Austrians were left shocked by news of a 42-year-old woman who was sexually abused and held prisoner by her father for more than 20 years. The father has since admitted to imprisoning and abusing his daughter.
The woman and her children were held captive in a basement cell in her father's house
A 73-year-old Austrian admitted on Monday to having fathered seven children with his daughter whom he kept imprisoned in a dungeon for 24 years, while officials rejected any responsibility for the tragedy.
Josef F., a retired electrical engineer from Amstetten in eastern Austria, confessed to having locked his daughter, Elisabeth, 42, in the basement in August 1984, and to having abused and raped her repeatedly, authorities said at a press conference.
"This crime is more or less solved," provincial police chief Franz Pruchner said. "This crime is unique in the criminal history of Austria. It is beyond all dimensions I know of."
Josef had confessed to the crimes after his initial refusal to cooperate with with the authorities, but tried to mitigate the details.
He showed next to no regrets, authorities said.
During her captivity, Elisabeth gave birth to seven children, results of continued sexual abuse by her father. One infant died shortly after his birth. The father disposed of the body by burning it in the house's central-heating boiler, he told police.
Children had never seen daylight
The house in which Josef F. kept his daughter imprisoned
Police on Sunday evening opened the basement dungeon where she was kept, overcoming several electronic locks set up by Josef F. The rooms were very small and below 1.7 meters (5.5 feet) in height. The basement contained sleeping cots, washing facilities and a TV set, the Austrian press agency reported.
Three Elisabeth F.'s six surviving children were locked in the room with her, until her father let them out a few days ago and claimed the mother had returned home.
For two of her sons, Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5, it was the first time they had seen daylight, police said.
Elisabeth claimed her mother had not known about her imprisonment. Food and clothing for her and her children had been provided only by Josef.
Austrian police say that Josef Fritzl refuses to cooperate
He had told local authorities that three children, named by police as Lisa, Monika and Alexander, had been left at his doorstep. They attended local schools.
Authorities began searching for Elisabeth when a girl, Kerstin, 19, believed to be her daughter, was hospitalized a week earlier in the town Amstetten.
Amstetten authorities had been originally told by the grandfather that Kerstin, was left with him in a very severe condition on April 19 by her mother. The girl, who is believed to suffer from a rare disease, had also been imprisoned for all her life.
Authorities were also shown a letter by the woman saying that nobody should look for her, as this would increase the suffering of her and her children.
Story of religious sect confuses case
According to state broadcaster ORF, authorities originally believed the woman had joined a religious sect, as the letter hinted at seclusion and refusal of education for the children.
The woman and the children were being looked after by therapists, police said.
Police are looking for the remains of the dead infant. According to Elisabeth's statement, her father burned the body.
The oldest girl remains in intensive care. Hospital officials in Amstetten declined to comment on the case and said no details about the girl's condition would be made pubic for the time being.
DNA samples of all involved had been taken to establish a fuller picture of the case, police officials were quoted as saying. Results were not expected before Monday, but preliminary indications seemed to confirm the suspected incest, authorities said.
Not the first case
Natascha Kampusch was held captive for over eight years
Locals and neighbors expressed shock over the events, reminiscent of the plight of 20-year-old Natascha Kampusch, an Austrian girl who escaped her kidnapper in 2006 after eight years in a basement dungeon.
Her captor, 44-year-old Wolfgang Priklopil, committed suicide after her escape.
"We are confronted with an unbelievable crime," Austrian Interior Minister Guenther Platter said in a statement on Sunday. "It goes above anything I can imagine. It is a dimension where one is almost speechless."