Fritzl Speaks: 'I Knew What I Was Doing Was Wrong'

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Josef Fritzl is attempting to portray himself in the media as a human being who must have been "mad" to do what he did. Investigators are not impressed: They say the man who imprisoned and raped his daughter in a basement for 24 years showed a high level of competence, intelligence and skill.

The St. Pölten prison where Josef Fritzl is locked up.
AP

The St. Pölten prison where Josef Fritzl is locked up.

A man locks his daughter in a dungeon for 24 years, rapes her repeatedly and sires seven children with her. "From a psychological point of view, there can hardly be a more absurd case," Rudolf Mayer, Josef Fritzl's defense attorney, told SPIEGEL ONLINE.

The lawyer wants to ensure that his client only gets a light sentence, and to do so he is pursuing a consistent strategy: He wants to show the "human side" of Fritzl, the most famous prisoner in the world.

And he has already taken the first step: He fed quotes from Fritzl to Austria's News magazine, in which his client claimed that he only built the dungeon for "security reasons." "Elisabeth was growing up so differently from my other children," he is quoted as saying. "She stayed out all night, she drank alcohol … she even ran away twice. I always brought her back home."

Comments from Fritzl also appeared in Austrian daily Oesterreich on Wednesday. He is quoted as saying: "I am not a monster. ... I could have killed all of them -- then nothing would have happened. No one would have ever known about it."

From the point of view of the investigators, Fritzl's version of events is a constructed, distorted version of reality. According to their inquiries, Fritzl acted like a despot at home, considering himself the ruler of his wife and their seven children. Draconian punishments and fear of their father were part of everyday life. "This man treated people like slaves. He did exactly what he wanted," Franz Polzer, head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The members of the family had to submit to his domination and authority."

Mayer disputes this version of events, however. "That is the investigators' opinion," the lawyer says. "They don’t know for sure." He says he has had three in-depth conversations with Fritzl. "He has resigned himself to his fate. He has been deeply affected by the reporting about him. He asks: Are there only bad things to say about me?"

Fritzl's attempt to portray himself as someone with a heart and a conscience seems pitiful, if not downright cynical. "I always knew, during those 24 years, that what I was doing was wrong. I must have been mad to do something like that," is one of the quotes that appears in News. "But nevertheless I was not able to escape my double life. When I was upstairs I was totally normal. I functioned well, I made money, took care of my family, and only consciously thought about downstairs when I had to run errands for my second family. But at some point, it became a matter of course for me that I led a second life in the basement of my house and that I had to take care of a second wife and our children there."

There is no mention of the fact that this so-called "second wife" was actually his own daughter, the fourth of his children with his wife Rosemarie. No mention of the fact that he kept her on a leash for nine months, and that, as one investigator told SPIEGEL ONLINE, subjected her to "non-stop rape," and had another seven children with her.

Fritzl was interrogated for two hours by state prosecutor Christiane Burkheiser on Wednesday. The questioning related "exclusively to his personal circumstances," Peter Ficenc of the St. Pölten prosecutors' office told SPIEGEL ONLINE. Fritzl apparently provided extensive information about his professional and private life.

Ficenc says that Fritzl has not yet been questioned about the incest charges, but has indicated that he is prepared to discuss them. "He has proven to be markedly cooperative and prepared to make further statements," says Ficenc. For now the details will be treated as strictly confidential. "We are waiting for the police to carry out further investigations before questioning him again."

These investigations are proving to be extensive. The dungeon in which Fritzl kept his second family captive accounted for around a third of the basement extension which Fritzl had built in his house in Amstetten. "The other two thirds were also constructed but were bricked up," says Polzer. This area is now being examined with a sonar probe. "We have ruled out other dungeons or prisoners. However, we want to carry out a full investigation, so we are opening up the entire basement."

At the same time, the part of the house where Fritzl lived is also being examined. "The house has an incredible number of rooms," one investigator told SPIEGEL ONLINE. There are a total of nine apartments in the house itself. It was in this building that investigators believe Fritzl began planning his terrible crime at the end of the 1970s. In October 1978 he received permission from the building authorities to add an extension to the basement. "We are looking in particular at every piece of paper in his office, looking in every drawer for building plans, drawings and relevant notes," says Polzer.

The investigators know that the more proof they can find, the less effective Mayer's defense strategy of depicting Fritzl as a human being or even as a certifiably insane perpetrator will be. "So far we can say that Fritzl is an unbelievably enterprising and effective man, who has many skills and is highly intelligent," says Polzer. "The letters alone prove that this person is not only bursting with physical fitness and good health. His conduct during these 24 years does not indicate a person with diminished capacities. On the contrary: Everything up to now would conflict with the idea of a person who is not all there."

The victims' lawyer, Christoph Herbst, is considering filing a temporary injunction against Fritzl, in order to protect assets in case of compensation demands on the part of the victims. This would mean that Fritzl would no longer have any access to his private assets.

The clinic in Amstetten where the victims are currently being cared for is still surrounded by photographers. This media siege is giving added weight to the idea of providing the victims with new identities. This would help their attempt to live a normal life out of the media spotlight. However, nothing has been decided yet. "That is not something that can just be decided today or tomorrow. It would require a lot of work," says Herbst. Nevertheless new birth certificates and other papers are currently being drawn up.

A spokesperson for the clinic says that Elisabeth and five of her children are getting closer as a family, while her critically ill daughter, Kerstin, is now in a stable condition in the intensive care unit in Amstetten hospital.

"We all hope and pray that this girl will get a second chance to lead a normal life," Polzer says.

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