Living in a cellar for 24 years

March 15, 2009 12:00 am

, VIENNA, Mar 15 – The narrow, windowless space had no heating, no hot water, no sunlight or fresh air, but it was Elisabeth Fritzl’s home and that of her children during 24 years of rape, incest and abuse by her father.

Josef Fritzl, 73, who goes on trial in the northern Austrian town of Sankt Poelten on Monday, imprisoned his daughter in a cellar of his apartment building in August 1984, repeatedly raping her for almost a quarter of a century.

Initially, the dungeon under the house at Ybbsstrasse number 40 in Amstetten, a town some 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Vienna, measured just under 20 square metres (215 square feet) with cooking plates, a sink and a toilet.

But over the years, as Elisabeth gave birth to a total seven children in the cold cellar, Fritzl, a retired electrical engineer, expanded the surface.

By the time Elisabeth and her children were released from their prison in April 2008, the cellar measured some 40 square metres and boasted three small rooms, beds and a little kitchen and bathroom area, tiled in white.

The ceilings were barely 1.70 metres (5.58 feet) high and the passageways were just 60 centimetres wide.

In the summer, the heat was unbearable and condensation water ran down the walls, Elisabeth wrote in her diary, which she kept throughout her captivity on scraps of paper and calendars, a small part of which was printed this week in the daily Kurier.

Three of her children had been brought upstairs to live with Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie, 69, unaware that their mother was locked up below. One child, a twin, seems to have died shortly after birth.

But the three remaining cellar children never saw daylight, their only contact with the outside world being a television or any object that Josef Fritzl brought down to them: a bathroom scale or a mirror, which could entertain them for hours.

Sometimes, he would bring them pictures of their three siblings playing in the swimming pool in the garden above.

Fritzl had carefully hidden his second family behind eight doors, three of which were electronically-locked, and only he knew the codes.

To prevent any escape attempts, he warned his captives that they would be gassed to death if anything happened to him.

Food and clothes were brought to them during the night, and during his absences — and sometimes lengthy holidays to Thailand — the family had to rely on frozen and canned products.

Fritzl pretexted DIY work or even business trips to spend hours in the cellar, having meals with his second family and often spending the night downstairs.

His first family — he had seven children with his wife Rosemarie, as many as with Elisabeth — and the building’s other tenants were barred from venturing into the basement.


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