Members of the Austrian family victimized by a man who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and fathered seven children with her have had an “astonishing” meeting, officials said Tuesday.
Authorities said the daughter, most of her children whom suspect Josef Fritzl fathered through incest, and Fritzl’s wife met each other Sunday morning at a clinic where they have been getting psychiatric treatment and counseling.
“It was astonishing how easily it happened — how the mother and grandmother came together,” clinic director Berthold Kepplinger told reporters Tuesday.
Kepplinger said the family members interacted very naturally — even though the three children who lived upstairs with the grandparents had never met their siblings in the windowless cell.
Officials said one of the children who is receiving medical treatment at another hospital was not part of the gathering.
DNA tests confirm paternity
Word of the reunion came as police announced that DNA tests confirmed Fritzl is the biological father of the six surviving children he had with his daughter.
Police also said they combed through Fritzl’s other properties but found no other hidden windowless cells like the one where he had held his daughter — now 42 — captive since she was 18.
Police said Fritzl confessed Monday to holding the daughter captive, sexually abusing her, fathering her children and tossing the body of one child who died in infancy into a furnace.
Officials had said Fritzl 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.
But prosecutors in Lower Austria said Tuesday they were looking into the possibility of charging Fritzl with “murder through failure to act” in connection with the infant death. Murder in Austria is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.
Investigators say they believe his wife, with whom he had seven children, was unaware that the daughter she believed ran away to join a religious cult in 1984 was living as a prisoner beneath her feet.
Fritzl’s lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said his client also was under psychiatric care and “is really hit by this. He is very serious, but he is emotionally broken.”
But prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek said Fritzl was “completely calm, completely without emotion” when he was formally placed in pretrial detention Tuesday.
Austria is still scandalized by a 2006 case involving a girl who was kidnapped and imprisoned in a basement outside Vienna for more than eight years, and residents of Amstetten were puzzled as to how the Fritzl case could go undetected for so long.
“How is it possible that no one knew anything for 24 years?” asked Anita Fabian, a teacher in Amstetten. “This was not possible without accomplices.”
Regarding the apartment building that Fritzl owned and lived in, the town’s authorities authorized the construction of an addition with a basement in 1978, city spokesman Hermann Gruber told the Austria Press Agency. He said inspectors examined the project in 1983 — the year before the young woman went missing — and nothing looked suspicious.
Three 'never saw sunlight'
Police said the surviving children are three boys and three girls, ranging in age from 5 to 19. Officials said three of the secret children — aged 19, 18 and 5 — “never saw sunlight” until they were freed a few days ago.
Police released several photos showing parts of the cramped basement cell, with a narrow passageway leading to a tiny bedroom. Investigators said an electronic keyless-entry system apparently kept them from escaping.
Three of the children lived with the grandparents. Fritzl and his wife registered those children with authorities, saying that they had found them outside their home in 1993, 1994 and 1997.
Leopold Etz, a regional police official, told APA that Fritzl apparently chose which of the children would live upstairs with him and his wife according to whether they were “crybabies.”
Officials said social workers made regular visits to the family but found nothing out of the ordinary, reporting that Fritzl’s wife was attentive, the three children were doing well in school and clubs, and that all of them played musical instruments.
Amstetten Mayor Herbert Katzengrueber told the AP in an interview that Fritzl was personable and well-liked, and that the town had honored the suspect and his wife in 2006 for their 50th wedding anniversary.
Katzengrueber said he was at a loss to explain how such an atrocity could happen.
“No one can really explain it,” he said. “I am appalled and saddened that such a thing could happen in my hometown. ... These have been awful and sad days.”
Fritzl kept his daughter and three of the children in a complex which was in some places no more than 5 feet 6 inches high and contained a padded cell, according to authorities.
Photographs of the cellar show a narrow passageway leading into other rooms that included a cooking area, with children's drawings on the walls, a sleeping area and a small bathroom with a shower.
Fritzl had hidden the entrance to the cell behind shelves and only he knew the code for the concrete door.
Emergency hospital visitThe case unfolded when the 19-year-old girl became seriously ill and was taken to hospital with severe cramp caused by lack of oxygen. Doctors appealed for her mother to come forward to give details of her medical history.
Fritzl brought Elisabeth and her remaining two children out of the cellar, telling his wife their "missing" daughter had chosen to return home, police said.
Elisabeth agreed to make a thorough statement to the police after receiving assurances she would have no further contact with her father, who she said abused her from the age of 11.
Police believe Josef's wife did not know what happened to her daughter when she disappeared in 1984.
Fritzl had said Elisabeth had joined a sect and that she had left three of the children on the doorstep. He forced Elisabeth to write letters by hand to prove his claims, said the police.