Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Austrian police are now looking into possible links between an unsolved murder case and the man who held his daughter captive in a cellar for 24 years.

Josef Fritzl's wife owned property at a lake in Upper Austria where the body of a 17-year-old girl was found 22 years ago.

The 73-year-old confessed to sexually abusing his daughter and fathering seven children by her, but is now refusing to answer police questions.

Austrians are still reeling from the news, with the Chancellor now launching a campaign to save his country from being branded as land of the dungeons.

In the midst of the horror surrounding the incest case in Austria, the Fritzl family took time to celebrate the birthday of one of the seven children being treated in hospital.

Two of the children who lived in the cellar have now been reunited with three other siblings who were raised by Josef Fritzl and his wife, Rosemary.

Dr Berthold Kepplinger is the director of the psychiatric clinic in Amstetten.

"Yesterday we even arranged a small improvised birthday celebration for the 12-year-old with a birthday cake and everyone was thrilled," he said.

Nineteen-year-old Kerstin Fritzl is still in a coma in intensive care, but doctors say her condition has stabilised.

Dr Kepplinger says the other children are doing well and talk a lot, which he says is normal for people who have not seen each other for so long.

"The health of the members of the family, their physical condition, is relatively good considering the circumstances," he said.

"But of course one must differentiate between those who led a normal life outside and those who are living in imprisonment for up to 24 years."

Murder link

Police are now looking into possible links between a 22-year-old unsolved murder case and Josef Fritzl.

The body of 17-year-old Martina Posch was found tied up on the shores of the Upper Austrian lake of Mondsee in 1986.

Fritzl's wife owned a property at the lake and police suspect he may have been there at the time of the killing.

Upper Austria Police Chief Alois Lissl says they have now widened their investigation.

"Twenty-two years ago the murder occurred and exactly at that time, Fritzl and his wife had a guest house at the opposite shore of the lake, and there could actually be a connection," he said.

Police are also appealing for people who lived in Amstetten to come forward with any information.

But at press conferences they are still fielding questions about how Fritzl managed to lock up his children for so long undetected.

The head of security for Lower Austria, Franz Prucher, says he does not blame local authorities for failing to discover the case earlier.

"Whether responsibility should have been taken by someone cannot be answered," he said.

"Presently I don't see that anyone specifically was at fault. The main person responsible for these shocking offences is, of course, the suspect."

There were similar criticisms when Natascha Kampusch escaped two years ago after being kidnapped and held in a cellar for eight years.

Both cases shocked the nation and tarnished its image overseas.

The chancellor, Alfred Gusenbauer, now plans to launch a public relations campaign and insists this is an isolated case.

"There is no Amstetten case, there is no Austrian case, only a lone criminal involved here who undertook an incomprehensible act of violence," he said.

However some commentators, which say the country never dealt with its Nazi past, is inherently secretive and ignores personal tragedies.

Frtizl faces up to 15 years in prison if he is convicted of raping his daughter.

Officials are still considering whether to charge him with murder through failure to act in connection to the death of one of the infants.

Adapted from a story first aired on The World Today, May 1.

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