Austrian man locked up daughter in basement for 24 years

A 73-year-old Austrian man has confessed to imprisoning his daughter in a windowless cellar for 24 years and fathering her seven children, police said on Monday.

By Arno Maierbrugger, Sub Editor
00:05 April 28, 2008

Dubai: A 73-year-old Austrian man has confessed to imprisoning his daughter in a windowless cellar for 24 years and fathering her seven children, police said on Monday.

Police had said on Sunday a 42-year-old woman told them her father, Josef Fritzl, lured her into the basement of the block where they lived in the town of Amstetten in 1984, and drugged and handcuffed her before imprisoning her.

According to Austrian broadcaster ORF police suspected an extreme case of incest because the woman told them she has been abused by her father during her ordeal and had borne him seven children. Three of them stayed with her in the basement dungeon while one child died shortly after birth. Her father removed the corpse from the cellar and burned it, she said.

The 42-year-old woman has been named as Elisabeth Fritzl and said she had been abused by her father since the age of 11, police told reporters at a press conference held on Sunday afternoon in Vienna.

Drugs and handcuffs

Fritzl's wife Rosemarie had not been aware of what was going on while the man provided his daughter and the children with food and clothing, police said.

In a chronology of events outlined in a statement, police said Elisabeth Fritzl had apparently sent a letter a month after her disappearance asking her parents not to search for her.

It is not clear if this letter was genuine or faked, possibly written by Joseph Fritzl himself to prevent his wife searching for her daughter.

The case came to light when a 19-year-old unconscious girl was hospitalised in the town of Amstetten, some 150 kilometres west of Vienna, who apparently suffered from a mysterious disease. Doctors unsuccessfully tried to contact her mother and then alarmed the police.

Officers managed to spot the address of the girl, raided the house and found the girl's mother together with the three other children.

"At the moment the investigations are continuing", police colonel Franz Polzer was quoted as saying by ORF Radio on Sunday.

"We have taken DNA samples of all involved persons and are waiting for the results," Polzer said.

According to Lower Austria criminal police, detailed result of the kinship between the involved persons are expected on Monday.

Police officials, meanwhile, confirmed the suspicion of incest against the 73-year-old who has been detained. He refuses to make any statement. Police as yet did not examine the dungeon because it is feared that the engineer has placed explosive traps there.

Neighbours of the family told reporters that they "cannot imagine" what had happened. The 73-year-old always has been "polite and friendly" when they met him occasionally on the street, they said.

The woman and her children have been brought to a crisis centre and are getting psychological treatment. They are exhausted but in stable condition, investigators said, except for the sick 19-year-old who has fallen into coma in the hospital.

Grim reminder

It is the third stunning case to be revealed in Austria in recent years of children being locked away.

One was that of Natascha Kampusch, who was locked up by a man in the cellar of a house near Vienna for eight years before she escaped, a case which drew much attention from international media.

Kampusch was ten years old when Wolfgang Priklopil abducted her on her way to school in 1998 and since then held her in a tiny cell in the basement of his house. The 44-year-old kidnapper killed himself just hours after she fled in 2006 by throwing himself under a train.

In another case, three young girls were locked up for seven years by their mentally ill mother near the city of Linz.

But this latest case is referred to as being "the most repulsive and terrifying" in Austrian criminal history, police said.

- With inputs from agencies