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Catastrophe tourists descend on Austrian 'House of Horrors'

The Austrian authorities have complained that "catastrophe tourists" are descending on the house where Elisabeth Fritzl was imprisoned in a cellar for 24 years – while new evidence revealed that her father raped her in front of their first two children when they were toddlers.

Ursula Puchebner, the deputy mayor of Amstetten, said that increasing numbers of German and Austrian sightseers appeared bent on getting a first-hand glimpse of the so-called "House of Horrors" where the incest ordeal went on for nearly a quarter of a century.



"These people are using Amstetten's proximity to Austria's main motorway to make a detour to the house where they indulge in what I call catastrophe tourism," she said. "I find this shocking and I do not understand their motivation. It shows no respect for the victims."



A side street that leads to the back of No 40 Ybbsstrasse, where Elisabeth Fritzl was held prisoner in the cellar of her father Josef's house and forced to bear him seven children, has been the haunt of hundreds of journalists and television crews since the story broke a week ago.



However, media attention has also turned to the Amstetten clinic, five miles from the city centre, where 42-year-old Elisabeth and three of her children who were born and raised in the cellar prison, have been receiving psychiatric care.



The hospital authorities have been forced to employ a private security company to maintain a round-the-clock armed guard on the premises after a camera crew broke into the clinic compound and apparently tried to find members of the Fritzl family and film them.



Christoph Herbst, Elisabeth Fritzl's lawyer, said that he had been inundated with media requests for interviews with his client. He said some had offered to pay more than €1m (£780,000) for an exclusive.



Police forensic experts yesterday continued their inch by inch examination of the bunker rooms beneath the Fritzls' back garden where Elisabeth and her children were imprisoned. They said they were hampered by the poor quality of air in the cellar complex and could only stay down for about an hour before having to surface.



At the same time, police released more details of disturbing evidence supplied to them by Elisabeth Fritzl, which showed that her first two children must have witnessed her being raped repeatedly by her father from the day they were born until they were toddlers.



Elisabeth Fritzl, who is now 42, was 18 in 1984 when she was drugged with ether by her father and dragged into his cellar, where he handcuffed her to a metal pole for two days at the start of her 24-year imprisonment. Police now say that, for the first nine years of her ordeal, she was held in only one room in the bunker. Fritzl only connected that room with other underground chambers in the complex in 1993. Kerstin, who was the first child born from their incestuous relationship, was born in 1989. She is now in a coma in hospital. The second, Stefan, was born in 1990. As both children were born underground and spent their whole lives there, police conclude that they would have had no choice but to witness their mother being repeatedly abused.



Police said that, during the early years of her imprisonment, Fritzl kept his daughter on a leash in the cellar that was just long enough to enable her to reach the lavatory.



Her third child, Lisa, was born in 1992, but because there was insufficient room in the cellar, Fritzl "adopted" the girl as a baby and allowed her to live with his "normal" family in his house upstairs. After that, Fritzl extended his underground bunker complex to provide a separate room for his prisoner children. Fritzl has been remanded in custody in a prison in St Pölten while state prosecutors prepare to charge him. He is sharing a small cell with another prisoner to minimise the risk of suicide.



Police investigators say that since confessing to his crimes last week, he has refused to answer questions. His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, who claims to have received several death threats for agreeing to defend his client, said yesterday that he would fight to keep Fritzl out of jail. "In my opinion Josef Fritzl is psychologically disturbed. He does not belong in prison but in a closed psychiatric unit," he said.


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