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Fritzl case

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Josef Mayrhoff
Born
Josef Fritzl

(1935-04-09) 9 April 1935 (age 87)
Known forImprisoning and raping his daughter Elisabeth
Criminal statusIncarcerated at Garsten Abbey
Spouse
Rosemarie Fritzl
(m. 1956; div. 2012)
Children14
Conviction(s)Murder by negligence, rape, and other charges
Criminal penaltyLife imprisonment

The Fritzl case emerged in 2008, when a woman named Elisabeth Fritzl (born 6 April 1966) told police in the town of Amstetten, Lower Austria, Austria, that she had been held captive for 24 years by her father, Josef Fritzl (born 9 April 1935). J. Fritzl had assaulted, sexually abused, and raped his daughter repeatedly during her imprisonment inside a concealed area in the cellar of the family home.[1][2] The abuse resulted in the birth of seven children:[3] three of them remained in captivity with their mother; one had died just days after birth at the hands of J. Fritzl, who disposed of his body in an incinerator;[4] and the other three were brought up by J. Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie, having been reported as foundlings.

J. Fritzl was arrested on suspicion of rape, false imprisonment, manslaughter by negligence, and incest. In March 2009, he pleaded guilty to all counts and was sentenced to life imprisonment.

Discover more about Fritzl case related topics

Amstetten, Lower Austria

Amstetten, Lower Austria

Amstetten is a town in Lower Austria. It is the capital of the Amstetten District and the centre of the historical region Mostviertel.

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse

Sexual abuse or sex abuse, also referred to as molestation, is abusive sexual behavior by one person upon another. It is often perpetrated using force or by taking advantage of another. Molestation often refers to an instance of sexual assault against a small child, whereas sexual abuse is a term used for a persistent pattern of sexual assaults.

Rape

Rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without their consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability, or is below the legal age of consent. The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.

Child abandonment

Child abandonment

Child abandonment is the practice of relinquishing interests and claims over one's offspring in an illegal way, with the intent of never resuming or reasserting guardianship. The phrase is typically used to describe the physical abandonment of a child, but it can also include severe cases of neglect and emotional abandonment, such as when parents fail to provide financial and emotional support for children over an extended period of time. An abandoned child is referred to as a foundling. Baby dumping refers to parents leaving a child younger than 12 months in a public or private place with the intent of terminating their care for the child. It is also known as rehoming when adoptive parents use illegal means, such as the internet, to find new homes for their children. In the case where child abandonment is anonymous within the first 12 months, it may be referred to as secret child abandonment.

False imprisonment

False imprisonment

False imprisonment or unlawful imprisonment occurs when a person intentionally restricts another person’s movement within any area without legal authority, justification, or the restrained person's permission. Actual physical restraint is not necessary for false imprisonment to occur. A false imprisonment claim may be made based upon private acts, or upon wrongful governmental detention. For detention by the police, proof of false imprisonment provides a basis to obtain a writ of habeas corpus.

Manslaughter

Manslaughter

Manslaughter is a common law legal term for homicide considered by law as less culpable than murder. The distinction between murder and manslaughter is sometimes said to have first been made by the ancient Athenian lawmaker Draco in the 7th century BC.

Criminal negligence

Criminal negligence

In criminal law, criminal negligence is a surrogate state of mind required to constitute a conventional offense. It is not, strictly speaking, a mens rea because it refers to an objective standard of behaviour expected of the defendant and does not refer to their mental state.

Incest

Incest

Incest is human sexual activity between family members or close relatives. This typically includes sexual activity between people in consanguinity, and sometimes those related by affinity, adoption, or lineage. It is strictly forbidden and considered immoral in most societies, and can lead to an increased risk of genetic disorders in children.

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives or indefinitely until pardoned, paroled, or otherwise commuted to a fixed term. Crimes for which, in some countries, a person could receive this sentence include murder, torture, terrorism, child abuse resulting in death, rape, espionage, treason, drug trafficking, drug possession, human trafficking, severe fraud and financial crimes, aggravated criminal damage, arson, kidnapping, burglary, and robbery, piracy, aircraft hijacking, and genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or any three felonies in case of three-strikes law. Life imprisonment can also be imposed, in certain countries, for traffic offences causing death. Life imprisonment is not used in all countries; Portugal was the first country to abolish life imprisonment, in 1884.

History

Josef Fritzl was born on 9 April 1935, in Amstetten, Lower Austria. In 1956, at age 21, he married 17-year-old Rosemarie (born September 23, 1939), with whom he had three sons and four daughters, including Elisabeth, who was born on 6 April 1966. Fritzl reportedly began sexually abusing Elisabeth in 1977, when she was aged 11.[5]

After completing compulsory education at age 15, Elisabeth started a course to become a waitress. In January 1983 she ran away from home and went into hiding in Vienna with a friend from work. She was found by police within three weeks and returned to her parents in Amstetten. She rejoined her waitress course, finished it in mid-1984, and was offered a job in nearby Linz.

Captivity

On 28 August 1984, after Elisabeth turned 18, Fritzl lured her into the basement of the family home, saying that he needed help carrying a door. In reality, Fritzl had been converting the basement into a makeshift prison chamber; the door was the last thing he needed to seal it.[6] After Elisabeth held the door in place while Fritzl fitted it into the frame, he held an ether-soaked towel on her face until she was unconscious, then threw her into the chamber.[6]

After Elisabeth's disappearance, Rosemarie filed a missing persons report. Almost a month later, Fritzl handed over a letter to the police, the first of several that he had forced Elisabeth to write while she was in captivity. The letter, postmarked Braunau, stated that she was tired of living with her family and was staying with a friend; she warned her parents not to look for her or she would leave the country. Fritzl told police that she had most likely joined a cult.[3]

Over the next 24 years, Fritzl visited Elisabeth in the hidden chamber almost every day, or a minimum of three times a week, bringing food and other supplies, and repeatedly raping her. Elisabeth gave birth to seven children during her captivity.[3] One child died shortly after birth, and three—Lisa, Monika, and Alexander—were removed from the chamber as infants to live with Fritzl and his wife, who were approved by local social services authorities as their foster parents. Officials said that Fritzl "very plausibly" explained how three of his infant grandchildren had appeared on his doorstep. The family received regular visits from social workers, who saw and heard nothing to arouse their suspicions.[7]

Following the fourth child's birth in 1994, Fritzl allowed the enlargement of the prison, from 35 to 55 m2 (380 to 590 sq ft), putting Elisabeth and her children to work digging out soil with their bare hands for years. The captives had a television, a radio, and a videocassette player. Food could be stored in a refrigerator and cooked or heated on hot plates. Elisabeth taught the children to read and write. At times, Fritzl would punish the family by shutting off their lights or refusing to deliver food for days at a time.[8] Fritzl told Elisabeth and the three children who remained (Kerstin, Stefan, and Felix) that they would be gassed if they tried to escape. Investigators concluded that this was an empty threat to frighten the victims; there was no gas supply to the basement.[9] He also told them that they would be electrocuted if they tried to meddle with the cellar door.[10]

According to Fritzl's sister-in-law Christine, he went into the basement every morning at 09:00, ostensibly to draw plans for machines which he sold to manufacturing firms. He often stayed there for the night and did not allow his wife to bring him coffee. A tenant who rented a ground floor room in the house for twelve years claimed to hear noises from the basement, which Fritzl said were caused by the "faulty pipes" or the gas heating system.[11]

Discovery

On 19 April 2008, Fritzl agreed to seek medical attention after Kerstin, Elisabeth's eldest daughter, fell unconscious. Elisabeth helped him carry Kerstin out of the chamber and saw the outside world for the first time in twenty-four years. He forced her to return to the chamber, where she remained for a final week.[3] Kerstin was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, the Landesklinikum Amstetten, and was admitted in serious condition with life-threatening kidney failure. Fritzl later arrived at the hospital claiming to have found a note written by Kerstin's mother. He discussed Kerstin's condition and the note with a doctor, Albert Reiter.[12]

Medical staff found aspects of Fritzl's story puzzling and alerted the police on 21 April. The police broadcast an appeal on public media for the missing mother to come forward and provide information about Kerstin's medical history.[13][14] The police reopened the case file on Elisabeth's disappearance. Fritzl repeated his story about Elisabeth being in a cult, and presented what he claimed was the "most recent letter" from her, dated January 2008, posted from the town of Kematen.[3] The police contacted Manfred Wohlfahrt, a church officer and expert on cults, who raised doubts about the existence of the group Fritzl described. He noted that Elisabeth's letters seemed dictated and oddly written.

Elisabeth pleaded with Fritzl to be taken to the hospital. On 26 April, he released her from the cellar along with her sons Stefan and Felix, bringing them upstairs. He and Elisabeth went to the hospital where Kerstin was being treated on 26 April 2008. Following a tip-off from Reiter that Fritzl and Elisabeth were at the hospital, the police detained them on the hospital grounds and took them to a police station for questioning.

Elisabeth did not provide police with more details until they promised her that she would never have to see her father again. Over the next two hours, she told the story of her twenty-four years in captivity. Elisabeth recounted that Fritzl raped her and forced her to watch pornographic videos, which he made her re-enact with him in front of her children in order to humiliate her.[3] Shortly after midnight, police officers completed the investigation. Fritzl, aged 73, was arrested on 26 April on suspicion of serious crimes against family members.[15]

During the night of 27 April, Elisabeth, her children and her mother Rosemarie were taken into care. Police said Fritzl told investigators how to enter the basement chamber through a small hidden door, opened by a secret keyless entry code. Rosemarie had been unaware of what had been happening to Elisabeth.

On 29 April, it was announced that DNA evidence confirmed Fritzl as the biological father of his daughter's children.[16] His defence lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said that although the DNA test proved incest, evidence was still needed for the allegations of rape and enslavement.[17] In their 1 May daily press conference, Austrian police said that Fritzl had forced Elisabeth to write a letter the previous year indicating that he may have been planning to release her and the children. The letter said that she wanted to come home but "it's not possible yet."[18] Police believe Fritzl was planning to pretend to have rescued his daughter from her fictitious cult.[19] Police spokesman Franz Polzer said police planned to interview at least 100 people who had lived as tenants in the Fritzl apartment building in the previous 24 years.[20]

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Amstetten, Lower Austria

Amstetten, Lower Austria

Amstetten is a town in Lower Austria. It is the capital of the Amstetten District and the centre of the historical region Mostviertel.

Lower Austria

Lower Austria

Lower Austria is one of the nine states of Austria, located in the northeastern corner of the country. Since 1986, the capital of Lower Austria has been Sankt Pölten, replacing Vienna which became a separate state in 1921. With a land area of 19,186 km2 (7,408 sq mi) and a population of 1.685 million people, Lower Austria is the second most populous state in Austria. Other large cities are Amstetten, Klosterneuburg, Krems an der Donau, Stockerau and Wiener Neustadt.

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse

Child sexual abuse (CSA), also called child molestation, is a form of child abuse in which an adult or older adolescent uses a child for sexual stimulation. Forms of child sexual abuse include engaging in sexual activities with a child, indecent exposure, child grooming, and child sexual exploitation, such as using a child to produce child pornography.

Compulsory education

Compulsory education

Compulsory education refers to a period of education that is required of all people and is imposed by the government. This education may take place at a registered school or at other places.

Linz

Linz

Linz is the capital of Upper Austria and third-largest city in Austria. In the north of the country, it is on the Danube 30 km (19 mi) south of the Czech border. In 2018, the population was 204,846.

Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether

Diethyl ether, or simply ether, is an organic compound in the ether class with the formula (C2H5)2O, sometimes abbreviated as Et2O. It is a colourless, highly volatile, sweet-smelling, extremely flammable liquid. It is commonly used as a solvent in laboratories and as a starting fluid for some engines. It was formerly used as a general anesthetic, until non-flammable drugs were developed, such as halothane. It has been used as a recreational drug to cause intoxication.

Braunau am Inn

Braunau am Inn

Braunau am Inn is a town in Upper Austria on the border with Germany. It is known for being the birthplace of Adolf Hitler.

Cult

Cult

In modern English, cult is usually a pejorative term for a social group that is defined by its unusual religious, spiritual, or philosophical beliefs and rituals, or its common interest in a particular personality, object, or goal. This sense of the term is controversial and weakly defined—having divergent definitions both in popular culture and academia—and has also been an ongoing source of contention among scholars across several fields of study.

Foster care

Foster care

Foster care is a system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home, or private home of a state-certified caregiver, referred to as a "foster parent" or with a family member approved by the state. The placement of the child is normally arranged through the government or a social service agency. The institution, group home, or foster parent is compensated for expenses unless with a family member. In some states, relative or "Kinship" caregivers of children who are wards of the state are provided with a financial stipend.

Hot plate

Hot plate

A hot plate is a portable self-contained tabletop small appliance cooktop that features one or more electric heating elements or gas burners. A hot plate can be used as a stand-alone appliance, but is often used as a substitute for one of the burners from an oven range or a kitchen stove. Hot plates are often used for food preparation, generally in locations where a full kitchen stove would not be convenient or practical. They can also be used as a heat source in laboratories. A hot plate can have a flat surface or round surface. Hot plates can be used for traveling or in areas without electricity.

Kidney failure

Kidney failure

Kidney failure, also known as end-stage kidney disease, is a medical condition in which the kidneys can no longer adequately filter waste products from the blood, functioning at less than 15% of normal levels. Kidney failure is classified as either acute kidney failure, which develops rapidly and may resolve; and chronic kidney failure, which develops slowly and can often be irreversible. Symptoms may include leg swelling, feeling tired, vomiting, loss of appetite, and confusion. Complications of acute and chronic failure include uremia, high blood potassium, and volume overload. Complications of chronic failure also include heart disease, high blood pressure, and anemia.

Kematen an der Krems

Kematen an der Krems

Kematen an der Krems is a municipality in the district Linz-Land in the Austrian state of Upper Austria.

Cell

The Fritzl property in Amstetten is a building dating from around 1890. A newer building was added after 1978 when Fritzl applied for a building permit for an "extension with basement." In 1983, building inspectors visited the site and verified that the new extension had been built according to the dimensions specified on the permit. Fritzl had illegally enlarged the room by excavating space for a much larger basement, concealed by walls. Around 1981 or 1982, according to his statement,[10] Fritzl started to turn this hidden cellar into a prison cell and installed a washbasin, toilet, bed, hot plate, and refrigerator. In 1983, he added more space by creating a passageway to a pre-existing basement area under the old part of the property, of which only he knew.

The concealed cellar had a 5 m-long (16 ft) corridor, a storage area, and three small open cells, connected by narrow passageways; and a basic cooking area and bathroom facilities, followed by two sleeping areas, which were equipped with two beds each. It covered an area of approximately 55 m2 (590 sq ft). The cell had two access points: a hinged door that weighed 500 kg (1,100 lb) which is thought to have become unusable over the years because of its weight, and a metal door, reinforced with concrete and on steel rails that weighed 300 kg (660 lb) and measured 1 m (3.3 ft) high and 60 cm (2.0 ft) wide. It was located behind a shelf in Fritzl's basement workshop, protected by an electronic code entered using a remote control unit. In order to reach this door, five locking basement rooms had to be crossed. To get to the area where Elisabeth and her children were held, eight doors in total needed to be unlocked, of which two doors were additionally secured by electronic locking devices.[1][2][21]

Key events

Date Key event
1977 Fritzl begins sexually abusing his 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth.[22]
1980 Fritzl's mother, Maria, dies in captivity in Fritzl's attic.[23]
1981–1982 Fritzl begins to turn the hidden cellar into a prison cell.[7]
28 August 1984 Fritzl lures 18-year-old Elisabeth into the basement and imprisons her.[15]
November 1986 Elisabeth has a miscarriage in the 10th week of pregnancy.[24]
30 August 1988 Kerstin is born, and lives in the cellar until the age of 19 in 2008.[24]
1 February 1990 Stefan is born. He also stays in the cellar until 2008, age 17.[24]
29 August 1992 Lisa is born. In May 1993, at 9 months of age, she is discovered outside the family home in a cardboard box, allegedly left there by Elisabeth with a note asking for the child to be looked after.[24][25]
1993 After repeated requests by Elisabeth, Fritzl allows the enlargement of the prison, putting Elisabeth and her children to work for years digging out soil with their hands. The prison was enlarged from 35 to 55 m2 (380 to 590 sq ft).[26]
26 February 1994 The fourth child, Monika, is born.[24]
December 1994 10-month-old Monika is found in a pushchair outside the entrance of the house. Shortly afterwards, Rosemarie receives a phone call, asking her to take care of the child. The caller sounds like Elisabeth, but it is assumed that Fritzl used a recording of her voice. Rosemarie reported the incident to the police, expressing astonishment that Elisabeth knew their new, unlisted phone number.[3]
28 April 1996 Elisabeth gives birth to twin boys. One dies after less than 3 days and Fritzl removes and cremates the body. The surviving twin, Alexander, is taken upstairs at 15 months old and "discovered" in circumstances similar to those of his two sisters.[24][25][27]
16 December 2002 Felix is born. According to a statement by Fritzl, he kept Felix in the cellar with Elisabeth and her two eldest children because his wife could not look after another child.[3]
19 April 2008 Fritzl arranges for critically ill 19-year-old Kerstin to be taken to a local hospital.[3]
26 April 2008 During the evening, Fritzl releases Elisabeth, Stefan, and Felix from the cellar and brings them upstairs, informing his wife that Elisabeth had decided to come home after a 24-year absence. Later that evening, after an anonymous tipoff during a visit to the hospital, Fritzl and Elisabeth are taken into police custody where she reveals her decades-long imprisonment during questioning.[3]
19 March 2009 After a 4-day trial in the town of St. Pölten and 3 weeks before his 74th birthday, Fritzl pleads guilty to the charges of the murder by negligence of his infant son (and grandson) Michael, as well as the decades of enslavement, incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment of his daughter Elisabeth, and is sentenced to life imprisonment.[7]

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Cremation

Cremation

Cremation is a method of final disposition of a dead body through burning.

Negligent homicide

Negligent homicide

Negligent homicide is a criminal charge brought against a person who, through criminal negligence, allows another person to die.

Incest

Incest

Incest is human sexual activity between family members or close relatives. This typically includes sexual activity between people in consanguinity, and sometimes those related by affinity, adoption, or lineage. It is strictly forbidden and considered immoral in most societies, and can lead to an increased risk of genetic disorders in children.

Rape

Rape

Rape is a type of sexual assault usually involving sexual intercourse or other forms of sexual penetration carried out against a person without their consent. The act may be carried out by physical force, coercion, abuse of authority, or against a person who is incapable of giving valid consent, such as one who is unconscious, incapacitated, has an intellectual disability, or is below the legal age of consent. The term rape is sometimes used interchangeably with the term sexual assault.

Coercion

Coercion

Coercion is compelling a party to act in an involuntary manner by the use of threats, including threats to use force against a party. It involves a set of forceful actions which violate the free will of an individual in order to induce a desired response. These actions may include extortion, blackmail, or even torture and sexual assault. For example, a bully may demand lunch money from a student where refusal results in the student getting beaten.

False imprisonment

False imprisonment

False imprisonment or unlawful imprisonment occurs when a person intentionally restricts another person’s movement within any area without legal authority, justification, or the restrained person's permission. Actual physical restraint is not necessary for false imprisonment to occur. A false imprisonment claim may be made based upon private acts, or upon wrongful governmental detention. For detention by the police, proof of false imprisonment provides a basis to obtain a writ of habeas corpus.

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives or indefinitely until pardoned, paroled, or otherwise commuted to a fixed term. Crimes for which, in some countries, a person could receive this sentence include murder, torture, terrorism, child abuse resulting in death, rape, espionage, treason, drug trafficking, drug possession, human trafficking, severe fraud and financial crimes, aggravated criminal damage, arson, kidnapping, burglary, and robbery, piracy, aircraft hijacking, and genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or any three felonies in case of three-strikes law. Life imprisonment can also be imposed, in certain countries, for traffic offences causing death. Life imprisonment is not used in all countries; Portugal was the first country to abolish life imprisonment, in 1884.

Perpetrator

Background

Josef Fritzl (now known as Mayrhoff[28]) was born on 9 April 1935, in Amstetten to Josef Fritzl Sr. and Maria Fritzl. He grew up as an only child raised solely by his working mother. His father, who was a severe alcoholic, had deserted the family when Fritzl was four, and never again came into contact with him. Fritzl Sr. later fought as a soldier in the Wehrmacht during World War II, and was killed in action in 1944. His name appears on a memorial plaque in Amstetten.[29]

In 1956, Fritzl married his wife, Rosemarie.

After completing his education at an HTL Technical College with a qualification in electrical engineering, Fritzl obtained a job at Voestalpine in Linz. From 1969 until 1971, he held a job in a construction-material firm in Amstetten. Later, he became a technical equipment salesman, travelling throughout Austria. He retired from active employment when he turned 60 in 1995, but continued some commercial activities. In addition to his apartment building in Amstetten, Fritzl rented out several other properties.[7][1][30][31] In 1972, he purchased a guesthouse and an adjacent campsite at Lake Mondsee. He ran it, together with his wife, until 1996.

Criminal history

In 1967, Fritzl broke into the Linz home of a 24-year-old nurse while her husband was away and raped her while holding a knife to her throat, threatening to kill her if she screamed.[32] According to an annual report for 1967 and a press release of the same year, he was also named as a suspect in a case of attempted rape of a 21-year-old woman, and was known for indecent exposure. Fritzl was arrested and served twelve months of an eighteen-month prison sentence.[33] In accordance with Austrian law, his criminal record was expunged after fifteen years. As a result, more than 25 years later, when he applied to adopt and/or foster Elisabeth's children, the local social service authorities did not discover his criminal history.[34][35]

Self-portrayal and psychiatric assessment

After his arrest, Fritzl claimed that his behaviour toward his daughter did not constitute rape but was consensual. Mayer forwarded extracts from the minutes of his talks with his client to the Austrian weekly News for publication. According to these statements, Fritzl said that he "always knew during the whole 24 years that what I was doing was not right, that I must have been crazy to do such a thing, yet it became a normal occurrence to lead a second life in the basement of my house."

Regarding his treatment of the family he had with his wife, Fritzl stated, "I am not the beast the media make me to be." Regarding his treatment of Elisabeth and her children in the cellar, he explained that he brought flowers for Elisabeth and books and toys for the children into the "bunker," as he called it, and often watched videos with the children and ate meals with Elisabeth and the children. Fritzl decided to imprison Elisabeth after she "did not adhere to any rules any more" when she became a teenager. "That is why I had to do something; I had to create a place where I could keep Elisabeth, by force if necessary, away from the outside world." He suggested that the emphasis on discipline in the Nazi era, during which he grew up until the age of ten, might have influenced his views about decency and good behaviour. The chief editors of News magazine noted in their editorial that they expected Fritzl's statement to form the basis of the defence strategy of his lawyer. Critics said his statement may have been a ploy to prepare an insanity defence.[36]

Reflecting on his childhood, Fritzl initially described his mother as "the best woman in the world" and "as strict as it was necessary."[10] Later, he expressed a negative opinion of his mother and claimed that "she used to beat me, hit me until I was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. It left me feeling totally humiliated and weak. My mother was a servant and she used to work hard all her life, I never had a kiss from her, I was never cuddled although I wanted it – I wanted her to be good to me." He also claimed that she called him "a Satan, a criminal, a no-good," that he "had a horrible fear of her." In 1959, after Fritzl had married and bought his house, his mother moved in with them. Over time, their roles reversed, and his mother came to fear him. Eventually, he also admitted he had later locked his mother in the attic and bricked up her window after telling neighbors that she had died, and kept her locked up until her death in 1980. It is unknown how long Fritzl kept his mother locked up in his attic, but newspapers have speculated that it may have been up to 20 years.[37][38]

In a report by forensic psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner, Fritzl's mother is described as unpredictable and abusive. Fritzl referred to himself as an "alibi" child, meaning that his mother only gave birth to him to prove that she was not barren and could produce children. Fritzl claims that his pathological behaviour is innate. During his prison stint for the earlier rape conviction, he admits that he planned to lock his daughter up so that he could contain and express his "evil side." He said, "I was born to rape, and I held myself back for a relatively long time. I could have behaved a lot worse than locking up my daughter."[8] The forensic psychiatrist diagnosed Fritzl as having a "severe combined personality disorder" which included borderline, schizotypal and schizoid types and a sexual disorder and recommended that Fritzl receive psychiatric care for the rest of his life.[8][39]

Later reports have revealed Fritzl's premeditated plan to lock his daughter up was not for discipline but for his own gratification.[8][40]

Prosecutor's investigation

Pursuant to the agreement that she would never have to see her father again, Elisabeth Fritzl gave videotaped testimony before Austrian prosecutors and investigators on 11 July 2008.[41]

On 13 November 2008, authorities in Austria released an indictment against Josef Fritzl. He stood trial for the murder of the infant Michael, who died shortly after birth,[42] and faced between 10 years and life imprisonment. He was also charged with rape, incest, kidnapping, false imprisonment and slavery, which carry a maximum 20-year term.[7]

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Höhere Technische Lehranstalt

Höhere Technische Lehranstalt

A Höhere Technische Lehranstalt, commonly known as HTL, is an engineering-focused secondary school in Austria. As an umbrella term it is used for eitherHöhere Technische Lehranstalt, Höhere Technische Bundeslehranstalt, or Höhere Technische Bundeslehr- und Versuchsanstalt.

Mondsee (lake)

Mondsee (lake)

Mondsee is a lake in the Upper Austrian part of the Salzkammergut and near the larger Attersee. Its southwestern shore marks the border between the states of Upper Austria and Salzburg and also between the Northern Limestone Alps in the south and the Sandstone zone of the northern Alps. The Drachenwand (Dragonwall) at the southern shore of the lake is an impressive sight. Mondsee is one of Austria's last privately owned lakes. In August 2008, owner Nicolette Wächter announced it was up for sale.

Indecent exposure

Indecent exposure

Indecent exposure is the deliberate public exposure by a person of a portion of their body in a manner contrary to local standards of appropriate behavior. Laws and social attitudes regarding indecent exposure vary significantly in different countries. It ranges from outright prohibition of the exposure of any body parts other than the hands or face to prohibition of exposure of certain body parts, such as the genital area, buttocks or breasts.

NEWS (Austrian magazine)

NEWS (Austrian magazine)

NEWS is an Austrian weekly news magazine published in German and based in Vienna, Austria. The weekly is the major news magazine in the country and has been in circulation since October 1992.

Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany

Nazi Germany was the German state between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party controlled the country, transforming it into a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany quickly became a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", alluded to the Nazi claim that Nazi Germany was the successor to the earlier Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and German Empire (1871–1918). The Third Reich, which Hitler and the Nazis referred to as the Thousand-Year Reich, ended in May 1945 after just 12 years when the Allies defeated Germany, ending World War II in Europe.

Satan

Satan

Satan, also known as the Devil, and sometimes also called Lucifer in Christianity, is an entity in the Abrahamic religions that seduces humans into sin or falsehood. In Judaism, Satan is seen as an agent subservient to God, typically regarded as a metaphor for the yetzer hara, or "evil inclination." In Christianity and Islam, he is usually seen as a fallen angel or jinn who has rebelled against God, who nevertheless allows him temporary power over the fallen world and a host of demons. In the Quran, Shaitan, also known as Iblis, is an entity made of fire who was cast out of Heaven because he refused to bow before the newly created Adam and incites humans to sin by infecting their minds with waswās.

Forensic psychiatry

Forensic psychiatry

Forensic psychiatry is a subspeciality of psychiatry and is related to criminology. It encompasses the interface between law and psychiatry. According to the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, it is defined as "a subspecialty of psychiatry in which scientific and clinical expertise is applied in legal contexts involving civil, criminal, correctional, regulatory, or legislative matters, and in specialized clinical consultations in areas such as risk assessment or employment." A forensic psychiatrist provides services – such as determination of competency to stand trial – to a court of law to facilitate the adjudicative process and provide treatment, such as medications and psychotherapy, to criminals.

Psychopathology

Psychopathology

Psychopathology is the study of abnormal cognition, behaviour, and experiences which differs according to social norms and rests upon a number of constructs that are deemed to be the social norm at any particular era.

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder

Borderline personality disorder (BPD), also known as emotionally unstable personality disorder (EUPD), is a personality disorder characterized by a long-term pattern of unstable interpersonal relationships, distorted sense of self, and strong emotional reactions. Those affected often engage in self-harm and other dangerous behaviors, often due to their difficulty with returning their emotional level to a healthy or normal baseline. They may also struggle with a feeling of emptiness, fear of abandonment, and detachment from reality. Symptoms of BPD may be triggered by events considered normal to others. BPD typically begins by early adulthood and occurs across a variety of situations. Substance use disorders, depression, and eating disorders are commonly associated with BPD. Some 8 to 10% of people affected by the disorder may die by suicide. The disorder is often stigmatized in both the media and the psychiatric field and as a result is often underdiagnosed.

Schizotypal personality disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder

Schizotypal personality disorder, also known as schizotypal disorder, is a mental and behavioral disorder. DSM classification describes the disorder specifically as a personality disorder characterized by thought disorder, paranoia, a characteristic form of social anxiety, derealization, transient psychosis, and unconventional beliefs. People with this disorder feel pronounced discomfort in forming and maintaining social connections with other people, primarily due to the belief that other people harbor negative thoughts and views about them. Peculiar speech mannerisms and socially unexpected modes of dress are also characteristic. Schizotypal people may react oddly in conversations, not respond, or talk to themselves. They frequently interpret situations as being strange or having unusual meaning for them; paranormal and superstitious beliefs are common. Schizotypal people usually disagree with the suggestion their thoughts and behaviors are a 'disorder', and seek medical attention for depression or anxiety instead. Schizotypal personality disorder occurs in approximately 3% of the general population and is more commonly diagnosed in males.

Schizoid personality disorder

Schizoid personality disorder

Schizoid personality disorder is a personality disorder characterized by a lack of interest in social relationships, a tendency toward a solitary or sheltered lifestyle, secretiveness, emotional coldness, detachment and apathy. Affected individuals may be unable to form intimate attachments to others and simultaneously possess a rich and elaborate but exclusively internal fantasy world. Other associated features include stilted speech, a lack of deriving enjoyment from most activities, feeling as though one is an "observer" rather than a participant in life, an inability to tolerate emotional expectations of others, apparent indifference when praised or criticized, a degree of asexuality, and idiosyncratic moral or political beliefs. Symptoms typically start in late childhood or adolescence.

Incest

Incest

Incest is human sexual activity between family members or close relatives. This typically includes sexual activity between people in consanguinity, and sometimes those related by affinity, adoption, or lineage. It is strictly forbidden and considered immoral in most societies, and can lead to an increased risk of genetic disorders in children.

Trial

The trial of Josef Fritzl commenced on 16 March 2009, in the city of Sankt Pölten, presided over by Judge Andrea Humer.

Journalists during the Fritzl trial
Journalists during the Fritzl trial

On day one, Fritzl entered the courtroom attempting to hide his face from cameras behind a blue folder, which he was entitled to do under Austrian law. After opening comments, all journalists and spectators were asked to leave the courtroom, whereupon Fritzl lowered his binder. Fritzl pleaded guilty to all charges with the exception of murder and grievous assault by threatening to gas his captives if they disobeyed him.[43]

In his opening remarks, Rudolf Mayer, the defending counsel, appealed to the jury to be objective and not be swayed by emotions. He insisted Fritzl was "not a monster," stating that Fritzl had brought a Christmas tree down to his captives in the cellar during the holiday season.[27]

Christiane Burkheiser, prosecuting her first case since being appointed Chief Prosecutor, pressed for life imprisonment in an institution for the criminally insane. She demonstrated for jurors the low height of the ceiling in the cellar dungeon by making a mark on the door to the courtroom at 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in), and described the cellar as "damp and mouldy," passing around a box of musty objects taken from the cellar, the odour of which made jurors flinch.[44][45]

On the first day of testimony, jurors watched eleven hours of testimony recorded by Elisabeth in sessions with police and psychologists in July 2008. The tape is said to have been so "harrowing" that the eight jurors did not watch more than two hours at a time. Four replacement jurors were on standby to replace any of the regular jurors in case they could not bear to hear any more of the evidence.[46]

Besides the video testimony, Elisabeth's older brother Harald testified and said that he was physically abused by Fritzl as a child.[47][48] Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie, and Elisabeth's children refused to testify.[44]

On 18 March 2009, Elisabeth Fritzl attended the second day of the criminal trial against her father, in preparation for a book she wrote about her ordeal.[49] She did not plan to see her father again.[50] Fritzl's attorney, Rudolf Mayer, confirmed that she had been in the visitors' gallery in disguise at the time her video testimony was aired. "Josef Fritzl recognised that Elisabeth was in court and, from this point on, you could see Josef Fritzl going pale and he broke down," Mayer said. "It was a meeting of eyes that changed his mind."[51] The next day, Fritzl began the proceedings by approaching the judge and changing his pleas to guilty on all charges.[52]

On 19 March 2009, Fritzl was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 15 years.[7] He said that he accepted the sentence and would not appeal.[53] Fritzl is currently serving out his sentence in Garsten Abbey, a former monastery in Upper Austria that has been converted into a prison.[54]

Government response

Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer said he planned to launch a foreign public image campaign for his country, in light of the "abominable events."[55]

Discover more about Trial related topics

Sankt Pölten

Sankt Pölten

Sankt Pölten, mostly abbreviated to the official name St. Pölten, is the capital and largest city of the State of Lower Austria in northeast Austria, with 55,538 inhabitants as of 1 January 2020. St. Pölten is a city with its own statute and therefore it is both a municipality and a district in the Mostviertel.

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment

Life imprisonment is any sentence of imprisonment for a crime under which convicted people are to remain in prison for the rest of their natural lives or indefinitely until pardoned, paroled, or otherwise commuted to a fixed term. Crimes for which, in some countries, a person could receive this sentence include murder, torture, terrorism, child abuse resulting in death, rape, espionage, treason, drug trafficking, drug possession, human trafficking, severe fraud and financial crimes, aggravated criminal damage, arson, kidnapping, burglary, and robbery, piracy, aircraft hijacking, and genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes or any three felonies in case of three-strikes law. Life imprisonment can also be imposed, in certain countries, for traffic offences causing death. Life imprisonment is not used in all countries; Portugal was the first country to abolish life imprisonment, in 1884.

Garsten Abbey

Garsten Abbey

Garsten Abbey is a former Benedictine monastery located in Garsten near Steyr in Upper Austria. Since 1851, the former monastery buildings have accommodated a prison.

Upper Austria

Upper Austria

Upper Austria is one of the nine states or Länder of Austria. Its capital is Linz. Upper Austria borders Germany and the Czech Republic, as well as the other Austrian states of Lower Austria, Styria, and Salzburg. With an area of 11,982 km2 (4,626 sq mi) and 1.49 million inhabitants, Upper Austria is the fourth-largest Austrian state by land area and the third-largest by population.

Chancellor of Austria

Chancellor of Austria

The chancellor of the Republic of Austria is the head of government of the Republic of Austria. The position corresponds to that of Prime Minister in several other parliamentary democracies.

Alfred Gusenbauer

Alfred Gusenbauer

Alfred Gusenbauer is an Austrian politician who until 2008 spent his entire professional life as an employee of the Social Democratic Party of Austria (SPÖ) or as a parliamentary representative. He headed the SPÖ from 2000 to 2008, and served as Chancellor of Austria from January 2007 to December 2008. Since then he has pursued a career as a consultant and lecturer, and as a member of supervisory boards of Austrian companies.

Aftermath

Judge Humer, who presided over the trial, stated medical experts reported Elisabeth and her children were in "relatively good health."

After being taken into care, Elisabeth, all six of her surviving children and her mother were housed in a local clinic where they were shielded from the outside environment and received medical and psychological treatment. Members of the Fritzl family were offered new identities, but it was emphasized that it was their choice to make.[20]

Berthold Kepplinger, head of the clinic where Elisabeth and her children were being treated, said that Elisabeth and the three children held captive in the cellar required further therapy to help them adjust to the light after years in semi-darkness. They also needed treatment to help them cope with all the extra space that they now had in which to move about.[56]

In May 2008, a handmade poster created by Elisabeth, her children and her mother at the therapy facility was displayed in the Amstetten Town Centre. The message thanked local people for their support. "We, the whole family, would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for sympathy at our fate," they wrote in their message. "Your compassion is helping us greatly to overcome these difficult times, and it shows us there also are good and honest people here who really care for us. We hope that soon there will be a time where we can find our way back into a normal life."[56]

Kerstin was reunited with her family on 8 June 2008, when she was awakened from her artificially induced coma. Doctors said that she would make a full recovery.[57]

It was revealed that Elisabeth and her children were more traumatized than previously thought. During captivity, Kerstin tore out her hair in clumps, and was reported to have shredded her dresses before stuffing them in the toilet. Stefan could not walk properly, because of his height of 173 cm (5 ft 8 in), which had forced him to stoop in the 168 cm-high (5 ft 6 in) cellar. It has also been revealed that normal everyday occurrences, such as the dimming of lights or the closing of doors, plunge Kerstin and Stefan into anxiety and panic attacks. The other three of Elisabeth's children who were raised by their father are being treated for anger and resentment at the events.[58]

In late July 2008, it emerged that Elisabeth ordered her mother Rosemarie out of the villa they had been sharing in a secret location set up for them by a psychiatric clinic. Elisabeth was upset about Rosemarie's passiveness during her upbringing.[59]

Lawyer Christoph Herbst, who represents Elisabeth and her family, said, "Fortunately, everything is going very well"; they spend their time answering hundreds of letters from all over the world. Felix, Kerstin, and Stefan, brought up underground with their mother, have learned to swim. All of Elisabeth's children attended a four-day summer camp organised by firefighters, with 4,000 other young campers, in August 2008. The children, along with their mother, have also made day trips, including swimming outings, on which care was taken to keep them out of reach of the paparazzi and to protect their privacy.[60]

In March 2009, Elisabeth and her children were forced to move out of the family's hide-away home and returned to the psychiatric clinic where medical staff had started trying to heal the family and unite the "upstairs" and "downstairs" siblings during the previous year. Elisabeth was reported to be distraught and close to a breakdown after a British paparazzo had burst into her kitchen and started taking photographs.[46]

After the trial, Elisabeth and her six children were moved to an unnamed village in northern Austria, where they were living in a fortress-like house.[61] All of the children require ongoing therapy. Factors that traumatised the "upstairs" children include learning that Fritzl had lied to them about their mother abandoning them, the abuse they had received from him during their childhood, and finding out that their siblings had been imprisoned in the cellar. The "downstairs" children receive therapy due to their deprivation from normal development, the lack of fresh air and sunshine while living confined in the basement, and the abuse that they and their mother had received from Fritzl when he visited them in the basement. All of the children might have genetic problems common to children born of an incestuous relationship.[62] Elisabeth was said to be estranged from her mother, Rosemarie, who accepted Fritzl's story about Elisabeth joining a cult and did not pursue the matter further, but Elisabeth allows her three children who grew up in Josef and Rosemarie's house to visit their grandmother regularly. Rosemarie lives alone in a small apartment.[62]

An article in March 2010 in The Independent stated that Elisabeth and her children recovered remarkably well, given the difficult lives they endured for so long.[63] According to Josef's sister-in-law, Christine, Elisabeth enjoys spending her time shopping, taking frequent showers, and driving. She has passed her driving test without difficulty. Her relationship with Thomas Wagner, one of her bodyguards (who is 23 years younger than her),[64][65] was reported to be ongoing, with him becoming a big-brother figure to her children. All of Elisabeth's children have developed normal sibling relationships with each other, and after having trouble dealing with the traumatic events, the three "upstairs" children slowly began recognising Elisabeth as their mother. The children enjoy being outdoors, playing video games, and spending time with their mother and grandmother. Despite their strained relationship, Elisabeth and her mother Rosemarie started visiting each other more, and Elisabeth has reportedly forgiven her mother for believing her father's story.

On 28 June 2013, workers began filling the basement of the Fritzl home with concrete. Estate liquidator Walter Anzboeck stated that the construction would cost 100,000 and would take a week to complete. The house was to be sold on the open market. While most neighbours approved of the proposal, some preferred that the property be demolished due to its sordid history.[66] Asylum seekers were offered the house to live in.[67] The house was sold for €160,000 in December 2016, with the buyers voicing their intention to convert the building into apartments.[68]

In May 2017, Josef Fritzl changed his name to Josef Mayrhoff, probably due to getting into a prison fight that resulted in several of his teeth getting knocked out after other inmates set up a fake dating profile with his name and picture.[69] Mark Perry, a British journalist who interviewed Fritzl in his cell, says he has shown no remorse for his crimes. He recalls he kept saying "just look into the cellars of other people, you might find other families and girls down there."[70]

In April 2019, it was reported that Fritzl's health was declining and that he did not want to live anymore.[71][72]

In September 2021, a decision was made to release Fritzl from a psychiatric detention facility to a regular prison, where he was to continue to serve his life sentence.[73] That decision was based on a psychiatric report which said he no longer posed any danger. The ruling was appealed, and in late April 2022, a panel of three judges decided that Josef Fritzl could be moved. The decision was based on a supplementary psychiatric report submitted in March. However, a court ruled that he will remain in the psychiatric facility until an appeal to the Higher Regional Court in Vienna is heard. There are reports that he is suffering from dementia. The move to a regular prison means that Fritzl, who received a life sentence, will be eligible for parole in 2023, having served the initial 15 years of his sentence.[74]

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Induced coma

Induced coma

An induced coma – also known as a medically induced coma (MIC), barbiturate-induced coma, or drug-induced coma – is a temporary coma brought on by a controlled dose of an anesthetic drug, often a barbiturate such as pentobarbital or thiopental. Barbiturate comas are used to protect the brain during major neurosurgery, as a last line of treatment in certain cases of status epilepticus that have not responded to other treatments, and in refractory intracranial hypertension following traumatic brain injury.

Psychological trauma

Psychological trauma

Psychological trauma, mental trauma or psychotrauma is an emotional response to a distressing event or series of events, such as accidents, rape, or natural disasters. Reactions such as psychological shock and psychological denial are typical. Longer-term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, difficulties with interpersonal relationships and sometimes physical symptoms including headaches or nausea.

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania (TTM), also known as hair-pulling disorder or compulsive hair pulling, is a mental disorder characterized by a long-term urge that results in the pulling out of one's own hair. A brief positive feeling may occur as hair is removed. Efforts to stop pulling hair typically fail. Hair removal may occur anywhere; however, the head and around the eyes are most common. The hair pulling is to such a degree that it results in distress and hair loss can be seen.

Panic attack

Panic attack

Panic attacks are sudden periods of intense fear and discomfort that may include palpitations, sweating, chest pain or chest discomfort, shortness of breath, trembling, dizziness, numbness, confusion, or a feeling of impending doom or of losing control. Typically, symptoms reach a peak within ten minutes of onset, and last for roughly 30 minutes, but the duration can vary from seconds to hours. Although they can be extremely frightening and distressing, panic attacks themselves are not physically dangerous.

Paparazzi

Paparazzi

Paparazzi are independent photographers who take pictures of high-profile people; such as actors, musicians, athletes, politicians, and other celebrities, typically while subjects go about their usual life routines. Paparazzi tend to make a living by selling their photographs to media outlets that focus on tabloid journalism and sensationalism.

The Independent

The Independent

The Independent is a British online newspaper. It was established in 1986 as a national morning printed paper. Nicknamed the Indy, it began as a broadsheet and changed to tabloid format in 2003. The last printed edition was published on Saturday 26 March 2016, leaving only the online edition.

Euro

Euro

The euro is the official currency of 19 out of the 27 member states of the European Union (EU). This group of states is known as the eurozone or, officially, the euro area, and includes about 340 million citizens as of 2019. The euro is divided into 100 cents.

True crime media

The case was featured in the 2008 documentary, The Longest Night: Secrets of the Austrian Cellar[75] and the 2010 documentary, Monster: The Josef Fritzl Story.[76]

The 2009 book, The Crimes of Josef Fritzl: Uncovering the Truth, by Stefanie Marsh and Bojan Pancevski, is about the case.[77]

Room author Emma Donoghue was inspired by the crimes, and her novel inspired a film adaptation with the same name.

In 2021, Lifetime released a film inspired by the Fritzl case titled Girl in the Basement which is part of Lifetime's "Ripped from the Headlines" feature films. The film is directed by Elizabeth Röhm and it stars Stefanie Scott, Judd Nelson, and Joely Fisher.[78]

Discover more about True crime media related topics

Stefanie Marsh

Stefanie Marsh

Stefanie Marsh is a British journalist, author and a senior features writer at The Times. She has been a correspondent in Palestine for The Times, and was one of the first English-speaking reporters to cover the Fritzl case in 2008.

Room (novel)

Room (novel)

Room is a 2010 novel by Irish-Canadian author Emma Donoghue. The story is told from the perspective of a five-year-old boy, Jack, who is being held captive in a small room along with his mother. Donoghue conceived the story after hearing about five-year-old Felix in the Fritzl case.

Room (2015 film)

Room (2015 film)

Room is a 2015 drama film directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Emma Donoghue, based on her 2010 novel of the same name. It stars Brie Larson as a young woman who has been held captive for seven years and whose five-year-old son was born in captivity. Their escape allows the boy to experience the outside world for the first time. The film also stars Joan Allen, Sean Bridgers, Tom McCamus and William H. Macy.

Lifetime (TV network)

Lifetime (TV network)

Lifetime is an American basic cable channel that is part of Lifetime Entertainment Services, a subsidiary of A&E Networks, which is jointly owned by Hearst Communications and The Walt Disney Company. It features programming that is geared toward women or features women in lead roles. As of January 2016, it is received by 93.8 million households in America.

Stefanie Scott

Stefanie Scott

Stephanie Noelle Scott is an American actress and singer. Scott began acting with the comedy film Beethoven's Big Break (2008), and thereafter released her debut extended play New Girl in Town (2009). This was followed by a supporting role in the romance film Flipped (2010), which won her a Young Artist Award. She played the role of Lexi Reed on Disney Channel's A.N.T. Farm (2011–2014), which won her a second Young Artist Award and introduced her to a wider audience. While on Disney, she recorded a number of Disney Channel promotional singles, which were released between 2008 and 2012.

Judd Nelson

Judd Nelson

Judd Asher Nelson is an American actor. He is best known for his roles as John Bender in The Breakfast Club, Alec Newbury in St. Elmo's Fire, Joe Hunt in Billionaire Boys Club, Nick Peretti in New Jack City, Billy Beretti in Empire, and Jack Richmond in the television series Suddenly Susan.

Joely Fisher

Joely Fisher

Joely Fisher is an American actress and singer, the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Connie Stevens, and half-sister of actress Carrie Fisher. Her breakthrough came in 1994, starring as Paige Clark in the ABC sitcom Ellen, for which she received a Golden Globe Award nomination. Fisher later starred in the 1999 comedy film Inspector Gadget and had leading roles in the Lifetime comedy-drama Wild Card (2003-2005), and Fox sitcom 'Til Death (2006-2010).

Source: "Fritzl case", Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, (2022, November 25th), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fritzl_case.

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See also
References
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Coordinates: 48°7′3.67″N 14°52′14.90″E / 48.1176861°N 14.8708056°E / 48.1176861; 14.8708056 (Location of the Fritzl house on Ybbsstraße, Amstetten, Austria)

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