Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Tuesday, 29 April 2008 16:40 UK

Dungeon case stuns Europe's media

Media gathered near the house in Amstetten
The world's media have disrupted the gentle pace of Amstetten

The events in the eastern Austrian town of Amstetten are front-page news across Europe. As well as disgust at the revelations surrounding the actions of Josef Fritzl, there is disbelief that he escaped the notice of the authorities - and the suggestion that he may have had outside help.


Austria ran out of superlatives to describe the horror suffered by Natascha Kampusch, kidnapped and isolated in a dungeon by her captor for eight long years. Overwhelmed, Austrians will not find words strong enough to convey the monstrous and diabolic history which has played out in secret for three decades at Amstetten.


The Austrians are asking themselves: Why didn't social services, who visited the family several times, notice anything unusual? How could the neighbours who all know each other in this part of town not have realised anything? How was Josef able to live a double life for almost a quarter of a century? And what did his wife, who according to the investigators "didn't ask questions", really know?


What does this say about a community, in which an authority figure can go about breaking this private taboo without any great difficulty for almost a quarter of a century? Is this a society which is afraid to have to look into its own abyss?


The World's Most Evil Dad... the brute whose word was absolute law, locked the door with a code only he knew and cruelly told Elisabeth and the children that it was booby-trapped with explosives.


Neighbours said the three [children] kept above ground were well-balanced and polite members of the police sports club and voluntary fire brigade. Their grandmother, according to many, was a pillar of the community, baking cakes for fetes and becoming an active member of the parent teachers' association at their private school.


How was it possible that Josef Fritzl regularly went on holiday to Thailand for two to three weeks without his prisoners starving in the cellar? Did he handle it completely by himself or did he have help from outside?


You can see the birdcage from the pavement of Dammstrasse... When he wasn't playing the good husband with old Rosemarie, or wasn't too tired from being a good grandfather to the three son/grandsons that he ended up looking after, when he wasn't telling jokes in the bar, watering his lawn, going fishing or helping his neighbours fix their broken kettles, when he wasn't disappearing for hours into the cellar to work, when in reality he was opening up the secret bolt to feed his slaves, when his double face didn't have to divide itself between the normal and the horrific, he also found time for them - those small birds, poor little things.


The hundreds of journalists from around the world who have flooded to the scene since yesterday have transformed the gentle pace of Amstetten. Near number 40 on Ybbsstrasse, neighbours watch the crowd, the satellite dishes and the television crews incredulously. Some are even taking photos to document the day that the name of their town was suddenly on everyone's lips. "We'd have preferred it if Amstetten had become famous for another reason," one passer-by said.

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