Fritzl on Trial: The Shocking Details of Depraved Cruelty to Daughter

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 16, 2009 | Go to article overview

Fritzl on Trial: The Shocking Details of Depraved Cruelty to Daughter


THE suffering, sexual depravity and sheer dread that pervaded the "hidden concrete kingdom" ruled by Josef Fritzl was described to a court today.

The 73-year-old building engineer raped his daughter Elisabeth more than 3,000 times during her 24-year imprisonment in the damp and tiny dungeon he had constructed beneath the family home in the Austrian town of Amstetten..

He did not say a word to her for the first nine years as he assaulted her.

Prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser repeated key words over and over again as she recreated the appalling conditions and regularity of the attacks.

She said he would rape Elisabeth in the darkness and leave. "Lights off. Rape.

Lights on. Mould. Damp. Leave." Elisabeth, who bore him seven children, was 18 in 1984 when she was lured into the dungeon. Her ordeal only ended last year with her father's arrest. Fritzl, who went on trial today, covered his face with a folder as he was led into a courtroom in St Poelten near Vienna.

He faces life if convicted of murdering one of the children who died days after birth. He denied the charge today but "partially" admitted rape, understood to mean he is contesting the way the charge is worded. He pleaded guilty to incest and a charge of enslaving Elisabeth. Three of the children born in the cellar were raised above ground by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie. The three others, aged five to 19 when they were found, languished with their mother in cramped, windowless, soundproofed chambers. Elisabeth has told police she was forced to give birth alone on a dirty mattress. Fritzl gave her a secondhand book on child rearing, some scissors, a blanket and nappies.

Mrs Burkheiser leaned towards Fritzl and demanded: "How could you do that to your own f lesh and blood?" She said Elisabeth endured the first years of her captivity in one room 18 square metres in size before Fritzl added more chambers. Looking at the four-man, fourwoman jury, she told them: "That is the same size as the jury box in which you are sitting." She used a laser pen to show the jury how low the ceiling was -- just five feet, meaning Elisabeth had to stoop all the time. Mrs Burkheiser said: "She had a small washbasin, no bath, no shower, often no heating. He would come and switch the lights off, rape her, often in later years in front of the children. "For the first nine years he did not speak to her. There was no fresh air, there were only the walls to look at and the door. It was cold, it was damp. Bitingly cold in winter and boiling hot in summer." She described how Fritzl used his daughter "as a toy", adding: "He was the absolute ruler of his hidden concrete kingdom. He had complete control. He decided what would be eaten and what medicines would be allowed downstairs. He would decide how often the electricity was turned on.

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