Austria asks: How did this happen again?
April 28, 2008 8:24 AM   Subscribe

"The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong." An Austrian pensioner has admitted holding his daughter captive in a basement for 24 years, during which time he fathered seven children with her.

Inexplicably, three of the children were later adopted by him and his wife, on the premise that their daughter had gone to live with a religious cult. One baby died, and its body was burned by the (grand)father in the back garden.

The daughter and her other children lived in the basement, accessible only through a metal door secured by a combination known only to her father, with no access to sunlight or fresh air. Their one concession was a television.

The escape came when the woman's 19-year-old captive child fell seriously ill, and her mother secreted a note in her clothing which was found by hospital staff.

Their ordeal is far from over - the mother and the three captive children will need therapy that's beyond imagination. As will, no doubt, the other family members affected by this.

But, following the Natasha Kampusch case two years ago, questions are being asked in Austria about how this could have happened in a small town where the family was well-known. The abuser was not a loner weirdo.

And, of course, it couldn't happen in the UK, could it? As the British Government increases court fees for care proceedings by 2,500%, the risk of more children slipping through the safety net increases.
posted by essexjan (133 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
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posted by everichon at 8:34 AM on April 28, 2008


I'm against this.
posted by mazola at 8:37 AM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


And, of course, it couldn't happen in the UK, could it? As the British Government increases court fees for care proceedings by 2,500%, the risk of more children slipping through the safety net increases.

Yes, precisely. We must be very cautious, for it is certain that increasing court fees for care proceedings will invariably prompt thousands to secretly hold their children captive in cellars and have whole incestuous families with them.
posted by Viomeda at 8:38 AM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Need-to-knowfilter, huh?
posted by Citizen Premier at 8:39 AM on April 28, 2008


Of the six children - three boys and three girls aged between five and 20 - five-year-old Felix, Stefan, 18, and Kerstin lived with their mother in the cellar. They never saw sunlight and received no education.

So there are an 18 yr old boy and a 19 yr old girl who know nothing of the entire world beyond the confines of this cell? Their entire life is this figure showing up randomly to sexually abuse them and feed them? How are they going to live the rest of their lives?
posted by Pastabagel at 8:41 AM on April 28, 2008


Straight from the headlines thingy on my iGoogle page.
posted by Mister_A at 8:41 AM on April 28, 2008


Pastabagel: they had a television.

What more would they need to know?
posted by notyou at 8:43 AM on April 28, 2008


And, of course, it couldn't happen in the UK, could it?

I think the most horrific part of this is that it really happened, but the second most horrific part is that it could happen anywhere.
posted by Tehanu at 8:45 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Have a seat over there, Mr. Fritzl. We're going to begin with the baseball bat.
posted by plexi at 8:47 AM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


...questions are being asked in Austria about how this could have happened in a small town where the family was well-known. The abuser was not a loner weirdo.

But it's precisely the one who doesn't come off as a weirdo, who doesn't set the radar off, who can get away with it. I'm curious if there's a more specifically Austrian angle to this, because it sounds like something that could have happened more or less anywhere, given a single-minded abuser mad enough to actually pull it off. A less credulous adoption system, maybe?

And his wife? I mean, there's soundproofing and then there's soundproofing; there's the food and the clothing and the secret door—24 years is a long time to pull one over on your partner and roommate, and I have to wonder where on the continuum from genuine naivety to defensive complicity she might actually have ended up standing. Weird, ugly question even to find myself asking, but the whole situation is so very fucked.
posted by cortex at 8:53 AM on April 28, 2008 [7 favorites]


The television actually makes it worse - they see that other people don't live like them.

I didn't read this in the articles, so I'm just going to speculate here that the reality is probably massively worse than what is described here. Sexual abuse is a learned behavior, and you had two adults who had probably been abused from birth trapped in a room with each other and then when they turn 15, with a much younger sibling, so there is a horrifying possibility that they turned on each other. I can't even imagine how therapy is going to help. You almost want to given them a do-over - another 18 years of childhood to spend in a colorful garden with bunnies and dandelions and all the ice cream and cotton candy they could ever want.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:55 AM on April 28, 2008 [13 favorites]


Horrible story, but I wonder why Austria has to perform soul-searching, etc.

It's not like Austria is Texas or British Columbia and allows forced marriages between 14 year old girls and 50 year old men...multiple times.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:56 AM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


This is why we can't have nice cellars. Unbelievable.
posted by tellurian at 8:57 AM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Isn't it nice how only one of the links actually uses the word "rape"? (Because everyone knows that it's only "rape" when it's done by a stranger because your skirt was too short, not when a close acquaintance or relative does it.)
posted by rivenwanderer at 8:57 AM on April 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


He deceived everybody. He deceived his wife and the legal system ... Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie, had been unaware of what happened to Elisabeth.

How did his wife not know? Who knows what kind of control he had over her.

I don't have the words.
posted by marxchivist at 9:00 AM on April 28, 2008


My goodness. Whatever will become of us.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 9:01 AM on April 28, 2008


Not backed.
posted by auralcoral at 9:01 AM on April 28, 2008


Have a seat over there, Mr. Fritzl. We're going to begin with the baseball bat.
posted by plexi at 11:47 AM on April 28


A better idea is to chain him to the seat in complete darkness, with his head forced back and nutrients dripped into his mouth to keep him alive. And he stays like that for a few decades. Every so often a light turns on so he can see the mirrored ceiling reflecting the room back to him from above. This way he can see how much the room has filled with spiders.

That's just off the top of my head. I really don't want to apply myself to this.

And as cortex points out, it's never the lone weirdo. It's always the friendly neighbor, etc. These people are very socialized because they have to be able to lie smoothly and effortlessly to avoid attracting any attention. He fooled his wife who was living in his house. He fooled her for 24 years.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:03 AM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


Words can't express how fucked this is.

Is there something in Austrian society that lets this happen? Or just luck of the draw?

Or even more depressing, just more likely to get caught than other societies...
posted by Lord_Pall at 9:03 AM on April 28, 2008


Isn't it nice how only one of the links actually uses the word "rape"? (Because everyone knows that it's only "rape" when it's done by a stranger because your skirt was too short, not when a close acquaintance or relative does it.)

I really deeply doubt that anything like your parenthetical is responsible for the word choices in the various links, rivenwanderer. The "abduction, incest and abuse" from the first link is hardly condoning anything, and the article is pretty clear about the reprehensibility of what this man did.
posted by cortex at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2008


You hear about something like this and you just wish you hadn't. You can't do a damned thing about it and you know that no matter how evil this shit is (and this is some evil shit) there's someone out there topping it. And they'll probably never get caught.
posted by hojoki at 9:04 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I think if we look carefully enough, this story will have a silver lining.

/horrified and sickened
posted by Turtles all the way down at 9:07 AM on April 28, 2008



Isn't it nice how only one of the links actually uses the word "rape"? (Because everyone knows that it's only "rape" when it's done by a stranger because your skirt was too short, not when a close acquaintance or relative does it.)
posted by rivenwanderer at 11:57 AM on April 28


It's not rape because incest is presumably illegal in Austria - no legal consent can be given for incest. Therefore, every act of incest is at least statutory rape.

If by rape you mean forcible sex against a victim's will, I have a feeling the protracted duration of the abuse in this case, and human being's psychological need to cling to whatever stability and equilibrium it can will challenge what 'force', 'will', and 'consent' mean.

You have a victim locked up with two other adults, surrounded by canned goods, and the article says nothing about them trying to fight their way out.
posted by Pastabagel at 9:09 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong."

What is going wrong with the country because one guy was bad? That's like asking why the country's so marvelous because there's this one really good guy who lives somewhere in the country.

There are about 8 million people in Austria. If this guy's one in a million, maybe there are another seven still not caught, but that doesn't say much about the other 7,999,992.
posted by pracowity at 9:12 AM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


I vote we vivisect it and find out what makes it tick. This is horrific and tragic, but if we can ascertain what mutation exists in the organism, we can poison creatures like this in the womb.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:13 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


A better idea is to chain him to the seat in complete darkness, with his head forced back and nutrients dripped into his mouth to keep him alive. And he stays like that for a few decades. Every so often a light turns on so he can see the mirrored ceiling reflecting the room back to him from above. This way he can see how much the room has filled with spiders.

Hey, the solution to weird long-term torture: more weird long-term torture. Yay! Plus, he's 74 years old so he'll probably not live much longer anyway.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 AM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


The guy is a sociopath, no question in my mind. And sociopaths are very good at being twisted, arrogant, evil fucks, right in front you. They believe their own lies and can be utterly convincing. This guy doesn't think he did anything wrong. He may say he knows he did something wrong, but trust me -- down inside he doesn't believe it, and he is outraged that anyone would think he is evil. To his way of thinking, he is simply living his life as he wants to do, and he is better than everyone else: smarter, more dedicated, and admirably self-motivated. He will say he understands he did wrong, but that's just because he knows that it is easier to gain sympathy and twist the wills of others to his own ends if he does say that.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 9:15 AM on April 28, 2008 [4 favorites]


I saw this in the newspaper this morning and felt ill. Then I thought, "Hey, I bet we get to discuss this on MetaFilter today!"

My gut response, and really I hope it is the gut response of most of us, is to think something along the lines of "people such as this should be bred out of the human race." Things like this should not sit right with us, and as a race we should look to end such atrocities amongst us and seek ways to ensure they do not occur again.

But I suppose the horrible truth is that these things are not new. That they are reported in a medium we call "news" is but a trivial irony - things like this have been happening since the dawn of humanity, and no effort on our own part will blot out the stain of evil on every human heart. Consider Solzhenitsyn:

If only there were evil people somewhere, insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

I read stories like these and my heart breaks for the victims. But then, too, in a way, it breaks for the perpetrators themselves. Why? Because, although I may not have (nor may I never, heaven help me) commit a deed so offensive to the very nature of our species, I have to accept the deep, dark fact that I, by the simple fact of being a human being, am entirely capable of what this man did. I, but for the grace of God, could be he.

We all could. To think that we are above such horrors is to dance dangerously on the precipice of them. We seem strangely more afraid of the man who is found to be so entwined in such evil yet on the surface appears so normal, so one of us. We'd rather some crazy-haired, wild-eyed nut-job that we all suspected, deep down, was feasting on the souls of his victims through the dark nights, while we slept soundly, unknowingly, innocently, just down the block.

But none of us are innocent.

There's a story about a US Army general in WW2 who's troops discovered one of the first abandoned concentration camps in Germany. The Nazis had killed as many as they could, and locked up the rest to die. There was a small town nearby where the general's were setting up their base of operations, and the general was met with some measure of protest from the mayor of the town. In his wisdom, the general had realized that the bakeries, the butchers, the bars, the post office - everything in this town must have served the soldiers that had manned this concentration camp just outside their little village. And so he sentenced the mayor, his wife, and every other able-bodied person in the town to go and help bury the countless bodies of starved, shot, and diseased Jews.

The morning after their first day in the remains of the camp, the mayor and his wife were found, in their house, hanging from the rafters. They left a simple note:

"We knew. But we didn't know."

We might not have known that this madman was perpetrating these evils upon his own family. But then, in a creeping, silent, and frightening way - we should not pretend to be surprised.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:19 AM on April 28, 2008 [56 favorites]


Down with this sort of thing.
posted by Lizc at 9:21 AM on April 28, 2008


A better idea is to chain him to the seat in complete darkness, with his head forced back and nutrients dripped into his mouth to keep him alive. And he stays like that for a few decades. Every so often a light turns on so he can see the mirrored ceiling reflecting the room back to him from above. This way he can see how much the room has filled with spiders.

For reals?

I prefer an orderly, civilized process of investigation and criminal law procedure, followed by a period of humane punishment/rehabilitation, as defined by local custom, along with a regime of orderly and compassionate care for Mr Fritzl's victims.
posted by notyou at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2008 [14 favorites]


He deceived everybody. He deceived his wife and the legal system ... Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie, had been unaware of what happened to Elisabeth.

That's an awful lot of leftovers to be slippin' under the table. Just sayin'.
posted by vhsiv at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2008


For as many years as he was doin' it.
posted by vhsiv at 9:23 AM on April 28, 2008


I found the line about the daughter requesting that she specifically never be near the father ever again rather inspiring. Aside from the trauma that many sexual abuse victims have to deal with in facing their attackers later on, this is also a sign that it may actually be possible to begin some kind of repair process.

Nothing can be done to repair what's already been done to her but honestly, the best thing here is to do whatever is possible to remove her existence from her old "life" (if you can even call it that. I have trouble doing so." By that I mean move her away, change her name, remove whatever traces of her previous existence you can.

I don't like the angry-mob "let's torture him" stuff but I'll be very happy to think that the father will spend the rest of his miserable life in solitary confinement. I can't imagine any court in the world would think he maintains the right to have contact with another human being ever again.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:25 AM on April 28, 2008


And so he sentenced the mayor, his wife, and every other able-bodied person in the town to go and help bury the countless bodies of starved, shot, and diseased Jews.

Not to derail, but this is in a movie that I've seen. I cannot recall the name of it, however.

posted by sciurus at 9:27 AM on April 28, 2008


We all could. To think that we are above such horrors is to dance dangerously on the precipice of them. We seem strangely more afraid of the man who is found to be so entwined in such evil yet on the surface appears so normal, so one of us. We'd rather some crazy-haired, wild-eyed nut-job that we all suspected, deep down, was feasting on the souls of his victims through the dark nights, while we slept soundly, unknowingly, innocently, just down the block.

But none of us are innocent.


I think we're all afraid of the darkness within us, but I don't think most of us are afraid at all of doing something like this -- it appalls because it is so wildly aberrant and incomprehensible. I'm quite sure the reason we'd rather a person like this were obviously a person like this is that then we'd be able to recognize him on sight.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:27 AM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


The father is obviously an insane sadistic sociopath and there is no excuse for his crimes against his family: no one reading this WallowingInAwfulNewsFilter.FPP would disagree. But the thing I never understand in threads like this are the folks who fall all over themselves eagerly volunteering to commit brutal tortures upon the perpetrator -- as if becoming an insane sociopathic sadist themselves would improve the situation.
posted by aught at 9:29 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


And then the talent agent asked, "What do you call your act?"
posted by peacecorn at 9:33 AM on April 28, 2008 [14 favorites]


Not to derail, but this is in a movie that I've seen. I cannot recall the name of it, however.

There was a similar story in the HBO series Band of Brothers, and I imagine it's based on true events.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 9:33 AM on April 28, 2008



Not to derail, but this is in a movie that I've seen. I cannot recall the name of it, however.


It's an episode of Band of Brothers. I think it's called Why We Fight.
posted by electroboy at 9:34 AM on April 28, 2008


I'll get you yet, XQUZYPHYR, mark my words!
posted by electroboy at 9:34 AM on April 28, 2008


You hear about something like this and you just wish you hadn't.
"Forensic scientists were searching the cellar yesterday, while others combed the grounds of the house. 'There are things that you just don't want to see,' a policeman at the house said. 'The fewer pictures you have in your head, the better.'"
posted by ericb at 9:37 AM on April 28, 2008


I'd like to resign from the human race now. It's had its moments, of course, but I'm no longer comfortable with the direction they're taking and I'd like to pursue other interests. You can keep my dues.
posted by tommasz at 9:37 AM on April 28, 2008 [11 favorites]


Not to derail, but this is in a movie that I've seen. I cannot recall the name of it, however.

It's an episode of Band of Brothers. I think it's called Why We Fight.


Yeah, the story was stylized in one of those episodes (I own it). They didn't show the end of the story, but they did show the townspeople burying the Jews. Like much of BofB, however, this storyline was based on an actual true story.
posted by allkindsoftime at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2008


And, of course, it couldn't happen in the UK, could it? As the British Government increases court fees for care proceedings by 2,500%, the risk of more children slipping through the safety net increases.
posted by hortense at 9:39 AM on April 28, 2008


You have a victim locked up with two other adults, surrounded by canned goods, and the article says nothing about them trying to fight their way out.
"Asked why the children had not tried to over power their father, the police chief said: 'These children were born into jail … they knew nothing else.'

He described the oldest boy as 'small and weak,' saying Fritzl was 'authoritarian and domineering.' He added that Elisabeth "realized that was useless to battle against incarceration.'"
posted by ericb at 9:40 AM on April 28, 2008


But the thing I never understand in threads like this are the folks who fall all over themselves eagerly volunteering to commit brutal tortures upon the perpetrator -- as if becoming an insane sociopathic sadist themselves would improve the situation.

Well, it's worth a try!
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:41 AM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


Pastabagel and cortex bring up important points. Also, this guy and his wife adopted three of the kids. So even the ones who got to live somewhat outwardly normal lives after a point were most likely still living a secret life of control and abuse. I would not be surprised if this guy had a kind of psychological control over everyone in the house, the wife included. Or if she was in some level of denial herself.

Even in the better scenario where the siblings don't turn on one another... for the kids who got adopted, how will they cope later with not having spoken out for their mom and siblings still downstairs, and for their siblings out in the house who are probably still being abused? Even though they all have been controlled and abused from an early age and are probably incapable of speaking out, I imagine that just adds to issues to be dealt with in a very bad way. I suspect recovery is going to be very difficult.

This reminds me a bit of James Bevel's recent trial. What little coverage there was mostly quoted him as saying he had done no wrong, and that his non-denial of the accusations wasn't the same thing as admitting he'd done anything. But there was also a line in the Washington Post about how he said it was his duty to "sexually train" his daughters. And the most chilling part was that he has 16 children, and that it was one grown daughter's realization that her siblings had similar experiences and fear for the youngest child, who was living with him, that prompted her to speak out. To me in between some of the lines describing his "teachings" there was a disturbing suggestion that he'd hurt a lot of people, within the family and possibly outside of it. He was a prominent Civil Rights leader. I think he'd earned a lot of people's trust, and it seems he did terrible things with it at least within his own family.
posted by Tehanu at 9:47 AM on April 28, 2008


I found more information in a German article here. Apparently the daughter, now 42, has white hair and looks a lot older. Also they were locked up in a "Verlies", which is a word I'd never heard before but apparently it means "dungeon". This guy must've built a serious basement to that house. Also Kampusch, the woman who was locked up for 8 years, has offered money and emotional support.

What I don't understand is how the 19-year-old made it to the hospital. I guess the guy must've let her out and driven her there.
posted by creasy boy at 9:59 AM on April 28, 2008


I prefer an orderly, civilized process of investigation and criminal law procedure, followed by a period of humane punishment/rehabilitation

I'd prefer to sentence him to a program of possibly invasive research to see how you get that broken. Nothing awful or torturous, just that he doesn't get to say no when they need a blood sample or fMRI or whatever.

Yeah, the story was stylized in one of those episodes (I own it). They didn't show the end of the story, but they did show the townspeople burying the Jews. Like much of BofB, however, this storyline was based on an actual true story.

It may be a different incident, but there's footage of something like this in some of the original documentaries. In this case, IIRC, they treated the entire town -- men, women, and children -- to a forcible guided tour of the camp and its victims, and limited the forced labor to the guards and maybe other local SS.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:09 AM on April 28, 2008


You know what else Austrian incest produced?
posted by Slothrup at 10:10 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


What I don't understand is how the 19-year-old made it to the hospital. I guess the guy must've let her out and driven her there.

I don't understand this either. He'd leave them to rot in a basement for their entire lives, but then rush her to hospital and her first glimpse of daylight when she got sick?
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:12 AM on April 28, 2008


You know what else Austrian incest produced?

Hey, you know what? Just leave me out of this one. Thanks.
posted by Hitler at 10:13 AM on April 28, 2008 [60 favorites]


Something similar happened here in British Columbia, not too many years ago-- a man abducted his neighbour, who was about 12 or 13 at the time, and held her in a room underneath his garage for a number of months. Fortunately, she was found and released. So it's not just Austria where such horrific abuse takes place; and women are virtually enslaved in brothels all over the world as well.
posted by jokeefe at 10:18 AM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think it is a bad idea for any element of real life to seem derived from any element of the fiction of VC Andrews.
posted by Astro Zombie at 10:18 AM on April 28, 2008 [9 favorites]


You spent $5 to call yourself Hitler. Either that or you're cortex.
posted by Mister_A at 10:21 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


"The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong."

I disagree.

There have always been people who do terrible things. There always will be.

We should lock up the perpetrator and seek help for the victims, but I see no need to ask what is wrong with the country as a whole.
posted by Project F at 10:26 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I can't even imagine what kind of horror show that man must be to take a baby and systematicaly twist the natural inquisitiveness, joy, and trust they're born with until they're broken and exist merely to serve your sick fucking whims. This guy would not be safe near me.
posted by papercake at 10:28 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Man, Hitler's been waiting three months to make that comment. Nicely played. I appreciate people with a sense for the long game.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 10:29 AM on April 28, 2008 [15 favorites]


XQUZYPHYR writes "I don't like the angry-mob 'let's torture him' stuff but I'll be very happy to think that the father will spend the rest of his miserable life in solitary confinement. I can't imagine any court in the world would think he maintains the right to have contact with another human being ever again."

Not to get too into this side of things, but solitary confinement can be considered a form of torture. It can drive people to serious mental problems. Not that I have a lot of sympathy for the guy, but I don't think retribution should be a goal of criminal justice, as it doesn't really solve any problems but can create them. I'm also aware that here in the US, solitary is often used for punishment, but there aren't a lot of indications that it's effective in the long run, and the mental harm it causes is not treated, which leads to further problems.
posted by krinklyfig at 10:40 AM on April 28, 2008


Do any Mefites have link to books, articles, etc. that describe the process of helping people like the daughter and her children?
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:46 AM on April 28, 2008


Because my heart hurts reading this, and I really want to know that there are caring experts who can successfully help them.
posted by By The Grace of God at 10:47 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


BTGOG, I hope there AREN'T books that addressed these situations, since their existence would imply a market for them existed. brrr.
posted by small_ruminant at 10:51 AM on April 28, 2008


Holy shit. This is literally incomprehensible.
posted by Sticherbeast at 10:53 AM on April 28, 2008


I don't know what there is to say about a post like this. There's something awful happening in the world -- not just unpleasant, but bone-chillingly, sphinctor-looseningly awful -- about every 15 minutes, I think. You don't hear about it because it's happening to brown people, or poor people, or terrorists, or it's not been reported yet.

Unfortunately, for most people, the more relentless the drumbeat of horror, the less they pay attention. You care, but you also have to be able to function, and if I gave extended reflection to every incident of this type that comes over the transom, I don't think I'd be able to get out of bed any more. There was that whole Baby Nitzchke or whatever baby abuse episode in NYC a year or so back that I've been making a conscious effort to ignore, just because I knew it would chip away at me to even know the details.

Anyway, monsterfilter is the worst kind of newsfilter, especially when it comes wrapped in the pseudo-social-science that it uses to get in the door (something has "fundamentally gone wrong? You think?) I just wish there were some kind of community norm here that consided this the nonstory that it unfortunately is.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 10:54 AM on April 28, 2008 [17 favorites]


I wish to add more favorites to stupidsexyFlanders's remark. This is not some hidden gem discovered in the wilds of the web, this is lurid front-page news that does not add to the value of the site.
posted by Mister_A at 10:58 AM on April 28, 2008


ssFlanders articulated what I was vaguely feeling when I posted my dot.
posted by everichon at 11:00 AM on April 28, 2008


He fooled his wife who was living in his house. He fooled her for 24 years.

I honestly don't believe this. I'm not saying that she was directly culpable (nor am I saying that she was not), but I just can not believe that you could have several adults and numerous babies living directly beneath you for more than two decades and be totally unaware of their presence.

Unless the wife had some kind of physical condition which would have made this feasible, I just can't make myself buy it.

There are some really sick people in this world. And what is truly scary, is how long they can live right next to us without, apparently, anyone noticing. But it's just too much of a stretch that someone living in the house wouldn't know.
posted by quin at 11:18 AM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


I'd love to understand the ambiguity of the situation more. The surface story is horrible: woman locked up and raped, children born and imprisoned. That's all we need to know to understand the magnitude of the crime.

But what were the last 24 years like? How did the man look at his children in the cellar? What did the kids think watching TV? Who fed the family when their torturer was on holiday? How could the wife live with this for 24 years and not know? How did he sneak in groceries and fix the plumbing and justify his hours in a hidden room in the house? There's a lot of subtle weirdness here.
posted by Nelson at 11:24 AM on April 28, 2008


You don't hear about it because it's happening to brown people, or poor people, or terrorists, or it's not been reported yet.

It's about time we stopped devoting so much coverage to those spoiled, privileged rape victims imprisoned in basements and moved on to some important stuff.

This is not some hidden gem discovered in the wilds of the web, this is lurid front-page news that does not add to the value of the site.

Exactly -- just like you were saying in the threads about the harassed atheist soldier story and the Tom Friedman face-pie that were all over CNN, right?
posted by transona5 at 11:24 AM on April 28, 2008 [5 favorites]


Anything is possible, quin. This asshole, for example, isn't sure that the Nazis were so bad. Plausible deniability, they call it. "I didn't have enough information to make a judgement call! I didn't know what was going on!" But in this sad case, there is no such thing. Simply an evil, twisted fucktard, and victims who will need a great deal of therapy to be able to even approximate normal lives.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 11:29 AM on April 28, 2008


Often evil is just a series of bad decisions and incidents, but this hit hard because of this man has been so consistently so evil for so long time that you hope it would be impossible. I disagree with allkindsoftime in that as honestly I wouldn't have believed that a man can be this cruel for this long: people have done horrible things to each others through history, but knowingly hurting your helpless daughter this badly for 24 years sets the bottom. I wouldn't have believed that even the most hardened sociopaths just keep being the same raping sociopath all of their adult lives without even intellectual, if not emotional curiousity for change. There would be no thrills left in it, just a habit of being horrible.
posted by Free word order! at 12:25 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The thing that wigs me out about this is that if one person can do it, another person can do it. There may very well be a number of people imprisoned in exactly the same way - or much worse - out there right now. In fact, I'd be surprised if there weren't.

By the very limited accounts of this that we've seen, it doesn't seem like many of his fellow community members were aware that this was going on. In any of our communities, there could be somebody like this. Maybe they'd strike us as a little controlling or domineering, or maybe they'd make no impression on us at all.

Without ignoring this possibility, how do we trust anyone? How could we go about our daily business of buying food and getting haircuts and riding the train to work if we kept the thought that any person we interacted with was potentially a human monster?

On the other hand, without looking into the face of horrors and recognizing that they exist, how can we ever hope to conquer them?

We're pretty good at looking the other way, as a species, just in order to cope. There must, however, be some balance to be found between going on a witchhunt and ignoring the fact that reality is a pretty fucked up place. Not sure what that balance might be, though.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:32 PM on April 28, 2008


it appalls because it is so wildly aberrant and incomprehensible.

It is, and it isn't. On the one hand, treating this man as a severely, shockingly perverted aberration makes sense - I think it's probably impossible to actually shun hard enough when something like this is discovered. I couldn't even finish that article, and in fact I regret starting it.

But that makes this atrocity seem like an entirely isolated outlier - which I don't think it is, despite the horrific depravity. The linked quote, "The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong," makes a lot of sense. I'm not familiar with the paper which printed the editorial that's taken from, so I don't know what their agenda might be. But this isn't the first time this sort of thing has happened, and I think we do need to ask ourselves what kind of society it is in which it does happen, even if it's only rarely, and even if we're all duly shocked when it's discovered.

This exists on a continuum of violence - even if it's at the absolute extreme end, it couldn't have happened without a foundation of lesser forms of violence which are more normalized as you proceed back down that continuum. The daughter was abused before she was imprisoned; the wife's "ignorance" suggests she was probably abused and terrified of her husband as well. Go back a bit further and you find issues of patriarchy which, while not always resulting in explicit physical violence, still form a foundation for it, and still manifest in more subtle pyschological violence. From there you might start to look at some of the assumptions that underpin the traditional modern nuclear family - isolation, consumerism, atomization. Alienation from eachother, from the planet. From ourselves. Fritzl's wife's apparent insistence on normalcy above all else in the face of atrocity is just an extreme reflection of most people's daily lives.

When there's something out of balance in your body, when toxins build up, your skin might break out in a rash, or hives, or acne, or something similar. There's not really anything specifically wrong with any individual cell or body part, yet there's still something severely unbalanced with the whole system which is comprised of them. This man was one of those outbreaks. And of course you want to get rid of the zit, there's certainly no need to keep it around. But if you don't treat the underlying causes, it, or various things leading up to it, keep on happening.
posted by regicide is good for you at 12:34 PM on April 28, 2008 [7 favorites]



For reals?
posted by notyou at 12:23 PM on April 28


But the thing I never understand in threads like this are the folks who fall all over themselves eagerly volunteering to commit brutal tortures upon the perpetrator -- as if becoming an insane sociopathic sadist themselves would improve the situation.
posted by aught at 12:29 PM on April 28


No, not for real, that's the point. It's a thought I had that I would never want to see put into practice, because that would me he and I are the same thing, and we aren't. I'm to take a shot at helping aught understand the reactions he's noticed, and clear this up.

In my experience, people fall into two groups when confronted with a story like this. The first group thinks "Oh God, that poor woman and her children," and their brain manages to block any thoughts of the abuser beyond acknowledging how horrible he is. They feel tremendous sympathy for the victims, but are shocked with the unspeakable horror and their brains sort of lock up. They look for the positive thing "now at least they are free and can get help". Like stupidsexyflanders wrote, people in this first group compartmentalize and isolate their knowledge of these stories because they acknowledge them as something toxic and possibly infectious, and instinctively, without consciously doing it, shut them off.

These people are what I will call 'normal'.

The other people are people, admittedly like me, who hear this story, and without even trying know exactly what they'd do to the guy if they had him in a room for 5 minutes. Some very sharply focused anger wells up from somewhere and thoughts of overwhelming and specific vengeance issue forth. That's why I wrote "That's just off the top of my head. I really don't want to apply myself to this." Because I really don't want to. Because I know that the first reaction thoughts that come out of nowhere aren't normal. I don't really want to put any effort into seeing how depraved I can be.

The people in the second group, including me, need to admit to ourselves that we aren't 100% shiny happy people. We have to admit to ourselves that many of our gut reactions to things are informed by too much personal experience with edge cases and zero experience with what people in the first group would call normal experience. We have to engage in some inner dialogue whenever these thoughts pop up and intervene. Everyone calls this the "darkness", but when you engage the darkness not too infrequently and always against your will, it just becomes routine. It becomes the shape of the world.

So when I described something we should do to the guy that is more horrible than taking a bat to him, I was not suggesting it literally be done, I was describing that I can think of a much worse punishment than that with no effort. But that I also know that those thoughts need to be controlled. We in the second group need to be aware of when we're veering off into our own idiosyncratic thought patterns, to put it delicately, and to isolate those thoughts, review them, and discard them.

I suppose there's an element of hopelessness to it too. You draw on your own experience and shudder at the effect something had on you, so you wonder if there's anyway these kids are going to recover even partially from this particular crime which is massively worse. You reach the conclusion that maybe they won't but you have to try anyway, because the last thing they need is more people abandoning them.

Here's the corollary to being in the second group, you don't have to think to hard about how it got to this awful point. Everyone in the first group is so horrified that this happened. I bet you any money that a lot of the people reading this thread can imagine exactly how it got to this point.

He wants to abuse her, and locks her in a cellar. He initially didn't think beyond getting her in the cellar. But now she's there, and he doesn't want to kill her, so what is he going to do? Can't let her go or she'll get him in trouble. He gets her to write a note that she split and now she's locked down there indefinitely. The guy's wife is clueless, but he knows after being married to her that there's some willful cluelessness on her part there. She doesn't question that her daughter runs off with some cult? I'd have 50 private investigators scouring the globe. I'd hire everyone nutcase out of the back of Soldier of Fortune magazine to find my kid and bring me back the head of the cult on a stick. She lets it go because she's learned shortly after they were married not to upset her husband or probe too deeply.

She's not surprised her daughter left because her husband was already abusing her before she disappeared. This is why the daughter didn't have any friends who question ed the cult story either. Seriously abused kids don't often have a lot of friends. Part of being in the normal first group of people is that you unconsciously recognize people in the second as damaged and avoid them. It's a defense mechanism, like smelling infection from a distance.

The wife knew her daughter had been abused, maybe hoped that she finally escaped so she keeps her mouth shut because she doesn't want to upset her husband by ratting him out to the cops.

So now the daughter's locked down there and nobody is looking. Then what? Well, he's not the smartest guy in the world obviously, so he screws up and gets her pregnant. And again, and again. And each time his shortsightedness or laziness or stupidity screws him up, he finds some short term fix that by sheer dumb luck actually keeps him out of trouble. He manages never to get caught. He's not some evil mastermind executing his grand plan. He's a thoughtless ghoul who is shambling from the familiarity of one brutality to the next ever-so-slightly worse thing. We are seeing the cumulative effect of 24 years of progressing to ever-so-slightly worse atrocities.

So no, I don't really want to do anything to the guy.
posted by Pastabagel at 12:38 PM on April 28, 2008 [19 favorites]


regicide is good for you writes "This exists on a continuum of violence - even if it's at the absolute extreme end, it couldn't have happened without a foundation of lesser forms of violence which are more normalized as you proceed back down that continuum."

That's an interesting theory. Do you have anything to back it up?
posted by krinklyfig at 12:54 PM on April 28, 2008


Pastabagel, no offense, but you're off base here. Did you look at the pictures of the underground fortress the guy built? There was nothing "dumb luck" about that. It was well-planned and carefully executed. None of that happened "on the fly." Shortsighted? Lazy? No, my friend -- far from it. Instead, he is a dedicated, full-blown sociopath. He devoted long hours of thought, planning, and meticulous execution to the lair he built. And "evil mastermind executing his grand plan," as you put it, describes him nicely.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:55 PM on April 28, 2008 [3 favorites]


So what is the name of this new Michael Haneke movie?
posted by progosk at 1:37 PM on April 28, 2008


BTGoG: There's a BBC article with some information about the pyschology and therapy of it.
Professor Jay Belsky, an expert in the field of child development and family studies at Birkbeck College, University of London, says the fact that the children were with their mother - a source of security - and with each other, could have mitigated against the amount of trauma they suffered.

"Potentially, the children could have led tolerably rich social lives - there were four people there, at least three of them for a long period of time. This isn't a story about a child being locked in a closet all by himself," he told the BBC News website.

He said that in terms of the five-year-old, he would have been unlikely to have known what he was missing.

"As a youngster, your immediate environment is your whole world," he says.

Three of the children lived upstairs with the grandparents.

"If there were books, games and a TV, there were things for all the children to make a psychological life around. It need not be as atrocious as it might first appear," he says.

However, Professor Belsky stressed that much of this would be dependent on the mother's mental state.

"It's hard to imagine that her own mental well-being was not compromised, and this would have undermined her ability to support and nurture her children," he says.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:37 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is why Mr. and Mrs. Grundy, who know exactly what everyone else is doing, all their comings and goings and how they look down to the expressions on their faces and the way they walk-- and who will tell anyone who will listen everything they know-- are your most valuable neighbors.

"The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong."

When an Austrian says this, I think they mean 'things like this will keep happening as long as we continue to be in denial about our Nazi past.'
posted by jamjam at 1:45 PM on April 28, 2008


"for the kids who got adopted, how will they cope later with not having spoken out for their mom and siblings still downstairs"

The BBC story suggests they were adopted as babies: "The other three children were adopted or fostered by the suspect, after he forced Elisabeth to write a letter saying she could not look after the baby, according to police." So they might not have known.
posted by Auz at 1:56 PM on April 28, 2008


krinklyfig: That's an interesting theory. Do you have anything to back it up?

Um... daily existence in Western civilization?

I'm never quite sure how to answer that sort of question, and never quite sure if it's meant to be flippant or not. I'll assume not, and just say that if nothing I wrote seems reasonable or can possibly jibe with your experience, then please say why not, and we can discuss.
posted by regicide is good for you at 1:57 PM on April 28, 2008


regicide is good for you writes "Um... daily existence in Western civilization?"

Well, certain psychological issues sounds intuitive in cause and effect, but sometimes you really need some higher education to make those determinations. I am distrustful of armchair psychology, as so often it is wrong.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:08 PM on April 28, 2008


So they might not have known.

Ugh. I hadn't even considered this. Now they know their mom was down there the whole time??? Wow.
posted by Big_B at 2:14 PM on April 28, 2008


This is one case, where I can say with complete confidence that My Dad is better than her dad.
posted by rmless at 2:17 PM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


This has been wall-to-wall on the three different language news sources I read/listen to/watch and I was thinking today (it's day two for the story here) that I wish the story would go away now. It is a horrible story about how inhuman people can be. But after I've heard it for the tenth time, what am I getting out of it and how is this going to do any good for the victims, in the immediate future and down the line?

I wish this had never hit the wires. No good comes of this. I don't expect the media to do good, but there are limits and at this point it's all a display of barbarity...
posted by From Bklyn at 2:19 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


The BBC story suggests they were adopted as babies: "The other three children were adopted or fostered by the suspect, after he forced Elisabeth to write a letter saying she could not look after the baby, according to police." So they might not have known.

Ah, I missed that, thanks. And yeah Big_B, my exact thought.
posted by Tehanu at 2:27 PM on April 28, 2008


Well, certain psychological issues sounds intuitive in cause and effect, but sometimes you really need some higher education to make those determinations. I am distrustful of armchair psychology, as so often it is wrong.

So, you disagree because (you assume) I'm not a postdoc?

And I wasn't discussing "psychological issues," I was musing on the normalization of brutality in our society. One doesn't need a degree to do that, one just needs a window.
posted by regicide is good for you at 2:29 PM on April 28, 2008


regicide is good for you writes "And I wasn't discussing 'psychological issues,' I was musing on the normalization of brutality in our society. One doesn't need a degree to do that, one just needs a window."

OK, but I am still not convinced in the idea of a "slippery slope" you present. I would like to see some statistical proof before accepting it. No offense, though, and I'm not picking on you specifically, that just stuck out at me.
posted by krinklyfig at 2:39 PM on April 28, 2008


Police have spent the night exploring the network of rooms where they say Elisabeth was first imprisoned on August 28 1984, aged 19, after being drugged and handcuffed by her father. The tiny entrance was concealed in a workshop in a public part of the cellar.

"There was a shelf with plenty of cans and containers, and behind the shelf was a door made of reinforced concrete, secured electronically and running on steel rails, and only the suspect knew the code," said Heinz Lenze, a local police official.

Once inside the dungeon, police reported, they found all the passages extremely narrow, the ceiling is no higher than 5ft 6ins (170cm) and the floors uneven. They have found a makeshift shower room, cooking rings for the secret family to heat food, and a room lined entirely in rubber whose use is unknown.

posted by Rumple at 2:40 PM on April 28, 2008


How unfortunate that the 3 children who were living "above ground" in every way, going to school, etc....have now been publicly exposed as the product as incest (full names and photos in print).
posted by availablelight at 3:03 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


You know what kills me?

If you look at the photographs of the bathroom and the passage leading to the bedroom, it's obvious that she had tried to make things a little nicer, a little homier, for the children. There are pictures on the wall, and a plastic flower, and paintings of an octopus above the bathtub.

Yeah. Aside from that I don't know what to say. I started off the day by reading a profile of a doctor who worked with MSF in Rwanda in 1994, too. It's been a bad day for my awareness of how utterly brutal and cruel men human beings can be.
posted by jokeefe at 3:06 PM on April 28, 2008


There are pictures on the wall, and a plastic flower, and paintings of an octopus above the bathtub.

I don't know why, but somehow that's the part that just kills me. I don't know if I want to start sobbing or throwing up or both.
posted by infinitywaltz at 3:18 PM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


I cry about once every five years. Reading this story is one of those times.
posted by BrotherCaine at 3:33 PM on April 28, 2008


I have to agree with Pastabagel here (and allkindsoftime, above). Abhorence to evil is not just about worry for our own safety, and certainly not simply about our own "moral sensibilities" being outraged, but rather our understanding of the darkest parts of all human nature which could lead to something like this. Sometimes our understanding comes purely from observation of notable deviance (for instance, I very much doubt if there are many people in this thread dealing with incestuous urges) but most of the time it comes from feelings and urges we are all capable of having, and which we have all learned to contain, so not to act on them. But we all know what it is like to want to exert control over someone, or to want to hurt someone, or to want to kill someone, if for no other reason than that we were all children at some point, and as kids these thoughts arrive with no id-filter.

So we, as a society, create systems and laws which say we can't kill each other, or torture each other, or imprison somebody, etc. And eventually, as the society matures and passes these values onto it's children, and so forth, the repulsiveness of the evil involved in these acts outweighs the selfish urge one might have to commit them, and makes that urge more fleeting. Humankind isn't magically endowed with a different system of what is natural than any other species of animal, we are simply fortunate enough to have the ability to train ourselves not to be quite as atrocious to one another.

And then we get to this guy, the opposite end of the spectrum from any conceivable form of trained morality. It's obvious to me why this is so repellent: it's that there's just so much to it. He keeps someone locked up in his basement for 24 years. That's horrible, but there are maybe even ways in which we could try to justify it. If vigilante justice which kills someone is permissible, surely vigilante imprisonment would be even more so? But it's not just anyone, it's his daughter. Well there, it's tough to imagine any hypothetical defense, unless he was just very disturbed, maybe wanted to protect her from the outside world, overdid it in his derangement? But he was, of course, sexually abusing her the entire time. Here we get an interesting wrinkle, because we expect that if he was keeping her captive that he was probably sexually abusing her as well. It's difficult to claim that we can't understand the nature of this kind of crime when we can expect it so readily, given these circumstances.

But he's not just keeping his daughter locked in his basement while sexually abusing her for 24 years, he has a child with her. Seven times. And seems to have been abusing the children from his own incest during this time as well. But wait, it gets worse: He and his wife adopted three of these children, which means either his wife knew about it, or else he was just great at hiding it, or some sad, twisted combination of the two. Of course, by now we're well beyond trying to defend anything - now we're just descending into lower and lower circles of hell. But as Pastabagel explained, by now it's just snowballing for Herr Fritzl. If he's thinking about the moralilty of his actions at all, which seems unlikely, it is only from his own perspective, and not from that of any of his victims. He's already "broken the seal" of incest and captivity, as it were, and now he's got to do something with all of these incriminating kids, so adding them to his list of victims, or adopting them under false pretenses, really doesn't add much to his guilt at all.

And through it all, he proves to all of us that he went through the same rigorous instillation of social values and good-vs-evil as the rest of us, but all that he took away from it was how to fake it. I don't believe that there but for the grace of God go I, except in the sense that but for the grace of God a would I be a sociopath. I don't think that any of us here would be capable of such evil. But I think we doth protest too much when we claim that we don't understand the dark human nature from which it comes.

Also, he looks WAY too much like Donald Sutherland for my comfort.
posted by Navelgazer at 3:47 PM on April 28, 2008


The abuser was not a loner weirdo.

Loner? Maybe not. Weirdo? I think I can build a strong case that he sure is.
posted by tkchrist at 4:10 PM on April 28, 2008


BTGOG: Do any Mefites have link to books, articles, etc. that describe the process of helping people like the daughter and her children?

This isn't exactly what you asked for, but this website has a number of similar stories of neglected children, raised in basements or back rooms or "by animals," and their resulting development (or lack thereof).

Pastabagel: In my experience, people fall into two groups when confronted with a story like this. The first group thinks "Oh God, that poor woman and her children," and their brain manages to block any thoughts of the abuser beyond acknowledging how horrible he is...The other people are people, admittedly like me, who hear this story, and without even trying know exactly what they'd do to the guy if they had him in a room for 5 minutes.

I don't agree, simply because I myself (and many others) don't fall into either of those groups. When I hear a story like this, after the initial rush of horror and sympathy for the victims, I tend to focus more on the abuser; but there's no anger, simply sadness, frustration, and curiosity, and then I begin searching for a way to empathize with him.

I've always done this sort of automatically, but I have made the conscious decision that this is the fairest and most pragmatic reaction. From a utilitarian perspective, our goal as a society is to minimize these atrocities in such a way that it will maximize our happiness and wellbeing. Anger, while cathartic, doesn't care much for forethought. Unchecked, it seeks immediate gratification, regardless of consequences. It's a seductive emotion and enjoyable in its own way, which I think is part of the lure of these stories - they grant us a scapegoat, a perfect target for condemnation and our own urge to abuse without guilt. The more horrific the crime, the less our wrath is hindered by identification with the criminal - the more he becomes an Other.

But to me, it's essential that we not go down this road, because I believe that dehumanization of the victim lies at the root of every atrocity - the only difference is how you justify it. Thus, though your end goal may be to stamp out this kind of thing, you're actually just intensifying it. Moreover, it's dead wrong. No matter what anybody does, no matter how terrible, they're still human beings. Sorry, but it's true. Believing otherwise is simply denial, a comforting fiction. There are no standards for membership besides being born - and the similarities don't end there, either.

This is not to say that if we don't check ourselves we're all in danger of locking our children and rape-babies in the basement. I'm saying that when we hear something like this, and we're tempted to respond with anger and retribution, a wiser response is to recognize this temptation, then deliberately turn around and walk in the other direction. If you want to look at it scientifically, drawing conclusions without examining all the evidence is just plain lazy. Why is he like this? How did he get that way? Why did he do this? How did he view the situation? Did he justify it to himself, and if so, how? Could it have been prevented? Can he change, and if so, how? What can we do to make sure it doesn't happen again?

So, by empathy I don't mean excusing or minimizing what he did. I mean remembering that he's still one of us - and that in fact, we can guess at many of those questions simply by looking inside ourselves. And even if we dump him into a pit and pretend like he never happened, he still existed, still got that way somehow, and he's not the only one.

BTW, I'm totally not saying you're doing this Pastabagel. I just sort of went off on my own thing, sorry.
posted by granted at 4:20 PM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


You know what kills me?

If you look at the photographs of the bathroom and the passage leading to the bedroom, it's obvious that she had tried to make things a little nicer, a little homier, for the children. There are pictures on the wall, and a plastic flower, and paintings of an octopus above the bathtub.


Thanks for pointing that out, jokeefe. It struck me as well, and, as odd as it seems, that was what made me cry.
posted by squirrel at 4:22 PM on April 28, 2008


Pastabagel, no offense, but you're off base here. Did you look at the pictures of the underground fortress the guy built? There was nothing "dumb luck" about that. It was well-planned and carefully executed. None of that happened "on the fly." Shortsighted? Lazy? No, my friend -- far from it. Instead, he is a dedicated, full-blown sociopath. He devoted long hours of thought, planning, and meticulous execution to the lair he built. And "evil mastermind executing his grand plan," as you put it, describes him nicely.

Probably because I don't want to believe that such a sociopath could exist, I'm going with Pastabagel's theory of ever-worsening atrocities, rather than a premeditated & pre-constructed underground fortress.

For all we know at the moment, she might have been bound & gagged in a corner of an empty cellar initially, while he slowly built up & expanded (and furnished & decorated!) the bunker over many years.

It's somehow more comforting to think that it progressed from in-house abuse > daughter threatens to blow the lid > father locks her up in the cellar > concocts story of her running away > thinks "oh, shit! can't let her out now!" > continues with abuse > gets her pregnant > etc etc etc > an ever-expanding & increasingly complex coverup for the very first abuses & lies.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:39 PM on April 28, 2008


You... don't want to believe it.

*sigh*
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 4:46 PM on April 28, 2008


From this AP story:

Fritzl was placed in pretrial detention and faces up to 15 years in prison if charged, tried and convicted on rape charges, the most grave of his alleged offenses under Austrian law.

This can't be true. The guy kidnapped his daughter, imprisoned her and her children for 24 years and the most he can get is 15 years? I know that 15 years might as well be life for a 75 year old man but this still can't be right.
posted by rdr at 4:53 PM on April 28, 2008


You'd have to assume that would be 15 years of protective (ie solitary) custody, at least.

Prison populations tend to be rather harsh on rock spiders.
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:57 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


but the second most horrific part is that it could happen anywhere.

This is just ridiculously glib. It could not "happen anywhere." Not every father is this sort of monster. The vast, vast, vast, vast majority of people could never, in a thousand lifetimes, do something like this. The fact that it's rare is part of what explains its enormity.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:11 PM on April 28, 2008


ethnomethodologist, I think Tehanu's point (and one that I'm not sure I can buy disagreement with) is that it's not an Austrian thing, or a not-UK thing. The guy is fucked in the head in a very special way that has nothing to do with geolocation: this could have happened anywhere, even if it certainly isn't likely to happen to most anyone.
posted by cortex at 5:22 PM on April 28, 2008


You know what kills me?

If you look at the photographs of the bathroom and the passage leading to the bedroom, it's obvious that she had tried to make things a little nicer, a little homier, for the children. There are pictures on the wall, and a plastic flower, and paintings of an octopus above the bathtub.


I see this as the only thing that can redeem this whole horrible story in even the tiniest way. It doesn't "kill me" at all that this woman attempted to provide some sort of comfort and normalcy in this horror.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 6:08 PM on April 28, 2008


"They have found a makeshift shower room, cooking rings for the secret family to heat food, and a room lined entirely in rubber whose use is unknown."

That's it for me, I think. I need to go take some very deep breaths.
posted by Liosliath at 6:49 PM on April 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


It doesn't "kill me" at all that this woman attempted to provide some sort of comfort and normalcy in this horror.

I think what kills us about that particular detail is two things: one, that she had to at all, and two, that she was able to—even in the face of the misery and horror and abuse that made up the entirety of her adult life.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:57 PM on April 28, 2008 [2 favorites]


But the thing I never understand in threads like this are the folks who fall all over themselves eagerly volunteering to commit brutal tortures upon the perpetrator -- as if becoming an insane sociopathic sadist themselves would improve the situation.

The thing I never understand is someone always piping up in incredulity at the normal human emotion called anger.
posted by Jess the Mess at 8:27 PM on April 28, 2008


In a chronology of events outlined in a police statement, authorities said Elisabeth told them her father began sexually abusing her when she was 11. She told police that some years later in 1984, he sedated her, handcuffed her and locked her in the cellar.

Hm, that would've given him seven years to construct the dungeon.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:47 PM on April 28, 2008


I've been away for awhile but from what I recall Metafilter didn't use to keep such posts on FP for long. Sickening story, sorry post.
posted by carmina at 1:25 AM on April 29, 2008


Does it not strike anyone else as interesting that he has been co-operating with the police and confessing his activities? Does he seek to control the situation, imagining that his 19 yo daughter may tell her story whilst in hospital, he takes the opportunity to confess and own the story? Or does he think, I must be stopped!
posted by asok at 5:41 AM on April 29, 2008


I'm going to bet it comes out that it was seeing the heroic Natascha Kampusch on television that enabled Elisabeth to do all she did to free herself and her children from captivity. Allowing access to the media was a bad decision if gramps wanted to keep full control over the psyches of his victims.
posted by Scram at 6:07 AM on April 29, 2008


Also, the 2500% increase in fees for taking children into care shows an unwillingness to shoulder the burden of the primary duty of society to look after the most vulnerable.
posted by asok at 6:12 AM on April 29, 2008


stupidSexyFlanders:

Anyway, monsterfilter is the worst kind of newsfilter, especially when it comes wrapped in the pseudo-social-science that it uses to get in the door (something has "fundamentally gone wrong? You think?) I just wish there were some kind of community norm here that consided this the nonstory that it unfortunately is.

Amen...
posted by syzygy at 6:41 AM on April 29, 2008


I normally hate the death penalty but.....

I personally feel that nothing will correct a man this evil and twisted. In times like these we must stand up and say "this is not something that our race accepts." I say you take this human filth into an alley and give him the .357 treatment. It will cure whatever is wrong with him. By saying hey we need to keep him alive and treat him is just reinforcing hey if I get caught they won't kill me. In the old days they hung people, tortured them, etc. With a sociopath such as this guy, nothing will ever change him. Remove his stink from our race. In fact screw the .357 just chuck him into an open pit of fire and tell him to get use to it!!!
posted by Mastercheddaar at 7:28 AM on April 29, 2008


I think what kills us about that particular detail is two things: one, that she had to at all, and two, that she was able to—even in the face of the misery and horror and abuse that made up the entirety of her adult life.

Amen to this; well said.
posted by dmt at 7:46 AM on April 29, 2008


The fucker is a sociopath. He doesn't think he did anything wrong, no matter what he says.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 7:49 AM on April 29, 2008


But the thing I never understand in threads like this are the folks who fall all over themselves eagerly volunteering to commit brutal tortures upon the perpetrator -- as if becoming an insane sociopathic sadist themselves would improve the situation.
----
The thing I never understand is someone always piping up in incredulity at the normal human emotion called anger.




The thing I never understand is sociopaths.
posted by Joseph Gurl at 11:08 AM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


The octopus made me cry, too (though after it had been pointed out above, I hasten to add).

There are bits of this that don't add up or add up in disturbing ways. Obviously the wife was in some intensely conditioned state of non-observance, for starters. I will say that it's entirely possible the wife saw the daughter as a rival after she became her husband's "mistress"; that's one of the dynamics. (It often starts out emotionally before it becomes sexual, when he simply pays more attention to the little girl.) So when the daughter disappeared, maybe the wife thought she'd actually won. But to be oblivious to all the work under the house, possible noises, and certainly the stream of food going in and waste coming back out ...

I almost wonder whether the kids that were taken upstairs -- I'm assuming they were the y oungest, to be the most easily conditioned to forget the cellar -- were so that the parents could apply for assistance from the Austrian government. There are tax-free stipends that adoptive parents can get in the US, for example. That would help pay for this huge secret family.

I also speculate about the child that died. Was it possible that the father had threatened violence? Was it possible that he used the death and subsequent burning of the corpse to punctuate such threats? Was it even possible -- and probably unprovable at this point -- that this was a deliberate murder? I suppose stuff like that will come out. But it's conceivable that the daughter began to fear losing her children and that was a big part of why she remained docile.

This bit about the "rubber room" bugs me. There's no indication of it on the diagrams I've seen, and all the limited space was taken up by functional living quarters. So where was it? What was in it when they found it?

Then you wonder about the practical things. A parent with three kids in a big house can go a bit crazy on a rainy day. But these kids were never let outside. I compare this to stories I've read or seen dramatized about people in concentration camps (i.e. POWs, Japanese-Americans, the Western civilians in Empire of the Sun, etc.), who find ways to acclimate themselves to their circumstances with sometimes extraordinary resilience. I know personally I have experienced how this can happen, in terms of an apartment I had where some things were wonky. Most of the wonky things I just learned to live with. On the other hand, there was one BIG wonky thing that made me feel completely powerless and overwhelmed, but only came up occasionally. I couldn't let it slide like the other things. In fact, to an extent, I even wonder if I subconsciously forced myself to live with the other stuff in order not to go crazy.
posted by dhartung at 12:53 PM on April 29, 2008



My co-author has worked with many children who were brought up with horrific physical, sexual, emotional abuse and neglect (our book is called The Boy Who Was Raised as A Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist's Notebook and one of the cases involves a boy raised in a dog cage). He's currently consulting and serving as an expert witness for the state of Texas in the polygamy case.

But this one seems extreme even by the bizarre standards of the cases we write about. For one, the length of time that this went on-- the abuse and confinement persisted well beyond childhood.

Clearly, the man is a sociopath and there are obviously "Stockholm syndrome" elements in the daughter, wife and others. The expert quoted above regarding how the children were probably less traumatized because they were with their mother sounds congruent with what my co-author would probably say.

However, I don't think anyone could honestly fully explain it or really know how best to help beyond the common sense things that most people would come up with anyway. The most difficult issues I think will be around how much contact the mother and siblings should have with each other from here on out. The relationships are obviously dysfunctional to put it mildly-- but they are also the only ones they have and relationships are essential to healing trauma, so... whoever treats them will have to figure out how to work with that.

This is similar to the issue that is causing great difficulty in the Texas case-- separating families is always traumatic and if you want to do so to help a kid, you better be sure you are really helping rather than harming and sometimes it's really really difficult to know.
posted by Maias at 2:11 PM on April 29, 2008 [1 favorite]


Viktoria, Katharina and Elisabeth were locked up in total darkness for seven years in Linz, Natascha Kampusch was locked up in a cellar for eight years in Vienna. No wonder "The whole country must ask itself just what is really, fundamentally going wrong."
posted by dabitch at 2:33 PM on April 29, 2008


This reminds me of John Jamelski.

One night over a couple beers my neighbor told me the story of how he ended up helping remove a 13,000 beer bottle collection from Jamelski's house in the aftermath. He wrote a full account on lj about the experience. Fucking crazy.
posted by mullingitover at 4:24 PM on April 29, 2008


A tenant who lived in Austrian incest house heard knocking from the basement for 12 years but did nothing:
"A tenant who lived above the cellar where Elisabeth Fritzl was imprisoned by her father for 24 years described today how he heard strange noises in the night - and saw Josef Fritzl ferrying wheelbarrows of food under cover of darkness.

Alfred Dubanovsky, 42, who lived in the building in the Austrian town of Amstetten for 12 years, said Josef Fritzl spent his days in the cellar but banned anyone from going near it.

It never occurred to him anything was unusual about his landlord's behaviour but he now says he will regret doing nothing for the rest of his life.

Mr Dubanovsky said: 'I wish to God that I could turn back the clock. The signs were all there but it was impossible for me to recognise them.

"Who would ever believe something so terrible was going on right under my feet? It is a regret I will have to live with for the rest of my life.'"
posted by ericb at 11:11 AM on April 30, 2008


"It also emerged today that Fritzl, 73, first applied for planning permission for a cellar in 1978, saying it was to protect his family in case of nuclear attack.

Elisabeth would have been 12 at the time - making it about a year after she says her father started abusing her.

In 1983 he was allowed to extend it to proper living quarters with rooms and running water. It was a year later that Elisabeth - now 42 - says her father lured her into the cellar, drugged and handcuffed her before imprisoning her.

An investigator told The Sun: 'Not only did Fritzl build a torture den to rape and assault his daughter - he went through official channels to do it.'

'What kind of man follows council building laws to the letter only then to commit such a horrific crime? It shows how methodical and detached he is.'

The picture we are getting is that Fritzl planned his entrapment for years, maybe as soon as he started raping his daughter.

'We understand that Elisabeth was his favourite child because she was so pretty. He didn't want to lose her when she turned 18 so he spent six years building the dungeon to keep her for himself forever.'

'It wasn't just a sudden idea to throw his daughter in the cellar - it was plotted for years.'"
posted by ericb at 11:15 AM on April 30, 2008 [1 favorite]


The more details come to light, the worse this seems to be.
posted by Tehanu at 4:15 PM on April 30, 2008


"We knew. But we didn't know."

Sorry to continue the derail, but I was so moved by allkindsoftime's comment and anecdote that I had to look it up.

I found various versions of the story of the forced march through camp and the hanged mayor, but this account is closest, mentioning Patton ordering a tour of Ohrdruf, the burying of bodies, and quotes the mayor's suicide note. It seems most accounts quote it "We didn't know - but we knew."
There is a picture of a camp commandant being forced to stand in a sea of the bodies of his victims. And worse.

This page mentions the story too, and while there are no pictures here, I found the site more horrifying than the illustrated one. Just a warning.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:47 AM on May 1, 2008


Sex Dungeon Dad Described as Shrewd Tyrant
“Casual acquaintances knew Josef Fritzl as a jovial fellow who liked to drink beer and enjoyed a bawdy joke.

But former neighbors say the man accused of imprisoning his daughter and fathering her seven children ran his household like a dictator. Piece by piece, a picture is emerging of a shrewd liar and an obsessive tyrant.

…The mosaic of Fritzl now taking shape also points to an astonishingly agile criminal mind: He allegedly forged letters, concocted an elaborate but consistent cover story that his daughter Elisabeth had joined a cult, and even impersonated her in a phone call to his wife.

Fritzl apparently complemented trickery with authoritarianism: To keep family and tenants from the windowless, soundproofed rooms where he confined Elisabeth for 24 years along with three of the children, he menacingly banned them from the basement.

…Police say Fritzl also told his daughter and the three children held captive with her that the cellar was rigged to release toxic gas in case they attempted to overpower him in a bid to escape.”
posted by ericb at 6:32 PM on May 2, 2008


strange?
posted by motownoni at 12:12 PM on May 6, 2008


Sex dungeon dad says he’s ‘not a monster’
"Austrian Josef Fritzl, who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and fathered her seven children, said he was no 'monster' and he could have killed her and her children had he wanted to, according to his lawyer.

'I am not a monster,' Austrian daily Oesterreich quoted Fritzl as saying in comments relayed by his lawyer Rudolf Mayer. Fritzl also criticized media coverage of his case as 'totally one-sided.'"
Um, okay, whatever you say.
posted by ericb at 3:00 PM on May 7, 2008


so future dictionaries will have fritzl's photo not only in the entry for "monster", but also under "cognitive dissonance".
posted by UbuRoivas at 4:06 PM on May 7, 2008


Like I've been saying -- the guy is a sociopath. He absolutely does not believe he did anything wrong. No matter what he says (and he'll say anything if he thinks it's what others want to hear), he doesn't believe he did anything wrong, and he is outraged that anyone else considers him a "monster." Sociopaths have no conception of the rights and/or feelings of others.
posted by Guy_Inamonkeysuit at 12:07 PM on May 8, 2008


Full text of Fritzl's confession
posted by Rumple at 10:17 AM on May 9, 2008


The father in The Tin Drum
posted by hortense at 6:15 PM on May 9, 2008


A large group of Austrian siblings held against their will? Can they carry a tune?

The VonTrapped family!
posted by CynicalKnight at 12:20 PM on May 23, 2008 [1 favorite]


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