Austrian police has arrested a man that they believe imprisoned his daughter for 24 years in a windowless basement, abused her and fathered seven children with her.
The woman, identified as a 42-year-old Elisabeth, told the police that Josef Fritzl, her father, had lured her into the basement of the block where they lived, in Amstetten, in 1984. Then he drugged and handcuffed her, before imprisoning her.
Police said that, along with their mother, three of her children were locked up since they were born in the basement and had never seen sunlight, or received any education. “We are faced with a crime that is incomprehensible” , said Guenther Platter, Interior Minister on Austrian television. “Everything that has happened here goes beyond one’s imagination.”
Amstetten is 130 km (80 miles) west of Vienna, were still piecing together details of Natascha Kampusch’s case, an Austrian girl who spent eight years locked up in a windowless cell before escaping in August 2006.
Investigators have been told by Josef, a 73-year-old electrical engineering technician by training, how to enter the basement prison through a hidden door operated by secret code.
Local official explained that“there was a shelf with plenty of cans and containers, and behind the shelf was a door made of reinforced concrete, secured electronically and running on steel rails, and only the suspect knew the code.”
Franz Polzer, head of the criminal investigations unit in the province of Lower Austria, told broadcaster ORF that the hideout was also a sophisticated network of chambers with facilities for sleeping, cooking and washing. But the rooms covered an area of approximately 60sq m (650 sq ft).
Elisabeth F had been reported missing since August 29, 1984, she was 18. It was assumed that her disappearance was voluntary when her parents received a letter that she wrote, saying that they should not search for her.
Elisabeth’s mother, Rosemarie, who had seven children with the suspect, had been unaware of what happened to her daughter.
While she was imprisoned, Elisabeth gave birth to twins, but one of them died shortly after being born because it was not properly cared for. The father burnt the body in the incinerator of his apartment building, police said. Elisabeth’s surviving children, three boys and three girls, have had different treatment.
Three of the younger children were brought up by Josef and his wife, after being left at the building. The first one had a note from Elisabeth, saying she was unable to care for the baby herself. They have been adopted or fostered by the suspect.
The three other children, including the youngest, aged 5, and the two eldest, aged 18 and 19, had been locked up in the basement since birth, with their mother.
According to media reports, the case only came to light because the oldest child, Krestin, became seriously ill and was taken to hospital in Amstetten. The father said the child had been left on his doorstep too, unconscious.
Abused since she was 11
At the time the girl’s mother was believed to have disappeared. Doctors appealed for her to come forward, in order to provide more details about the daughter’s medical history.
Then Josef, told his wife that their “missing” daughter had decided to return home, and brought Elisabeth and her two remaining children out of the basement.
“This is not a mother abandoning her child which then had to be admitted to hospital in a serious condition … We know that she herself has been kept imprisoned by her own father for 24 years in the basement and furthermore she obviously was also subjected to sexual abuse” Polzer said.
Elisabeth told the police that she’s been abused by her father since the age of 11. After questioning and assurances that she would have no further contact with him, she agreed to make a “comprehensive statement”.
Corina Schmid, a neighbour, told ORF that“it is so horrible, I can see the house from my balcony and from my window and when I think now of who was in there, I can simply not imagine that.”
“I spoke to (Rosemarie) at Christmas, and she told me they didn’t know where the daughter was, she had simply vanished” said Margarete Gollonitsch, another neighbour, as onlookers gathered in the street, outside the three-storey building, and investigators in white suits continued their search of the premises.
Police said that DNA samples of all those involved were taken and would be analysed. Elisabeth and her mother Rosemarie, were receiving psychological counselling. Josef Fritzl is expected to appear in court, later on Monday.