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Is an idyllic-looking Austrian home another house of horror?

By Tony Paterson

In a case chillingly reminiscent of the multiple rapist Josef Fritzl, an 80-year-old Austrian man was yesterday being questioned by police amid allegations that he repeatedly sexually abused his two mentally disabled daughters while holding them prisoner in his home for more than 40 years.

Police said the suspect, identified only as Gottfried W, faced charges of having locked up his daughters since 1970 in a small room in the family's idyllic timbered farmhouse in the village of St Peter am Hart, close to Austria's border with Germany.

The women - now aged 53 and 45 - were said to have been repeatedly raped, intimidated, threatened and beaten by their father over a period of 41 years. The sisters were said to have lived in fear of their father's shotguns and pitchfork. Gottfried W's wife was reported to have been subjected to similar violent sexual abuse until her death in 2008.

"The two sisters were completely dependent on their father," said Martin Plumberger, the regional police chief leading the investigation. "He made sure they were kept completely isolated."

Police said the case came to light only because of an incident in May this year when Gottfried W attempted again to rape his oldest daughter but was injured in a fight that broke out between the sisters and their ageing father. Gottfried W was said to have collapsed to the floor with injuries.

The two women left him lying there for two days before he was discovered by a nurse who was employed to attend to him. Police said the daughters only began to speak out about their four-decade ordeal weeks later when they were quizzed by a policewoman in July.

Police said yesterday that they had raided the retirement home where Gottfried W had been living in recent weeks and had taken him for questioning. They later revealed that he had been released from custody, pending further interrogation, as there was apparently no risk that he would attempt to flee. His two daughters were under police guard at a secret location.

Photographs of the family home were published in Austrian newspapers yesterday. They showed a traditional chalet-style building of the kind normally rented to tourists. The sisters spent much of their life confined in a small upstairs room furnished with twin iron bedsteads lying end to end and a small bedside table. The sisters said they were usually forced to submit to their father after he beat them with a stick or threatened them with his shotguns.

The case appears to be strikingly similar to the shocking multiple rape perpetrated by Josef Fritzl, the apparently "ordinary" Austrian man who imprisoned his daughter in a windowless cellar beneath his home for 24 years.

Fritzl raped his daughter thousands of times and fathered seven children with her. He was caught in 2008 and sentenced to life.

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