In a grisly act that authorities suspect to be the work of “occultists” grave robbers broke into the family crypt of famed NOSFERATU director F.W. Murnau… and stole his head.
Murnau, who tragically died in a 1931 auto crash in the United States following the completion of his last film TABU, had laid undisturbed next to his two brothers in Stahnsdorf cemetery southwest of Berlin for 83 years.
According to the police, the thieves took elaborate measures to pilfer the director’s noggin from a metal coffin, which was discovered this past July.
The crypt keeper and cemetery warden, Olaf Ihlefeldt, made the horrific discovery during his usual Monday morning rounds. Seeing minor damage on the outside of Mausoleum 23, where Murnau and his brothers were interred, he cautiously opened the doors to investigate. As there had been prior attempts to gain entry, Ihlefeldt saw signs of tampering near Murnau’s metal coffin. He decided to open the coffin to investigate further.
As he slid the lid of the coffin off, he was shocked to find the head of Herr Direktor missing! He quickly summoned the police.
Despite missing a cranium, Murnau’s embalmed body was “still in pretty good condition,” Ihlefeldt told authorities. The last time he had seen Murnau’s head, his distinctive features were still recognizable.
Investigators scoured the crime scene for clues and found a strange waxy residue, believed to be black candle drippings.
“I have no idea what kind of people the thieves were,” a police spokesman told Der Spiegel. “But of course we cannot rule out an occult motive,” he offered, speculating that the Murnau’s head may have been pilfered as part of an unholy rite. And it wasn’t the first time that ghoulish interlopers had broken into the crypt, police confirmed. According to officials, the crypt had also been desecrated with weird pentagrams and demonic symbology that had been crudely sketched in chalk.
Despite the vast legions of NOSFERATU devotees who worship at the flickering altar of Murnau’s vampiric tour de force, hard-nosed investigators were quick to point the finger at devil-worshippers… and for good reason.
While Murnau’s innovative NOSFERATU: A SYMPHONY OF TERROR inspired generations of movie blood suckers to come, its origins were shrouded in plagiarism. The unacknowledged source of the terror tale was Bram Stoker’s novel, DRACULA. This was not lost on Stoker’s widow who promptly sued and won. All prints of the original film negative were ordered destroyed. But the film continued to thrive in bootleg editions until a recent restoration.
Despite the wrath of Stoker’s heir, Murnau’s magnum opus brought international fame to the visionary director and a one-way ticket to Hollywood. There he rose to stratospheric heights, garnering a special Academy Award for Unique and Artistic Production for his sublime SUNRISE (1927). The world now belonged to Murnau until his sudden, shocking end at age 42 — a victim of his own sexual hubris.
Intriguingly, there are those who suspect that Murnau’s sudden demise may have a more sinister connotation than mere decadence. Theorists surmise that Murnau may have made a deal with his own personal “crossroads demon.”
Like so many other artists who inevitably bared their souls into their creations, the devil is in the details — and in Murnau’s case, perhaps, more literally than metaphoric. How else might one explain his bizarre, unexpected death?
While speeding in his car along the Pacific Coast highway, the openly gay director was receiving oral sex from his 14 year-old Filipino house boy when Murnau lost control, smashing into a telephone pole. This grim finale prompted conjecture that Murnau may have made a satanic pact to achieve worldly success only to have his soul suddenly collected.
The answer may very well lie in Murnau’s own film version of FAUST (1926): in Murnau’s version of the oft-adapted German legend, the Devil’s disciple, Mephisto is summoned by an elderly scholar Faust at a crossroads — a site “between two worlds,” a place neither “here nor there” — a mythological interface between the supernatural realm and that of the living.
Faust initially wants to save his village from a deadly plague, but is soon tempted by Mephisto into the pleasures of the flesh after regaining his lost youth. He soon learns that a deal with the Devil is not one than can be reneged upon. Bored with youth, wealth and power, Faust is drawn to an innocent girl for one last chance at redemptive love. Needless to say, it doesn’t end well… or, as Poe aptly put it, “Never Bet the Devil Your Head”… you’ll lose it, sooner or later.
Years after his demise in 1931, Murnau fans continued to make the pilgrimage to the small cemetery outside Berlin to honor one of the greatest names in world cinema. Oddly enough, among the frequent visitors to the memorial were Germany’s most notorious satanic murderers, Daniel and Manuela Ruda.
In 2001, this couple slew a baker and his wife, and then shared in drinking their victims’ blood in an occult ritual. Daniel Ruda had even shaved his teeth to resemble the canine fangs of a vampire. During the sensational murder trial, it became public knowledge that the cold-blooded Rudas had visited Murnau’s grave multiple times, often accompanied by their satanic acolytes.
While there has been no direct link to known associates of the Rudas in the Murnau head case, police remain baffled. No ransom note has been received and they have no new clues. German officials said that they may relocate what remains of Murnau to a secret site to prevent further desecration of the revered filmmaker.
Even Ernst Szebedits, managing director of the F. W. Murnau Foundation, is mystified by the bizarre theft.
“It doesn’t make sense,” he said.