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« Praying Parents Charged in Child's Death | Main | Teen Kills 4 Family Members »

Austrian "Horror House" Discovered

Josef Fritzl, 73, of Amstetten, Austria had 14 children, seven by his wife, Rosemarie, 69, and seven by his daughter, Elisabeth, 42. Josef is now behind bars in what the Austrian press describe as the case of the house of horrors.

It all began 24 years ago in 1984 when Josef, an electrical engineer, kidnapped, drugged and imprisoned his 18-year-old daughter in the basement of their home in Amstetten, an industrial town 75 miles west of Vienna. He then told his wife that their daughter had run away from home. He kept her locked in a 540-square-foot prison of underground rooms, which he had previously built, some barely large enough to stand upright in. He had planned the dungeon meticulously and it was well soundproofed. The door to the prison was concealed behind shelves and secured with an electronic lock to which only Fritzl had the code.

While in captivity, Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to the seven children by her father, one of whom died shortly after birth, which Josef disposed of in a furnace. Each time Elisabeth became pregnant, Fritzl delivered the children himself. Of the six remaining children he took three of them - Lisa, now 16, Monika, 14, and Alexander, 11 - out of the cellar after birth and came up with an elaborate charade to explain their sudden appearance to his wife. The other three children - Kerstin, 19, Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5 - were left to be raised by Elisabeth in his home-made dungeon.

Josef's 18-year imprisonment of his daughter came to an end when Kerstin became seriously ill and had to be taken to hospital. Medical authorities at the hospital became suspicious and called the police. Josef was picked up, and later under questioning, revealed the existence of the basement prison. Police freed Elisabeth Fritzl and the two other children, all of whom were quickly put in the care of medical and mental health experts. Elisabeth, although "greatly disturbed", agreed to give them a full statement - on condition that they made sure she would never have to see her father again. She claimed that she had been sexually abused by him since age 11. Fritzl appeared briefly in court and was sent to jail to await trial. He faces a15-year sentence if convicted of rape.

Senior police officer, Dr Franz Prucher, says the criminal case has shaken the force.

"We're being confronted with an unfathomable crime," Austria's interior minister, Günther Platter, said as the details began to unfold. "This case is one of incomprehensible brutality and horror, the most shattering and serious case of its kind that has ever come to light in Austria."

Questions were being asked by everyone from commentators and parents to psychologists and politicians, as to how what the Austrian press has dubbed the "house of horrors" case had come to happen in the small town of Amstetten.

"There are pressing questions raised by this monstrous crime which need to be put to a rich, self-satisfied society in which during a quarter of a century what was happening in the immediate vicinity went apparently unnoticed," Petra Stuiber wrote in a commentary in the Austrian liberal daily Der Standard.

"How is it possible that no one ever heard or saw anything, how can it be that no one ever asked questions?" she wrote. "What does it say about neighbors, relations, acquaintances and not least about authorities who had anything to do with the family, that the perpetrator succeeded in 'deceiving' everybody?"


Local social services told the Austrian Press Agency that there appeared to be nothing suspicious about the family and that Mr Fritzl managed to explain "very plausibly" how three of his infant grandchildren had turned up on his doorstep. Even his wife, Rosemarie Fritzl, "had no idea" what was going on, according to the police, and was devastated to hear of her husband's alleged crimes. She apparently accepted her husband's explanation that Elisabeth had run off to join a religious cult at the age of 18 - and that over the intervening years dumped three babies on their doorstep with notes saying she could not cope.


Amstetten's local governor, Hans-Heinz Lenze, told Austria's public broadcaster ORF that the children had had regular visits from social workers, who never heard any complaints or noticed anything to arouse their suspicions. He said they were well-behaved at school and fitted in well with their classmates. The three were apparently unaware of their mother's existence, let alone that their siblings Kerstin, Stefan and Felix were living below them. Mr Lenze also told ORF that Mr Fritzl had telephoned him last week and thanked him and the social services for looking after his family during his granddaughter Kerstin's illness.

Josef Fritzl, who does have a criminal record, is believed to have spent time in prison in the 1960s for the assault and also has at least one other conviction, for arson, according to Austrian police. Prosecutors are understood to be trawling through court records to find details of his previous offences to see if they shed light on what they have described as his "unfathomable" actions to his own family. The revelation he already has a criminal record will increase the anger that his behavior could have gone undetected by social services for almost a quarter of a century. It also indicates his wife Rosemarie must have been aware - at least to some degree - of her husband's sinister side.

Investigators are also desperate to determine how his victims could have been hidden away for so long from their neighbors and everyone else in the town, which has a population of just 23,000. They are said to be examining the padded walls of the cellar to work out whether the children's screams could be heard by neighbors.

Meanwhile, residents refuse to believe Fritzl could have acted alone, while others cannot believe that the "normal" family were hiding such a horrendous secret.

Anita Fabian, a teacher in the town, said: "How is it possible that no one knew anything for years? This was not possible without accomplices."

Guenter Pramreiter, who owns a bakery down the street from the Fritzls' home said the couple were regular customers.

"They appeared normal, just like any other family," he said. "I'm totally shocked. This was next door. It's terrible."




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Reader Comments (38)

During WWII, Amstetten had a horrific female concentration camp nearby. Many of the locals worked as guards. Fritzl was 10 years old when it was still running. Of course, the locals said nothing. No one stood up and said this is wrong. Many of the children of the camp guards still live in the town.

April 30, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

Regardless of what he may have seen at 10yrs of age as normalacy; he can still make his own decision as an adult. And he did, he chose to become this disgusting demented person. He deserves more then 15 yrs. He so old he might even die tomorrow without having paid for the harm he's caused. What a sick man.

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMiriam

This story haunts me and is the worst I have ever heard. I know he will pay for what he has done to his child and his children.
If only I could be there to see it.

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJasmine

I am so deeply disturbed by this story, I can barely sleep as it causes me such incredible pain. My younger sister was the victim of rape and incest by my father and she has never fully recovered as an adult. Moreover, I had my suspicions that something really bad was going on in our household, but never did anything, nor did my mother. As a child, I just couldn't wait to turn 18 and get out of the house. The Elizabeth's children who were allowed to live normal lives, will suffer from incredible "survivers guilt," while the imprisoned children, will be haunted in perpetuity by this experience. Little Felix, has the best chance of all at assimilating some semblance of normality.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea G

It is horrible, I can't stop thinking of how could she survived for 24 years living in that space, not to mention the rape and the birth and the rest of the things. And I get paniced every time.
How could God allow this to happen to a human beign?

The best punishment for this monster is to lock him for the rest of his life in a jale , with 1/4 of space that Elizabeth and her 3 children had. Not that this would give back to elizabeth and the children anything, but at least he would be aware(hopefully) of the crime(partially) he made.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPranvera

How the babies were delivered? Was he of any midwifing experieince? What about vaccinations and birth complications? What exactly happened to Kerstin? was she a victim of another brutal sexual abuse? Is there any chance that this happned for some crazy religious belief and was blessed by the wife? It's hard to believe that it was a one man show....
I believe further investigations will reveal a very shocking and disturbing secrets.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSam Saifan

I am so horrified by this case, and cannot stop thinking about the poor children who were raised in the cellar. How can they acclimate now, and what kind of lives will they lead as a result of this horrific abuse! We should all keep them in our prayers.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterSandra C.

Can some one kill this guy already? This guy doesn't deserve to live. 15 years to life is a joke of a sentence. This guy should be placed in front of a firing squad.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterYohan

I was a victim of sexual abuse by my father. I spent many years in therapy. Recovering from it was very difficult. What I have suffered is nothing by comparison to what Elizabeth suffered. I cry when I think about her. The poor woman. She has suffered so much. I pray for her healing. What she has gone through is unimaginable. I don't think she will recover completely. This case really brings up so much stuff for me.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermia

What's with Austria and dugeon torture? This is the second case in 2 years.

May 2, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAlia

I, along with Andrea G, have lost at least two nights sleep over this ordeal. I am deeply affected and have a hard time digesting this horrific truth. (I will discuss with my therapist), no pun intended. Elisabeth knows the other real world, but will suffer undoubtedly. Kerstin, God willing, I pray will recover. But these children only understood confinement, so to them it was home. Their mother made a world of princes and princesses for the children, due to a lack of resources that monster neglegted to supply, for the developoment of their mind. At least the sicko could have made the cellar 7' so the children could develop physically correct. But the bastard managed to control every aspect of their world, destroying within an already destroyed world any chance of normal development, both mentally and physically. Yes, Felix can and will learn. I fear there may be a long, long road ahead for the other two.
No sleep in Philadelphia. Sad-Sad-Sad

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNeiceybabe

It's a very sad story and a unvalivable situation...god bless that family that has been put through the worst...all i can say is he shall burn in the lake of fire(hell) and he will because god will punish this discusting man!!

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMari

This is the most disturbing story I have ever come across in my 50 yrs. It is far worse than the news story of Andrea Yates drowning her 5 children in the bathtub, and it cuts deep within my soul. I simply cannot imagine how life was for the remaining children in this oxygen deprived cellar, at the hands of this demented human being. More and more, we are being confronted with EVIL in this sin sick world. What were the conversations between the children and their captor thru the years ? Dad, why ? How did he try and rationalize his behaviour to them? Did he engage them in his sick sexual fantasies also ?
Lets pray for this family. God is big, and he is able, to do far more than we can ask or imagine. You know God, I dont understand your ways, and why You never alerted anyone to these suffering angels throughout the years. Perhaps no one was listening to You. I pray you would protect this family, and touch little Kerstins body, so she would live and not die.Thankyou Jesus.

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commentercharandr

For me, This is also the worst story I have ever seen. I cant quit thinking about it. Did he rape her in front of the kids. Guess so, where could they have went during it? Nowhere. So awful. He probally did the same abuse to the kids. Ill pray for the family and hopefully they will recover enough to live out the rest of their lives happily. I'm sure they are being occupied just by all the things they have missed out on, but sadly, all the great things we have probally scare them to a certain degree sad...

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngela

He should be given some lashing of the whip! A few strokes and some salt to the flesh.
He is not human and doesn't deserve to be treated like one.

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJon

that shit is fucking crazy man i cant believe a father would do that to his own daughter i guess thats how crazy people are these days what a shame i feel bad through all the fucking pain that she peobably went through to have those kids by herself and the poor children wow. and what kind of silly ass sentence is that haha wow. he shuld be shanked and killed stupid motherfcker

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterashley

I hope the bastard spends the rest of his life (15 years is not enough!!!....joke!!!) and that he gets brutally gang raped to the point of where doctors cant help "repair" him.

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterNatalie

This poor woman has experienced the most horrible life I could ever fathom. As if that weren't enough she has 6 reminders that will forever be a part of her life. My heart truly goes out to Elisabeth and her family, how do you recover from something like this? I have wondered too if he acted out in front of the children and it makes me sick to even think about it. May he face God on his judgement day and stare at him with the same eyes that saw his own daughter suffer for 24 years.

May 3, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristine

Utterly Unforgivable How could this man live with himself? I see awe-full things where I work, but this left my office in complete turmoil. I cannot even fathom how horrific it must have been. My heart & prayers go to Elisabeth & her surviving children. I truly hope that they can make a life out of the ruined years betrothed on them.

May 4, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterAngel, Idaho

I would not be surprised if josef's wife was involved. I would say within the next couple of weeks it will come out that she was an accomplice. Sad

May 4, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermarie

This is unbelieveable, monstrous..15 years is too little for him, he has no right to live after such a crime...god knows how many more such crimes r happening in dis world gone crazy....

May 6, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterFaisal

I am haunted by this story. I have lost sleep from thinking about it, the details, these people were robbbed of so much, it had to have been maddening. The video of that heartless bastard laughing and eating and enjoying the beach. Did he ever think about them and how they were passing the time. God bless the victims. They deserve to live lives that want for nothing. They deserve the best that life has to offer them and it still wouldn't be enough.

May 7, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterlisa

it’s a shame that this f*cker is already near the end of his life, because he would never receive the punishment that he truly deserved - eternal torture

May 7, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJay

i'm also totally sickened, disgusted, and have been extremely dysphoric ever since i heard of this story. i wish i had never heard of it because i, too, have spent many sleepless hours thinking about the poor woman and her children. i start to imagine what ever could have happened down there...what could this monster have done to his own daughter as his sex slave...or to his own children/grandchildren...then i just become completely disgusted and wish not to think about it anymore. i'm absolutely horrified, especially when i put myself in her shoes and think about my own four little children. i just can't imagine. God, please bless elisabeth and her children. it's the most unfathomable crime i've ever heard. i just hope that b*stard suffers for the rest of his life. he took away his daugther's youth, her whole life. she is such a strong woman to even have the willingness to continue to live despite all the torture he put her through for 24 years (gosh...still unimaginable). my heart continues to ache for elisabeth and her children. *i don't feel better about this, but thanks for letting me vent..*

May 8, 2008 | Unregistered Commentermeesh

If the bastard would have died before the 'house of horrors' being discovered, then what would have happened to Elizabeth and her chidren? the bastard would have died along with his monstreous secret!!!

May 9, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterjessie

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