People in the small Austrian town of Amstetten are reeling in shock as details emerge of a woman's two-decade imprisonment and rape at the hands of her father, a crime the Austrian interior minister called "unfathomable."
"A 73-year-old man confessed he built a dungeon in the basement of the family's home in downtown Amstetten. He says he kept his own daughter locked up for almost 24 years in order to prevent her having access to the local drug scene," Austrian prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek told ABC News.
At a press conference today with local law enforcement officials and medical staff present, Sedlacek called the case "a unique crime of such proportion I haven't seen in 32 years of my career, a terrible crime, which is beyond imagination."
Elisabeth Fritzl, who was reported missing in 1984 when she was 18, was found by police last weekend and told investigators her father, Josef Fritzl, had held her captive for almost 24 years in a small space in the basement of the family home in downtown Amstetten.
He repeatedly raped her and fathered her seven children, three of whom were never allowed outside of the basement, according to police.
At the time of Elisabeth's disappearance, her father told acquaintances and relatives that she had joined a cult.
"The woman, now 42 years old, clearly shows signs of her unspeakable martyrdom," Franz Polzer, head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs, told reporters.
"She's never been outside of her prison, and she was never allowed to see the light of day since her father abducted her. She's very pale and she looks a lot older then she is. The woman and her children are now in psychiatric care along with the grandmother of the children, who is said to know nothing of the terrible crime."
Sedlacek confirmed that Josef Fritzl, who was arrested Sunday on suspicion of incest and abduction, has admitted partly to the crime and is now said to be cooperating with investigators, who are still trying to piece together the full details of this horrendous crime.
The case unfolded last week after a gravely ill teenager was found unconscious in the apartment building where the Fritzls live.
The young woman, Elisabeth Fritzl's 19-year-old daughter, Kerstin, with was taken to a hospital in Amstetten unconscious, suffering terrible cramps and was considered to be in life threatening condition.
When authorities were told that the girl's mother was missing, they publicly appealed for her to come forward to provide details about her medical history.
The hospital doctor who treated the teenage girl called police when he grew suspicious neglect. Police then picked up the Elisabeth Fritzl near the hospital on Saturday, bringing the family's unbelievable plight to light.
Elisabeth, who agreed to talk only after authorities assured her that she would no longer have to have contact with her father and that her children would be cared for, reportedly told investigators that her father had sedated and handcuffed her in August 1984 and then locked her in the basement of the family's apartment building behind a steel door.
For almost 24 years, she said, he kept her down there, repeatedly raping her. She eventually gave birth to seven children. She said that she and her children got food and clothing only from her father and that her mother, Rosemarie, was not involved.