Austria's disturbing sex captive phenomenon

Once again, an Austrian man stands accused of holding women hostage and raping them for years on end

Published August 26, 2011 3:01PM (EDT)

Josef Fritzl who was convicted in 2009 of imprisoning his daughter, Elisabeth, in a basement for 24 years
Josef Fritzl who was convicted in 2009 of imprisoning his daughter, Elisabeth, in a basement for 24 years

GRAZ, Austria -- An 80-year-old Austrian man was arrested Thursday on charges of rape and sexual abuse. The victims? His two mentally disabled daughters, who he is accused of abusing and keeping captive for more than 40 years.

The two unnamed women, ages 53 and 45, are said to have been kept in a single room in a large, picturesque house in a hamlet on the outskirts of the small town of Braunau am Inn, which is close to the German border and best known as Hitler's birthplace.

The women also accused their father, identified only as Goffried W, of subjecting their mother to the same treatment until her death in 2008. He is said to have beaten them and threatened to kill them with a pitchfork and gun.

Gottfried W, as he is known, was arrested on suspicion of assault, torture, neglect, threats of violence, coercion, rape and other sexual crimes, according to the Oberösterreichische Nachrichten newspaper, which broke the story the police later confirmed. He denies all wrongdoing.

International readers will no doubt remember the recent case of Josef Fritzl, who was convicted of imprisoning his daughter, Elisabeth, in a basement for 24 years until 2008. He fathered seven children by her, one of whom died the denial of medical treatment shortly after birth.

Two years before the Fritzl case Natascha Kampusch, then 18, escaped from more than eight years of captivity and abuse in a cellar under the garage of Wolfgang Priklopil, who committed suicide shortly afterward at the age of 44.

What is it with Austria and sickening crime?

Fritzl, now 76, had been deemed an "authoritative and oppressive" guardian by social workers looking after the three children he had with Elisabeth who lived outside of the cellar. He had custody of them on the premise that their mother had abandoned them.

But authorities had not investigated the family further. If they had, they would have found three more children, and their mother, living as prisoners in the basement.

The government faced no consequences for its failure to spot the crimes taking place in the Fritzl home. The district administration denied all accusations that it hadn't done its job. The prosecutor abruptly ended to Fritzl's trial to close down the media frenzy around it, while also stipping facts emerging which might pinpoint failures.

In Gottfried W's case, the mayor of his hamlet, St Peter am Hart, said his family was not the subject of rumors. But there is key difference in Austrians' notions of privacy in contrast to British or Americans that would make it easier for them to keep criminal activities hidden. When an American or a Brit is a guest in a friend's home, they are generally given a tour and have free rein of the premises. Austrians, in contrast, feel no pressure to take guests on tour and no one would presume to take an uninvited look into, say, the basement.

Both of Gottfried W's daughters have had a state guardian since the death of their mother three years ago, according to the prosecutor's office in the nearby town of Ried. The Austrian press reports that the guardian had not noticed or been alerted to any problems in the home. In Austria, guardians are often lawyers who have a large number of cases and hardly know their wards. So neither the guardian, nor the visiting nurse service that treated the father, noticed anything amiss.

The end to the daughters' 41-year ordeal finally came in May, when the eldest daughter pushed her father to the ground as he attempted to rape her. A nurse on a routine visit to look after the elderly man found him and filed a criminal complaint based on the daughters' account, said the police.

The accused, who was hospitalized, has problems moving but is "mentally active" and denies all allegations against him. He was moved from a nursing home to prison Thursday. The daughters, because of their mental disabilities, are being cared for by the state.

By Phil Cain


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