Man imprisons daughter for 24 years

2008-04-28 03:29:01 THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Media gather outside the apartment block, seen in background, in Amstetten, Austria, on Monday, April 28, 2008, where an unidentified man allegedly imprisoned and abused his own daughter for 24 years in a cellar and fathered several children with her. (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

The outside view of the house is seen, Sunday, April 27, 2008, Amstetten, Austria, where a 73-year-old man, identified as Josef F. kept his daughter identified as Elisabeth F. in the cellar for 24 years. Media gather outside the apartment block, seen in background, in Amstetten, Austria, on Monday, April 28, 2008, where an unidentified man allegedly imprisoned and abused his own daughter for 24 years in a cellar and fathered several children with her.

This video grab shows a undated photo of the woman identified as Elisabeth F. who claimed to have been imprisoned and sexually abused by her father for 24 years in in a basement cell outside Vienna, Austria. (SINA English/Australia 7 News)

AMSTETTEN, Austria -- Police on Monday questioned a man they say held his daughter captive for 24 years and sexually abused her in a "house of horrors" -- a high-tech, windowless cell where she allegedly gave birth to at least six children.

Lower Austria police said in a statement that the 42-year-old woman, identified as Elisabeth F., had been missing since Aug. 29, 1984. She was found by police in the town of Amstetten on Saturday evening after police received a tip.

"We are being confronted with an unfathomable crime," said Interior Minister Guenther Platter.

Stunned Austrians -- still scandalized by a 2006 case involving a young woman who was kidnapped and imprisoned in a basement cell outside Vienna -- expressed disbelief that something similar could happen.

"The entire nation must ask itself just what is fundamentally going wrong," the newspaper Der Standard said Monday in a soul-searching commentary.

Franz Polzer, head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs, told reporters Sunday that the 73-year-old father, identified in the police statement as Josef F., had been taken into custody.

A police forensics team arrived on the scene Monday morning, and two technicians in white suits entered the apartment block in Amstetten, a blue-collar town about 75 miles west of Vienna. The suspect was expected to appear in court later Monday.

In a chronology of events outlined in their statement, police said Elisabeth F. told them her father began sexually abusing her when she was 11. Police said she alleged that, some years later, on Aug. 28, 1984, he sedated her, handcuffed her and locked her in a room in the cellar in Amstetten.

Police said a letter written by Elisabeth had apparently surfaced a month after her disappearance, asking her parents not to search for her.

Police said Elisabeth alleged that, during the 24 years that followed, she was continually abused by her father and gave birth to six children.

In 1996, she gave birth to twins, police quoted Elisabeth as saying. One died several days later because it was not properly cared for, according to police, who said they are investigating.

Josef, the alleged abuser, then apparently removed the corpse from the cellar and burned it, the police statement said. It was not immediately clear if the twin who allegedly died was included in the police total of six children.

Police said three of Elisabeth's children were registered with authorities and lived with the grandparents in an apartment in the house.

According to the police statement, Josef F. and his wife, Rosemarie, had told authorities they had found those children outside their home in 1993, 1994 and 1997.

In a letter left with the child that appeared in 1993, Elisabeth had apparently said she already had a daughter and son and that there was no space for a second daughter. In another letter, she said she gave birth to a new son in December 2002, according to the police statement.

Three of Elisabeth's six children were apparently held captive in the cellar with their mother, Polzer told reporters in broadcast remarks.

"Elisabeth F. taught them how to speak," Polzer was quoted as saying by the Austria Press Agency.

At some point, according to the police statement, Josef F. freed Elisabeth and two of her three children from the cellar, and told his wife that she had come back to them.

But the third child who had lived in the cellar, Kerstin F., was found unconscious on April 19 in the grandparents' apartment, with a note from Elisabeth asking that she be taken care of.

Kerstin was hospitalized and is in very serious condition in the hospital near which the father and daughter were found by police.

The alleged crimes began to unfold when authorities launched a public appeal for Kerstin's mother to come forward so they could use her medical history to help diagnose the daughter's condition.

After receiving a tip, police picked up Elisabeth and her father on Saturday close to the Amstetten hospital where Kerstin is being treated.

The Austria Press Agency quoted police as saying Josef F. has been arrested but had not confessed.

Sunday evening, police said investigators had found the area where Elisabeth and three of her children had allegedly been held captive.

In an interview with Associated Press Television News, Polzer said the area had "several" rooms, an uneven floor and a "very narrow" hallway.

Police found it after Josef F. gave them a code to unlock a hidden door, Polzer said, adding that the door was "very small," and that one had to bend one's head to get through.

"Everything is very, very narrow and the victim herself, the mother of these six or seven children, told us that this was being continually enlarged over the years," Polzer said.

The area also contained sanitary facilities and "small hot plates" for cooking, Polzer said.

On its Web site, ORF reported that the rooms were at most 5.6 feet high and that the area had a TV.

The area also included a "padded cell," Hans-Heinz Lenze, a senior Amstetten district official, said in remarks broadcast late Sunday.

Police said Elisabeth F. appeared "greatly disturbed" during questioning. She agreed to talk only after authorities assured her she would no longer have to have contact with her father and that her children would be cared for.

The Austria Press Agency reported that the surviving children are three boys and three girls, the youngest of whom is 5.

DNA tests were expected to determine whether Josef F. is the father of the children.

According to the police statement, Elisabeth said that she and her children got food and clothing only from her father -- and that her mother had not been involved.

Sunday's developments are reminiscent of the case of Natascha Kampusch, which shocked Austrians less than two years ago.

Kampusch was 10 years old when she was kidnapped in Vienna on her way to school in March 1998. She was held for the next 8 1/2 years by Wolfgang Priklopil, who largely confined her to a tiny underground dungeon in his home in a quiet Vienna suburb.

Priklopil threw himself in front of a train just hours after Kampusch's dramatic escape on Aug. 23, 2006.