Suspect’s dungeon plans date back to 1978
By Bradley S. Klapper
AMSTETTEN, Austria — The Austrian man accused of imprisoning his daughter for 24 years and fathering her seven children planned to build his secret cell as early as 1978 when his daughter was 12, authorities said Monday.
Eight doors fitted with sophisticated locks and electronics secured the underground warren of windowless rooms where Josef Fritzl held his daughter captive starting when she was 18. The main door weighed about half a ton, said police Col. Franz Polzer, who is overseeing the investigation.
"This was not built from one day to the next," Polzer said.
An investigation showed Fritzl applied for permits in 1978 to expand the apartment complex he owned, which was built in 1890, Polzer said. Police believe the expansion plans included the secret rooms, he said.
Prosecutors told reporters in Amstetten, Fritzl’s hometown about 75 miles west of Vienna, that they will have their first meeting with the 73-year-old suspect on Wednesday or Thursday.
Investigators have said Fritzl confessed last week that he held his now 42-year-old daughter Elisabeth captive, fathered her children and tossed the body of one who died in infancy into a furnace. He has not yet been charged but remains in pretrial detention.
Fritzl’s lawyer indicated he is preparing an insanity defense.
In an interview broadcast late Sunday, attorney Rudolf Mayer said he believes Fritzl has a serious mental disorder and that anyone with that kind of psychological illness "didn’t choose" to do what police allege he did.
Experts will have to determine Fritzl’s mental state and decide whether the suspect can be considered certifiably insane, Mayer said. If that is the case, and Fritzl is convicted, he would be confined to a psychiatric institution rather than a prison, he said.
"I believe that the trigger was a mental disorder, because I can’t imagine that someone has sex with his own daughter without having a mental disorder," Mayer said.
Authorities first began to unravel the complex story April 19, when a 19-year-old young woman who Fritzl fathered with his daughter was admitted to a hospital suffering from an unidentified infection.
Doctors, unable to find any medical records for the 19-year-old, appealed on television for her mother to come forward. Fritzl then accompanied Elisabeth to the hospital on April 26.
The 19-year-old remained hospitalized Monday in critical but stable condition, although clinic spokesman Klaus Schwertner said her situation "has stabilized somewhat in recent days." Officials said she is being kept in an artificial coma to help her breathe.
Investigators have said they believe Fritzl concealed his crimes from his wife, Rosemarie, and her sister said Rosemarie believed her husband’s cover story that Elisabeth had run away from home to join a cult.
The sister, who asked only to be identified as Christine R. to avoid public attention and throngs of journalists seeking interviews, said Elisabeth ran away from home about six months before police say she was locked into the cellar.