Fritzl lets the mask slip as his daughter tells her tragic story

While the accused stood pale and frightened, victim's harrowing account of abuse is shown in court

Tony Paterson
Wednesday 18 March 2009 01:00

Elisabeth Fritzl appeared on screen before an Austrian court yesterday to deliver a harrowing account of how she was brutally raped thousands of times by her father while he kept her in a windowless, rat-infested cellar for nearly a quarter of a century.

Her testimony was supported by her brother – her sole confidante as a teenager – who told jurors how his sister was "terrified" of her father after the sexual abuse started at the age of 11.

The evidence was so heart-rending for 42-year-old Elisabeth that she felt unable to appear in court to give it. Instead, footage taken from an 11-hour videotaped recording of her statements to prosecutors was shown to the court.

The testimony from Elisabeth and her brother Harald, which was also recorded, contained the bulk of evidence against her father Josef, whose trial on charges of multiple rape, incest, enslavement, coercion, wrongful imprisonment and the murder of his baby son, opened in a court in the Austrian town of Sankt Pölten on Monday.

The 73-year-old is accused of kidnapping, drugging and imprisoning Elisabeth when she was 18. He subsequently held her in a damp and mould-infested cellar beneath his property for 24 years.

During that time, he is alleged to have raped her some 3,000 times and fathered seven children with her. Elisabeth and three of her children only saw daylight when police found and released them from their prison in April last year.

Fritzl shuffled into the wood-panelled courtroom at the start of the second day of his trial yesterday, once again trying to shield his face with a large bright blue ringbinder. But this time, he was caught off guard and let the folder slip, allowing photographers to snap a picture of his face. It was the face of a pale and frightened looking elderly man. "He is just scared," said his lawyer Rudolf Mayer.

Austria's prison authorities revealed that Fritzl was receiving psychiatric counselling during his trial because of concerns he might attempt suicide. He has pleaded not guilty to enslavement and denies charges that he murdered a baby boy he fathered with his daughter by failing to give the infant medical assistance when he was dying.

Austrian television reporters again attempted to question the defendant, but Fritzl remained silent as before and simply sat down with his back to jurors. Draconian legal restrictions designed to protect the privacy of Fritzl's victims meant that the media was excluded completely from the chamber for yesterday's video testimony.

The court heard evidence from the prosecutor's indictment which is based on Elisabeth Fritzl's testimony. It explained how Fritzl became sexually obsessed with his daughter and started molesting her when she was 11.

The indictment states: "He fondled the young Elisabeth all over her body, but because of her massive resistance to this, he used to masturbate in front of her and leave pornographic magazines under her pillow."

Fritzl watched his daughter's testimony "very carefully and very attentively and provided answers to questions" by the prosecutor, jury and judge, a court spokesman, Franz Cutka, said after the closed-door session. Harald Fritzl, now 46, was reported to have told the court in his video testimony how he was regularly attacked by his father. On one occasion, Fritzl punched him in the face and broke his nose after he was found to have alcohol on his breath.

Harald said Elisabeth started telling him about her father's sexual advances when she was 12. Elisabeth ran away from home at the age of 16 because she could stand her father's advances no longer. However, the police tracked her down and sent her back home. Just over a year later, Fritzl drugged her and dragged her unconscious into the 11sq m cellar beneath his home that he had built to imprison her.

"On the second day of Elisabeth's imprisonment, Fritzl violently raped his daughter," the indictment states. "During the first few months, Fritzl sexually abused his daughter on a daily basis, sometimes on numerous occasions throughout the day." It took several years before Elisabeth became resigned to her father's attacks and unwillingly accepted them.

Dr Adelheid Kastner, the psychiatrist who assessed Fritzl in the run-up to his trial, described his mental condition in evidence released yesterday of "having much of the volcano" about it. "Fritzl has made it clear that he has a wicked streak, which is like an almost unstoppable flow of destructive lava," she said. "There is an absolute risk that Mr Fritzl could re-offend."

Dr Kastner has recommended that Fritzl spend the remainder of his life in a secure institution for criminal offenders with mental problems. However, she said he still had fantasies about spending his last days with his wife. "This cannot be considered as something that is very likely to happen," she said.

A verdict is expected in the case tomorrow afternoon.

The secrets of Fritzl's folder

He lowered it for a few seconds yesterday allowing photographers to snap a picture of his face for the first time since his arrest nearly a year ago. The bright blue office folder, deployed by Josef Fritzl as a mask to hide from the cameras, has prompted accusations that his trial is a joke, that the authorities are extending their much-vaunted privacy laws to allow a defendant accused of monstrous crimes to escape the glare of publicity. Fritzl's lawyer argues that his client is simply ashamed.

The Austrian prison authorities insist that the folder is not a prop provided by the courts. "Every defendant has a right to keep his own notes," said Franz Cutka, a court spokesman. "And he can do what he likes with them." Yesterday it emerged that the blue folder contained what appeared to be a demand for financial compensation from Fritzl's daughter Monika, who was born in the cellar in 1994 and has since had to receive medical treatment worth €63,672 (£59,000) as a result of her ordeal.

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