Austrians shocked over latest 'horror house'

Austrians expressed shock and horror on Monday after police arrested a 73-year-old man they say imprisoned and abused his daughter in a windowless basement for 24 years and fathered seven children with her.

Police said on Sunday the woman, identified as 42-year-old Elisabeth F, told them her father Josef lured her into the basement of the block where they lived in the town of Amstetten in 1984, and drugged and handcuffed her before imprisoning her.

Three of her children were locked up since birth in the basement of the drab, grey building along with their mother and had never seen sunlight or received any education, police said.

The case unfolded when a 19-year-old girl—the oldest of the three—became seriously ill and was hospitalised.

Doctors appealed for the girl’s mother, who was believed to have disappeared, to come forward to provide more details about her medical history.

Josef then brought Elisabeth and her remaining two children out of the basement, telling his wife that their “missing” daughter had chosen to return home, police said.

Elisabeth agreed to make a “comprehensive statement” detailing her ordeal to the police after being assured she would have no further contact with her father, who she said abused her from the age of 11.

“This is not a mother abandoning her child which then had to be admitted to hospital in a serious condition,” Franz Polzer, head of the criminal investigations unit in the province of Lower Austria, told broadcaster ORF.

“We know that she herself has been kept imprisoned by her own father for 24 years in the basement and furthermore she obviously was also subjected to sexual abuse.”

Newspaper headlines called the case the “crime of a monster” and the “worst crime of all times” and stories questioned authorities and residents of Amstetten, 130km west of Vienna, for failing to notice “the martyrdom in the horror house” under their feet.

Shame

The case was the more shocking because it was reminiscent of that of Austrian Natascha Kampusch who spent eight years locked up in a windowless cell before escaping in August 2006.

“The community of Amstetten, including its population, should drown in shame. ... Just like in Strasshofen with Mr Priklopil [the man who kidnapped Kampusch].
The neighbours are very thoroughly looking away,” the Oesterreich newspaper wrote in an editorial.

“Obviously it was more convenient to look away from the neglected house then questioning its fabulous inhabitant of what he was doing behind his walls,” it added.

The daily Der Standard wrote: “The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong.”

Josef’s wife Rosemarie had been unaware of what happened to her daughter when she disappeared in 1984 and it was assumed Elisabeth had left voluntarily when her parents received a letter from her saying they should not search for her.

But all the while Elisabeth was being held in what Polzer described as a sophisticated network of chambers with facilities for sleeping, cooking and washing.

Elisabeth gave birth to seven children, one of whom died shortly after being born, police said.

Three of the younger children were brought up by Josef and his wife after they were left at the building where the couple lived. The first child was accompanied by a note from Elisabeth saying she was unable to care for the baby herself.

Three others, including the two eldest aged 18 and 19, and the youngest, aged five, had been locked up in the basement with their mother since birth.

After Elisabeth and her children emerged, Josef, an electrical engineering technician by training, told investigators how to enter their basement prison through a hidden door operated by secret code, police said.

“There was a shelf with plenty of cans and containers, and behind the shelf was a door made of reinforced concrete, secured electronically and running on steel rails, and only the suspect knew the code,” said local official Heinz Lenze.

Authorities were still searching the cellar early on Monday, the Austrian press agency APA reported, adding that some of the rooms were no more than 1,70m high.

Rosemarie, as well as Elisabeth and her children, were receiving psychological counselling. DNA samples of all those involved were taken and would be analysed, police said. - Reuters

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