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.
Sick Teen Leads to Discovery
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.
Over the years, Josef Fritzl secretly enlarged the narrow space to add sanitary facilities and small hot plates for cooking. Eventually he gave them a TV set.
Three Children Raised by Grandparents
Police said that Josef and Rosemarie Fritzl raised three of Elisabeth's children in their apartment. The couple registered those children with authorities, saying they found them outside their home in 1993, 1994 and 1997, at least one with a note from Elisabeth saying she could not care for the child.
Three other children apparently remained in the cellar with Elisabeth and were never allowed to leave the basement.
Elisabeth told investigators she gave birth to twins in 1996, but one died several days later because it was not properly cared for, and her father took the infant's body away to burn it in the furnace, a detail which reportedly was confirmed by Josef Fritzl today.
It was only after Kerstin, the oldest child, was hospitalized that Josef Fritzl freed Elisabeth and the remaining children from their captivity.
He told his wife that Elisabeth and the children had come back to live with them and then took Elisabeth to the hospital so she could discuss her child's medical details with the doctors treating the teenager.
Shortly after the pair had returned to the family home, police officers came to the house to question Elisabeth about neglecting her children. The officers did not take long to persuade Elisabeth to reveal the whole story.
The case is reminiscent of that of Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian girl who was kidnapped when she was 10 years old and held captive in a tiny underground dungeon in her kidnapper's house in a Vienna suburb for more than eight years.
Kampusch escaped her ordeal in 2006, and her kidnapper committed suicide just hours after her dramatic escape.
While police are not connecting the two cases, many Austrians are now asking how such horrific incidents could remain uncovered for so long.
Neighbors in Amstetten told Austrian TV ORF, "They were totally normal, nice next-door neighbors. There was never anything negative about them. How in the world is this possible?"