Page last updated at 15:11 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Profile: Josef Fritzl

Josef Fritzl
Josef Fritzl expects to spend the rest of his life incarcerated, his lawyer says
The story of Josef Fritzl has been described as one of the worst cases in Austria's criminal history.

The 73-year-old fathered seven children with his daughter while he kept her locked in a cellar for 24 years, one of whom he admitted having murdered by neglect.

In March, an Austrian jury sentenced him to life in prison and ordered him to be detained interned at a secure psychiatric institution.

He was found guilty of all charges against him, including rape, incest, murder and enslavement.

His lawyer Rudolf Mayer said he was a man who had always to be "powerful", while he was described in court as emotionally deficient by psychiatrist Dr Adelheid Kastner.

In October, a court-ordered psychiatric assessment found he was aware of his actions during the 24-year period, despite suffering a "profound personality disorder".

According to reports, Fritzl had told Mr Mayer he must have been "crazy" to have done the things he did.

'Very intelligent'

The picture that has emerged is of a man who led a double life. In public he appeared to be a respectable member of the community, living in the small Lower Austria town of Amstetten with his wife with whom he had seven grown-up children.

But he had a second, secret family with one of his daughters, now 42, who he lured into a cellar below the family home in 1984 and raped repeatedly.

I constantly knew, over the entire 24 years, that what I did was not right
Josef Fritzl, via his lawyer

She gave birth to seven children. Fritzl and his wife adopted or fostered three of them. Three other children, aged five to 19, languished with their mother in the three windowless, soundproofed chambers, which covered an area of about 60 sq m (650 sq ft).

Local social services have said that there appeared to be nothing suspicious about the family and that Fritzl had managed to explain "very plausibly" how three of his infant grandchildren had apparently turned up on his doorstep.

Amstetten's district commissioner, Hans-Heinz Lenze, told Austria's public broadcaster ORF that investigations at the time had not revealed any major discrepancies in Fritzl's story that his daughter had run away to join a sect.

When his daughter was still a toddler, Fritzl was convicted of raping a woman in Linz in 1967 and was sentenced to a term in prison.

Access door to the cellar with police label and measuring stick
The access door to the cellar was hidden behind shelving
However, under Austrian law, unless the crime carries a life sentence, a conviction must be removed from a person's criminal record after no more than 15 years.

Fritzl therefore did not have any criminal convictions on record when he and his wife adopted the first of the children from his daughter in 1994.

A qualified electrician, Fritzl was described by police as "a very intelligent man", who had installed electric locks on the cellar rooms which could only be opened with a special code.

They say he locked the sliding reinforced concrete door with a secret remote control, and hid it behind shelves in his cellar workshop.

Fritzl was able to supply his secret family with clothes and food without arousing suspicion by shopping outside Amstetten.

Police say he had an excuse to travel away from home as he owned some land, and could shop in other towns and deliver goods to the cellar dungeon in the evening, unnoticed.

He was also reportedly extremely careful to make sure no-one went near the cellar where the dungeon was concealed.

'Slave-like position'

In the indictment, Fritzl was accused of putting his daughter "in a slave-like position by kidnapping and locking her up in the cellar... [and] demanding her sexual services and disposing of her as if she was his property".

Instead of attaining appropriate medical care, the accused gave up on any life-saving measures and only said: 'Whatever will be, will be'
Indictment by Austrian prosecutors
Fritzl initially maintained his sexual relationship with his daughter was "consensual", though she told police that she was chained to a wall while he raped her.

After approximately four years in captivity, his daughter gave birth to the first of her seven children without any medical assistance or sterile equipment.

In 1996, she gave birth to twin boys, one of whom soon suffered breathing difficulties and turned blue.

"But instead of attaining appropriate medical care, the accused gave up on any life-saving measures and only said: 'Whatever will be, will be'," the indictment said.

A room in the cellar
There was one room to sleep in and one to cook in

After the infant died a few days later, Fritzl was said to have burned the body in an incinerator and scattered the ashes in the garden of his house.

Fritzl's secret was eventually uncovered in April 2008, when his daughter's eldest child became seriously ill. She persuaded Fritzl to take their daughter to hospital, where staff realised something was wrong and alerted the police.

The girl had to be put into an artificial coma after she suffered cramping fits caused by oxygen deficiency and kidney problems. However, she left hospital in the summer and joined her mother and siblings, who have assumed new identities.


Neighbours and acquaintances initially expressed shock at the case and said that Fritzl had treated his grandchildren affectionately and appeared to be a good grandfather. Former colleagues described him as hard-working and polite.

The cellar in my building belonged to me and me alone - it was my kingdom, that only I had access to
Josef Fritzl, via his lawyer
His wife said she had "had no idea" what was going on, and was devastated to hear of her husband's crimes.

Police say that they were told by his daughter's siblings that he had always been an "authoritarian and domineering father" and was controlling towards his wife.

Former tenants who rented apartments in the Fritzl house also described him as a strict father, and said his wife deferred to him in any decision-making.


His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said Fritzl's own childhood and strict upbringing by his mother had shaped his character.

Prior to the case, details of what Fritzl apparently told Mr Mayer were published in News, an Austrian current affairs magazine.

"I constantly knew, over the entire 24 years, that what I did was not right, that I must have been crazy because I did something like this," Fritzl was quoted as saying.

House where the mother and her children were held
Neighbours of the Fritzls said they never suspected anything
He said he had been driven by an "addiction" that "got out of control" but that he had tried to care for his family in the cellar as best as he could, taking them flowers, books and toys.

He also spoke about how he would watch videos with his children while his daughter cooked them their favourite meals.

Mr Mayer had earlier said his client had claimed he locked up his daughter in order to protect her from the outside world.

"She did not obey any rules, she hung around in dodgy bars all night and drank and smoked," Fritzl was quoted as saying.

Fritzl said that he started preparing the cellar dungeon "around 1981 or 1982".

"The cellar in my building belonged to me and me alone. It was my kingdom, which only I had access to. Everyone who lived there knew it," he said.


Fritzl stood trial in St Poelten, west of Vienna, in March, amid a worldwide media storm.

Austrian authorities charged him with incest, rape, enslavement, coercion, and murder by neglect in the death of his newborn boy underground.

He initially denied the murder and slavery counts but reversed his plea after watching 11 hours of videotaped testimony from his daughter in court.

On 19 March, he was sentenced to life imprisonment at a secure institution for mentally ill offenders.

Before the verdict was announced, Fritzl made a rare expression of remorse.

"I'm sorry from the bottom of my heart," he told the court. "Unfortunately, I can't change anything now."

He will be eligible for release after 15 years, but his lawyer said he expects to spend the rest of his life incarcerated.

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