08.29.11 12:31 AM ET
Austria’s Latest Dungeon Dad
Few will forget the morbid details of Elisabeth Fritzl’s tortured life. The 42-year-old Austrian woman was discovered in 2008 after being held captive by her father for 24 years in a dark, subterranean dungeon in Amstetten, Austria. He was sentenced to life in prison after confessing that he raped his daughter more than 3,000 times, fathering seven live children and one stillborn. She delivered all her babies alone, cutting the umbilical cords with a pair of rusty scissors. "I always knew, during those 24 years, that what I was doing was wrong. I must have been mad to do something like that," he told the court during his trial. Fritzl’s wife claimed she had no idea what was going on downstairs, even though she raised five of her daughter’s children in the house above the dungeon.
Now, another incest case that is freakishly similar is rocking the Alpine country. An 80-year-old man referred to as Gottfried W. in Austrian court records is being held on charges that he systematically raped and abused his daughters, Christine, 53, and Erika, 45, for the last 40 years. He tortured them—even threatened them with a pitchfork—leaving tiny round scars on their bodies. They were kept in a small kitchen in the back of the family house, forced to sleep on wooden beds and use a commode instead of a modern toilet. His wife died in 2008, and her daughters say she also was beaten by their father.
The sisters were discovered after Christine finally fought back when her father tried once again to rape her last May. She resisted and knocked him over and left him naked on the floor of the house for two days before calling a social-services worker who came to investigate the incident. Initially Gottfried was returned to the house and the sisters were removed pending charges of abandonment and abuse against their father for not calling authorities sooner. At the time, the women said nothing about the years of sexual abuse. But prosecutors say they were suspicious because the women were obviously emotionally disturbed and seemed terrified of their father.
After a long investigation and interviews with neighbors and the two women, authorities finally uncovered the horrible truth. Court records show that all the neighbors knew Gottfried had children, but he told them they were mentally disabled and could not leave the house. Many neighbors suspected that something sinister was happening in what they nicknamed “the witch house.” Screams and yelling were often heard, but no one did anything.
One neighbor, Danecker Maximilian, told the Austrian webzine oe24.at that Gottfried told lewd jokes and talked constantly about sex. Court records also say neighbors were wary of him and that he was not involved in the community. No one had seen his wife for years before she died. In June, the sisters finally confided to a Red Cross worker that their father had been torturing them for years. Physical examinations revealed that their bodies were badly scarred and showed signs of horrific sexual abuse. One of the daughters showed evidence of giving birth even though she said she did not.
Last week, they finally told their story to the Austrian court via video testimony, detailing how their father raped them several times a day. Christine testified that when she was about 10, another man joined him on several occasions. Their father made them promise never to tell anyone about the sexual abuse or he would kill them. When their mother died, he made them “swear on her deathbed” that no matter what happened, they would keep the secret.
Now the women are in a rehabilitative facility, trying to cope with keeping such a nasty secret for 40 years and adapt to life in the free world. Their father will be sentenced Sept. 9.