Switzerland has a reputation for peacefulness. Its stunning alpine vistas and diplomatic record of neutrality lend the country a popular image of being a retreat, a place to relax and not worry about the crime and brutality of modern existence. While Switzerland is one of the top 20 gun-owning countries globally, and the notorious “Swiss bank account” has a criminal reputation all of its own, violent murder is something alien to the tiny European country. They can boast one of the lowest homicide rates on the continent outside of the microstates and equally the number stands as one of the lowest in the world. However, in 1976, that image would be shattered in a crime so horrific that it shocked Switzerland to its very core. Five people would lay dead, and the killings would be unsolved to this very day.
It was the Pentecost weekend of 1976, and Christians throughout Switzerland would have been getting ready to celebrate. The festival marks the descent of the Holy Spirit upon Jesus’ Apostles and, depending on the area, it is a celebration marked to varying degrees throughout the country. There are colorful religious parades and candle-lit vigils at night, many considering the holiday almost as a second Christmas. Gifts will be exchanged and large family gatherings and meals will be the norm.
One such gathering took place on June 5 at a wooden weekend home in a small community garden. Located in the forest at Seewen, the nearby village’s classic German architecture bring forth images of fairy tales and times long past. Yet there would be no fairy tale this one particular weekend. Gathered were Elsa Clara Siegrist-Säckinger, 62, and her husband Eugen, 63. Alongside the couple were Eugen’s 80-year-old sister Anna and her children Emanuel and Max Westhäuser. It isn’t difficult to imagine the atmosphere in the house. Likely festive and cozy, several generations will have been enjoying each other’s company. There will likely have been food and presents, with the elderly Anna probably being the most devout at prayer. Yet, God’s presence would be far from the house they called “Waldeggli,” and by June 6, all five would have been murdered.
The bodies were discovered by a walker the following day, June 6, first discovering the body of Elsa Siegrist wrapped in a carpet on the terrace. Investigating further, she discovered the rest of the family slaughtered inside the home. 13 rounds had been fired in all from a powerful Winchester Rifle, and most of those rounds were direct to the head. At the same time, another two hit the victims in the chest, and one bullet had hit Eugen Siegrist in the arm as he attempted to shield himself from the gunfire. None of the bullets were wasted, and the killer was evidently an expert marksman. Police investigators determined that nobody closeby had raised the alarm given the fact that the forest was often teeming with hunters and was home to a shooting range, locals dismissing the gunfire as somebody at practice.
All of the dead are believed to have been killed outside the house, with Eugen working on his lawnmower. Police believed that the suspect had staked out the house, waiting for his moment to strike. The order of the killings was unknown, as was why the assassin took the time to drag the bodies inside. Equally, why the killer took the time to bring a carpet outside and wrap Elsa’s corpse, was also mysterious, showing a familiarity between killer and victim. Once the killing was concluded, the culprit made off in the couple’s green Opel Ascona, the car being found abandoned between Münchenstein and Muttenz BL the same day. It offered no leads.
Theories in the case were numerous, and investigators looked at the possibility that the murder may have been linked to the far-right. Anna Westhäuser’s husband, who wasn’t present in the home, was German and had been a Nazi. Equally, significant Nazi memorabilia was found at the scene of the killings, showing a lack of repentance. A second theory was that the murders had been connected to industrial espionage, with Eugen Siegrist working for the Swiss multinational healthcare company Novartis International AG. There were even claims that East Germany’s infamous Stasi may have been involved.
Indeed, police were certain that it was Eugen who had been the real target, with his behavior immediately before the massacre coming under suspicion. The day before, he called somebody from his office at work by the name of Claire or Clerc, the person unable to be traced. Equally, he had traveled for around two hours to meet somebody on the day of the killings; again, who that could have been remains unknown.
The possibility that the killings were motivated by a personal grudge rather than anything political was the favored theory, however, and police looked intently into the family themselves. Robert Siegrist, Eugen’s son, spent several weeks in custody before finally being dismissed. However, it would be another family member who truly stood out during inquires — Adolf Siegrist, better known as “Johnny,” the victim’s nephew. Adolf bore a strong grudge against the rest of his family, having been the victim of bullying for his entire life. He was under 5 feet tall and said to talk in an effeminate way, undoubtedly drawing the ire of the kind of people who keep Nazi memorabilia in their holiday home. The Siegrist-Säckinger couple had called him “Dölfeli,” a belittling version of Adolf, also tauntingly nicknaming him “Globi,” after a cartoon parrot that is Switzerland’s answer to Mickey Mouse.
Adolf, a combat shooter, had asked a business partner, Hans Blaser, to borrow a machine pistol three weeks before the killings. After he was refused, he had bought ammunition in Basel that he particularly asked to be for a Winchester. An assistant at the gun store claimed that the suspect had bought two packages of Kal. 38 Spez ammunition, 50 rounds in all, requesting extra heavy lead bullets and saying it was for somebody else.
Arrested, Adolf had no true alibi for the time of the killings and claimed to have been fishing. Investigating his home, police found styrofoam heads that he had shot through as target practice. Yet, they couldn’t definitivly prove anything and had to let him walk despite their heavy suspicions. He died from kidney failure in the mid-1980s .
The investigation was one of the biggest in Swiss criminal history, with 9,000 statements examined and over 10,000 different people interviewed. Police hunted in vain for the murder weapon, questioning over 3,000 Winchester rifle owners. 27 homes were searched, and 21 suspects were brought in, yet it all went nowhere. Despite solving 10 other separate affairs due to their leads, including a serious child molestation case, the answer behind the killings at Seewen remained elusive, and the trail went cold, despite the healthy leads.
That was until 1996, when the murder weapon was finally found. Workmen were converting a kitchen at a home in the small town of Olten, around 25 miles (40km) from Seewen, when they uncovered an Italian replica sawn-off Winchester Rifle wrapped in a plastic sack behind a wall. Also inside the sack was an expired passport in the name of Carl Doser alongside other documents, including letters from Doser’s father, another committed Nazi.
Basel-born Doser, who was 29-years-old at the time of the Seewen killings, was questioned as the owner of a Winchester in 1976. The new suspect had told investigating officers that the weapon was defective, and he had sold it at a flea-market, no longer being worth repairing. He was one of 30 that were interviewed who would not provide satisfactory information as to the whereabouts of their weapons. However, subsequent inquires made no conclusive connection between Doser and the murdered family, and police insisted that he was merely wanted for questioning. Once again, it was impossible to say for certain that somebody was the culprit.
Hans Blaser would go on record to state his belief that the killings had been carried out by both Adolf Siegrist and Carl Doser, with investigations proving that there was a link between the two men. In the years before the slaughter, Doser had lived close to a bar and restaurant by the name of the Schöneck; it was here that gun enthusiasts from all over Basel would regularly meet. One of those enthusiasts had been Siegrist. It seems possible that, having failed to borrow Hans Blaser’s machine pistol, Siegrist had acquired the Winchester from Doser.
Any hope that police had of arresting Doser for the crime had long since vanished; however, with the suspect having fled Switzerland in 1977, reports placeing him in Africa and Canada. Meanwhile, the house where the killings took place was demolished, and the slight possibility of justice being done in the case would soon ebb away to zero as the statute of limitations for the killings expired in 2006, existing for 30 years under Swiss law.
The massacre at Seewen is possibly the biggest unsolved crime in Switzerland, one that shocked a nation that prides itself on its peace and tranquility to its very core. Why it happened is officially still a mystery. There is the slight overtone of politics to the killing, yet it seems more likely that there was a personal animosity here. It is often our tendency to place victims on a pedestal, and while police officially state that the crime was motiveless, the taunts, teasing, and bullying that were seemingly inflicted on Adolf Siegrist would be motive enough, particularly as those taunts apparently never stopped. However, that fact absolves neither man of their suspected crimes, and the unsolved slaughter in the Seewen forest gardens remains a bloody and brutal stain on the picturesque Swiss countryside.
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