Fritzl Case Offers Hope, Warning for Jaycee Dugard

A year later, kidnap victim Elisabeth Fritzl living secretly and under guard.

August 31, 2009, 11:00 AM

PASSAU, Germany, Aug. 31, 2009 — -- The tragic abduction, imprisonment and rape of Jaycee Dugard is strikingly similar to the ordeal suffered by Elisabeth Fritzl, an Austrian woman who was confined to her own basement for 24 years while bearing seven children with her father.

The rescue of Fritzl in April 2008 and the subsequent therapy for her and her children provides hope and warnings for the future of Jaycee Dugard and the two children she bore as a result of being raped by her captor, Phillip Garrido.

Fritzl, now 43, and Dugard, 29, endured similar hells, largely cut off from the rest of the world, living in squalid conditions, and their children growing up without any schooling or contact with doctors.

While Dugard was confined to a backyard slum of sheds and tents, Fritzl lived in a basement, a windowless dungeon that was without any natural light or even hot water.

Medical experts have gone to enormous lengths to protect Elisabeth Fritzl and integrate her and her children back into society. It has not been easy and it has not been without setbacks.

Thanks to the intensive psychological care she was given since her release, Elisabeth Fritzl seems to have made a remarkable recovery from her unspeakable ordeal.

Of the seven babies that Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to, one died only three days after he was born and three of her children were allowed to live upstairs with her father Josef Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie as "foundlings."

Three other children were forced to live with their mother in the basement prison and grow up in complete isolatation. Their only knowledge of the outside world was brought to them by a TV, which Josef Fritzl eventually allowed them to have.

Immediately after her rescue, Elisabeth was reunited with all of her children and taken into the care of the neuropsychiatric clinic in Amstetten.

The family was completely shielded from the public and the media for their own well-being and security.

They were given their own, private living quarters separate from other patients at the clinic, where they were treated by a team of medical doctors and psychiatrists, counseling them on how to come to terms with their unimaginable ordeal.

Dr. Berthold Kepplinger, director at the clinic, has become so protective that he declilned to discuss the Fritzl case with ABCNews this week. The therapist had told ABC News last year that despite decades of abuse, Elisabeth Fritzl and her childlren had a smooth reunion at Amstetten and were doing well under the circumstances.

"The family members were enjoying talking to each other, the family was undergoing a kind of bonding phase. It was an important step in the healing process," he said in the days after their relese from their dungeon. "Mom (Elisabeth) and Grandma (Rosemarie) fixed breakfast for the children, trying to bring some normalcy into their life and the children were making their own beds. It was truly remarkable to see them bonding and growing together."

Hospital staff reportedly had built a windowless chamber for the children, so they had a place to retreat to when coping with their new life became too much for them.

Kepplinger also said last year that "it was fascinating to see how a few days of fresh air, daylight and good food were already making them feel better."

He declined, however, to provide any details about Elisabeth's mental condition. He would only say, "It was definitely a dreadful ordeal for her and for her children."

Austrian newspapers, however, revealed that Elisabeth and her children were more traumatized than initially thought.

The family remained under psychiatric care at the clinic for a few months before they were given a new identity and moved to a villa at a secret location, which authorities had set up for them.

A few months later, in July 2008, it emerged that Rosemarie Fritzl was ordered out of the villa by Elisabeth, who could not cope with "the issue of her mother's passiveness during Elisabeth's upbringing, when her father abused her for the first time when she was only 11 years old," according to Austrian media outlet Osterreich 24.

Rosemarie now lives in a small apartment on her own, but Elisabeth allows the three kids she raised to visit her regularly.

Elisabeth Fritzl's Experience Gives Hope, Warning to Jaycee Dugard

The family's effort to return to normalcy was upset again in March 2009 when a British paparazzo burst into Elisabeth's home and started taking pictures of her.

The intrusion reportedly brought Elisabeth close to a breakdown and she and the kids were forced to move out of the hideaway and returned to the psychiatric clinic in Amstetten.

Josef Fritzl was tried and sentenced to life in prison in March 2009.

Elisabeth attended the second day of the trial against her father and it was only then that he eventually admitted the crime.

After the trial Elisabeth and her six children moved again, this time to an undisclosed village in northern Austria where they are living in a fortress-like house, protected against intruders.

All the children require ongoing psychological therapy.

Elisabeth has reportedly been taking driving lessons and according to Austrian newspaper reports has begun a relationship with one of the bodyguards, who protected her and the kids in their early days in freedom. The couple is said to live together with the kids.

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