'Nosferatu' Director F. W. Murnau's Skull Stolen, Bizarre Clue Suggests Occult Motives

Justin Streight

F.W. Murnau, the cinematic legend behind the silent film Nosferatu, is missing his head - or rather his skull. Unknown assailants broke into the famous director's grave in Stahnsdorf Germany and stole the body part, leaving behind clues of an occult ritual.

The first time people broke into Murnau's plot in Stahnsdorf South-Western Cemetery was the early 1970s. They damaged his iron coffin, according to the Washington Post. Then, mysterious perpetrators disturbed the grave again in February, with similar results.

But this time, they got the director's skull, and cemetery manager, Olaf Ihlefeldt, suspects Satanists engaged in a ceremony.

"There was a candle… A photo session or a celebration or whatever in the night. It really isn't clear."

"They have experienced it in homages and parodies, seen its influence on every successive horror film that has made use of the pioneering techniques of German Expressionism, been terrified by the image of a slinking shadow climbing across a wall."

F.W. Murnau also directed Faust, The Last Laugh, and Sunrise, which swept the very first Academy Awards. Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror, first released in 1922, was an illegal adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula. To avoid legal repercussions, the director attempted to make shallow changes, according to Pop Matters.

Count Dracula became Count Orlok; "Vampire" became "Nosferatu." Despite the precautions, Stoker's widow successfully sued and had many of the film copies destroyed.

Still, the movie survived and can now be watched here (it's in the public domain), by anyone with an internet connection. As for Murnau's head, it might be some time before anyone sees it again.

Olaf Ihlefeldt called it "an absolute scandal."

The graves of the director's brothers, which sit nearby, were not disturbed.

Cemetery officials are considering sealing off Murnau's grave for good. Nevertheless, the whereabouts of the Nosferatu director's skull are still unknown, and the motive for the crime is anyone's guess.

[Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images]