VIENNA (AFP) — Austrian police on Monday scoured a cellar at a house where a 73-year-old man -- described by media as a "monster" -- is accused of imprisoning his daughter for 24 years and fathering seven children.
The incest abuse case is the latest in a series of horror abuse cases to have stunned Austrians and newspapers asked how authorities could again have failed to detect the woman.
Josef Fritzl was arrested on Sunday and police are searching the house at Amstetten in eastern Austria where Elisabeth Fritzl and her children were kept in rooms in the cellar where the ceiling was just 1.70 metres (5.5 feet) high.
The father is to appear before an investigating magistrate on Monday.
Elisabeth Fritzl, 42, has told police her father drugging her in August 1984 and kept her in the cellar of the family home, regularly abusing her over two decades.
The incestuous relationship allegedly produced seven children. The case came to light when one of the children, now 19, was admitted to hospital in critical condition.
Doctors stepped up efforts to find the mother, looking for background medical information. The whole horrific story came to light when Josef Fritzl allowed them to establish contact with his daughter.
The Oesterreich tabloid featured a six-page special report on what it termed as "the worst crime of all time." "How can this happen here?" asked Die Presse.
"Amstetten is in a state of shock," wrote mayor Herbert Katzengruber on the town's website. "Our thoughts and feelings are with the victims."
DNA tests are being carried out to establish if he is the father of the six surviving children -- three girls and three boys -- aged between five and 20. A seventh child, a twin, is believed to have died shortly after birth and the body subsequently burned, police said.
The Kronen-Zeitung tabloid portrayed Fritzl as a keen fisherman, popular among neighbours and locals, but a "monster, a brutal tyrant" in the cellar of his own home.
He legally adopted two of the boys and one girl, allegedly telling his wife, Rosemarie, and local authorities that three babies had been left by Elisabeth on their doorstep, in different years.
Each delivery was accompanied by a letter purportedly signed by Elisabeth Fritzl saying she could not support the child because she already had others to care for.
The trio went to school as normal, seemingly unaware that their mother and three other siblings (a girl of 19, and boys at 18 and five) were trapped underground.
According to ORF national television, the mother and five children are now in hospital. All are being treated by a team of psychologists. Reports said the mother was physically frail and badly disturbed by her ordeal.
Authorities were worried about the health of the mother and three of her children.
Yet neither neighbours nor social services appear to have had the slightest inkling. "They had a swimming pool in the garden, we would hear them laughing the three of them," said one neighbour.
Another backed up the story of the babies on the doorstep, adding: "(Rosemarie) always looked after the kids so well, taking them to school. We said 'it's incredible what she manages to do at her age'."
Elisabeth Fritzl told investigators her mother knew nothing about the sexual abuse she had endured since the age of 11, some seven years before she was locked away.
Gerhard Sedlacek, a prosecution spokesman, said Elisabeth's accusations of kidnapping and incest were "credible".
Austria's most notable prior case was that of Natascha Kampusch, locked up by a man in the basement of a house for eight years before she escaped.
Kampusch was 10 when Wolfgang Priklopil abducted her on her way to school in 1998. The 44-year-old kidnapper killed himself hours after she fled, throwing himself under a train.
Three young girls were also locked up for seven years by their mentally ill mother near Linz.
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