In January 1889, the discovery of two bodies in a rural hunting lodge outside Vienna shook the world. The Archduke of Austria-Hungary, Prince Rudolf, and his lover, Baroness Marie Vetsera, lay side by side in a cabin in the village of Mayerling. They had been shot to death.
The mystery surrounding their deaths started when Prince Rudolf’s father, Emperor Franz Josef, put out an order that the tragedy be covered up. This was most likely because Rudolf was having an affair with Vetsera despite being married to a Belgian princess. In order to keep the affair under wraps even after the two lovers died, Marie Vetsera’s body was whisked away and buried in secret.
Since the church would not allow a proper funeral for a suicide victim, nobody even mentioned that this was a possibility. Instead, a rumor was spread that Rudolf had been poisoned by his enemies. However, the Emperor later told the Pope that he suspected Rudolf must have killed himself and Vetsera during a bout of temporary insanity. The Pope allowed a Catholic burial.
Only after the Emperor died in 1916 did the true details of the couple’s deaths come to light. By then, many outlandish rumors about the incident were doing the rounds. More than 100 years later, the speculation has not stopped. Theories include murder-suicide, a politically motivated killing, or a cover-up after Vetsera’s relatives shot Rudolf to death during a drunken brawl. It is likely that the only two people who knew the truth died in that lodge.