· Police told how she gave birth to seven children
· Arrested 73-year-old reveals code to secret door
Authorities in Austria are trying to piece together the details of how a 73-year-old man managed to keep his daughter imprisoned in a windowless cellar for 24 years while he repeatedly raped her and fathered her seven children.
Police said the 42-year-old woman, identified only as Elisabeth F, told them her father, Josef, had lured her into the basement of the block where the family lived in Amstetten, north-west Austria, on August 24 1984, and allegedly drugged and handcuffed her before locking her up in the dungeon. A police spokesman said she was “psychologically extremely disturbed”, but her version of events was “completely believable”.
The father was in custody last night.
She said she had been abused by him from the age of 11. “In her own words, she was continuously abused by her father,” the spokesman said. She said she had borne seven children by her father, including twins, one of whom died in 1996 after just three days. The father removed the body from the cellar and burnt it.
Police said many questions remained to be answered in the case, which is reminiscent of that of the Austrian girl Natascha Kampusch, who was abducted, aged 10, on her way to school and locked in a windowless cell before dashing to freedom in August 2006.
Police said Josef, an electrical engineering technician by training, had told investigators how to enter the basement prison through a small hidden door, operated by a secret code which only he had known.
“There is not only one, but a number of rooms: one room to sleep in, one to cook, and there are also sanitation facilities,” Franz Polzer, head of the criminal investigations unit in the province of Lower Austria, told the broadcaster ORF.
Josef’s wife, Rosemarie, had been unaware of what happened to her daughter and is believed to have assumed Elisabeth had disappeared voluntarily, after her parents received a letter from her saying they should not search for her.
The drama began to unravel last weekend when Elizabeth’s 19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, who lived in the cellar, was left at a hospital with a life-threatening illness. A search for the mother increased in urgency as Kerstin’s condition worsened.
The plight of the mother and children was discovered on Saturday night when Elisabeth and her father, Josef appeared together at the hospital. They were taken to the nearby police station where he was arrested for sexually abusing his daughter and holding her captive.
Kerstin is said to be in a critical condition suffering from an unknown illness, in the intensive care unit of Krems hospital.
“[Josef F] is so far refusing to say anything,” Amstetten’s police chief, Franz Pölzer, said yesterday. He added that Elisabeth “gave the impression of being in an extremely disturbed psychological state” and was “in a bad way physically”. She had agreed to speak to police only after being assured that she and her children would never again have contact with her father.
They said it appeared that when Josef F imprisoned his daughter in 1984 he gave the impression that she had left home of her own will. She remained on the Interpol missing persons list. Police investigators at the time were of the view that she might have become a member of a sect.
Their suspicions were reinforced when her parents received a strangely worded letter from her, stating: “Don’t look for me, because it would be useless, and would only increase my suffering and that of my children. Neither are too many children and education desired there.”
Josef and his wife, Rosemarie, repeatedly appeared in the media as the distressed parents of a missing teenager.
On various occasions between 1993 and 2002, Josef claimed that his daughter had left three children on his doorstep along with notes asking him to look after them. The couple were given permission by the authorities to become foster parents to what were assumed to be their grandchildren.
But, according to police, Elisabeth had given birth to the children in her cellar prison, along with four other children including the one that died. Her father had removed the children. Of the six children – three boys and three girls aged between five and 20 – five-year-old Felix, Stefan, 18, and Kerstin lived with their mother in the cellar, where they never saw sunlight and received no education.
“She taught them how to speak,” Polzer said, adding that Josef had provided food and clothing, but they had never received any professional medical care.
DNA tests will be carried out in the next few days to confirm that Josef fathered the six children, but the spokesman said: “All indications point to the fact he did.”
The cellar was being searched by forensic scientists yesterday, while others combed the grounds of the house, bordered by high hedges. “There are things that you just don’t want to see,” a policeman at the house said. “The fewer pictures you have in your head, the better.”
Police said Elizabeth’s mother was not suspected of involvement, having accepted that her daughter had run away. “As far as we’ve been able to ascertain, the wife of the accused had no contact with the 42-year-old woman and the other children,” a local council official, Heinz Lenze said. The mother was also receiving counselling.
One neighbour said Josef had been “inconspicuous” and “always greeted us in a friendly way.” Another said she had often seen Rosemarie with her grandchildren. “She is really very nice, taking the grandchildren to school -but we knew nothing of what was really going on.”
An example of the hidden corruption of “Modern” and “civilized” west.
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