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Fritzl family live secret life 10 years on

Josef Fritzl is in prison while his daughter has built a new life with the children he fathered.The house where unimaginable incest crimes were committed a decade ago has been renovated. Its facade has been painted an apricot colour, and its dungeon has been filled with 300 tonnes of concrete.
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There is nothing left to remind passers-by that this house in the Austrian town of Amstetten is where Josef Fritzl kept his daughter underground as a slave for 24 years and forced her to bear seven of his children.

Since her escape, Fritzl’s daughter Elisabeth has been keeping out of the limelight and lives at an undisclosed location in Austria. She and her children have not given any interviews.

However, retired police officer Karl Gschoepf has been in contact with the family in the decade since he and several colleagues were tasked with protecting the woman and her children after they were freed from their underground prison in late April 2008.

Elisabeth, now 52, and her six surviving children are doing well, he told dpa.

“They have managed to build lives for themselves,” Gschoepf said, without revealing any details.

What happened to them in captivity has not remained secret, however.

Josef Fritzl laid the foundations for his double life in the early 1980s, below the apartment building that he owned and where he lived, 100 kilometres west of Vienna.

In the cellar, he built a 60-square-metre prison and secured it with remote-controlled doors that weighed up to 500kg.

On August 28, 1984, he lured 18-year-old Elisabeth into the dungeon, drugged her, handcuffed her and locked her up.

For next 24 years, the young woman did not see the light of day.

Her father raped her again and again.

One of the children she gave birth to in captivity died three days after he was born. Josef Fritzl burned the baby’s body in an underground oven.

Fritzl, who earned a living renting out real estate, told his wife and his neighbours that his daughter had run away to join a religious sect. He also contacted police to report her as missing.

Over the years, his two lives below and above the ground started to overlap.

While he kept two of Elisabeth’s boys and one girl in the dungeon, he successively took the three other children upstairs between 1993 and 1997, to raise them together with his wife.

To avoid suspicion, Fritzl made it look like Elisabeth had secretly left the children at her parents’ doorstep. He even forced Elisabeth to write letters in which she announced that she would abandon the children.

“He deceived police about his missing daughter. He deceived everyone,” the criminal police chief of Lower Austria province, Franz Polzer, told reporters after the family was freed.

Fritzl’s crimes were uncovered when he was forced to take Elisabeth’s 19-year-old daughter to hospital with a life-threatening but mysterious medical condition.

Elisabeth managed to convince her father to let her visit the hospital. Following a tip-off by a suspicious doctor, police detained Josef Fritzl.

Former officer Gschoepf still remembers the time he first met Elisabeth after she and her family were freed.

“Elisabeth seemed like a very strong, very steadfast woman who was very focused on her children,” he said.

“She was not a zombie,” he said about the woman who was forced to live a dungeon with ceilings as low as 1.70 metres. “She was completely normal.”

The case raised international attention not only because of the crimes themselves, but also because they came to light only two years after 18-year-old Natascha Kampusch escaped from a cellar dungeon near Vienna where a kidnapper had kept her for eight years.

In 2009, a court handed Josef Fritzl a life sentence for negligent murder, slavery, deprivation of liberty, incest and grave coercion.

Austria’s Justice Ministry is tight-lipped about the 83-year-old convict who has since changed his last name to Mayrhoff.

“He is in prison,” a ministry official said.

Meanwhile, an Austrian innkeeper bought the Fritzl house two years ago for 160,000 euros and has been renting out the apartments.

“One can’t leave it empty forever. We must get some life in there,” he has said.

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