CSI Mayerling – How did the crown prince really die?


Murder and suicide in the house of Habsburg: Crown Prince Rudolf shoots his young lover and then himself. The tragedy of Mayerling is still a puzzling one.

Today the word Mayerling stands for more than the small locality of that name in the Vienna Woods with its two hostelries, two bus stops, a small private hotel, two Catholic churches, a monastery and a convent – it stands for an event. The village chronicle of 2008 describes it as the ‘most dramatic place in Austria’. Given that the convent now accommodated in Schloss Mayerling is home to members of a silent order, it is unusual that they are expected to welcome more than 100,000 thousand visitors per year, many of whom are hoping to be enlightened as to the exact events of 30 January 1889 when Crown Prince Rudolf first shot his lover Mary Vetsera and then himself.

Having purchased the property at Mayerling three years before, Rudolf had it adapted as a hunting lodge. His parties were far from conventional – conversation was informal in tone, the dress code was breeches, and the company slept in simply furnished rooms. When Rudolf betook himself to Mayerling in January 1889, he was thought to be hosting just such a hunting party, but on the day after his arrival he shot his lover and himself with a pistol.

On the official level, efforts were made to hush up the murder and suicide committed by the Emperor’s son. Although as a suicide Rudolf did not even have had the right to a church burial, the preservation of the family’s reputation made one necessary at all costs, and a medical certificate was signed stating that he was not responsible for his actions at the time he killed himself. The doctor who issued the certificate certainly did so in response to a personal request. And the heir to the throne as the murderer of a young baroness? Mary Vetsera had to disappear. A sham post mortem having concluded that she had committed suicide, she was given a secret burial. In order to remove her from Mayerling unobtrusively the girl was dressed and put in a carriage as if still alive, with a stick up her dress to prevent her from toppling over.

In the same year Franz Joseph gave instructions for the hunting lodge to be converted into a convent. The conventual altar is today still located at the place in the bedroom where the deed was done.

It has not as yet been possible to establish the exact details about the death of Rudolf and his lover. It is said that a casket with the pistol, the empty cartridges and a number of further pieces of evidence are still in Habsburg hands.

Sonja Schmöckel