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'Women in cellar' case strikes a nerve in Aus -

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'Women in cellar' case strikes a nerve in Austria

The World Today - Monday, 28 April , 2008 12:38:00

Reporter: Barbara Miller

ELEANOR HALL: Police in Austria have visited the cellar where a woman was allegedly held captive
and sexually abused by her father for more than two decades.

The authorities say the woman and three of her children were held in a series of specially
constructed small rooms with cooking and sanitary facilities.

The case is provoking a good deal of soul-searching in the country where just two years ago another
woman emerged from a cellar after being held captive for more than eight years.

This report from Barbara Miller.

BARBARA MILLER: A man, who's now 73-years-old, kidnaps his daughter, keeps her locked up for 24
years in a cellar, during which time he sexually abuses her, resulting in the birth of seven
children.

In Austrian news bulletins the case is being described as shocking and gruesome.

(Excerpt of an Austrian television news bulletin)

And the tale just keeps getting curiouser and curiouser.

Police say three of the children born to the captive daughter were brought up by her father and his
wife.

Using a series of forged letters, the man apparently gave his wife and authorities the impression
that his daughter had run away but returned periodically to leave babies on her parents' doorstep
saying she was unable to care for them.

A fourth child is reported to have died shortly after birth. Three further children were kept in a
windowless cellar with their mother.

It was only when one of these children was taken into hospital with a serious illness that the
truth began to come to light.

The head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs Franz Polzer says the father has been
cooperating with police.

FRANZ POLZER (translated): He told the police officers that there was a small hidden door in a
garage that could only be opened electronically with a code which only he knew. He agreed to
divulge the code and it was therefore possible for the investigators to gain access the rooms.

BARBARA MILLER: Franz Polzer says the rooms where the missing woman and her three children were
kept were small and basic.

FRANZ POLZER (translated): We've discovered that there's a very narrow corridor, that the floor is
uneven, that clearly over the years the rooms have been converted and added to, that there's not
just one room here but several. There's a room for sleeping, a room where it's possible to cook,
and a room with sanitary facilities.

BARBARA MILLER: In the small town of Amstetten, west of the Austrian capital Vienna, neighbours
said they can't believe what's been going on.

NEIGHBOUR 1 (translated): All is know is that the mother, Mrs Fritzl, was a very pleasant woman,
who always took good care of the children. Everything was always impeccable. I can't say anything
else, because it's simply awful.

NEIGHBOUR 2 (translated): What I just don't get is that he gets his wife to look after the children
he's fathered with his own daughter. I mean how cold-blooded would you have to be? It's incredible
if you think about it.

BARBARA MILLER: But this isn't the first time Austria has been rocked by such a case.

In 2006 an 18-year-old woman Natascha Kampusch escaped from a cellar where she'd been held for more
than eight years by a man who kidnapped her on her way to school.

MARK COLVIN: A girl in Austria has been restored to her family after eight years apparently spent
as a prisoner in a man's garage. The disappearance in 1998 sparked a massive search across Austria
and into neighbouring Hungary.

BARBARA MILLER: Now as then Austrians are asking themselves how it could possibly happen.

The Standard newspaper asks, "What does this say about this wealthy, self-satisfied society, that
for a quarter of a century no-one saw or heard anything?"

"What does this tell us about the neighbours, relatives, friends, about the authorities who were
dealing with the family?"

"This whole country must ask itself, what is fundamentally wrong here?"

"It simply won't be possible," the commentary in the Standard concludes, "to go on as normal."

ELEANOR HALL: Barbara Miller reporting.