Woman locked in cellar for 24 years by sex slave father
For 24 years police thought missing Elisabeth Fritzl had run away from home to join a religious cult.
Yesterday the full, sickening horror of her secret life emerged - for all that time she was allegedly held captive in a cellar by her rapist father Joseph by who she had seven children.
Astonishingly Elisabeth, 42, lived with three of the youngsters in the 1.7metre-high dungeon reached through a garage and accessible only by an electronic lock with a special code.
Their captivity emerged after eldest child Kerstin, 19, was taken to hospital unconscious with a mystery illness. Doctors found a note in her pocket from her mum begging for help.
Another three children were "adopted" by Joseph, 73, and his wife Rosemarie who was unaware of their parentage.
The seventh child, a twin, died shortly after birth. Joseph allegedly burned the body.
Joseph is now under arrest suspected of incest and keeping his daughter in captivity. He has not responded to the charges.
Neighbour Anita Lachinger said: "He seemed such a harmless old man.
"No one could ever have guessed this. It's incredible."
Elisabeth is under medical and psychiatric care. Police said: "She has been abused continuously for 24 years."
The children are being cared for in a psychological clinic.
Elisabeth told detectives her agony began at the age of 11 when she claimed her father started abusing her.
In August 1984, she said, Joseph lured her into the cellar beneath their home in Amstetten, eastern Austria, drugging and handcuffing her.
The dungeon was made of four small rooms in which to sleep, cook and wash. There was little furniture other than a TV. The only light was from a bulb.
Over the years Elisabeth gave birth to three boys and three girls aged from five to 19. The sex of the dead twin, who would be 12 if alive, is not known.
Three of the children - Kerstin, Stefan, 18, and Felix, five - have lived their entire lives in the cellar. They have never seen daylight. The other three - Lisa, 15, Monika, 14, and Alexander, 12 - were cared for by Joseph and Rosemarie.
After Elisabeth first went missing in 1984 police were told her parents had received a letter from her saying not to search for her. Later, Joseph declared she had joined a religious sect.
When Lisa, Monika and Alexander were born, it is claimed, he told neighbours they had been abandoned by their mother and he was taking them in.
Instead, it seems that imprisoned Elisabeth passed them over to her grandparents as babies, leaving notes saying she could not care for them.
Police said: "Apparently Josef arranged for the children to have the proper papers on them when they were left in the building, and forced the mother to write accompanying letters.
"The father seems to be very authoritarian and decided what happened and what was supposed to happen in the family. Today we know why he closely guarded that basement." Astonishingly the three youngsters attended school in Amstetten close to their siblings' dungeon.
A school spokesman said: "They are well behaved and always get good marks." DNA samples have been taken of all the family.
The amazing scandal emerged after sick Kerstin was dropped off at a Red Cross hospital in Amstetten, 80 miles west of the capital Vienna.
Doctors alerted police after finding a note from Elisabeth in the girl's pocket asking them to do everything they could to help. Last night the critically ill youngster was fighting for life.
A tip-off then led officers to Joseph's nearby home where he was found with his daughter.
Distressed Elisabeth only agreed to speak after constant reassurances that she would never have to contact her father again.
Under questioning the sordid story emerged. According to a police statement, Joseph had freed Elisabeth, Stefan and Felix from the cellar, telling his wife that his daughter had come back to them.
He allegedly claimed that sick Kerstin had been left unconscious on his doorstep on April 19.