I don’t look at the news because I don’t like what I see.

I went onto the BBC today on a whim and lo and behold, I saw an intensely disturbing Austrian Court case. Since I have had my head in books for far too long, this may be old news to some, but here it is.

Josef Fritzl kidnapped his daughter in 1984 by leading her into a cellar that he had prepared since 1981. Once there he locked her in and, depending on who you believe, either raped her repeatedly (she birthed seven children while down there) or had consensual sex with her. Some of the children were adopted or fostered by Josef and his wife, three others remained with their mother in the cellar, one died as an infant.

In 2008 his daughter persuaded him to take their eldest child to the hospital whereupon suspicion was aroused and eventually Josef was brought in.

Basically the case seems to boil down to three conflicting reports:

1) Neighbors and acquaintances and who say that he was polite, hard working and nice.

2) Tenants and children who claim he was strict and authoritarian. This includes his daughter who claims to have been chained up while he raped her.

3) His own view that he knew he was doing something wrong, but never forced anything. He knew he was crazy and was misbehaving, but brought his children by his daughter whatever he could and cared for them well. And of course that he was doing what was best for his daughter who had been frequenting bad bars and drinking and smoking.

At present Fritzl is pleading guilty to most of the charges and merely disputing words in others.

Two pieces of the story are what struck me the most and neither of them has to do with the rape, kidnapping, death of children, or how seven children managed to be born in a basement over the course of 20 years.

First, it is the psychology of this man, for whom: “The cellar in my building belonged to me and me alone. It was my kingdom, which only I had access to. Everyone who lived there knew it.” This leads me to suspect very much that he was a domineering person and obsessed with control.

Second, under Austrian law, anyone with a criminal record who is then released and arrest free must have that struck from their criminal record in not more than 15 years. Fritzl had previously been convicted of rape, but he did not raise eyebrows at the adoption of these children because that little fact was not on his criminal record.

For the BBC coverage of this story: