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Austria reopens murder case after incest arrest

Police are looking into possible links between the murder of a woman and the man who confessed to holding his daughter captive for 24 years and fathering her children, an official said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police are looking into possible links between the murder of a young woman and the man who confessed to holding his daughter captive for 24 years and fathering her seven children, a senior law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Alois Lissl, the chief of police of Upper Austria province, told The Associated Press that, although no evidence had surfaced so far, police have widened their investigation into the unsolved murder 22 years ago to include the incest suspect because he could have been in the area at the "time and place" of the killing.

The bound body of Martina Posch was found on a shore of the Upper Austrian lake of Mondsee on Nov. 12, 1986. The wife of the incest suspect owned part of an inn and camping ground on the other side of the lake at that time.

"We have found no sign" of a concrete link up to now, Lissl said in a telephone call from Linz to The AP's Vienna bureau.

Still, he said, the incest suspect would be asked for an alibi because the property owned by his wife could mean he was in the area when Posch was killed.

"We are looking at the case from a third angle," he said of the new direction his murder probe had taken.

Victim fights for her life
Hospital personnel in Lower Austria, meanwhile, fought to save the life of the young woman whose hospitalization triggered the discovery that her family had been imprisoned and terrorized for decades, while authorities weighed the future of her five siblings.

Kerstin Fritzl's condition was critical but stable, authorities said. The 19-year-old is one of seven children Josef Fritzl says he fathered with his daughter, who was held captive for more than two decades in a dingy dungeon beneath his home.

Kerstin, who is in an induced coma, is undergoing dialysis because of the effects of lack of oxygen. She was brought to the hospital unconscious and later suffered seizures. The fate of her family came to light after doctors, mystified by her ailment, publicly appealed for her mother to come forward because they needed her medical history.

Authorities were providing little information about Fritzl, 73, who they say has confessed to locking up daughter Elisabeth since she was 18 and repeatedly raping her. He said he incinerated the body of one of her children, who died in infancy.

Authorities: Suspect acted alone
Leopold Etz, chief of homicide for Lower Austria province, said authorities were confident that Fritzl acted alone.

"I think we can rule out accomplices," Etz told The Associated Press.

He said DNA tests confirmed that no other man entered the soundproof cellar rooms Fritzl made into a prison below his home. On Tuesday, tests confirmed Fritzl as the biological father of his daughter's six surviving children.

Fritzl led his wife to believe that Elisabeth had run away to join a religious cult when she disappeared, and authorities say there was no evidence the suspect's wife, Rosemarie, knew what was going on or was involved.

Elisabeth "never said that her mother was in the cellar," Etz said.

'Astonishing' reunion
Fritzl brought three of the cellar-born children into his home, registering them officially as Elisabeth's abandoned children, but kept three more with their mother, cut off from the outside world.

All, except Kerstin, have since been reunited with their mother and grandmother in an "astonishing" scene at a psychiatric clinic, authorities said Tuesday.

The father faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on rape charges, the most grave of his alleged offenses. However, prosecutors said Tuesday they were investigating whether he can be charged with "murder through failure to act" in connection with the infant's death. That is punishable by up to 20 years in prison.

Since his initial confession Monday, Fritzl has kept silent, prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek said, adding that investigators expected to know whether the suspect is willing to divulge more information after he talks to his lawyer later in the day.

Franz Polster, Lower Austria's top criminal investigator, said one detail Fritzl had divulged — that the heavy steel door shutting the basement dungeon off from the outside world had a timer allowing it to be opened if he was away for a protracted period — was being checked on.

Amid the sordid details, precious little has been revealed about Fritzl's life or what led him to commit such a crime.

Fritzl remembered as unremarkable
He was born April 9, 1935, in Amstetten, a working-class town 120 kilometers — or 75 miles — west of Vienna. He owned a number of properties in the region and paid his dues at the fisherman's club.

Besides that, most neighbors or townsfolk remember only an affable, if unremarkable, fellow.

"Who is Josef Fritzl?" state broadcaster ORF asked in an online article. "All of Austria is asking this question, if not the entire world. What type of life did he previously lead, where did he work, how did he appear in public?"

It compiled a brief biography:

After mandatory schooling, Fritzl studied electric engineering at a polytechnic school and got a first job with steel company Voest. From 1969 to 1971 he worked for a construction material company in Amstetten, where he gained a reputation as an intelligent worker and a good technician. Then he went into the service industry and took over an inn 15 years ago.

Etz told the AP a police team was investigating Fritzl's past, adding that it could take weeks to develop a clearer profile.

Elisabeth, Rosemarie and the other five children remained in psychiatric care Wednesday.

Clinic director Berthold Kepplinger said Tuesday they were doing "quite well" under the circumstances in the care of a team of specialists.

Authorities, meanwhile, were deliberating the future of Kerstin and her two brothers, aged 5 and 18, who effectively have no identities. Officials have discussed the possibility of providing new names to the children, who "never saw sunlight" until they were freed from the basement Saturday.

Kepplinger said the 18-year-old could read and write in a "reduced form."

He said Elisabeth has spoken "quite a lot" about what she went through in captivity, but he declined to provide details. "It was definitely dreadful for her and for her children," Kepplinger said.

The case started unfolding on April 19 when Kerstin was found unconscious and was taken to a hospital. After receiving a tip, police picked up Elisabeth and her father on Saturday. Fritzl freed the captive children the same day.

One remaining question is who provided the tip. Authorities have declined to comment, but the daily Kurier said it was a senior doctor at the hospital Kerstin was admitted to who sensed something strange about the family.