Amstetten Incest Scandal: Suspicions Grow that Austrian Had Accomplices

By in Amstetten

There are still many unanswered questions in the Amstetten incest case. How was Josef F. able to keep his daughter locked up for 24 years without anyone finding out? Did he have accomplices? And what role did his wife Rosemarie play?

Amstetten residents held a candlelit vigil on Tuesday evening.
AP

Amstetten residents held a candlelit vigil on Tuesday evening.

The heavy steel door to the cellar, the secret location where the family of four lived and the systematic abuse of his own child which led to a total of seven births: There is growing suspicion in Austria that Josef F. could not have led his double life without the aid of accomplices.

"I never saw him with shopping bags," says Lina Angermeier (not her real name), who lived in the same house as the incestuous father from 1996 to 1997. The 32-year-old saleswoman told SPIEGEL ONLINE that, as a mother, she knows how much a family needs to live on. She finds it hard to imagine how F. was able to maintain this double life for 24 years without being noticed. "It could be that he smuggled groceries through the garage at the back of the house," she admits. "It's difficult to see that part of the property."

Angermeier's husband is a baker. He never noticed F. doing anything conspicuous, even though he arrived and left his apartment at very varied times of the day. She says they probably bumped into each other thousands of times on their way in or out of the house, saying hello or exchanging small talk. "And less than 10 meters away, a family was being held captive in a dungeon," she says. "You feel really bad, now that you know."

Like so many other people in Amstetten, Lina Angermeier believed all the lies down the years: That Elisabeth F. had fallen into the clutches of a sect or had become a prostitute, and that she had left three children on her parents' doorstep, because she either couldn’t or didn’t want to take care of them herself. "That was no secret," Angermeier says. "None of the tenants doubted that version of events. On the contrary, you felt sorry for the 'F' family because of their bad fortune."

Not just a brother of Elisabeth, but also one of her sisters, for a brief time, lived in the house at Ybbsstrasse 40. "They all seemed to get along well. The other kids came to visit a lot. Josef and Rosemarie F. were very loving and doted over their grandchildren. Elisabeth was portrayed as the black sheep of the family."

Lina Angermeier lived at that time in a small apartment on the first floor of the house with a view of the inner courtyard. She never went into the cellar, where the dungeon was hidden behind a secret door. "When I first looked at the apartment, Mrs. F. told me there was no cellar space for tenants. I didn't mind."

'The Worst Off'

"I'm especially sorry for Mrs. F.," Angermeier says. "She really made a lot of sacrifices for the sake of her grandchildren. She certainly would have done something, had she known. Unless Mr. F. had such a tight rein on her that she would never have dared. In any case, she is the worst off now. For her, the shame is the greatest -- to have shared her life with a person like that."

Local government official Hans-Heinz Lenze also says Rosemarie F. is in extremely bad shape.

Who else could Josef F. have told, except for her? Who else could have been complicit in helping him lead a double life over decades? "It certainly wasn't the son," Christian B., who lived in the building at the start of 2000, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "He acted as if he was the building's superintendent, but he never did very much. And just because he had a key to the cellar doesn't mean that he knew about the secret dungeon." The state office of criminal investigation in Lower Austria declined to comment on this issue.

Specialists from the federal police are currently investigating to what extent the complex door construction, with its electronic lock mechanism and numerical access code, was professionally installed. It is also not clear how a single individual could have mounted the heavy steel door.

However the investigators are ruling out the possibility that there might be another hideout or a new horror story to be uncovered. Chief investigator Franz Polzer said that police had searched other houses belonging to Josef F. In total, Josef F. owned five properties, some in Lower Austria, including a campsite complete with pub.

'This Is Not a Town of Criminals'

More than 200 people came to Amstetten's main square on Tuesday evening and lit candles for the victims of the family tragedy. The event was organized by a spontaneously founded citizens' initiative. Earlier the town's mayor had said: "We want to show that this is not a town of criminals and to counteract the impression of Amstetten which has arisen."

"We have been surrounded by shock, sadness, anger, perhaps even hate in the last few days," says local priest Peter Bösendorfer. "We were forced to recognize that there is something in our town that we cannot comprehend." The town's residents now had to "help and show solidarity so that a life is possible for the children and women."

That will not be easy, because in a town of 23,000 like Amstetten, "everyone constantly runs into each other," says Lina Angermeier. "None of the (F.) family can really ever live here again -- if they want to be free, not only from fear, but also from allegations."

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