Alex Constantine - May 10, 2008
Josef Fritzl, the Austrian father who kept his daughter locked in a dungeon for 24 years, has for the first time described in detail what motivated him to commit such horrific crimes and how he managed to keep them secret.
By Andreas Sam in Vienna
His explanations, which included bizarre claims that Nazis were responsible for fostering his twisted morality, were detailed by his lawyer after Fritzl wrote notes from his prison cell.
The 73-year-old said Hitler’s Germany had instilled “control and the respect of authority” in him, pushing him to imprisoning his daughter Elisabeth under his family home in Amstetten, west of Vienna, and fathering her seven children.
Fritzl said he had never intended to rape Elisabeth, now 42, but felt an “overpowering” desire for “a taste of the forbidden”. He added that he raped her while thinking of his own “lonely” childhood and said he “wanted them (the other children) to always have someone to play with”.
After complaining that he had been unfairly portrayed as a monster by the media, he was asked how he would describe someone who had committed the horrific acts that he had.
“On the face of it, probably as a monster,” he replied, but insisted he did not have sex with Elisabeth until she was much older than 12, which is when she claims he first abused her.
“I am not a man that has sex with little children. I only had sex with her later, much later. It was when she was in the cellar by then, when she had been in the cellar for a long time.
“My desire to have sex with Elisabeth also got much stronger as time went by. We first had sex in spring 1985. I could not control myself any more. At some stage somewhere in the night I went into the cellar and laid her down on the bed and had sex with her.”
He said his daughter, then 19, had cried, but that did not stop him. “I knew that Elisabeth did not want it, what I did with her. The pressure to do the forbidden thing was just too big to withstand.”
Fritzl would visit Elisabeth every few days, delivering food and clothing and repeatedly raping her.
“It was an obsession with me,” he said, adding that Elisabeth had fallen pregnant for the first time in 1988, giving birth to Kerstin, then a year later to Stefan.
“Elisabeth was of course very worried about the future, but I bought her medical books in the cellar, so that she would know when the day came what she had to do, and I arranged towels and disinfectants and nappies.”
“I was delighted about the children. It was great for me to have a second proper family in the cellar, with a wife, and a few children. We celebrated birthdays and Christmas in the cellar, I even bought a Christmas tree secretly into the cellar and cakes and presents.”
In 1992, Lisa was born but was frail and ill and Fritzl decided to bring her to the surface, arranging for Elisabeth, who he described as a “superb housewife and mother”, to write a letter claiming she had abandoned her daughter on Fritzl’s doorstep.
“Elisabeth and I planned everything together, because we both knew that Lisa, because of her poor health condition and the circumstances in the cellar, had no chance to live had she remained there,” Fritzl said.
The same occurred with Monika in 1994 and Alexander in 1996 because they were “weak, difficult, and often ill”.
Fritzl also described the amazing planning and secrecy behind his crime, admitting he had thought about it for “two, three years before (abducting Elisabeth).
“I guess it must have been around 1981 or 1982 when I began to build a room in my cellar as the cell for her,” he said.
“I got a really heavy concrete and steel door, that worked with an electric motor and a remote control that I used to get into the cellar.
“It needed a number code to open and close. I then plastered the walls, added something to wash in and a small toilet, a bed and a cooking ring, as well as the fridge, electricity and lights.”
He had installed a system to ensure his captives did not starve in the event of his death.
“I prepared well for this eventuality, every time I left the bunker I switched on a timer that would definitely have opened the door to the cellar after a set time. If I had died Elisabeth and the children would have been free.”
“After the birth of Felix at the end of 2002 I even gave Elisabeth a washing machine as a present so that she did not have to wash her own clothes and that of the children by hand.
“I tried really hard as well as possible to look after my family in the cellar. When I went there I bought my daughter flowers and the children books and cuddly toys, I used to watch videos and adventure stories with them, while Elisabeth used to cook for me and the children. We used to sit at the table then with each other.”
Asked how it was possible for people not to know that something strange was occurring under his house, he said: “Perhaps some people did notice what I was doing, but they really did not care, why should they?
“The cellar of my house at the end of the day is my house, it belongs to me, it is my kingdom only I can enter.
“That is what everyone knew who lived in the area. That includes my wife, my children, and my tenants, and none of them ever managed to force their way into my kingdom or asked me what I did there. I made it clear that this was my office with various files and folders was stored that only had anything to do with me and that was enough of all, everybody obeyed my rules.”
Blaming the Nazis for his attitudes, Fritzl wrote: “I have always had high regard for decency and uprightness. I was growing up in Nazi times, when hard discipline was a very important thing. I belong to an old school of thinking that just does not exist today.
“I grew up in the Nazi times and that meant there needed to be control and the respect of authority. I suppose I took on some of these old values with me into later life, all subconsciously, of course.”
Fritzl claimed that he had kidnapped the teenage Elisabeth to keep her away from alcohol and bad company. He also said he had “rescued” Elisabeth, who was then 18, to keep her from “going out to seedy bars” and “drinking and smoking”.
“When she got into puberty, she stopped obeying any rules,” he said. “She was going out to seedy bars and would spend whole nights there drinking and smoking. I only tried to rescue her from that life. She even ran away twice and hung around with persons of questionable moral standards, who
were certainly not a good influence on her.”
In letters written by Elisabeth in the weeks before she was imprisoned, she spoke of going to nightclubs with friends and getting drunk.
She wrote to a friend: “I went out on Saturday. Can you imagine how hammered I was? At first we went to a couple of clubs. At about 5am we all went to my place to get a coffee because we’d had so much fun, and they all slept at my place. That was a mess. It took me half a day to clean up the flat.”
Fritzl said: “I was forced to act. I had to create a place where I could keep Elisabeth separated from that world, and I was ready to use force. I always had to bring her home, but she always ran away again. That is why I had to arrange a place where I gave her the chance - by force - to keep away from the bad influences of the outside world.”
But he denied handcuffing his daughter or restraining her on a leash, saying: “That was not necessary, my daughter had no chance to get away anyway.
“I guess after the kidnap I got myself in a vicious circle, a vicious circle not just for Elisabeth but also for me from which there was no way out.
“With every week that I kept my daughter prisoner my situation just got more crazy. I was scared of being arrested, and that my family and everybody that knew me would know my crime.
“That was why I kept putting off the day I should make a decision, putting it off again and again. Eventually, after a time, it was just too late to bring Elisabeth back into the world.
“I always knew over 24 years what I did was not correct, and that I must be mad, to do something like this. Yet despite that at the same time it just became a matter of course that I lived my second life in the cellar.”
In a bizarre admission, Fritzl said he had incestuous feelings for his mother – whom he described as “the greatest woman in the world”.
Asked whether he fantasised about sex with his mother, he said: “Yes, probably. But I was a very strong man, probably as strong as my mother, and as a result I was capable to keep my desires under control.”
He was then asked to compare his mother with his wife, Rosemarie, saying: “She had nothing in common with my mother - well, perhaps there were a few similarities if I really think about it.
“I mean Rosemarie was also a wonderful woman, is a wonderful woman. She is just a lot more shy and weaker than my mother.
“I chose her because I had a strong desire then to have lots of children. I wanted children that did not grow up like me as single children, I wanted children that always had someone else at their side to play with and to support.
“The dream of a big family was with me from when I was very, very small. And Rosemarie seemed to be the perfect mother to realise that dream. It is also true to say that I loved her and I still love her.”
Discussing his childhood, he said: “My father was somebody who was a waster, he never took responsibility and was just a loser that always cheated on my mother. When I was four she quite rightly threw him out the house.
“After that, there was just us two. My mother was a strong woman, she taught me discipline and control and the values of hard work.
“When I say she was hard on me, she was only as hard as was necessary. I suppose you could describe me as her man, sort of. She was the boss at home and I was the only man in the house.”
Rudolf Mayer, his lawyer, claimed that the notes revealed the extent of Fritzl’s insanity.