New identities for incest-scarred Austrian family
Thursday, 01 May 2008

Austrian authorities are to give new identities to the woman held prisoner by her father for 24 years and the children she bore in a cramped cellar, to help them escape the trauma of their captivity, officials said Wednesday, reports internet.

Police have pursued the questioning of Josef Fritzl, 73, who has admitted he fathered seven children his daughter gave birth to in a windlowless bunker under the family home, while the victims remained carefully shielded in a secret location.

Psychiatrists and doctors are counselling the mother and children on how to come to terms with their unimaginable ordeal. But experts said they were likely to need years of therapy.

"It could take between five and eight years," said Max Friedrich, the psychiatrist who looked after another sequestration victim, Natascha Kampusch, in an interview with the daily Oesterreich.

The head of the local social services, Hans-Heinz Lenze, said a name-change had been suggested for the immediate victims, but Fritzl's other family as well, in order to give them a new start in life.

"At the moment, all possibilities are being sounded out in closest consultation with the family. But a decision will only be reached in the coming weeks," Lenze told a news conference on Tuesday. Fritzl has seven children with his 69-year-old wife Rosemarie.

His daughter Elisabeth bore him seven more during the 24 years she was incarcerated in a purpose-built 60-square-metre dungeon where Fritzl regularly sexually abused her, according to police. One of the children died shortly after birth, three remained with their mother, never seeing natural daylight or the outside world, the other three were adopted by Fritzl and lived as his "grandchildren" upstairs in the family home.

Investigators said DNA tests had shown Fritzl, a retired electrical engineer, was the father of the six surviving children. He has told investigators that he disposed of the body of the dead baby in an incinerator in his building.

That admission could prove pivotal at a trial. A prosecutor said Fritzl would face a life sentence if found guilty of manslaughter, as opposed to shorter prison terms for rape or incarceration. Chief investigator Franz Polzer told Austrian television that police might need "half a year" to complete their investigations.

He ruled out any suggestion Fritzl might have had an accomplice. "As our investigations now stand, there were no accomplices. But you can never be 100 percent certain." In their special isolation, and the two sets of children were now tentatively beginning to get to know one another.

Two of the three who had spent all their lives underground "have a way of communicating that is anything but normal," added Berthold Kepplinger, director of the psychiatric clinic in Amstetten-Mauer. The youngest child, five years old, seems most able to adapt to his new life and was excited about being able to ride in a car, his carers said.

Doctors would determine when police would be allowed to question Elisabeth Fritzl and the children, but that was unlikely to be for several days. Local authorities insisted they had made all the necessary background checks for the adoptions of the three children.

Fritzl was reportedly convicted of attempted rape in the 1960s and of arson but the records were wiped after a period of time set by Austrian law. Social services had made 21 documented calls to the house, as well as undocumented visits, during which Fritzl was usually absent, said the social services chief Lenze.

Nevertheless, social workers never noticed anything amiss. The district court in Amstetten, which must greenlight all adoptions, also insisted it had acted correctly.

Chief investigator Polzer said there was no sign that Fritzl's wife, who also had seven children with him, knew of the goings on in his locked dungeon.

"It would go against all logic that a mother of seven children would help the father of those children to look after seven more children whom he had fathered with his own daughter," Polzer said.

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