with Andreas, who beat him and there are even suspicions that he volunteered to fight in the war as a means to escape rather than drafted. Perhaps the most damning testimony of their marriage however, came from Jakob Sigl, who over thirty years later, in 1952 wrote of their marriage:
“I am of the opinion that the couple did not have a good relationship with each other and that Karl Gabriel had married Viktoria Gruber in the main for the money and property of Hinterkaifeck and that Viktoria was the only daughter”.
If this was truly the case, what motivation would he have had to come back at all? The final nail in the coffin of this line of enquiry however was struck when several testimonies of Karls regiment were collected, all of which stated they had seen his body on the battlefield and personally attested that he was, very much dead. With the suspect of Karl, we are left with a dissapeared body Vs hearsay. In the first place though, one can certainly suggest that the initial suspicion was tenuous at best. Adding spice to this suspect is the story of a German speaking russian soldier who met with German soldiers on the russian front during the second world war who claimed to have been the Hinterkaifeck killer. Some have speculated that the man was, in fact, Karl, but the story remains unsubstantiated.
Heavily implicated with the crime in much of the English information on the Hinterkaifeck murders is Lorenz Schlittenbauer. Whilst it is is true that he was a suspect of the case, it has to be said that much of the suspicions that lie with Lorenz are based around facts which are simply untrue but often repeated. One such case is the damning suggestion that on the night of the murder, Lorenz slept in the barn of his own farm and therefore had no alibi. In the german records of statements however, this is shown to have been a contemporary rumour and as Schlittenbauer states very clearly:
“People like to talk. It is not true, I was with my wife.”
However, even if we disregard this, there still stacks a heavy case against Lorenz. In the first, Schlittenbauer was well acquainted with the farm. His own farm lay on the other side of the witchwood, less than half a Km away and he had known the Grubers and worked with them for a long time. He had intimate knowledge of the house and was reported to have had a short lived sexual relationship with Viktoria and was even planning to marry to her after the death of his first wife, however after Viktoria fell pregnant with Josef, the complicated situation of the paternity arose and as we heard, Andreas forbade the communion. The issue of paternity and Lorenz turning Andreas into the police led to a feud which according to Lorenz was not a drawn out affair and he held no bad blood towards the Grubers after all was done, however, it is still a black mark against him in regards to the case.
There were also further rumours that Viktoria was demanding further child support money from Lorenz, however, given the family’s circumstances, it is deemed unlikely that this would have been very successful and considering the original support money was paid from their own money in the first place, seems out of sorts with the facts of the whole affair. In his statement to the police, Lorenz was quite clear that all financial matters pertaining to the child had been settled and there was no enmity between the families. It seems that It is more likely that this was mere village gossip.
More damning to the cause of Lorenz Schlittenbauers innocence was his behaviour upon discovering the bodies of the Grubers. Rather than to take care to not disturb the crime scene, he immediately moved almost everything in close vicinity to the bodies, furthermore, he made sure to have witnesses watch him do it. At the time, Jakob Sigl, one of the men who went with Schlittenbauer to Hinterkaifeck thought his behaviour suspicious and said later in a statement to police that:
“Poll and I immediately told Schlittenbauer when we found the bodies that he should be careful to leave things as they are, but he replied he had to see things for himself. He then told me to feed the cattle, but I told him that we were going home and reporting to the police.”
“He was very busy, he went straight to the cellar to fetch milk and feed the pigs. On the way home, Poll and I said nothing. It was very striking that Schlittenbauer changed everything that could have been changed and knew exactly where everything in the house was. In my opinion Schlittenbauer did not often go to Hinterkaifeck as Andreas wouldn’t have allowed it.”
Lorenz Schlittenbauers destruction of the crime scene went further when, as people began arriving at the crime scene to see for themselves the reality and before the police had arrived, Schlittenbauer made no effort to stop people from disturbing the scene and told Johann Freundl, a local man that “people were already there and he could do nothing more now.”
There is also the matter of his behaviour concerning the possibility of the murderer still residing at the farmhouse. When questioned by police why he wasn’t scared after discovering the bodies to enter the house alone, he replied:
“I was so worked up that I didn’t think of anything, I assumed my boy had to be starving. Even if I wasn’t completely sure that he was my child or not, I still felt compassion for the boy and I wanted to look after him at once.”
Lorenz also spent a lot of time cleaning the crime scene, feeding the animals and even took care of two of the pigs at his own house. Was this merely a coping mechanism on Lorenz part? He had just discovered a brutal scene involving people he had known his entire life, one of which could possibly have been his son. Were his actions at the time then, that of a murderer covering his tracks? Or of a grieving man, stricken with shock?
There were many in the village that suspected him, and Lorenz actually received damages from one man for slander after repeatedly being accused. There are still many small things that go against and for his innocence, he appeared to know the house very well and even knew how much money was on the farm and many speculated that living so close, he could have come back and forth through the woods relatively un-noticed, however, if this was the case, how had he managed to explain such absences to his family? Furthermore, if he had really spent so much time on the farm, many other statements concerning the farm after the days of the murder would have been incorrect. He also suffered asthma, and some doubt his physical ability to carry out the attacks, however, he appears to have run his own farm quite well despite this condition.
Finally, and importantly, was that despite extensive questioning, the police never arrested him, nor found any particular reason to suspect him above others. In the final report on Lorenz Schlittenbauer the police wrote:
“Subsequent to interrogations, there were some inconsistencies in Schlittenbauers statements that were revealed. He, however, presented his answers in such a way that legitimate doubts about his guilt have to arise. He repeatedly declared his innocence in tears and declared that he was well aware that he was a suspect in the area, emphasising that this was chiefly due to his energetic involvement as a local guide and his willingness to help.”
“There are no indications for further action”
Lorenz Schlittenbauer remains a suspect high on the list even today, and it is not unfounded, but often it’s simply because his motive fits a narrative surrounding the child Josef so neatly rather than consideration of other factors. If it really was Lorenz Schlittenbauer who murdered the Gruber family, this also calls into question the importance of the footprints in the snow, the newspaper and the break in attempts in relation to the murders. Ultimately, the suspicion of guilt has to be decided by considering whether or not one believes him to have been so calculated as to plan the discovery and all of his subsequent actions or he was simply doing what he could in a time of great stress.
Two final pieces of information pertaining to the case lies curiously, with the discovery that Viktoria donated 700 gold marks, a vast sum of money and that which would have amounted to all of her savings, to the church in Waidhofen around two weeks prior to the murders. The pastor of the church surmised it to be from Viktoria, as no one else would have had the means to have donated such a sum from the local area.
And last but not least, the uncovering of the murder weapon one year later. Initially, the weapon was presumed to be a pickaxe found in the barn and pointed out by Schlittenbauer, however in February of 1923, after all inheritance disputes were settled, the new owners of Hinterkaifeck demolished the farmhouse and found a Mattock, stashed in a hidden nook of one of the outer sheds. Upon inspection by forensics it was found that it had human blood on the body and was unquestionably the murder weapon, however the police claimed that they had searched the area thoroughly. It has been suggested that the murderer had placed it on the farm some time after the initial investigations had finished, where it could be hidden and hoped to never be found.
There are endless lists of suspects for the Hinterkaifeck case and the podcast would go on forever to list them all. With so much gossip and hearsay in the small, isolated community it is often difficult to differentiate fact from rumour and the more you dig, the darker it gets. Speculation of motives range from extortion, blackmail, inheritance squabbles, local revenge and even the political turmoil of the time has found space to squeeze into the picture.
Despite over 30 years of official investigations and incredible efforts of the public since to document and preserve the details, the true perpetrator will likely never be discovered and if they do, will almost certainly be long dead. The events that unfolded on the 31st March, 1922 on the isolated farm are therefore a sad, deeply dark and savage tale of murder and suspicion that haunts long after the final words in the report were written.
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