Once a month on the Molten Sulfur Blog, we have a post taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post, about an unsolved German murder, is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
The Hinterkaifeck Murders
Paranormal Cold Case
Located about 70 miles north of Munich, Germany, nestled beside a forest, was a peaceful farm called Hinterkaifeck. In the early 1920’s, Andreas Gruber lived here along with his wife Cazilia, their widowed daughter, her two children, and the family maid. There was nothing unusual about the farm or its occupants, but in late 1921, the family maid quit in a panic. She claimed that the house was haunted and that some sort of paranormal entity was haunting her specifically. When she left, she vowed to never go back. Andreas was confused by the maid’s sudden departure, and it took the Grubers until March, 1922 to find a new maid.
It was also in March when Andreas started noticing strange phenomena. He told neighbors he found footprints leading from the forest to the farmhouse, but there were no footprints leading back. Then he said he could hear footsteps in the attic. Beyond that, a set of keys went missing and a newspaper the Grubers didn’t subscribe to was found near their house. Andreas even told neighbors he felt a demonic presence in the house, and then he didn’t come around anymore to complain.
A few days passed and the neighbors became concerned about not seeing any of the Grubers in town, at church, or in school, so they went to investigate. Inside the Hinterkaifeck barn, the neighbors discovered the bodies of Andreas, his wife, their daughter, and one of the grandchildren, while in the farmhouse they found the bodies of the new maid and the other grandchild. They were all brutally murdered, and their bodies stacked atop one another.
The police found that each family member was murdered with a pickaxe. The perpetrator was presumed to be comfortable with the weapon, as all of the wounds had been precise, confident blows only to the head, not to the bodies. All the victims were believed to have died instantly, except for one of the children, who showed evidence of surviving for several hours after being wounded, and tufts of her hair were torn out.
An autopsy confirmed that the Grubers were murdered on Friday, May 31st. Their neighbors tried to tell the police that the date had to be wrong because they saw smoke coming from the chimney all that weekend. Upon further investigation, it was found that the cattle had been fed and there was recently made food on plates in the kitchen. The police concluded that after the Gruber family was slaughtered, the murderer(s) lived inside the farmhouse for the weekend and then vanished. Despite the thorough investigation, no one was ever arrested for the Hinterkaifeck murders. The case remains a mystery to this day. Some claim that the murderer was not human, but was instead some paranormal being from the forest, while others accept that one or more murderers simply got away with this terrible crime.
The Hinterkaifeck Murders in Play
The strongest feature of the Hinterkaifeck murders is their ambiguity. In a setting with magic, the killer could still be an ordinary, albeit deeply creepy, murderer. In a setting without magic, the story’s supernatural trappings will keep players guessing. Depending on how you want to spin the story, the culprit could be a violent hermit living in the woods, an angry forest spirit, or even something that straddles the divide between the mundane and the supernatural, like a woodwose. Investigating the Hinterkaifeck murders could lead the party into the forest where the murderer was believed to come from, or it could lead to a combat encounter on a possibly haunted farm. Or maybe the murders occurred decades ago, but now the PCs are presented with another killing spree just like the first one. Is it a copycat killer? The old killer striking again, despite being almost in her dotage? Or is it truly supernatural? Only by investigating both the new and old murders will the PCs be able to uncover the truth.