Austria plans to demolish Fritzl house

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The Independent Online

Austria reacted with relief today to the life sentence passed on the country's "Incest Monster" Josef Fritzl as officials said they were considering plans to demolish the house above the cellar where the rapist held his daughter prisoner for 24 years.

But alongside that relief, concerns are being voiced that crucial questions raised by the case have not been adequately answered.

The banner headline on one of Austria's main tabloid newspapers, the Kurier, summed up the verdict passed on the 73-year-old with the words "Life imprisonment – that's good".

Officials in the provincial town of Amstetten, where Fritzl lived and imprisoned his daughter, said they were glad the terrifying case, which has dominated the country's media |for almost a year, appeared to have run its course.

Herbert Katzengruber, Amstetten's mayor, reflected the feelings of many of his town's inhabitants. "A dark chapter in Amstetten's history has now been finally closed," he said. "The people here can at last be left in peace."

However, that peace will require some organisation. Town council officials are still facing the problem of Fritzl's two-storey house in Amstetten's Ybbsstrasse and its underground cellar complex. The house is now deserted, but frequently visited by so-called ghoul tourists.

One of the options being discussed by the town is a plan to compulsorily purchase the property and then demolish it. "We haven't finalised our plans, but we are determined not to let this building be turned into a commercial venture which could attract tourists," a council spokesman said.

Fritzl was sentenced to life imprisonment at his trial in Sankt Pölten on Thursday after jurors convicted him of murdering one of the seven children he had through his incestuous relationship with his daughter Elisabeth. He was also convicted of enslavement and of raping his daughter an estimated 3,000 times. He was ordered to spend the rest of his life in a top security mental institution for offenders with severe personality disorders. He will spend the next six months in Vienna's Mittersteig mental hospital while |psychiatrists decide where he should serve the remainder of his sentence.

Despite Austria's palpable relief over the Fritzl verdict, there are several disturbing questions concerning his case which may never be properly answered. The Austrian child welfare authorities have never explained how it was possible for Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie to suddenly "adopt" three of Elisabeth's children who were born in the cellar.

Fritzl, who had a previous conviction for raping a nurse when he was in his 20s, also duped the authorities in Amstetten into believing that his daughter had mysteriously disappeared and gone away to live with an obscure religious sect. Nobody has explained why her 24-year absence was not properly investigated.

As Austria's Heute newspaper put it yesterday: "There is too much left open. There is just not enough information to prevent something like this happening again."