You Lost Me Bill

I have loved the book The Man From The Train by Bill James.  I actually listened to the 4th section of the book twice thanks because somewhere Kelly’s nocturnal interruptions made me miss something important.  For the record, she interrupts me but doesn’t want anything.

The fourth section dealt with who he thought the killer was, so I really really really wanted to listen to that section.  And I wrote down the names of some of his cases that he thought were his first cases.  And I Googled them (example of Colorado Springs Murder).  And read about them and decided his suspect was viable.

And as the section unfolded, I found myself agreeing more and more with Bill James’ explanations on whether to include a case or exclude it via his research.  And then he took a left turn and I wasn’t sure whether I could follow or not.  I’m still not.

Bill James’ suspect was a German immigrant named Paul Mueller.  And his first murder was in 1898 near Boston, Massachusetts.  Got it.  And Mueller served in the German army which is actually a bonus in the “he might be the serial killer” column.

After 1912, the murders stop in the US.  It happens.  And in the 1910s, it’s easy to disappear.  James thinks Mueller caught a steamer and went back to Germany.  It wasn’t that uncommon pre-WWII for all European immigrants in the US to go back and forth between their home country and the US.  Particularly Germans.

In 1922, the Hinterkaifeck murders happened.  All but one of the bodies was found in the barn stacked on top of each other.  Killed by a mattock.  I’ve blogged about the Hinterkaifeck murders a few time, because it was never solved.

Checking online newspapers (from the time – that was a much bigger chore than I expected by the way), Bill James is correct, the US was aware there was a serial killer in the US that was responsible for several murders including Villisca, Iowa.  Bill James gleaned this as the killer’s MO from the research he and someone else did:

The killer killed with the blunt side of an axe, essentially bludgeoning the victims to death.  He found the axe either on location at the houses of the people he killed or he took it from the neighbor’s yard.  He usually killed the males of the house first.  He usually did something to jam the front door closed and make it appear to be locked.  He usually pulled down the window shades so you couldn’t look inside.  He often stacked his victims on top of each other, except for one.  That one was normally the body of a pre-pubescent girl that he molested in one way or another.  I will not research enough to figure out what that was, I don’t need to know that badly.

Here’s why he decides to include Hinterkaifeck.  Andreas Gruber, the father of the family was killed first.  The bodies of Andreas daughter Viktoria, wife Cazilla, and granddaughter Cazilla were found in the barn.  The maid and the body of 2 year old Josef were found in the house.  Cazilla the younger may not have immediately died from her injuries as she was found clutching tufts of her own hair and it was noted that she had bald spots that appeared fresh.

It is not stated for sure that the younger Cazilla was molested like the girls in the US.  But she would have been within the right age for Mueller’s tastes.  While these similarities do seem to eerily connect the murders, I’m skeptical.  For starters things around the Hinterkaifeck farm were odd, even by the standards of the time…

Andreas and Viktoria had been brought into court and charged for having an incestuous relationship.  Viktoria’s husband died during WWI and Josef was thought to be the son of Andreas and Viktoria not Viktoria and her husband Karl Gabriel.  Karl’s body was not recovered from the battlefield, which is not terribly uncommon, but people around Germany continued to swear they saw him until well after WWII and he was at one time considered a suspect.

Neighbors said Gruber complained about strange things happening on the farm in the weeks leading up to the murder.  At the time, it was considered the gospel truth.  But in the 1980s the son of a man who was a neighbor of Hinterkaifeck made a death bed confession that his father had told him he had made up much of the stuff he said Andreas Gruber had complained about after their former maid said she had been paid by a newspaper to say she quit because she thought the house was haunted.  He said his father was also paid by a newspaper.

And paying crime witnesses for information for the next day’s paper wasn’t uncommon and it wasn’t considered unethical at the time.  Which often lead to salacious and juicy gossip being printed by the news just so someone could get a couple extra coins in their hands.

German police academy students may have solved the case in 1999, but since the suspect was dead, the name was not released to the public.  At one time, there were more than 100 suspects in the murders (Andreas Gruber was not a popular man).  One man worked on a piece of equipment at the farm for 4 and a half hours with the bodies stacked just a few yards a way in the barn.

His story garnered him some unwanted attention, when police finally got around to questioning him in 1925.  The man said he had noticed the barn door open right before he left and he was certain it had been closed when he arrived.  He peeked into the barn, saw nothing, but felt uneasy (the bodies had some hay thrown over them).  He returned home and sent his sons to go check on the neighbors.  The sons returned and reported they had not found any sign of the family and the livestock were in need of care.  The man then returned to the farm with a local constable and the two men discovered the bodies of the family in the barn at that time.

It is still in the top 10 most notorious murders in Germany.   And it was the first murder case from Germany to make newspaper headlines in the US.  And no one was sure if the Gruber’s were robbed or not, although it is thought they weren’t since Andreas Gruber’s pocket watch was found on his body.  None of the murders involved in the serial killer crimes in the US involved robbery, except maybe the first one.


3 thoughts on “You Lost Me Bill

  1. Hi,
    Could you give some Information on the man who confessed on this death bed about his father telling incorrect stories? It’s the first time, I’ve heard about this confession.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Any chance that you can recall the name of the German news page?

    BTW, you have mixed/combined some persons in the second last paragraph. The mechanic, who repaired an engine, was on his way to his next job when he told two daughters of a neighbor of the Grubers/Gabriels that he met no one while doing his work. Then, the neighbor sent his sons to check on the farm. After their return, the neighbor went with two other neighbors (and two sons) to the farm and they found the bodies. Afterwards, one son was sent to inform the police.

    After reading Bill James’ chapter on Hinterkaifeck (i.e., the free passage available on google books), I was astonished that Bill James presented so many incorrect facts in this chapter – starting with the family name of the victims, the location of the bodies, the age of the young girl, the dates … I don’t know if these facts were/are corrected in a later edition, but the vast amount of incorrect information made me think twice about the rest of the book.


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