Josef Fritzl, the man who haunts Austria

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Austrians describe the pale grey, two-storey family home near the centre of this provincial town as the "house of horror". It is not difficult to understand why. In its cramped cellar, 73-year-old Josef Fritzl held his own daughter prisoner, beat her and raped her, fathering seven children with her over a period that lasted nearly a quarter of a century.

Two of Fritzl's sons, aged 18 and five, were freed from lifelong imprisonment in his cellar at the weekend. Yesterday, the back entrance of the house containing the cellar prison was surrounded by police entry tape and dozens of TV camera crews.

Hours earlier, Fritzl made a full confession about his crimes, which investigators described as the "worst and most shocking case of incest in Austrian criminal history". The retired electrical engineer, who has seven other children with his own wife, was due to be charged last night.

Police in Amstetten revealed the details of the case yesterday which they said had come to light after protracted questioning of Fritzl and his daughter Elisabeth, 42, who was first sexually abused by her father at the age of 11. She gave birth to seven children during her ordeal.

Elisabeth Fritzl's nightmare began in earnest at the age of 18 in 1984. Police said her father drugged and handcuffed her and then imprisoned in his cellar behind a steel door concealed in a narrow corridor.

It was there that Fritzl subjected his daughter to a seemingly endless horror story involving incest, beatings and continuous rape. Police revealed that Elisabeth bore seven children as a result of being raped. Three were sent upstairs where they were "adopted" by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie, who professed to knowing nothing about her husband's incestuous relationship with her daughter.

One of the three other children who were kept in the cellar died there less than a year after being born. Police said Fritzl got rid of the evidence by throwing the corpse into a furnace. All of the children were born in the dungeon without medical supervision. "Elisabeth Fritzl had to cope completely on her own," said a police spokesman. Fritzl apparently bought them a few clothes.

Police photographs of Elisabeth Fritzl's cellar prison revealed the existence of several tiny underground chambers, a washing space and a cooking area. Police said the underground complex, measuring 80sq m, also contained a rubber-walled "padded cell" and that childish drawings of animals and a sun had been painted on walls. The only concession regarding the outside world appears to have been a television.

Franz Polzer, the head of Lower Austria's police criminal investigation department, said Fritzl had deliberately manufactured a series of elaborate lies to conceal his crimes from police, his own children, neighbours and even his own wife. "If you look at him today, you would hardly believe he was capable of doing these things. This man led a double life for 24 years," he said.

Fritzl managed to convince police his daughter had gone missing shortly after he abducted and imprisoned her in 1984. He was said to have coerced his daughter into writing a letter in which she claimed she was unable to cope with her life and had run off to join an obscure religious sect.

The Austrian authorities appear to have been convinced by Fritzl's lies and gave up looking for her shortly after her disappearance in 1984.

Three of the children fathered by Fritzl – two daughters aged 15 and 14 and a son aged 12 – were allowed to live "normal" lives above the cellar. However Elisabeth remained imprisoned in the cellar with her oldest daughter, Kerstin 19, and two of her other sons, aged 18 and five, the whole time.

Police first suspected foul play on 19 April after Kerstin Fritzl turned up at an Amstetten clinic. Doctors said she was seriously ill and fighting for her life with an undisclosed illness. Doctors appealed on television for Elisabeth Fritzl to come forward and help her daughter. "Josef Fritzl then for once showed he had a human side and allowed his daughter [Elisabeth] out of the cellar to join his daughter [Kerstin]," said Mr Polzer.

Once she reached hospital Elisabeth Fritzl supplied police with a statement explaining her 24-year ordeal. Fritzl was arrested shortly afterwards and later confessed to his crimes and said he regretted his behaviour. However he did not make a full confession until yesterday.

Neighbours in Amstetten's Ybbsstrasse, where the Fritzl house is located, reacted with disbelief yesterday. Maria, an elderly woman, said: "I just don't believe it. They were nice people. I used to watch them taking their three children to school." Classmates of Fritzl's three "normal" children who lived upstairs told Austrian Radio: "The Fritzl girls and the boy always kept a bit apart in school. They kept away from the others and seem to lead separate lives."

The Amstetten scandal is certain to raise further questions about the conduct of Austrian police in cases involving missing persons. Above all, why police, social services, doctors and teachers at the schools attended by the Fritzl children failed to detect than anything was amiss for nearly a quarter of a century.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
Baroness Lane-Fox warned that large companies such as have become so powerful that governments and regulators are left behind
techTech giants have left governments and regulators behind
News
Keith Fraser says we should give Isis sympathises free flights to join Isis (AFP)
news
Life and Style
'Prison Architect' players decide the fate of inmates
tech
Life and Style
A picture taken on February 11, 2014 at people walking at sunrise on the Trocadero Esplanade, also known as the Parvis des droits de l'homme (Parvis of Human Rights), in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
techGoogle celebrates Paris's iconic landmark, which opened to the public 126 years ago today
News
Cleopatra the tortoise suffers from a painful disease that causes her shell to disintegrate; her new prosthetic one has been custom-made for her using 3D printing technology
newsCleopatra had been suffering from 'pyramiding'
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Coachella and Lollapalooza festivals have both listed the selfie stick devices as “prohibited items”
music
Sport
Nigel Owens was targeted on Twitter because of his sexuality during the Six Nations finale between England and France earlier this month
rugbyReferee Nigel Owens on coming out, and homophobic Twitter abuse
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor