The Austrian Ogre: The Case That Shocked the World

Apr 30, 2009 - by Marilyn Z. Tomlins - 0 Comments

May 20, 2008 Updated Nov. 23, 2010

Josef Fritzl, photographed just after his arrest

Josef Fritzl, photographed just after his arrest

Josef Fritzl locked his 18-year-old daughter Elisabeth in his cellar and raped her repeatedly for the next 24 years. She would bear him seven children, three of whom he moved upstairs to live with him and his wife, and four to languish below, one of whom would die days after birth.

 by Marilyn Z. Tomlins

In the past only fly fishermen would have heard of the Lower Austria town of Amstetten and only a few elderly Austrians would have been able to say that they’ve heard the name Josel Fritzl before.

Amstetten is 40 miles (65 kms) from Linz and 81 miles (130kms) from Vienna and just fewer than 23,000 people live there. The town, which was first mentioned in 995, is on the Ybbs River, a contributory to the Danube. The Ybbs’s crystal clear water makes it a fly-fishing paradise. Few who have gone there to fish though would have known that the town had once been the seat of two sub-camps of the Nazis’ Mauthausen-Güsen group of concentration camps. It’s not something the locals wish anyone to recall or mention.

Resident Josef Fritzl, 73, a “respectable” and “respected” retired electrical engineer, no doubt felt the same way about the town’s concentration camp past. He certainly was secretive about his own life. On a month-long vacation in Pattaya, Thailand, with a friend of long-standing, he confessed to having “a woman on the side” but such indiscretion was only because he had been caught buying skimpy woman’s underwear and a dress. The friend, Paul Hoerer, 69, talking to journalists later said: “He was really annoyed when he saw that I’ve been watching him.” Fritzl had asked him to keep the information to himself. Of course, it was understandable that Fritzl did not want his wife, gray-haired, plump 68-year-old Rosemarie, to know about the lover.

There was also something else Fritzl didn’t wish anyone to know about: the cellar of his house at Number 40 Ybbsstrasse, a large three-story structure divided into individual apartments for tenants.  Rosemarie was, according to Chief Inspector Franz Pölzer, head of criminal investigations for Lower Austria, “discouraged” to go down there. Said friend Hoerer: “Fritzl was master of the house and a bit of a dictator.” So, Rosemarie, having been “discouraged” stayed away. Similarly, Fritzl had forbidden his tenants to approach the cellar. One tenant, Alfred Dubanovsky, 42, a gas station attendant in Amstetten, who had rented one of the apartments for 12 years, recalled having been told to stay away from the cellar and to know that if he did go that way, he would lose his lodging instantly.

Josef Fritzl’s life is now no longer a secret. Forever now he will be known as the father who imprisoned his daughter in a cellar for 24 years and raped her almost daily so that she fell pregnant six times. And Amstetten, because this is where the Austrian Ogre had committed his foul deed, will no longer be known only to fly fishermen.

The Case

The case began on Saturday, April 19, 2008. That morning Josef Fritzl summoned Amstetten’s emergency paramedics to Number 40 Ybbsstrasse. When an ambulance arrived he escorted the paramedics out to his back garden where his expensive German-made automobile was parked. On the rear seat lay a young girl. She was barely conscious and already unable to speak: Fritzl had earlier described her to the person who had taken his emergency call as his “granddaughter.” Now, he briefly explained to the paramedics that she did not live with him but that he had found her in his hallway and that he had carried her to his car to race her to hospital but had decided that it would be quicker and wiser to summon an ambulance.

As is the custom in Austria, as well as in most of Europe, Fritzl was not allowed to accompany his “granddaughter” to hospital, but he was told to follow in his own car.  He did not set off immediately though so by the time he arrived at Amstetten General Hospital, the head of its emergency unit, Dr. Albert Reiter, was desperate to have a word with him. The doctor had by then established that all the vital organs of the young girl, by then unconscious, had stopped working. In other words, she was moribund. But what puzzled the doctor was his patient’s appearance: She was incredibly thin and pale, and she’d obviously never had dental treatment because her teeth were rotting stumps hanging from her bleeding gums.

Fritzl’s explanation to Dr. Reiter was that the young girl’s mother – his daughter who was 42 years old – lived away from home and that she had dropped the girl, Kerstin he said was her name, off at his house that morning. Having broken all ties with this wayward daughter very many years ago he had not seen her child before that morning.  He seemed very worried about this “granddaughter” of his but balked when asked how old she was and where she was born or what school she attended. “Just get her better and leave the rest to me,” he told the doctor angrily. The latter, suspicious, summoned the police and by the end of the day Austrian television was running a police request for the girl’s mother, a woman last known as Elizabeth Fritzl from Amstetten, to come forward. What the television report did not mention was that the police were already themselves looking for her; they wanted to charge her with gross neglect of her child.

On Saturday, April 26, after night had fallen and eight days having passed since the search for Elizabeth Fritzl had begun, she walked into the hospital. With her was her father Josef; he had called the hospital earlier to announce that his “missing” daughter had turned up and that he was bringing her to the hospital. “We don’t want any trouble so do not call the police,” he had warned before ringing off. The hospital though had ignored the threat and the investigators on the case rushed to the hospital and when they returned to their station house a couple of hours later Elizabeth and Josef Fritzl were with them. Father and daughter rode the short distance between hospital and station house in separate squad cars: they had been informed that they were to be questioned and that what they would say could be used as evidence against them for a charge of neglect.

“I have a lot to tell you,” were the first words Elizabeth Fritzl told the police once she was seated in an office at the station house. But before she was to speak she wanted their promise that she would never ever have to face her father again. Promised, she continued: “I was kidnapped by my father when I was 18 and he has kept me locked up in the cellar of our house ever since. I am now 42 years old. He locked me up down there and so too my children. I have seven children. He is their father. He raped me. I’ve not seen another human being apart from him and my children these past 24 years.”

Two hours later only did she fall silent: Her story was told. Her father had started to rape her when she was 11 years old. She didn’t tell her mother or anyone else about it because she feared his reaction; he beat not only her but also her siblings and her mother. When she turned 18 he lured her down to the cellar of their house to make him her sex slave. She remembered the date: Tuesday, August 28, 1984. Down there she had given birth six times, once to twins. Three of the children he had taken upstairs to be brought up by her mother (his wife Rosemarie) and one of the twins had died shortly after birth, but the remaining three children, Kerstin being one of them, had been held prisoner with her. Where were the two children who had been held prisoner with her and Kerstin, the police wanted to know. They were at home with her mother, she replied. Just as he had released her, he had also released them from their shared prison.

Those who listened to Elisabeth’s story would describe her to the media – hundreds of journalists and television news crews had arrived from all over the world to cover the “Austrian Incest Father” story -  as gray-haired, very pale and toothless, and looking very much older than her 42 years. They would also say that when, after having heard her story, they walked into the office where Fritzl was waiting to be questioned, they saw that he was smiling.

At first Fritzl would give the police only monosyllable replies to their questions, but then he admitted that he had locked up his daughter. “She was kind of mad,” he said. Locking her and her children up, as he explained, was his way of protecting them. And, no, his wife did not know that he had kept Elizabeth and her children – his “grandchildren” – locked up. Where were the “grandchildren” he was asked. They were at home with their “grandmother”, he replied. And he was still smiling.

Until that moment all that the police had known about the man in their custody were that he was 73 years old, that at the age of  22 he had met and married an 18-year-old kitchen assistant from Linz whose name was Rosemarie, and that the two were the parents of seven children, two of them twins. The couple’s first child was born in 1957 and the last in 1972. Elizabeth was their third child born in 1966.

The following day, Sunday, April 27, the police went to Number 40 Ybbsstrasse. It was not their first visit to the house, but it was the first time that they would enter the cellar. A door which, weighed later, would hit the scale at 660 pounds (300 kilograms), had kept them out. It was a reinforced door, the kind once sold to European businesses and home owners to secure nuclear fallout shelters. (Many Europeans – especially Austrians and Germans – were constructing nuclear fallout shelters during the Cold War. It is even still compulsory that each building in Switzerland be equipped with such a shelter.) The door also had a complicated security code but this Frizl had been forced to reveal.

On the police’s arrival the house that had once been filled with people – filled with people both above and below ground – was dark and silent. Rosemarie and all the children her husband had fathered either by her or her daughter were in hospital undergoing check-ups and mental assessments. And the tenants too were away; the police had moved all to safe houses for questioning as they might be witnesses in a future trial.

Once down the 11 stone steps that led to the reinforced door and a police technician having tapped the secret code into its lock, the police no longer spoke of a cellar. They spoke of a “dungeon.” When the media heard the word it instantly awakened memories of Natascha Kampusch, also Austrian, who had been held captive by one Wolfgang Priklopol (44 at that time) in a dungeon at his house for eight years and until August 2006 when she, aged 18, succeeded in getting away. They were also reminded of Belgian serial rapist and killer, Marc Dutroux, who had imprisoned his female child victims in a dungeon under his house.

Investigation
While more journalists arrived in Amstetten, filling all the town’s hotels and guesthouses as well as those in the neighboring towns, the police began the emotionally stressing task of finding out what exactly had gone on in the Fritzl household and for how long it had gone on.

The story went back to 1977. Elisabeth was 11 years old then. 

Once the Fritzl name was known the world over, friend Hoerer would speak to journalists about what Elisabeth was like at that age. “I remember that Elisabeth was very withdrawn and shy. I got the impression he (Fritzl) did not like her very much, he did not treat her as well as he did the other children. He used to beat her a lot more than them. She used to get a slap for every small thing,” he said.

“When Elisabeth was a teenager she ran away from home, police searched for her, brought her back and delivered her back into the violent embrace of her father,” Hedwig Woelfl, the director of an Amstetten child protection centre, in turn told journalists.

That was in 1983. Elizabeth, then 16, had indeed run away. She had done so with a girlfriend and the two had set off for Vienna. However, the moment her father realized that she was gone he reported her missing and the police started to look for her. In Vienna, the two girls slept rough and then one night they joined some young people for a very noisy party in a private apartment.  Elisabeth was recognized as the missing girl from Amstetten when neighbors called the police because of the noise. She was sent back home.

The following year – 1984 - Elisabeth, then 17 years old and by no means an enthusiastic scholar, moved with her father’s consent (Rosemarie had not been consulted) to the Tyrolean town of Angath, 186 miles (300 kms), away to work as a junior waitress at a motel. Friends from that time remembered that “Sissy,” as they called her, liked to party and do whatever went with partying, including drinking. She also got a boyfriend. He would later tell police that they were never lovers: They used to caress but Elisabeth would always end the kissing abruptly.

Soon, however, Elisabeth gave up the job and returned to Amstetten. She had not wanted to go back but her father had insisted that she return home, and she, like her mother, had over the years come to accept that it served no purpose to argue with the headstrong, even dictatorial, Josef Fritzl.

Home again, Elisabeth found that there was a structural change to the place. For the previous six years, or since her father had started to sexually abuse her, he’d been digging under the house, constructing what was, as he told her, her siblings, her mother, his friends and tenants, a “nuclear fall-out shelter.” It had meant him shifting what police would later say must have been about 150 tons of soil up to the surface and carting it away. He had the local planning authority’s full agreement to build the shelter: It had even given him a 30,000 Austria Schilling (US$2900; ₤2000) subsidy for the work. Eventually, that “nuclear fall-out shelter” would consist of eight rooms that included a kitchen-cum-bathroom with stove, fridge, freezer, toilet, shower, television set and video player. And it would be known for what it really was – an underground prison for Elisabeth and the children she would have by her own father.

No sooner home than Elisabeth disappeared. Fritzl, furious, told Rosemarie that their daughter had obviously run away yet again. She was not to make any effort to find the girl; if Elisabeth needed a roof over her head or money she would be in touch soon enough. Elisabeth got in touch. Fritzl showed his tearful wife a letter that he had found with the mail. It was from Elizabeth: She wrote that she had joined a sect and that she didn’t want anyone to look for her.

Fritzl told friend Hoerer the same story about Elisabeth having run away from home yet again and that she had joined a sect. From then on whenever Hoerer dined with the Fritzls and Elisabeth’s name was mentioned, as he told journalists: “Rosemarie would leave the table, but I never saw her cry.”

What Hoerer did not know was that his pal Fritzl, or “Sepp” as he called him, had been raping Elizabeth for the past eight years. Therefore, while he had been enjoying “Sepp’s” company, “Sepp” had been raping a child.

Elizabeth had not joined a sect of course.

The entryway to Fritzl's cellar "dungeon".

The entryway to Fritzl's cellar "dungeon".

She was imprisoned down in the cellar, or rather the new “nuclear fall-out shelter” so that Fritzl could rape her whenever he wanted to.

As she would tell the police, he had lured her down to the cellar on the pretext that he needed assistance fitting a door, and down there he had knocked her out with ether. Coming too, she had found herself alone in the dark and handcuffed to the headboard of a bed.  When her father had reappeared after what had felt to her like days, she had begged him to let her go. His reply had been to fall on her and to rape her yet again. For days she had shouted for help as loudly as she could. She had banged on the cellar’s thick concrete walls, walls Fritzl, the electrical engineer and handyman, had made sure would be soundproof; he had tested the cellar’s acoustics by playing a radio down there at full blast while he stood upstairs in the house satisfied that not even the slightest murmur could be heard from below.

Contrary to friend Hoerer’s belief that Fritzl had disliked Elisabeth, one of the investigators would tell journalists: “We understand that Elisabeth was his favorite child because she was so pretty. He didn’t want to lose her when she turned 18 so he spent six years building a dungeon to keep her for himself forever. It wasn’t just a sudden idea to throw his daughter in the cellar, it was plotted for years.”

What friend Hoerer also did not know was that his pal “Sepp” had a sexual perversion of having sex in a dark and enclosed place like a cellar. As often as three times a week Fritzl used to go to a brothel in Linz where he took the prostitutes down into the basement for violent sex.

Elisabeth, once locked in the cellar, was to satisfy this man’s perverted sexual desires. Cunningly, he had used prophylactics when he’d raped her when she was still a child, but once she was his captive, his libido had started to play up and he thought that sex without a condom would be a booster. So she had fallen pregnant.

With child and fearful of childbirth, she had begged her father to allow her out. She had promised him that she would not speak of her captivity and that she would go along with the “sect” story he had fabricated, but he would hear nothing of it.

She was to fall pregnant again and again. Each time, she had given birth without medical assistance and the only help she had received from her incest father were a book on childbirth, some diapers and aspirin pills.

Kerstin was her first child, then followed a boy named Stefan and a girl named Lisa. After Lisa there had been another daughter, Monika. Then, twins named Alexander and Michael. Finally another boy named Felix.

Michael, one of the twins, was the child who had died.  Kerstin then only 7 and Stefan then 6 had helped her bring him and his brother Alexander into the world and afterwards they had struggled with her to keep him alive.  As was his pattern, Fritzl had kept away during the final days of Elisabeth’s pregnancy and during the confinement.

Lisa, Monica and Alexander were the three children Fritzl had taken upstairs for Rosemarie to bring up. He had told her that he had “found” the toddlers on the doorstep; he had forced Elisabeth to write notes to explain that she was unable to keep them with her and Rosemarie had willingly accepted the three without querying their sudden arrival, and had loved them as if they were her own biological offspring. Friztl was to explain to the police why he had taken the three upstairs. “They were sickly and cried too much in the cellar for my liking,” he said.  Friztl and Rosemarie legally adopted the three children. The Amstetten adoption authorities had fine-combed the couple’s life and life-style but had found nothing to make them unsuitable as adoptive parents; they were by all appearance law-abiding citizens. Later, the three were enrolled at the local school and on each of 21 visits that welfare officials had paid to the Fritzls’ house, they had reported that the children were well looked after and that the couple were “very loving” parents.

During all that time, Fritzl, having forbidden Rosemarie and the couple’s tenants to go anywhere near the cellar, had gone down their almost daily. He’d even spent entire nights down there, some times raping Elisabeth in front of her children after he had made her watch pornographic films to teach her how to satisfy him. Upstairs, Rosemarie and the other children and the tenants had slept soundly.
Once the Fritzl name was known the world over, friend Hoerer would speak to journalists about what Elisabeth was like at that age. “I remember that Elisabeth was very withdrawn and shy. I got the impression he (Fritzl) did not like her very much, he did not treat her as well as he did the other children. He used to beat her a lot more than them. She used to get a slap for every small thing,” he said.

“When Elisabeth was a teenager she ran away from home, police searched for her, brought her back and delivered her back into the violent embrace of her father,” Hedwig Woelfl, the director of an Amstetten child protection centre, in turn told journalists.

That was in 1983. Elizabeth, then 16, had indeed run away. She had done so with a girlfriend and the two had set off for Vienna. However, the moment her father realized that she was gone he reported her missing and the police started to look for her. In Vienna, the two girls slept rough and then one night they joined some young people for a very noisy party in a private apartment.  Elisabeth was recognized as the missing girl from Amstetten when neighbors called the police because of the noise. She was sent back home.

The following year – 1984 - Elisabeth, then 17 years old and by no means an enthusiastic scholar, moved with her father’s consent (Rosemarie had not been consulted) to the Tyrolean town of Angath, 186 miles (300 kms), away to work as a junior waitress at a motel. Friends from that time remembered that “Sissy,” as they called her, liked to party and do whatever went with partying, including drinking. She also got a boyfriend. He would later tell police that they were never lovers: They used to caress but Elisabeth would always end the kissing abruptly.

Soon, however, Elisabeth gave up the job and returned to Amstetten. She had not wanted to go back but her father had insisted that she return home, and she, like her mother, had over the years come to accept that it served no purpose to argue with the headstrong, even dictatorial, Josef Fritzl.

Home again, Elisabeth found that there was a structural change to the place. For the previous six years, or since her father had started to sexually abuse her, he’d been digging under the house, constructing what was, as he told her, her siblings, her mother, his friends and tenants, a “nuclear fall-out shelter.” It had meant him shifting what police would later say must have been about 150 tons of soil up to the surface and carting it away. He had the local planning authority’s full agreement to build the shelter: It had even given him a 30,000 Austria Schilling (US$2900; ₤2000) subsidy for the work. Eventually, that “nuclear fall-out shelter” would consist of eight rooms that included a kitchen-cum-bathroom with stove, fridge, freezer, toilet, shower, television set and video player. And it would be known for what it really was – an underground prison for Elisabeth and the children she would have by her own father.

No sooner home than Elisabeth disappeared. Fritzl, furious, told Rosemarie that their daughter had obviously run away yet again. She was not to make any effort to find the girl; if Elisabeth needed a roof over her head or money she would be in touch soon enough. Elisabeth got in touch. Fritzl showed his tearful wife a letter that he had found with the mail. It was from Elizabeth: She wrote that she had joined a sect and that she didn’t want anyone to look for her.

Fritzl told friend Hoerer the same story about Elisabeth having run away from home yet again and that she had joined a sect. From then on whenever Hoerer dined with the Fritzls and Elisabeth’s name was mentioned, as he told journalists: “Rosemarie would leave the table, but I never saw her cry.”

What Hoerer did not know was that his pal Fritzl, or “Sepp” as he called him, had been raping Elizabeth for the past eight years. Therefore, while he had been enjoying “Sepp’s” company, “Sepp” had been raping a child.

Elizabeth had not joined a sect of course.

The tiny cellar bathroom Fritzl installed for his captives.
The tiny cellar bathroom Fritzl installed for his captives.

She was imprisoned down in the cellar, or rather the new “nuclear fall-out shelter” so that Fritzl could rape her whenever he wanted to.

As she would tell the police, he had lured her down to the cellar on the pretext that he needed assistance fitting a door, and down there he had knocked her out with ether. Coming too, she had found herself alone in the dark and handcuffed to the headboard of a bed.  When her father had reappeared after what had felt to her like days, she had begged him to let her go. His reply had been to fall on her and to rape her yet again. For days she had shouted for help as loudly as she could. She had banged on the cellar’s thick concrete walls, walls Fritzl, the electrical engineer and handyman, had made sure would be soundproof; he had tested the cellar’s acoustics by playing a radio down there at full blast while he stood upstairs in the house satisfied that not even the slightest murmur could be heard from below.

Contrary to friend Hoerer’s belief that Fritzl had disliked Elisabeth, one of the investigators would tell journalists: “We understand that Elisabeth was his favorite child because she was so pretty. He didn’t want to lose her when she turned 18 so he spent six years building a dungeon to keep her for himself forever. It wasn’t just a sudden idea to throw his daughter in the cellar, it was plotted for years.”

What friend Hoerer also did not know was that his pal “Sepp” had a sexual perversion of having sex in a dark and enclosed place like a cellar. As often as three times a week Fritzl used to go to a brothel in Linz where he took the prostitutes down into the basement for violent sex.


A narrow corridor in the cellar dungeon.
A narrow corridor in the cellar dungeon.

Elisabeth, once locked in the cellar, was to satisfy this man’s perverted sexual desires. Cunningly, he had used prophylactics when he’d raped her when she was still a child, but once she was his captive, his libido had started to play up and he thought that sex without a condom would be a booster. So she had fallen pregnant.

With child and fearful of childbirth, she had begged her father to allow her out. She had promised him that she would not speak of her captivity and that she would go along with the “sect” story he had fabricated, but he would hear nothing of it.

She was to fall pregnant again and again. Each time, she had given birth without medical assistance and the only help she had received from her incest father were a book on childbirth, some diapers and aspirin pills.

Kerstin was her first child, then followed a boy named Stefan and a girl named Lisa. After Lisa there had been another daughter, Monika. Then, twins named Alexander and Michael. Finally another boy named Felix.

Michael, one of the twins, was the child who had died.  Kerstin then only 7 and Stefan then 6 had helped her bring him and his brother Alexander into the world and afterwards they had struggled with her to keep him alive.  As was his pattern, Fritzl had kept away during the final days of Elisabeth’s pregnancy and during the confinement.

Lisa, Monica and Alexander were the three children Fritzl had taken upstairs for Rosemarie to bring up. He had told her that he had “found” the toddlers on the doorstep; he had forced Elisabeth to write notes to explain that she was unable to keep them with her and Rosemarie had willingly accepted the three without querying their sudden arrival, and had loved them as if they were her own biological offspring. Friztl was to explain to the police why he had taken the three upstairs. “They were sickly and cried too much in the cellar for my liking,” he said.  Friztl and Rosemarie legally adopted the three children. The Amstetten adoption authorities had fine-combed the couple’s life and life-style but had found nothing to make them unsuitable as adoptive parents; they were by all appearance law-abiding citizens. Later, the three were enrolled at the local school and on each of 21 visits that welfare officials had paid to the Fritzls’ house, they had reported that the children were well looked after and that the couple were “very loving” parents.

During all that time, Fritzl, having forbidden Rosemarie and the couple’s tenants to go anywhere near the cellar, had gone down their almost daily. He’d even spent entire nights down there, some times raping Elisabeth in front of her children after he had made her watch pornographic films to teach her how to satisfy him. Upstairs, Rosemarie and the other children and the tenants had slept soundly.

Two tenants though did suspect that all was not quite right in the cellar. Dubanovsky told police and journalists that he had heard strange noises coming from it at night. "I wish to God that I could turn back the clock. The signs were all there but it was impossible for me to recognize them. I never in my wildest dreams thought he was behind anything like this. He spent every day in his cellar but I thought his behavior was pretty normal." Tenant, Sabine Kirschbichler said in an interview with the German magazine Brigitte that she used to see Fritzl go down to the cellar with heavy bags of provisions. "Now I realize why we weren't allowed to rent cellar space from him," she said. Dubanovksy also saw Fritzl taking provisions down to the cellar, but these had been packed onto a wheelbarrow, he said.

Another of Fritzl's friends, Rainer Wieczorak, 62, also came forward, not only to recount what he had on Fritzl, but to show what he had, and not only to the police and the journalists, but to the world. It was a video and he published it on the Web. Having accompanied Fritzl and Hoerer on the Thailand vacation of which Hoerer had already spoken, he had filmed Fritzl on the beach. The video showed Fritzl, tanned and smiling and dressed in a swimsuit a size or two too small, lying on a beach in the resort of Pattaya and being given a massage. "I needed to go there because the warm climate is much better for my health, but Fritzl had other interests. While we would all sit around the hotel bar enjoying a few quiet drinks, he was off on his own. We did not speak about where he went but it was pretty obvious that he had another agenda in mind. We almost never saw him. He was usually sleeping things off during the day, having a massage on the beach and a late breakfast," he said. Fritzl had explained to him that he was vacationing without Rosemarie because she had to look after the children. Hoerer's then girlfriend, Andrea Schmitt, had also gone along to Pattaya. She told journalists: "We traveled down there together but Fritzl very much did his own thing." She also said she had seen him with "carrier bags filled with things for the younger children" and added, "I remember thinking that he was buying a lot of presents for just three children."

The Fritzls' nearest neighbors also confided in journalists that they had their suspicions about the cellar because of the large and heavy shopping bags that Fritzl used to carry down there. One neighbor had even one day bumped into him in an out-of-town hypermarket when he was buying diapers.

The question the Austrians began to ask at that stage of the investigation was: Why had the friends, tenants and neighbors not gone to the police with their suspicions? And one police officer was puzzled why Rosemarie had never tried to get into the cellar. He said to a female reporter: "Ask yourself, if your husband forbids you entry to an area of your home and where he spends entire nights, will you accept that? Is it not in the female psyche to be inquisitive and suspicious? My wife, I know, would have been down there so fast with an axe, first axing the door down and then axing me."

Former captive Natascha Kampusch told the BBC in an interview that Austria's history played a role in the reason why no one had gone to the police with their suspicious. She said: "I think this exists worldwide, but I think it's also a ramification of the Second World War and its connection to education and so on. I think it can happen anywhere (she meant sequestration) and it also exists everywhere, not just in Austria. At the time of National Socialism (she meant Nazism; Hitler invaded and annexed a welcoming Austria in March 1938) the suppression of women was propagated. An authoritarian education was very important."


Amstetten women welcome Hitler (date unknown).
Amstetten women welcome Hitler (date unknown).

Austrian historians and psychologists also tried to explain the tenants and neighbors' silence by saying that the Austrian mentality is such that an Austrian's home is his castle and that the castle is impenetrable: Only the closest relatives and friends are invited across the threshold; others are met up with in a beer hall or bar. Only young Austrians with no memory of or guilt over the Nazi era's atrocities have a different outlook.

 

Fritzl on Himself
Having been confronted with DNA evidence that showed that he had fathered his daughter’s children, Fritzl confessed to the police. He said that yes he had locked his daughter in the cellar. He was ashamed at what he had done, but had no idea why he had done what he had done. “I grew up in the Nazi times and that meant the need to be controlled and the respect of authority. I suppose I took on some of those old values. It was all subconscious, of course,” he said.

But Fritzl opened up to his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer.

He told Mayer that when he was four years old his father had left his mother – her name was Rosa. His father whom he did not name, and his mother were cousins; they had never legally married.  He said that all he could remember of his father was that he was a Nazi supporter and that in 1938 his father had taken him to watch Hitler’s triumphant arrival in Amstetten and the rapturous welcome the people had given the Nazi leader. In the year that followed his father had left him and his mother. Where his father had disappeared to, he did not know; World War Two was raging and the man must have been called up in the general mobilization. But Fritzl did not care; he had a surrogate father: Adolf Hitler.

He said: “I come from a small family (he was the couple’s only child) and grew up in a tiny apartment. My father was a waster, he never took responsibility and he was just a loser and always cheated on my mother. Then, after he’d left, my mother and I never had contact with him again. He did not interest us. Then there was just the two of us.”

He described his mother as a “strong woman”, a woman who had taught him discipline and control, and the “values of hard work.” She was “simply the best woman in the world,” he said.

He had even been sexually attracted to her.  But, he never touched her. He said: “I was strong. I kept my desires under control.”

Rosemarie he also described as a “wonderful woman.” He always wanted a large family and this she provided. He said: “The dream of a big family was with me from when I was very small and Rosemarie seemed the prefect mother to realize that dream. This is not a good reason to marry, but it is also true to say that I loved her and still love her.”

The truth was somehow different.

Fritzl grew up in a fairly large apartment in the very house where he was still living at the time of his arrest - Number 40 Ybbsstrasse – and where he had imprisoned his daughter and the children he had fathered by her. He had inherited the house from his mother who had inherited it from a man she had briefly been married to before she had taken up with her cousin - Fritzl’s father.

As for his statement that his mother had been “simply the best woman in the world,” the Austrian newspapers Kronen Zeitung and Osterreich reported that he had revealed to a prison psychiatrist that he had kept her locked up in an attic room at Number 40 Ybbsstrasse for perhaps all of twenty years until her death in 1980. He told Dr. Adelheid Kastner: “She never showed me any love, she beat me and kicked me until I was on the floor and bleeding. I felt so weak and humiliated. I never got a kiss from her or even a hug although I tried very hard to please her. The only thing she did with me was go to church. I had a horrible fear of her. She kept insulting me and told me I was a Satan, a criminal, a no-good.” The two papers quoting people who had known her as, “looking rather like what we think a witch would look like: Small, thin, her shoulders bent, and always dressed in a long, black dress”.

As for his relationship with Rosemarie, they had stopped being lovers already some years before he had taken their daughter down into the cellar and into his bed.

“Herr Fritzl admits he raped and imprisoned his daughter, but he does regret what he did. He is emotionally destroyed,” Mayer told journalists.

Police investigators would further unravel Fritzl’s past.

He was not the upright Austrian citizen the adoption authorities had considered him; on the contrary, he was a man known to the police.

Three times in the past the police had investigated him for arson when fires had broken out at summer guesthouses on the lake if Mondsee close to Amstetten of which he was the proprietor and Rosemarie the manager. On each occasion though, the police had not found sufficient evidence to indict him.

But that was not all.

Not only was he down as an exhibitionist, but he had served time as a rapist. He had raped a 24-year-old nurse, having climbed through a window after her husband, a night worker, had left the couple’s apartment. Then, holding a knife to her throat he had threatened to kill her should she not do as he wished. Convicted, he had served less than a year of an 18-month sentence when he was released for good behavior.

The Indictment
Fritzl was charged with multiple rape, incest, enslavement, false imprisonment and coercion.

Next, he was charged with the murder-by-negligence of the baby – Michael - who had died down in the cellar. From the evidence given by Elizabeth and by the children who had remained down in the cellar with her and had tried to prevent Michael’s death, the police had established that Elisabeth had begged him to either allow her to take the ill and suffering Michael to a doctor, or to do so himself, but that he had refused. He had cold-heartedly watched the little boy’s swollen body turn blue because of a lack of oxygen, Then, after the boy had died, he had taken the little body, wrapped in a blanket, upstairs where, by his own confession, he had burned it in the house’s rubbish burner. The ashes he had buried in the garden.

He faced between 20 years and life, but Austrian legal experts said that he would probably have to be confined to a secure mental institution; he must be stark barking mad because a sane man could not have done what he had done.

Prison Life

Fritzl settled down well in prison in St, Pölten (52,000 inhabitants), Lower Austria’s capital town.

As his warders would tell journalists, he was not suicidal and had a hearty appetite; on his first night in prison he had supped on the traditional Austrian dish of apricot dumplings.

“He loves his food, especially fish served with boiled potatoes and red cabbage,” said one of the warders.

He also loved watching television, especially news reports about himself and it did not disturb him that he had to take his daily walk around the prison exercise yard on his own because his fellow inmates threatened to kill him.

His only concern appeared to be for the welfare of Rosemarie and Elizabeth and the children. “You know,” he would pensively say when Mayer visited him: “I always wanted to be a good husband and a good father”.

One day, asked by Mayer how he would describe himself, he replied: “On the face of it, probably as a monster.”

The Victims’ Progress
That December (2008) Christopher Herbst, the lawyer representing Elisabeth, Rosemarie and the children – the children were being referred to as the “upstairs” and the “downstairs” ones -  announced that Elisabeth and her children had left the psychiatric unit of the Amstetten-Mauer clinic where they had been held since their release from the cellar. Rosemarie, considered by the police and doctors as a victim too, had left the clinic a few months previously; having been granted a quick divorce from Fritzl and given a new identity, she had returned to her hometown of Linz where her new identify and address were being kept secret.

Elisabeth and her children had also been given new identities, and where they were living was also not revealed, but just to make sure that no journalist could get to them, they were given bodyguards.

The family “on the mend”, journalists were allowed glimpses into what the eight months of their stay at the clinic had been like.

After a month in an artificially-induced coma, Kerstin had slowly been brought back to consciousness, and a tearful Elisabeth was at her daughter’s bedside on the day that she had finally woken up. Dr. Albert Reiter (he had treated Kerstin from the day of her admission) would describe that moment as: “She opened her eyes and showed emotion for the first time. We smiled at her and she smiled back.” She had turned her face to the window and had, blinkingly, looked at the sky which she was seeing for the first time in her 19 years.  Asked what she would like to do, she had replied that she wanted to go on a boat ride. And she wanted to attend a Robbie Williams concert; she had seen him singing on television down in the cellar and like any teenage kill was mad about him. She had not however recovered totally, and would have to receive daily injections to reactive her immune system and to treat her weakened muscles, as the doctors told journalists.

As for the other children, they had adapted to their new situation at different tempos. “Things were going too fast for the one set, but too slow for the other. A cloud passing by was exciting to one set of the family, while the others didn’t even notice it,” said one of their psychiatrists, the Dr. Kepplinger. He added that when
daylight, space, any sound or noise had become too much for the “downstairs” set, they  had been able to retreat to a cargo container which he had placed on the clinic’s premises.

Kerstin, Stefan and Felix – the “downstairs” children - had to be guided into and prepared for living in the real world. Their mother had taught them to read and write, but what they knew of life was what they had seen on television.  They had seen the sun setting, yes, and the sun rising, yes, but had never experienced it. They had never felt rain on their faces, wind in their hair, had never driven in a car. Felix had been overcome with excitement on his first ever car drive; the one from the house to the hospital in a police car.

The three had also to learn how not to consider every stranger as a danger, how to love, how to trust, how to communicate with outsiders. On that first most ride of his, Felix had communicated his excitement not with words, but with grunts and gurgles; he and Stefan had invented a series of “animal-like sounds” to communicate with one another.

Lisa, Monika and Alexander – the “upstairs” children – had to come to terms with the appalling fact that their granddad was in reality their dad.

The Trial
Fritzl’s trial was to open on Monday, March 16 of this year (2009) in the St. Pölten courthouse.

Weeks before that day the St. Pölten police arranged with the Austrian air traffic controllers to enforce a no-fly zone over the courthouse for the duration of the trial which was expected to last a week.

Said Johann Schadwasser, the town’s police chief: “We want to rule out that anything flying overhead might be used to help organize an escape.” Fritzl had been receiving hundreds of letters; some of the letter writers threatened to kill him, but some supported him. Many of those where women: They wanted to marry him. Some of his supporters were even selling tea cups bearing a picture of him under the words “Josef der Verführer” – Josef the Seducer; those were fast disappearing from shops.

But Schadwasser did not have only Fritzl’s supporters in mind. He also wanted to keep the zone free for police helicopters should a riot break out outside the courthouse. A riot against Fritzl for the shame that he had brought onto Austria.

On Sunday, March 15, Fritzl prepared for his trial.  He had his hair shampooed and cut. A fellow inmate shortened his “Elvis Presley” cut for something more modern. Fritzl would have liked his balding top enhanced with a few implanted strands of hair, but the prison's budget did not however cover hair implants; he had had implants on several occasions in the past.

Therefore, arriving at the courthouse on that Monday morning, what he showed the world was the back of his balding head; his face he hid behind a blue loose-leaf file binder.

Other such blue file binders lay on the desks in front of those who would judge him: Three women - Judge Andrea Hummer (48), Prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser (33), and Forensic Psychiatrist Heidi Kastner (46). In those binders were their case and evidence against him.

Fritzl, in a gray-blue jacket which hung loosely – he had lost weight – was escorted into the courtroom by ten heavily-armed police in dark-blue uniforms and black berets, the Austrian police’s riot attire.

The trial was to be held in secret, but the media – over 200 journalists had arrived to cover it – were allowed to enter and take photographs; some even pushed microphones into Fritzl's face and tried to get him to reply to their questions of  “How do you feel, Herr Fritzl?” or “Any regrets, Herr Fritzl?” He remained silent.
Prosecutor Burkheiser read the indictment and Fritzl listened, staring straight ahead of him. He seemed oblivious to what he was hearing, yet there was an indication that he was all the same nervous; his long, thin, pale fingers trembled.

Next, Judge Hammer, turning to Fritzl asked: "Mr. Fritzl, how could you have done this to your own flesh and blood?"

Fritzl, not having replied, she turned to the jury of eight – four of each sex – chosen from the electoral roll, and told them: "Look at him with his polite demeanor. He will present to you a caring side, a selfless person, the nice man from next door. But what really troubles me is that he has not shown a single sign of regret. »

Austrian law allows an accused to explain what had driven him or her to crime, so Fritzl delivered a brief speech. He blamed his mother for what he had become. "I did not have a good relationship with my mother," he said. She had tried to stop him having friends; she beat him; she never showed him affection. But he could not condemn her all the same. "Her life wasn't the best either. She grew up on a farm and had to work from the age of eight," he said.

Asked, he replied that he was pleading guilty to all but one of the charges against him: He was innocent of the death of Michael.

At this stage of the trial the media were ordered to leave the courtroom.

On Tuesday, the court as well as Fritzl, again in the gray-blue jacket, watched a harrowing 13-hour video of Elisabeth testimony to the police. The jury were even handed items which had been in the cellar to smell how they stank.

Fritzl sat motionless through the showing of the video, but that night he called Mayer to the jail because he had something he wanted to tell him.

What Fritzl told Mayer was that he was going to change his plea: He was going to plead guilty to the murder-by-negligence charge as well.

What had persuaded him to do so, as he would tell the judge the following morning was, "My daughter's videotaped testimony."

To those words he added, "I'm sorry," but no one knew what exactly he was sorry for: The trouble he was causing by changing his plea, or for what he had done to his daughter.

Something else that no one knew was that Elisabeth had slipped into the courtroom while the video-tape of her ordeal was being played and that her father had seen her and that their eyes had met for a brief moment. His were filled with tears; hers had been expressionless.

In her videoed testimony Elisabeth had spoken of being 11 years old and finding pornographic magazines under her pillow, put there by her father. She spoke of the 24 years of rape she had endured down in the cellar. "He raped me 3,000 times," she said. She went through each of her eight pregnancies – yes she had fallen pregnant eight times, the first having ended in a painful miscarriage when she was just 20 years old.

It was scheduled that the jurors would render their verdict on that Friday, March 20, but Fritzl, having changed his plea, all had been said, and the verdict was given on Thursday. The jury had needed only three hours to decide his fate: Guilty on all charges.

The Austrian Ogre, 74 years old, was to spend the rest of his life in prison.

He did not bat an eyelid.

Prison Life
Fritzl began serving his sentence in the secure hospital unit of Mittersteig Prison in the Austrian capital, Vienna.

In Mittersteig two-thirds of the 90 inmates were sex offenders who were undergoing intensive therapy. Fritzl began such therapy too.

There were reports that when his doctors would finally find him “cured of his demons” he would be transferred to Göllersdorff Prison in the town of the same name. Göllersdorff’s inmates were all criminally insane. (One of the inmates is the murderer Robert Ackermann at 19 years of age received a life-sentence for the murder of a 48-year-old homeless man whose flesh he had then eaten raw. He dreams of being diagnosed “normal” and fit to resume life outside prison; he wants to become a surgeon.)

Fritzl, according to Mayer, did not mind in which prison he served his sentence, but he did not want it to be too far from “home” – home being Amstetten. "He does not mind where he goes. It's not like it's a hotel but he would like a prison close to home," said Mayer.

Fritzl was hoping that his family would visit him.

Cured of his Demons
In June this year (2009) Fritzl having completed his psychiatric treatment at Mittersteig, and judged “cured of his demons”, was transferred to Stein Prison in Krems-an-der-Donau, 31 miles (50 kms) from Vienna. It is there that he will remain until the day he leaves in a cheap coffin for the cemetery,

Stein, with 805 inmates, is Austria’s largest prison. It is not a prison without problems. In August 2004 a Nigerian inmate – Edwin Ndupu, a 38-year-old HIV-positive illegal immigrant and asylum seeker – died in Stein after 15 warders had roughly subdued him with truncheons, pepper spray and tear gas because he had threatened another inmate with a knife. Ndupu’s death caused a major scandal in the country with the police and the prison guards being accused of racism because it was not the first time that a man of color had died while in custody.

But Fritzl appears to be happy in Stein, the River Danube peacefully flowing by, because after just five months he was removed from the “suicide watch” on which he had been since his arrest in April 2008.

His warders, who all wish to remain anonymous, describe him as “cocky” and “fat”; he quotes them the law, and he has gained 12 kilos.

But he has lost all his hair which the vain man finds hard to accept.

He had planned to write a book and to hand his royalties over to his family, but the Austrian Justice Ministry has banned him from writing his memoirs, even from speaking to another writer or journalist who wants to write a book about him.

What about Elisabeth, the children and Rosemarie?

Occasionally, a news snippet in the Austrian written media reveals that they are getting on with their lives. Their new identities are still secret, and unless they themselves step out of their anonymity to speak or write about their ordeal, the world will never find out where they are.

One such news snippet was that Elisabeth has found love.

She has fallen in love with one of the bodyguards the police had given her, and he had moved in with her and the youngest of her children. Identified only as Thomas W. he is more than 20 years her junior.

Thomas W. is said to have done wonders for her morale, although she still undergoes therapy.

But she’s pretty again now just as she was on the day that her father held a cloth dipped in chloroform over her face and took her prisoner.  Her gray hair has been dyed blonde, she’s tanned, and she has new teeth thanks to dental implants.

I love my daughter ... I love my wife
Josef Fritzl hates the thought of no longer being in the eye of the media. Yet, because he is writing his memoirs, he has been refusing to grant interviews: He was going to keep his story for his own book.

However, this year (2010), on Saturday, October 30, he welcomed journalist, Wolfgang Ainetter who is with the German tabloid Bild Zeiting, to the visitors’ room of Stein prison. He had agreed to be interviewed by Ainetter.

“I am famous so there is not need for me to introduce myself,” was how he greeted the journalist.

Guarded round the clock by two armed security jailers, he appeared delighted at having company. Company from the outside world.

He wanted to chat.

He spoke of hating the prison’s barbers and dentists. His thin, grey hair falls to his shoulders.

Asked by Ainetter whether he had now worked out for himself what had come into him to have made his teenage daughter, Elisabeth, his sex slave, imprisoning her in a dark basement room where he had made her pregnant seven times, he refused to reply. Similarly, when asked whether he regretted what he had done, he had refused to reply.

He was however adamant that he had deeply loved his daughter. That he still loved her.

He confessed his love for his wife too.  He said that he often thought of her.

“Especially at night. I dream of leaving prison and she’s there and we are together again.  I know that she never doubted me, and that she still today believes in me,” he said, his voice strong and confident.

His voice did however break when he told Ainetter that his wife had not once visited him in prison. It was as if he had blocked the fact from his mind that she had divorced him and had changed her name. He also said that neither the children the two of them had had together (Elisabeth being one) nor the children he had had by Elisabeth had ever visited him.

As Bild Zeitung reported, Fritzl, now 75 years old, rises at 5.30 every morning and can stay up until he feels like going to bed; there is no lights-out in Stein.

He has no contact with the other inmates because several of them had threatened to cut his throat. That is why he is guarded night and day.

He spends his days working in a small vegetable garden and watching television: He can view 38 networks.

His main activity is however the writing of his memoirs. He writes in longhand and has already covered hundreds of sheets of white paper with his small scribble.

One can presume that he has a lot to get off his chest.

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