Josef Fritzl convicted of raping his daughter

Posted: March 19, 2009 in social issues
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At last, Josef Fritzl was convicted of homicide, enslavement, rape, incest and other charges and sentenced to life in a psychiatric ward for imprisoning his daughter for 24 years, fathering her seven children and letting one infant die as a captive. With this, a shocking case that  drew the attention of the world got a dramatic end.

The Fritzl case emerged in April 2008 when a 42-year-old woman, Elisabeth Fritzl said to police in Amstetten, Austria, that she had been held captive for 24 years in a concealed part of the basement of the family home by her father, Josef Fritzl.

Josef Fritzl

Josef Fritzl

He had physically assaulted, sexually abused, and raped her numerous times during her imprisonment. The incestuous relationship forced upon her by her father had resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage.

Three of the children had been imprisoned along with their mother — daughter Kerstin, 19, and sons Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5. One child, named Michael, had died of respiratory problems three days after birth, deprived of medical help. The body of the baby was incinerated by Josef Fritzl on his property.

The three other children were raised by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie in the upstairs home. Fritzl had engineered the appearance of these children as foundlings discovered outside his house — Lisa at nine months in 1993, Monika at 10 months in 1994, and Alexander at 15 months in 1997.

When the eldest daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill, Josef acceded to Elisabeth’s pleas to take her to a hospital, triggering a series of events that eventually led to the discovery.

Josef was arrested on 26 April 2008, aged 73, on suspicion of serious crimes against family members.
Josef Fritzl was born on April 9, 1935 in Amstetten, Austria. In 1956,  he married Rosemarie, 17, with whom he had seven children — two sons and five daughters, including Elisabeth, who was born in 1966. He began abusing Elisabeth in 1977 when she was 11-years-old.

After completing compulsory education at age 15, Elisabeth started a training course to become a waitress. In January 1983, she ran away from home and, together with a friend from work, went into hiding in Vienna. She was found by police within three weeks and returned to her parents. She rejoined her training course and after completeing the course in 1984, was offered a job in the nearby city of Linz.

On August 29, 1984, Josef lured her into the basement of the family home under the pretense that he needed help with carrying a door. He drugged her with ether and moved her into a small concealed underground chamber.
After Elisabeth’s disappearance, her mother filed a missing complaint. Almost a month later, Josef handed over a letter to the police, the first of several that Elisabeth was forced to write while in captivity. The letter was postmarked in the town of Braunau. It stated that she was staying with a friend and was tired of living with her family, warning her parents not to look for her or she would leave the country. Her father stated to police that she had most likely joined a religious sect.

Over the course of the following 24 years, Fritzl visited her in the hidden cellar on average once every three days to get food and other supplies. After his arrest, he admitted that he repeatedly had sexual intercourse with his own daughter against her will.

Elisabeth gave birth to seven children during her years in captivity. One child died shortly after birth, and three children — Lisa, Monika and Alexander — were removed from the cellar as infants to live with Fritzl and his wife. They adopted Lisa and became Monika’s and Alexander’s foster carers, with the knowledge of local social services authorities.

Following the birth of the fourth child in 1994, Fritzl enlarged the prison for Elisabeth and her children from 380 sq ft to 600 sq ft. The captives had a television, radio, and video cassette player at their disposal. Food could be stored in a refrigerator and cooked or heated on hot plates. Elisabeth taught the children to read and write. At times in order to punish them, Fritzl shut off the lights to the basement or refused to deliver food for several days at a time.
Fritzl told Elisabeth and the three children — Kerstin, Stefan and Felix — who remained in the cellar that they would be gassed if they tried to escape.

A tenant, who rented a ground floor room in the Fritzl house for 12 years, said he heard noises coming from the basement but Fritzl passed it off as noise emanating from the gas heating system.

On April 19, 2008, Kerstin, Elisabeth’s eldest daughter, fell unconscious, and Fritzl agreed to seek medical attention. Elisabeth helped Fritzl carry Kerstin out of the dungeon and saw the outside world for the first time in 24 years. She was then made to return to the dungeon.

Kerstin was taken by an ambulance to a local hospital and admitted in serious condition with life-threatening kidney failure. Fritzl later arrived at the hospital claiming to have found a note written by Kerstin’s mother. He discussed Kerstin’s condition and the note with Dr Albert Reiter. Medical staff found aspects of the story to be puzzling and alerted the police on April 21, who then broadcast an appeal via public media for the missing mother to come forward and provide additional information about Kerstin’s medical history. The police then reopened the case file on a missing Elisabeth. Fritzl repeated his story about Elisabeth being in a cult, and presented what, he claimed, was the “most recent letter” from her, dated January 2008. It was posted from the town of Kematen to mislead the police.

The police contacted Manfred Wohlfahrt, a church officer responsible for collecting information on religious cults. Wohlfahrt raised doubts about the existence of the cult. He noted that Elisabeth’s letters seemed dictated and oddly written. The news covered some of these issues and Elisabeth watched the story, as it progressed, on the television in the cellar. She pleaded with her father to be taken to the hospital. On April 26, Fritzl released Elisabeth from the cellar along with her sons Stefan and Felix, bringing them upstairs. Fritzl told his wife that Elisabeth had decided to come back after a 24-year absence. Fritzl and Elisabeth went to the hospital where Kerstin was being treated. Following a confidential tipoff by Dr Albert Reiter reporting that the two were at the hospital, the police detained Elisabeth and her father on the hospital grounds and took them to a police station for further interrogation.
Elisabeth did not provide police with more details until they reassured that she would be safe from her father and her children would be looked after. In two hours, she told the story of her 24 years in captivity. Fritzl was arrested on suspicion of serious crimes against family members, facing possible charges of false imprisonment, rape, manslaughter by negligence, and incest.

Fritzl told investigators that there was a small hidden door, opened by a secret keyless entry code, to gain entry to the basement. Fritzl’s wife, Rosemarie, had, apparently, been unaware of what had been happening to Elisabeth. It is believed she assumed, due to the letters in her handwriting, that her daughter had run away from home to join a religious cult.

Dungeon
The Fritzl property in Amstetten consists of a building dating from around 1890 and a newer building, which was added after 1978, when Fritzl applied for a building permit for an extension with basement. In 1983, building inspectors visited the site and verified that the new extension had been built according to the dimensions specified on the building permit. Unknown to them, however, Fritzl had illegally created additional room by excavating space for a much larger basement and concealed it by erecting walls. Around 1981 or 1982, he started to turn this hidden cellar into a prison cell and installed a washbasin, a toilet, a bed, a hot plate and a refrigerator. In 1993, he added more space by creating a passageway to a pre-existing basement area under the old part of the property, which no one knew of apart from him.

Small door leading to the cellar

Small door leading to the cellar

The concealed cellar was soundproofed and consisted of a 5 m long corridor, a storage area, and three small open cells, connected by narrow passageways, a basic cooking area and bathroom facilities, followed by two sleeping areas, which were equipped with two beds each. It covered an area of approximately 600 sq ft. The ceilings were no more than 5.6 ft high.

Bathroom in the cellar

Bathroom in the cellar

The hidden cellar had two access points — a hinged door that weighed 500 kg which is thought to have become unusable over the years because of its weight, and a metal door, reinforced with concrete and on steel rails that weighed 300 kg and measured 3.3 ft high and 2 ft wide.

Narrow corridor leading to the cellar

Narrow corridor leading to the cellar

It was located behind a shelf in Fritzl’s basement workshop, protected by an electronic code known only to Fritzl, which he entered using a remote control unit. In order to reach this door, five locking basement rooms had to be crossed. To get to the area where Elisabeth and her children were held, eight doors in total would need to be unlocked, of which two doors were additionally secured by electronic locking devices.

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