Josef Fritzl charged with murder

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Josef Fritzl, the Austrian who repeatedly raped his own daughter while holding her for 24 years in a windowless cellar beneath his home, has been charged with murdering one of the seven children he fathered with her during her ordeal.

Prosecutors in the Austrian town of St Pölten formally announced today that murder had been added to the list of offences, including slavery and incest, that 73-year-old Fritzl will be tried for when appears in court early next year.

The former engineer fathered a total of seven children through his incestuous relationship with his daughter Elisabeth. But in 1997 one of the children, a baby boy, died shortly after being born in the cell Fritzl had built beneath his home in the provincial town of Amstetten.

Fritzl has since admitted that after his son died, he destroyed the corpse by throwing it into a central heating furnace. However, like all the other children, the baby boy was born in the cellar and without any medical assistance or any other form of outside help.

State prosecutors said yesterday that Fritzl had been fully aware that his son was seriously ill but had not called for help because he feared he might be found out. "Despite recognising the child’s life threatening situation, he decided not to intervene," is how they explained their decision to bring murder charges.

Fritzl will now face charges of rape, imprisonment, slavery, incest, abuse and murder at his trial which is expected to begin in February. If convicted he will almost certainly be sentenced to life imprisonment. Psychiatrists have already recommended that he should never be set free.

Much of the evidence against the self-confessed multiple rapist emerged in recent weeks in a series of interviews with Fritzl, conducted by Dr Adelheid Kastner, one of Austria’s leading criminal psychiatrists. She admitted to one newspaper that she felt so distressed by the interviews, in which Fritzl described himself as a " born rapist" , that she had to go home and listen to classical music to calm down.

Fritzl was arrested in April after one of the children he fathered with Elisabeth, their 19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill and had to be taken to hospital. Unlike 1997, Fritzl consented and doctors alerted police soon after Kerstin was admitted to an Amstetten clinic.

Elisabeth Fritzl disappeared in 1984. According to police reports, her father lured her into the windowless bunker beneath his home, drugged her and then handcuffed her before locking her up for nearly a quarter of a century. Police say he is estimated to have raped his daughter some 3,000 times.

Three of their children were allowed upstairs shortly after birth and lived comparatively normal lives in Fritzl’s home above his cellar. However Elisabeth and the two remaining children were kept underground until their release.

There were widespread but unconfirmed reports yesterday that the prison authorities had scotched a plan by Fritzl’s fellow prisoners to rape and then murder him in a prison laundry. An employee at St Polten prison was quoted as saying of Fritzl, who is kept in solitary confinement and under a constant guard: " Under normal circumstances his chances of survival would have lasted only a month or so."