PASSAU, Germany, May 5, 2008 — -- Austrian police are now convinced that Josef Fritzl had been planning to imprison and rape his daughter well ahead of time, prompting them to investigate the years of Fritzl's life that preceded the crime, the head of police Franz Polzer told a news conference in Amstetten today.
"He's been planning to build the secret dungeon in the early '80s -- years before he eventually abducted his daughter Elisabeth -- which indicates to us he's been planning his evil crime meticulously for quite some time," Polzer said.
Polzer also said that his investigators "have been able to find another secret door, allowing for a hidden access to the dungeon. This door was hidden behind a heavy metal door, which leads to a soundproof gateway to the electronically secured door, which they had first discovered when they entered the basement prison nine days ago."
Prosecutor Gerhard Sedlacek today revealed that Elisabeth Fritzl had returned with investigators to the windowless dungeon, which was her home for almost 24 years, to help them with their work.
The small Austrian town of Amstetten has become an attraction for so-called catastrophe tourists looking to get a first-hand glimpse of the "house of horrors" where an incestuous father admittedly imprisoned and raped his daughter, fathering seven of her children.
The scandal deepened as more details came to light this weekend.
For the first time, a relative of Fritzl's family has come forward to speak publicly about the man and his secrets.
Christine R., Fritzl's sister-in-law, said in a video interview, which aired on several Austrian TV channels, that he was convicted of rape about the same time that Elisabeth was born.
He served 18 months in jail for the offense in 1967, while his wife, Rosemarie, tried to keep her young family together.
Christine, whose last name was not revealed, said the man was a tyrant who ruled his house like a military dictator.
"He tolerated no dissent," she said in the interview. "Josef Fritzl, who was known as 'Sepp,' scared everybody in the family. I was scared myself. I never felt confident to say anything that could possibly offend him."
"Sepp had a regular routine," she said. "He would go into the cellar in the morning and spend all day down there, and often he would spend the night. Questions about why he was down there for so long were banned. My sister Rosemarie was not even allowed to bring him a cup of coffee. Rosie and the kids lived in complete fear of him."
Christine said the man treated his children like soldiers under his command. Everybody had to be silent when he entered the room.
Meanwhile, Polzer told reporters how Elisabeth Fritzl, 42, was kept in a single, narrow room on an extended cable, resembling a dog leash, for the first nine months of her imprisonment. The cable extended just far enough for her to get to the toilet but otherwise restricted her movement to a minimum.
"She [Elisabeth] said there was only one single room, which was expanded by Fritzl only after the first four children were born," the head of police said
Investigators in Amstetten are reportedly convinced that the children -- who were trapped in the cellar with Elisabeth -- must have witnessed Fritzl sexually abusing their mother and that he threatened them that they would be gassed if they ever tried to escape.
Elisabeth, her mother, Rosemarie, 68, and five of her children are now being kept behind closed doors in a special psychiatric clinic -- for their own well-being and security -- to recover from their dungeon ordeal.
Doctors at the Landesklinikum Amstetten-Mauer clinic said during the weekend that Stefan, 18, and his brother Felix, 6, who have spent their entire lives underground, are afraid of the color blue, rustling leaves and moving traffic.
During the news conference in Amstetten today, Berthold Kepplinger, director of the clinic where the family is being cared for, followed up on those reports.
"The family is now undergoing a kind of a bonding phase," he said. "Mom [Elisabeth] and grandmother are fixing breakfast and dinner for the family, trying to bring some normalcy into their life and the kids are making their beds. It is truly remarkable to see them bonding and growing together."
He said it was fascinating to see how fresh air, daylight and good food were already making them feel better.
"Even the skin color is getting a little better, it's no longer that terrible gray," he said.
The doctor also spoke about the health condition of Elisabeth and the children, which he said "was good, given the circumstances." He declined to elaborate.
Kepplinger also extended the family's gratitude to the many thousand well-wishers and pleaded with the media to leave the family alone so they could "continue to try and adapt to normal life. This is early days into the family's long way of recovery," he said.
The family members have been offered therapeutic help, but "it is entirely up to them to take our staff up on that," Kepplinger said.
He said that Elisabeth and her youngest son, Felix, have been given sunglasses, as they are still suffering from being exposed to daylight.
Local newspapers had previously reported that hospital staff had installed an aquarium with goldfish for Stefan, who is said to have difficulties speaking and moving in open space because of the years spent in captivity.
Felix is thought to have the best chances of recovering from the ordeal. He has been given teddy bears and the toys he had been playing with in the cellar to help him make the transition.
Hospital staff reportedly have also built a windowless chamber for the children so they have a place to retreat to when coping with their new life becomes too much for them.
During today's news conference, Dr. Albert Reiter, who is in charge of the treatment given to the oldest daughter, Kerstin, 19, confirmed that the young woman's condition was improving slightly.
"However, she needs to remain in medically induced coma and she's still depending on the breathing machine," he said. "Her condition is still critical but stable and we're hoping she'll become better as time goes by, but I can't give you a prognosis at this point."
Meanwhile, Josef Fritzl, 73, is "emotionally a broken man," according to his lawyer, Rudolf Mayer.
The lawyer told German TV station ZDF that it would be impossible for his client to get a fair trial in front of a jury, given the massive publicity the case has generated worldwide.
"He should have some psychiatric tests to evaluate whether he is fit to stand trial," Mayer told ZDF. "There must be some disturbance, otherwise no one would commit such acts."
"So is this disturbance so great that he is not of sound mind, not responsible for the acts he committed?"