A drained and ashen-faced Josef Fritzl broke down in court yesterday and fully confessed to all his crimes including murdering his baby son and treating his daughter Elisabeth as a personal sex slave.
Showing remorse for what he had done for the first time, he said his daughter’s videotaped testimony had made him realise “how cruel I was”.
His lawyer described Fritzl as being “emotionally destroyed” after Elisabeth’s account of how he raped her thousands of times while holding her prisoner in a windowless and, at times, rat-infested cellar beneath his home for nearly a quarter of a century.
The courtroom admission came as officials revealed that Elisabeth, now 42, had appeared in the chamber in person to witness her father’s reaction to the 11 hours of her videotaped testimony when it was played on Tuesday.
Fritzl had already confessed to charges of rape, incest, wrongful imprisonment and coercion at the start of his trial but had denied enslaving his own daughter and of murdering one of the seven children he fathered with her.
His admission made it almost certain he would be jailed for life when he is sentenced today.
The 73-year-old former electrical engineer sat slumped in a chair on the third day of his trial at a provincial court in Sankt Poelten. He looked exhausted and made no attempt to hide his face with the blue ring binder as he had done during the first two days of the proceedings.
Andrea Humer, the presiding judge, asked the defendant whether he had any comment to make after watching his daughter’s testimony the previous day. “Yes,” Fritzl said in a shaking, barely audible voice. “I declare myself guilty to all the charges against me.”
The judge then asked him what had changed his mind. “The video evidence of my daughter Elisabeth,” he said. “It was only yesterday that I realised how cruel I was to Elisabeth. I am sorry.”
Fritzl’s lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said that after seeing his daughter’s evidence, he had immediately asked to see the psychiatrist appointed to monitor his mental health during the trial.
It also emerged yesterday that Elisabeth had been in the court while it was closed to the public for the airing of her videotaped evidence on Tuesday.
“It was her evidence that broke the camel’s back so to speak,” said Mr Mayer.
Fritzl was questioned about the death of his baby son Michael, who was born out of his incestuous relationship with Elisabeth in 1996 but survived for only 66 hours. The court heard how the baby was born with obvious breathing difficulties but Fritzl made no attempt to get a doctor and allowed the child to die. He later burned the corpse in a central heating furnace saying, “What will be, will be”.
“I don’t know why I didn’t help,” Fritzl told the court, admitting that his failure to act was murderous. “I just overlooked it. We thought the little one would pull through.”
Fritzl kidnapped and drugged Elisabeth in 1984, when she was 18 and kept her incarcerated in a cellar beneath his home in the Austrian town of Amstetten for 24 years.
He is estimated to have raped her 3,000 times. During that period he fathered seven children through the incestuous relationship. His crimes only came to light last April when one of their daughters became seriously ill and Fritzl was persuaded to take her to hospital. Doctors then alerted the police.
The face of evil? All I saw was an old man crushed by his shameful crimes
Josef Fritzl is the world’s ‘Incest Monster’ and since his arrest nearly a year ago he has gained a reputation comparable to one of the nastier Nazi war criminals.
We have read about his unspeakable crimes and pored over the images of him acting the respectable businessman and barbecue dad. We have had the unflattering police mugshot, scorched onto our minds as Austria’s “face of evil”, the face for which everyone was straining for a glimpse behind that blue ringbinder in Austria’s Sankt Poelten court this week.
So after all that build-up, the Fritzl I finally witnessed in the flesh yesterday was a bit of a let down. The experience was like something out of the Nuremberg war crimes trial with its images of once arrogant and pompous Nazi leaders looking, deflated, defeated and guilty. Inevitably, the phrase “banality of evil” came to mind.
Fritzl had given up all attempts to hide behind his folder, but with his hounds-tooth check jacket, diagonally striped ‘club’ tie and his grey trousers, he was clearly trying to give the impression of being the Austrian country squire just in town to do some important business. Yet his face told a different story. It was that of an old man who looked cornered by the reality of the crimes which he had suppressed for decades and crushed by the shame of being found out and exposed. Fritzl was ashen in colour and he looked utterly exhausted. When he spoke to the court. His voice shook and was barely audible. He even showed remorse.
His psychiatrist said that for most of his life, Fritzl was so mentally disturbed that he had pushed all of his emotions into the “cellar of his soul”. Yesterday the door to that cellar opened — if only by a chink.