View of Säntis from Seealpsee lake, circa 1890. Photography by Albert Riggenbach-Burckhardt.
View of Säntis from Seealpsee lake, circa 1890. Photography by Albert Riggenbach-Burckhardt. Swiss National Museum

Murder on Säntis

In February 1922, the operator of the Säntis weather station and his wife became victims of a crime. New findings are shining a light on the dark story behind this crime that caused widespread consternation.

Beat Kuhn

Beat Kuhn

Beat Kuhn is Regional Editor at the Bieler Tagblatt and pulls out the occasional exciting news story from the archives.

Website: Bieler Tagblatt
On the night of 21 February 1922, officials in the telegraph office in St Gallen were waiting in vain for weather data from the mountain weather station on Säntis. At the time, this was nothing out of the ordinary, since the telegraph and telephone connections to the meteorological observation station were frequently disrupted by the winter snow and wind; wind speeds on the exposed peak, which rises 2500 metres above sea level, could reach over 200 kilometres per hour. The next day, together with his son, Josef Rusch set out to check the line. Rusch was one of the Säntisträger porters who regularly transported firewood and food to the summit of Säntis. The cable car was only built in 1935.
The former weather station on Säntis in winter, circa 1920.
The former weather station on Säntis in winter, circa 1920. ETH Library Zurich
However, on account of the extreme snow conditions – which seemed to confirm the suspected cause – the two were forced to turn back without having achieved anything. It wasn’t until 25 February that conditions permitted another attempt. This time, father and son were accompanied by the landlord of the inn on Megalisalp. They found no damage to the line. They noticed only ski tracks that must have been left some days earlier. As they neared the summit, they noted that Heinrich Haas wasn’t waving and calling over to them as usual. There was also no smoke coming from the chimney of the three-storey stone house. They innocently assumed that the weather station operator and his wife were probably ill. As they entered the building, they heard barking and howling from the room where the telephone and Morse electrical telegraph machine were located. It had to be the family’s dog, who had been aptly named “Storm”, for the standard weather conditions on the mountain. The door to the room was locked and the three men had to break it open. A dreadful sight met their eyes: next to the standing desk by the window lay the lifeless body of Magdalena Haas in a pool of blood. The room had been completely destroyed. Suspecting foul play, the three went in search of Heinrich. They climbed up to the second storey and, from there, passed through the tunnel that led to the summit plateau. There, they found Heinrich’s corpse lying face down.
Heinrich Haas was shot from behind on the summit plateau and fell face down in the snow.
Heinrich Haas was shot from behind on the summit plateau and fell face down in the snow. Staatsarchiv St. Gallen, GA 119/03.2
Magdalena Haas was fatally wounded next to the standing desk in the office.
Magdalena Haas was fatally wounded next to the standing desk in the office. Staatsarchiv St. Gallen, GA 119/03.2
As the police investigations would reveal, Heinrich had been shot from behind from several metres away. Interestingly, his body was not located between the stone building and the hut where wind measurements were taken, which was the main route he could have been expected to take, but lay a good 20 metres away from the hut. It is possible that his murderer threatened him with the weapon, whereupon he turned and fled. The police concluded that the chaotic state of the office was not the result of a fight but rather the work of Storm, the family’s dog. The animal must have gone almost mad after being shut in the room without food or water for four days. Magdalena had also been shot at close range. The first bullet had missed her and smashed into the wall; the second hit her in the chest, killing her. The murder weapon was identified by the bullets as a Browning pistol. Dumdum bullets were used, which act like an exploding grenade when entering the body and, in the event the victim survives, increase their suffering. These can only be obtained illegally or by tampering with and filing the ends of legally obtained ammunition. The tear-off calendar showed 21 February, thus confirming the day of the double murder.
Heinrich Haas in the weather station’s study with the Säntis dog “Storm”.
Heinrich Haas in the weather station’s study with the Säntis dog “Storm”. photobibliothek.ch
Säntis porter Rusch and his son greet the operator of the weather station
The Säntis porters were just as important as the weather station operator. They transported firewood and food up to the summit. Here, Säntis porter Rusch and his son greet the operator of the weather station. They would later be the ones to discover the murder victims. photobibliothek.ch

The victims and perpetrator knew each other

The Säntis porter, Rusch, knew right from the start that there was only one possible perpetrator: it must have been the uninvited guest that Magdalena Haas had complained about in a phone call to his wife on 19 February, on account of his still not having made a move to leave after three days. She had also mentioned his name in the telephone conversation: Gregor Kreuzpointner, a German by birth, who had become naturalized a few years previously. The 29-year-old and the Haas couple had known each other. From time to time, he was a member of the same climbing association as Heinrich and, according to the visitors’ book, had already climbed to the summit three times since the Haas couple had occupied the weather station. The couple would also certainly have known that Kreuzpointner had been one of Heinrich’s rivals for the post of weather station operator on Säntis. On 26 February, a wanted notice was issued giving the double murderer’s name, description and photo. In the four days before the corpses were discovered, Kreuzpointner would have had enough time to make his escape. Yet he stayed in the region and was spotted on a number of occasions, as was later evident. Since nobody was as yet aware of his crime, nobody reported him to the police. He moved Magdalena’s jewellery to another location and handed the weapon under mysterious circumstances to a third party, who then passed it to the police.

To die for…

On the afternoon of 4 March, Kreuzpointner was found hanged in a barn below the Schwägalp Pass, the location of the valley station of the Säntis cable car. According to the post-mortem, he had died that very morning. This way, the murderer likely avoided receiving the death sentence, because the death penalty still existed then in both St Gallen and Appenzell Innerrhoden, the two cantons that could have been used for the court proceedings. The history to this tragedy begins in 1919, when the former weather station operator, who had lived on the mountain with his wife for 30 years, retired. There had been a simple guest house – ironically nicknamed the Grand Hotel Thörig by the first visitors – on Säntis since 1846. From 1882 onwards, one of its rooms was used as a weather station. From 1887, the weather station operator was able to use the stone building specially constructed for this purpose. Over 50 applicants were said to have applied for the unusual post. Born in Appenzell and a keen alpinist, Heinrich Haas stood head and shoulders above the competition. He had actually trained as a baker, but at that time was working as a conductor in Zurich. The 33-year-old was accepted for the post, thereby obtaining his dream job. On climbing Säntis for the first time he even exclaimed with enthusiasm: “The view up there is to die for.”
View of Säntis, 1932.
View of Säntis, 1932. Swiss National Museum
In October 1919, Haas moved to the weather station with his wife, Magdalena. She was his second wife and they had been married since 1911; his first wife had died in 1909 after just five months of marriage – and three months after giving birth to their daughter, Bertha. As 1911 drew to a close, Bertha gained a half-sister, Helena. The children lived in the valley below with Magdalena Haas’s mother and only saw their parents on the mountain above in the holidays. Bertha later described her stepmother as modest, kind-hearted and someone who liked order. She spoke of her father as a supporter, advisor and philanthropist who had always been cheerful and kind. The couple had a happy marriage and led a life largely free of conflict. Heinrich was an enthusiastic amateur photographer and documented life on the mountain with a wealth of photographs. These also included glass plate stereoscopic images.
Magdalena Haas giving her husband, Heinrich, a haircut. Storm the dog looks on. The photo was taken using a self-timer.
Magdalena Haas giving her husband, Heinrich, a haircut. Storm the dog looks on. The photo was taken using a self-timer. photobibliothek.ch
This would have been a dream job for Gregor Kreuzpointner, too. He was doomed to failure from the outset, however, since he wasn’t married – as was required in the job description, to ensure there was also a named deputy. Kreuzpointner emigrated from Upper Bavaria to Switzerland in 1911. Initially, the trained cobbler lived in Herisau and worked in a factory that produced rubber. A passionate climber and skier, he often visited the mountains in his free time. Most members of the SAC Säntis alpine skiing club were gentry, yet they welcomed this sporty, lower-class newcomer. Evidently, he could be very engaging. There are also less flattering characterisations of him, however. A fellow mountaineer described him as outspoken, “self-centred and cold”. Kreuzpointner was once claimed to have said that inexperienced mountaineers who got into trouble shouldn’t be helped but rather “left to die a miserable death”. When, on 31 July 1914, the German Emperor declared a state of war, Kreuzpointner immediately applied for naturalization to avoid being conscripted, and quickly received his Swiss passport. In February 1919, he moved within the half-canton of Ausserrhoden to Trogen, where he opened a cobbler’s workshop. After failing to obtain the post of Säntis weather station operator, in December 1919 he moved to the city of St Gallen, where he tried a second time to set up an independent shoemaking business. The specialist in climbing shoes and ski boots was declared bankrupt in December 1921 on account of earlier debts. He nonetheless found a job as a cobbler at a shoe shop in Romanshorn, which he started on 30 January 1922. However, he threw in the towel after just one week.
The wanted notice for double murderer Gregor Kreuzpointner contained an extremely detailed description of him and the act. It was also displayed in the area where the borders of Germany and Austria meet.
The wanted notice for double murderer Gregor Kreuzpointner contained an extremely detailed description of him and the act. It was also displayed in the area where the borders of Germany and Austria meet. Staatsarchiv St. Gallen, GA 119/03.2
On 16 February, he climbed the summit of Säntis in poor weather conditions. It was the fourth time he had climbed up there, so his arrival was nothing out of the ordinary for Magdalena and Heinrich Haas. At first, they might even have welcomed the diversion he provided. They entertained him and he was permitted to stay in the guest room. He justified staying for days on end on account of the bad weather, according to Magdalena’s call to the St Gallen telegraph office on the night of 20 February. She noted, however, that this seemed to be a pretext, since he was an excellent skier. She called in secret, since Kreuzpointner had instructed the couple not to tell anyone about his stay. On the morning of 21 February, Magdalena telephoned again to say that, given the good weather, Kreuzpointner had eventually got ready to leave. This was the last sign of life from the summit. The contents of the stomach and intestines during the post-mortem showed that Magdalena had been killed no more than two hours after lunch and Heinrich half an hour or one hour earlier. Since Kreuzpointner had a pistol on him, his plan from the start had been to shoot them. He appears to have held them responsible for his failure to obtain the post of Säntis weather station operator that he had so coveted, and which was also very well remunerated. He makes no mention of the act in his short farewell letter to his girlfriend.

Macabre back and forth over the corpses

At the time, there was disagreement between the experts over cantonal responsibility for the crime: the borders of the Canton of St Gallen and the two half-cantons of Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden meet at the summit of Säntis. The body of Magdalena Haas was clearly found on Innerrhoden territory, since the weather station is situated squarely within this. Heinrich’s body, however, lay in an area for which the border between St Gallen and Innerrhoden was drawn too imprecisely on the map for it to be clearly assigned. For this reason, the police and anatomical investigative work was divided between Innerrhoden and St Gallen. Kreuzpointner’s body was found in the Ausserrhoden municipality of Urnäsch. Despite this, he was denied a grave in the cemetery there because this would have led to “the cemetery being desecrated”. Herisau, where he was a citizen, and the city of St Gallen, where he was last registered, were likewise unwilling to have the evildoer on their soil or land. In doing so, all three violated the Federal Constitution. According to this, it is the authorities’ responsibility to ensure that “every deceased person is able to be buried as is fitting”. The corpse was sent to the Institute of Anatomy at the University of Zurich for research purposes. All three municipalities paid for its transport there.
The funeral of the Haas couple at Appenzell cemetery on 1 March 1922.
The funeral of the Haas couple at Appenzell cemetery on 1 March 1922. photobibliothek.ch
News of the double murder spread like wildfire and caused widespread consternation. After the carnival exuberance, nobody in this Catholic region was in the mood for further celebration. The funeral procession, which took place in Appenzell on 1 March, showed how great the depth of sympathy was: the roads were densely lined with people as the two coffins were carried through the streets to the cemetery. The grave poem published in the local paper read as follows: “We cannot understand it, we don’t want to believe it and just keep asking ourselves how could this happen? It could almost rip away our faith in the Lord above! Why, O Creator, would You permit this crime to be committed?” This outpouring of sympathy also extended to the couple’s two orphaned daughters. Many donated to a fund-raising campaign and this, in addition to the financial support from the survivors’ insurance, ensured that the two girls were well provided for afterwards. Both girls were assigned a guardian who would safeguard their interests until they reached maturity. Initially, they both stayed with relatives, and subsequently with foster parents. The files even mention the whereabouts of the dog, Storm: he was taken in by Heinrich’s brother.
This article appeared in the Bieler Tagblatt. It was published in that newspaper on 19 February 2022 under the title “The view up there is to die for”.

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