VIENNA, Austria – A woman who went missing in 1984 was found by police over the weekend and told investigators that she had been held by her father in a cellar, where she was repeatedly raped and gave birth to at least six children, police said Sunday.
Authorities said the father may have told acquaintances and relatives that his daughter had joined a cult and disappeared.
Franz Polzer, head of the Lower Austrian Bureau of Criminal Affairs, told reporters the father, identified as Josef F., had been taken into custody. Police said Josef, 73, and his wife had been raising three of their daughter’s children. The other three grew up in the cellar.
“We are being confronted with an unfathomable crime,” Interior Minister Guenther Platter said.
The case unfolded after a gravely ill teenager was found unconscious in the building where her grandparents live and taken to a hospital in the town of Amstetten, police said. Told that the sick 19-year-old’s mother was missing, authorities publicly appealed for her to come forward.
Officers received a tip and picked up the mother near the hospital on Saturday, police said.
The mother, whom authorities identified as Elisabeth F., told officers that she had just been released after two decades of captivity at the hands of her father. She said that on Aug. 28, 1984, her father had sedated her, handcuffed her and locked her in a room in the cellar of the family’s apartment building.
Elisabeth, 42, said her father had been sexually abusing her since she was 11. According to the police statement, Elisabeth said that her mother, Rosemarie, had not been involved.
Police said Elisabeth appeared “greatly disturbed” during questioning and agreed to talk only after authorities assured her she would no longer have to have contact with her father and that her children would be cared for.
Police said Josef and Rosemarie had raised three of Elisabeth’s children in their apartment in a two-story building in Amstetten, about 80 miles west of Vienna. The couple registered the children with authorities, saying they found them outside their home in 1993, 1994 and 1997, at least one with a note from Elisabeth saying she could not care for the child.
After Kerstin, the 19-year-old, was hospitalized, police said, Josef F. freed Elisabeth and the two remaining children from the cellar and told his wife that their daughter and the children had come back to them.
All six children are in psychiatric care, along with Elisabeth and Rosemarie, police said. DNA tests are expected to determine whether Josef F. is the father.