The Daughter-Dungeon of Joseph Fritzl
Josef Fritzl was born in Amstetten in 1935, on the eve of the Nazi-orchestrated Anschluss — unification with the Third Reich. His father abandoned the family, and his mother raised him on her own and with an iron fist. She beat him until he bruised, according to family members. And beyond her own strictness was was the social context of the entrenched authoritarianism of the fallen Austro-Hungarian empire, the militaristic aggression and totalitarian discipline of the Nazi regime and the austerity and struggle of Europe at war.
In post-war Amstetten, Fritzl did not stick out. He drove an engineer's well-maintained Mercedes. He dressed precisely and sharply, but not extravagantly. He kept his home and investment properties in good shape. He seemed the epitome of the period's bourgeoisie: controlled and controlling, respectable and responsible, a credit to his village and his street. Coworkers would later realize they barely knew even the barest outline of his life. He was not a man to give away his feelings or his secrets.
And secrets this man had.
In 1967, Fritzl seems to have been convicted of a rape in the nearby city of Linz, for which he spent a year and a half in prison. Among its other soft points, post-war Austrian law erases most crimes from the record after 15 years. This meant that, when Fritzl later adopted or fostered three of Elisabeth's (and his own!) children, there would be no record of his having committed a sex crime. He was also a suspect in two other assault cases in the area during that time, and rumored to indulge in indecent exposure. Later, it would be alleged that he raped his wife's sister. But none of this constituted sufficient alert to the authorities of any potential danger to the community or to his own children.
In 1972, after giving up on a mail-order lingerie business, Fritzl bought an inn and campsite on the Mondsee, a privately owned Alpine lake in Upper Austria, near Salzburg. There were two fires at the inn, neither of which was ever connected to Fritzl or wrongdoing. But now that Fritzl's story has been revealed, police are re-examining the unsolved murder of a young girl near that inn.
If his oddities did not ultimately concern the authorities, they did not trouble his wife either. She seems in hindsight to have been a bullied, passive woman at the mercy of this domineering man.