Astonishing details emerge of children who talked by growls as mum battled to give them a 'normal' life
By JULIE MOULT and BOJAN PANCEVSKI
1 May 2008
The children cut off from the outside world from birth by their father developed an animal-like language of growling and cooing as their mother tried to give them a "normal" upbringing.
Yesterday, for the first time, a picture was emerging of day-to-day life in the cellar which showed the remarkable protective efforts Elisabeth Fritzl went to in raising the children fathered by her own father, 73-year-old Josef Fritzl.
She read to them, told them fairy stories and sang them lullabies to help them to sleep.
The details were revealed as Fritzl's lawyer said his client - who took holidays in Thai sex resorts while Elisabeth and the children were imprisoned - had complained that his own life had been 'ruined' by the discovery of his secret family.
Elisabeth was kept in the windowless cellar with her two oldest children - Kerstin, 19, and 18-year-old Stefan - and her youngest, five-year-old Felix.
They were all told that their father would turn the bunker into an underground gas chamber if they tried to harm him or escape.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth's three other children lived a normal life upstairs at the house in Amstetten, 80 miles west of Vienna, Austria, with Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie, 60.
Yesterday police revealed how Stefan and Felix communicate in a bizarre dialect which is baffling psychologists and doctors who have been monitoring them since their release at the weekend.
They said some of the sounds they made were "animal-like".
Police chief Leopold Etz said: "It is only half true that they can speak. They communicate with noises that are a mixture of growling and cooing.
Police also revealed how Elisabeth, now 42 but imprisoned in the cellar beneath her parents' home since she was 18, tried her hardest to raise Kerstin, Stefan and little Felix in the best way possible - despite having lost the innocence of her own childhood through horrific sexual abuse by her father from the age of 11.
It was reported that Elisabeth had never told her children that they were all imprisoned by their father. She did everything possible to create an illusion of normality.
She taught them to speak as best she could and educated them from the television, which provided the only glimpse of the outside world they had in their entire lives.
Elisabeth would even sing lullabies to help the children sleep. Police said that Felix still sings one tune to comfort himself.
But as Mr Etz pointed out:
Elisabeth would try to pass the terrible hours of boredom by making models with the children out of cardboard and glue.
And she would entertain the children by watching adventure films on TV with them, and then make up fairy stories for them "about princesses and pirates", said police.
Fritzl provided his secret family with a washing machine and a deep freezer. He would often visit to discuss aspects of their upbringing with Elisabeth while his other children, Lisa, 16, Monika, 14, and Alexander, 12, lived unawares upstairs.
His double life involved him spending hours on end in the cellar watching TV and playing with the youngsters while Elisabeth prepared dinner.
But she could not protect Kerstin and her two brothers from their father's violent beatings if they did not behave in the way he wanted them.
The three children and their mother have all suffered complicated medical problems from living in the unnatural environment.
Stefan walks with a stoop because of the limited ceiling height - no more than 5ft 6in - while Felix prefers to crawl despite his five years but can walk upright if he wants to.
Kerstin has already lost all her teeth. She is in a serious but stable condition in hospital where she is in an induced coma and undergoing dialysis. It was Fritzl's decision to take her to hospital that led to the cellar being discovered, after doctors became suspicious.
All the children and their mother are suffering from a depleted immune system and vitamin D deficiency, and Elisabeth is said to appear 20 years older than her 42 years.
Mr Etz said there were signs that Fritzl's youngest victim was making a recovery. "We are proud Felix trusts us more and more," he said.
He told of incredible scenes as the little boy discovers life for the first time. When Felix first looked at the moon on his release, he asked his rescuers: "Is God up there?"
And when he saw the sun he was even more excited, making a squeaking noise and trying to look directly at it through his fingers.
Doctors said that since he came out he is in a constant state of excitement. When he saw a cow for the first time in his life he excitedly made "gurgling noises", but when police took him in a lift he was petrified and clung on to his mother as the floor moved.
Dr Berthold Kepplinger, who examined the brothers at a psychiatric clinic near their home town of Amstetten, said they were staying in a suite which could be locked from the inside to make them feel safe.
Yesterday police also told how the brothers have been enjoying good food for the first time. The boys had said a dinner they had been served "tasted wonderful", and had shared birthday cake with their new found sibling Alexander, who turned 12 on Monday.
In contrast, their father was complaining about his conditions at the prison where he is being held as the investigation continues.
His lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said Fritzl fears other prisoners are "out to get him" and regard him as "the worst sort of scum that needs to be dealt with".
Mr Mayer added:
He added that Fritzl "hopes his family are well" but said he was refusing to speak to detectives any more.
The clinic where the Fritzl family are being looked after by doctors and psychologists has a Nazi past.
Hundreds of patients were put to death at the centre in Mauer, Austria, under the Third Reich's euthanasia laws. At least another 800 were transported to other institutions to be killed.
A book entitled Amstetten 1938-1945, commissioned by civic leaders in the Fritzl family's home town, includes a chapter on the Mauer clinic's wartime atrocities.
The euthanasia officially began in 1941, and was mostly focused on psychiatric patients, but also on those in nursing homes and homes for the elderly.
In 1944 a notorious doctor called Emil Gelny visited the clinic to kill what he deemed "unnecessary mouths".
He killed at least 39 people with drugs such as veronal, luminal and morphine, the book reports.
Today, about 600 staff work at the clinic, caring for more than 6,000 resident patients and an equal number of outpatients.