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Forensic team expresses horror at Austrian incest cellar

5 May 2008  

VIENNA – The lead detective in the Austrian "house of horrors" case said Saturday forensic staff was struggling for air in the dungeon where Josef Fritzl hid his offspring for 24 years, according to the local news agency.

Officers wearing surgeon’s masks to protect the crime scene’s integrity have to come up regularly for fresh oxygen, Franz Polzer told APA news agency, with psychologists on hand to help his team cope in case of trauma.

"The work in the cellar is overwhelming and oppressive for the investigators," Polzer was quoted as saying. "Every object reminds them of what went on here."

DNA tests have backed up a confession Fritzl gave police, the full details of which have yet to be made public, but officers are still trying to ascertain exact living conditions for his captive daughter Elisabeth and their surviving children born or raised underground.

A major task of police is to establish whether Fritzl was serious about his alleged threat to gas the occupants of his windowless bunker if anything happened to him.

Officers were also searching for additional hidden chambers in the cellar, which a German magazine due out on Monday, Der Spiegel, says comprised just one room for the first nine years of Elisabeth’s imprisonment.

That would imply that incestuous sex or rape and manslaughter over the death of a baby twin — all of which prosecutors have listed among possible charges — took place in the presence of young children.

From 1984 to 1993, "repeated rapes committed by Josef Fritzl" took place in front of children born in 1988, 1990 and 1992, says the report quoting Elisabeth’s testimony to police.

The Spiegel report, details of which were trailed by the magazine on Saturday, also quotes investigators saying Elisabeth was handcuffed to a post for the first two days underground.

It says Fritzl then tied his daughter, 19 at the time, to a leash for the next six months, "or perhaps nine … so that she could at least go to the toilet (on her own)."

The magazine says Elisabeth has exonerated her mother Rosemarie who already bore seven children by him.

The captive "has clearly vindicated her mother during her police interview," the magazine says in a lengthy journalistic investigation. The 42-year-old, currently receiving medical and psychological treatment together with all her children, spelled out that Rosemarie "knew nothing of her incarceration, and had nothing to do with (Elisabeth’s plight)."

Meanwhile the town of Amstetten on Saturday asked its populace to come up with a series of messages to purge itself of potentially confused feelings over the scandal.

The town is organising a demonstration on its main square to "restore confidence" in Amstetten.

Katzengruber added that the family, if it so wished, could count on the town’s full support to "re-start" living.

The Austrian newspaper Kurier, which has launched a fund for Fritzl’s offspring together with the province of Lower Austria and the public broadcaster ORF, said Fritzl’s property interests are mortgaged and that the family’s financial future is "far from assured".

In France Saturday a woman whose father repeatedly raped her and fathered six children by her for 28 years offered support and counselling to Elisabeth.

"I would like to go and meet her and talk things over with her to let her know that I got over it," said Lydia Gouardo, 45.

"If I’m given the resources to do so, I am ready to go and see her," she told AFP. Gouardo said she would also be happy to receive the Austrian at her home in France, and spoke of her sense of solidarity with the victim.

Gouardo suffered rape, illegal confinement and acts of barbarism between 1971 and 1999, the year the father died.

Natascha Kampusch, another Austrian woman held captive by a man for more than eight years, said Wednesday she had donated EUR 25,000 to Elisabeth.

Kampusch was kidnapped at age 10 and held until a dramatic escape in 2006.

She said she was in close contact with the victim’s lawyer "to determine as quickly as possible where concrete help was needed."

[AFP / ANP / Expatica]