the world’s most monstrous dad

Posted on May 1, 2008


Perhaps all parents and parents-to-be should be made to sign a Hippocratic Oath-type of pledge and held accountable, so that fewer children would be victimized or harmed.

Shock and horror do not begin to express the feelings of revolt one gets from reading about the case of the Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter in a windowless underground cellar in the family-owned building, raped her and fathered seven children with her.

The most chilling part of this story is that Josef Fritzl managed to get away with it for 24 years and looked like he could have gotten away with it totally, had it not been for one of the children getting critically ill.

The woman, Elisabeth, was forced to live with three of her children in the narrow and low-ceilinged confines of the bunker, robbed of sunlight and contact with other human beings, with a television and radio as their windows to the outside world. 

The other three children were taken by Fritzl to live with his family in the real world.

If the story of the Fritzls sounds inexplicable, it is not unique. It is the third similar type of case in Austria. 

Natascha Kampusch, now 20 years old, was held in an underground cell for eight years before she escaped in 2006.

There was one other case of a couple in Vienna, who caged their mentally retarded daughter for years in a cellar.

How is it that people could stay kidnapped and abused for such long periods without anyone suspecting anything?

How does it reflect on the community in the town of Amstetten where the episode occurred, when Fritzl’s actions went about undetected for about a quarter of a century?

In a town where everyone was said to know everybody else’s name, how could it be that the neighbors stayed unaware?

What does it say about the folks if they were too self-involved to realize the heinous acts going on in their neighborhood? Or were they only too happy to look the other way, mind their own business and carry on with their own lives?

The country’s social services were recorded as having been to the Fritzl household 21 times when Elisabeth’s three children were adopted by Fritzl and his wife. Why did they not investigate the strange appearance of the children at the Fritzls’ doorstep further, when they knew of Elisabeth’s disappearance?

And how could Fritzl’s wife Rosemarie be totally ignorant the entire time? Didn’t the fact that Fritzl brought back three children in succession, claiming that Elisabeth had run away and left them to her parents, ring any alarm bells? Would it not have been noticeable how often Fritzl disappeared to the basement? Why did Rosemarie so readily believe her husband’s line that Elisabeth had run away to join some cult?

How were the seven children, with one who died soon after birth, delivered? Did Fritzl do it all by himself? 

There were other tenants in the building the family lived in. Eight flats were rented out. Did these people not hear or see anything at all, children crying or playing? Did they not wonder why the old man went so frequently to the basement?

Fritzl was supposed to have been extremely cautious, buying clothes, food and other supplies for his three prisoners in other towns so that he would not raise suspicions.

While he was trained as an electrical engineer, he installed a 300kg, 1m high and 2m wide steel door at the cellar to keep his victims locked in. Could he have had the strength and the ability to handle such a heavy door all by himself? He was also said to have knocked down some walls in the cellar to enlarge it when more children were born. Was it possible that nobody noticed? Were there accomplices who abetted him in his evil pursuits?

Fritzl went away on vacation to Thailand in 1998 for four weeks. Again, how did he stock up on what would be a substantial amount of food and supplies for the victims without being noticed by anyone?

At 73, Fritzl is near the end of his life and no amount of punishment brought down by the law would affect him for very much longer. 

Some people have suggested the death penalty for him. Austria though, does have that but to have him executed would have been too easy a way out for him anyway. The monster should be put away in an isolated, windowless cell to give him a taste of what life must have been like for his daughter and three grandchildren.

Meanwhile, his daughter Elisabeth and her children, will have to carry the horrors and the scars till the end of their days. Her eldest child is still gravely ill, possibly sent to the hospital too late for her undisclosed condition to be treated successfully. 

The two other kids, one at 18, and another aged five, will face a long and tough road towards getting over the trauma and the adjustments they would have to make to live in a strange new world.

“They have to develop a tolerance for daylight and also to develop a sense of spatial awareness,” Berthold Kepplinger, who heads the neuropsychiatric clinic in Amstetten where the family is being treated, said about the children.

“When the sunbeams struck his face, he squealed loudly,” the chief inspector of the regional police in Lower Austria Leopold Etz told the media, in a heart-rending reference to the five-year old boy.

Never having left the basement cellar, the children had initially thought they had gone up to heaven when they first got out, as their mother had told them that heaven was above where they lived. 

Besides getting used to other people, the children would also have to learn to speak, as their verbal skills were reportedly limited, although their mother had taught them the language.

One cannot but feel heartbroken for the ordeals of Elisabeth and her children, and the long road to normalcy they would have to take, if that was even possible.

In the meantime, the government and people of Austria have a lot of soul-searching to do as to how cases like this could happen right under their noses, and not just once.


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