Austrian Incest Case 'Horror House' Father Had Prior Sex Conviction, Newspapers Say

Josef F. had a prior conviction for a sexual offense, according to newspaper reports which, if confirmed, would deepen the scandal over how his crime went unnoticed. The six surviving children he had with his daughter are receiving psychiatric care in hospital. F. himself is "emotionally broken," according to his lawyer.


Unconfirmed reports say electrical engineer Josef F. had a prior conviction for a sexual offence.
DDP

Unconfirmed reports say electrical engineer Josef F. had a prior conviction for a sexual offence.

The Times of London and Austria's Presse newspaper both reported Tuesday that Josef F., the 73-year-old man who has confessed to keeping his daughter imprisoned in a windowless cellar for 24 years and having seven children by her, had a prior conviction for a sexual offence.

The Times quoted a spokeswoman for a company where Josef F. was employed as an engineer and procurement manager during the 1970s as saying: "He did an excellent job, but there was always something uneasy about him as it was widely known that he had served time in prison for a sexual offense."

The Times also found several neighbours in the small Austrian town of Amstetten who said he was known as a former sex offender by older members of the community. One 50-year-old told the paper: "I was 10 at the time, but I remember how we children were afraid to play near (F.'s) house because of the rumors that he had raped a woman and spent some time in jail for it."

No One the Wiser

Despite his alleged conviction, Josef F. appears to have been able to convince his wife, the police and the social services that his daughter had run away to join a sect in 1984 and that she had subsequently left three of her children on his doorstep.

In fact, he had fathered those children and had chosen to raise them in the house rather than in the cellar prison. His daughter Elisabeth, now 42 but prematurely aged with pale skin and white hair because of the lack of natural light, was kept locked in the cellar with the other three children she had borne. None of those three had seen daylight, reportedly, until their release on Sunday. One child died at birth and was incinerated by Josef F. in an oven, police said.

The six children are aged between five and 19. Police said on Tuesday that DNA tests confirmed Josef F. was their father.

What the children witnessed in the three-room, 60-square-meter cellar behind a steel door locked with a security code can only be imagined -- beatings, rape, births without medical attention. Josef F. is likely to face a string of charges including manslaughter or murder (for the death of a seventh baby), rape, kidnapping, coercion and grievous bodily harm.

Elisabeth and her six children are in a hospital in Amstetten. "The children are quite well," the director of the clinic, Berthold Kepplinger, told a news conference. "There is a team of professionals consisting of a psychiatrist, neurologist, speech therapist and other experts looking after them. "

Kepplinger said the children were being kept together. They were reunited with each other on Sunday after the incarcerated ones were released. "It is astonishing how easily it worked, how the children came together and how easily the grandmother and the mother came together. For us is was astonishing that this meeting was in such a good mood," said Kepplinger.

He said the children were pale and and that their physical coordination was impaired. One of them, an 18-year-old youth, was able to read and write. The other two children are a five-year-old boy and a 19-year-old woman who is seriously ill in hospital.

Police declined to reveal details of their everyday life in the cellar. "These regrettable people deserve a right to privacy about the intimate details of their life," said the head of the Lower Austrian State Police Force, Franz Polzer.

Rape Charge

Presse reported that Josef F. had tried to rape a woman in the Austrian town of Linz in 1969 but that the conviction was deleted from his records later in accordance with standard practice. The newspaper reported that he then got a job with a construction materials company in 1969 despite his conviction. "I didn't want that," the sister-in-law of the company's manager at the time, told Presse. She said she warned her children repeatedly to stay away from Josef F.

"I can neither confirm nor deny that," the head of the Lower Austrian State Police Force, Franz Polzer, told SPIEGEL ONLINE when asked about the speculation about Josef F. having a prior conviction.

If the prior conviction is confirmed, it will raise questions about why that information was not available when Josef F.'s daughter ran away from home twice in the 1980s before she finally disappeared for 24 years.

Polzer confirmed the practice of deleting prior convictions from records "after a certain time has lapsed."

"When such a crime has been atoned for, it's been atoned for," said Polzer. He declined to comment further. Germany has the same practice of deleting prior convictions from official records after a period.

Josef F. appeared before a judge in the regional capital of St. Pölten on Tuesday and was remanded in custody.

His defense lawyer Rudolf Mayer on Tuesday described him as "serious, worried and emotionally broken." Mayer told the Austrian APA news agency that he had met with Josef F. in St. Pölten prison for about 10 minutes on Tuesday morning.

Josef F. was examined by a psychologist and a psychiatrist earlier on Tuesday and both had concluded there was no suicide risk.

The prison governor, Günther Mörwald, told APA that the pensioner seemed "calm and collected." "He's in good shape physically. He will undergo a medical examination today but doesn't appear to have any health problems," said Mörwald. Josef F. is being kept segregated from other prisoners for his own safety.

cro/APA/Reuters/dpa

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