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04/28/08 - Austria

Woman Raped, Held Captive By Father For 24 Years

Austrian authorities on Monday said that a man had confessed to imprisoning his daughter for 24 years in a windowless basement area and fathering seven children with her.

Police said the suspect, now 73, also told investigators that he tossed the body of one of the children in an incinerator after the child died. The suspect, identified as Josef F., was expected to appear in court later on Monday. The daughter, now 42, had been missing since 1984.

She was found by police on Saturday evening in the town of Amstetten, a blue-collar town about 120 kilometres (75 miles) west of Vienna, after police received a tip.

On Sunday evening, police investigators found the area where the daughter, identified as Elisabeth F., and three of her children had allegedly been held captive after the suspect gave them a code to unlock a hidden door. Investigators said the rooms in the area were at most 1.7 metres (5.6 feet) high and that the area had a TV and contained sanitary facilities and "small  hot plates" for cooking. Investigators said an electronic keyless-entry system apparently kept the daughter from escaping from the cell, which was constructed of solid reinforced concrete.

"A massive, home-built, reinforced concrete door was built into the wall which separated the dungeon from the rest of the house. This reinforced concrete door was secured electronically and the accused was the only one to  know the code," the district governor told reporters on Monday.

Austrians - still scandalised by a 2006 case involving a young woman who was  kidnapped and imprisoned in a basement cell outside Vienna - expressed disbelief that something similar could happen without anybody noticing. District Governor Hans-Heinz Lenze said investigators were still checking whether it was possible to hear any noise from the dungeon.

"As far as we know so far, it was not possible to hear any noise. This still  has to be checked but to me it is very surprising that in a property like this, where several parties live, nobody noticed that a complete second life  was going on," he told reporters.

Residents of the neighbourhood - a tidy, middle-class district of homes and apartments with curtained windows - said nothing in their contacts with the family suggested what allegedly was happening in the basement.

In a chronology of events outlined in their statement, police said the daughter told them her father began sexually abusing her when she was 11. Police said she alleged that, some years later, on August 28, 1984, he sedated her, handcuffed her and locked her in the cellar. Police said a letter written by Elisabeth had apparently surfaced a month after her disappearance, asking her parents not to search for her.

Police said Elisabeth alleged that, during the 24 years she was held captive , she was continually abused by her father and gave birth to six children. In 1996, she gave birth to twins, police quoted Elisabeth as saying. But one died several days later because it was not properly cared for, according to police, who said they were investigating.

Police said three of Elisabeth's children were registered with authorities and lived with the grandparents in an apartment in the house. According to the police statement, Josef F. and his wife, Rosemarie, had told authorities they had found those children outside their home in 1993, 1994 and 1997.

In a letter left with the child that appeared in 1993, Elisabeth had apparently said she already had a daughter and son and that there was no space for a second daughter. In another letter, she said she gave birth to a new son in December 2002, according to the police statement.

Three of Elisabeth's six children were apparently held captive in the cellar  with their mother, a police spokesman said. At some point, according to the police statement, Josef F. freed Elisabeth and two of the children from the cellar and told his wife that she had come back to them. The third child who had lived in the cellar, Kerstin F., was found unconscious on April 19 in the grandparents' apartment, with a note from Elisabeth asking that she be taken care of. Kerstin was hospitalised and remains in very serious condition in the Amstetten hospital.

The alleged crimes began to unfold when authorities launched a public appeal  for Kerstin's mother to come forward so they could use her medical history to help diagnose the daughter's condition. After receiving a tip, police picked up Elisabeth and her father on Saturday  close to the Amstetten hospital. Police said Elisabeth F. appeared "greatly disturbed" during questioning.

She agreed to talk only after authorities assured her she would no longer have to have contact with her father and that her children would be cared for. The Austria Press Agency reported that the surviving children were three boys and three girls, the youngest of whom was five.

DNA tests were expected to determine whether Josef F. was the father of the children.

According to the police statement, Elisabeth said that she and her children got food and clothing only from her father and that her mother had not been involved. Lenze on Monday said that Elisabeth's mother was in "a bad state".

"The mother obviously had no idea what was going on...You have to imagine that for this woman a whole world collapsed, just like for all other family members," he said. Sunday's developments were reminiscent of the case of Natascha Kampusch, which shocked Austrians less than two years ago.

Kampusch was 10 years old when she was kidnapped in Vienna on her way to school in March 1998. She was held for the next eight-and-a-half years by Wolfgang Priklopil, who largely confined her to a tiny underground dungeon in his home in a quiet Vienna suburb. Priklopil threw himself in front of a train just hours after Kampusch's dramatic escape on August 23, 2006.

Kampusch, now 20, issued a statement on Monday saying she wanted to contact Elisabeth to offer emotional and financial help.

Story and video courtesy of ABC News.

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