Capturing-the-Friedmans

Good truth v Bad truth: A case of incestuous relationship between Josef Fritzl and his daughter

A horror house, a dungeon with secret chambers, where lived in captivity a family for 24 long years. A tender girl child of 18 year was lured in there on a casual pretext of carrying some stuff, then she was imprisoned leashed, handcuffed, raped and impregnated for 6 times over a period of 24 years. The devil behind this dance of horror, her own father. [Source 1]

Josef Fritzl’s daughter disappeared from home one day when she was 18. The family lodged reports with police but the search was ended when the parents received a letter from her asking them to ‘stop looking for her’. The father soon convinced the rest of the family that she has joined some religious cult and is not coming back.

It was only in April 2008 that the daughter, victim Elisabeth Fritzl, now 42, was rescued along with her 3 children. In these 24 years, she gave birth 6 times, while her elder children continued to be in captivity along with her the later borns were shifted upstairs after their father-also grand father set it all up to appear as if Elisabeth has left them at the house door step.

As bizarre as it can get, it seems there are no walls in the cellars so in the later days once the children grew up they had no choice but to witness their father-grandfather raping their mother.

Not having ever seen a ray of sunlight the children grew up to be anemic and lacked vitamin D. It was when the eldest daughter Kerstin fell too sick to be kept away from medical attention that their captor took her out of the cellar for the first time ever since she was born and took to the hospital. The Hospital authorities suspected foul play. Police were called and the captor was asked to produce the patient’s mother. Thus Elisabeth saw day light after 24 years and her sons for the first time in their life.

Once outside, Elisabeth reported to the police about her captivity and the captor was arrested. He confessed to the crime and DNA tests have established his fatherhood for all of Elisabeth’s children as alleged.

To say this is a horrific incident of mindless cruelty torture and violence is nothing but short of words. I am not sure which statuette in the world has a punishment which is in proportion to such crime. Not sure how would this family ever become normal. What would it feel for Elisabeth’s mother to have a home full of grand-children fathered by her own husband. The more you think about it the more bizarre it gets.

But I just can’t come to terms with the truth of it. The truth as established by the DNA tests, which is so much stranger and scarier than fiction. There are dots I can’t seem to connect and I can’t seem to understand how could this devil act go on for 24 long years without anybody ever suspecting anything.

Hell I can recognize patterns in the way my Gtalk friends come and go off line and I know what each one of them say or do to initiate a conversation. No matter how big or small it is, we human beings have a natural tendency of watching and recognizing patterns. But this family didn’t see any patterns or aberrations for 24 long years. Or is it that the aberrations were so obvious that they became the patterns.

How could the other members of Fritzl family not suspect this man’s continuous visits to the underground cellars. I mean shouldn’t they have asked him, “hey why do you keep going to the cellars.” If he said, “I got some work,” shouldn’t they have tried to find out after all what work is going on for 24 years? Isn’t 24 years too long a period for status quo to be maintained?

7 delivery took place without any medical assistance? Didn’t the man have to get some basic medicines, nappies, sanitary products, baby food to the cellar. Amestteton is a small town, a man shopping for child care products / medicines over and over again the local pharmacy won’t get suspicious?

In 24 years the cellars never needed to be cleaned / repaired / attended by any kind of maintenance activity? For 24 years this man kept carrying food and other household stuff (including drawing paper and colors for the children) every 2-3 days a week. That’s 2days x 52weeks x 24yrs = 2496 times carrying food inside the cellar and none from the family noticed? Theory of probability ain’t at work?

In 24 years Elisabeth didn’t try to escape? Didn’t she together with her two adult children try to physically overpower the captor, kill him beat him or something. She didn’t think of killing herself to the least?

There were 100s of other tenants living in this same house of horror. None of them noticed anything? If they did they didn’t think of investigating it further? Why are we not shown any picture or footages of Elisabeth’s sons whose life, reportedly, is so dysfunctional that they communicate with each other by a mix of word and animal sounds like growling and cooing?

The answer to all of the questions above might be a ‘No’. May be at times destiny does play such a role of being an ally of the devil. Yes, may be. But I am also repeatedly reminded of the child sexual abuse case of the Friedman father and son in 1987 in Great Neck, N.Y.

Friedmans were a perfectly happy middle class family till the day police knocked on their door to arrest Mr. Arnold Friedman an award wining, retired teacher and his 18 year old son Jesse on account of around 100s of child sexual abuse charges, the victims being students of computer classes he used to take at the basement of their residence, 17 Picadilly Road.

Andrew Jarecki’s path breaking documentary film, “Capturing the Friedman” is based upon this real incident. The film is a frustrating account of truth and representation in media. Throughout the film Andrew takes us through the entire incident, family footages before and after the incident, how each of them reacted and what followed. The way the family coped with the shame of it. The film also takes you through the evidence, interviews both the victim side and defense side, from investigators to psychologist.

At the end of it, there is only one point that Andrew makes, that you can’t ever tell what the truth is unless you are yourself the person in question. That, even in a documentary, which is nothing but factual representation of truth, what you see may not be true, at the least, you can’t be sure if it’s true. As an unbiased audience you are left with utter confusion and serious doubts both about the accusation followed by conviction and the Friedman’s innocence.

The film raises questions about the role media plays in such sexual crimes where a whole community gets involved, where once the incident is captured on television, everybody from the milkman to plumber to the accused’s ex-girlfriend’s school bell boy all seem to have a moral opinion to make, all have something more incriminating and weird to be revealed. And how media can actually play a big role in making or breaking a family’s honor.

More readings on Capturing the Friedmans. (1) (2)

The reason I compared the two cases is because I felt today media is playing a big role in the Fritzl case. As much as I want to see this man be punished with the most sever punishment possible, I also seek answers to the many questions media has not addressed.

The detailed story of House of Horror, which I told you above, is what I found from TV and web. Having myself been a part of a tragedy on which media has written extensively (my friend Kakan’s accidental death by drowning in 2006) I now know how many factual errors media commits. It was frustrating to read the wrong reporting.

So I am thinking how can I be so sure what I am reading about Fritzl family is truth and nothing but the truth. And if that is not the truth, could there be a more bizzare truth. I wonder when there is a question of a sexual aberration in a moral society, where only a certain form of sexual act is acceptable and everything else is a sin, could one form of the aberration be more acceptable by the society than the other. In this case, is it easier to accept that the father must have raped and captivated the daughter than to accept that the daughter might have consented?

There are good truths and there are bad truths but do we as a society accept both?

I have been having some discussion off line regarding this case and the points I raised. A few things came up I thought I’d add them here. The sole link to wikipedia sighted herein was not my only source behind this story. The news is all around the TV and web. And its exctly the same version of the story everywhere. Here are some more links. BBC CNN Guardian Times online

A friend said, there is no good trut or bad truth. Truth is just truth. Precisely my point. But my question – is society happy to accept truth just as it is. With so many missing links in the case, it is not very difficult for me to assume that the daughter is a part of this whole thing. She agreed to have a secret life in the dungeon and is now making it appear as rape. And the society (media being the spokeperson of society) readily accepts her side of the story, where she is a victim and passes a judement on the accused.

The man reportedly said and I quote, “Nonetheless, I am not the beast the media depicts me as. When I went into the bunker, I brought flowers for my daughter, and books and toys for the children, and I watched adventure videos with them while Elisabeth was cooking our favourite dish.” I think this could be true, but do you think the society would accept this as true? For the society, a father raping the daughter is still a more acceptable sexual aberration than the thought of a daughter giving consent to have a sexual relationship with her father.

I am not trying to make any judgment here at all. All I am saying is that how the society looks at a crime situation needs to be revisited.

14 thoughts on “Good truth v Bad truth: A case of incestuous relationship between Josef Fritzl and his daughter

  1. First for all there is no good truth or bad truth. Truth is truth, there are no adjectives to it.
    Secondly if your source is wikipedia then do no try to push this forward because wikipedia can be edited by anyone and everyone. Do not consider that as media.
    Thirdly media always sensationalize the matters by exaggerating facts, we all know that, so facts do get misreported. Journalists are always pressurized to get “Stories”. They are not given the whole facts by the investigation team so they write what sells. No newspaper or TV channel guarantees you absolute truth.
    Also to add, this is an ongoing case with facts and evidences to be put on trial.. it would be too early to comment on whys and hows.

    Sometimes one has to step back and take a look at the bigger picture. I don’t care what happens to the man but as a female I am really eager to know how this lady and her kids would lead their future lives after such traumatic experiences. Is anybody thinking about that?

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  2. The questions that you raised about the doubts that came to your mind, are right. Also, how was the delivery of all the babies handles? Was not there any doctor who must have been called for delivering all the babies? May be this is a case of consent which the daughter now is claiming to be rape to get out of legal hasseles which she might face on the charges of irresponsible parenting, or being mentally un-fit etc. As Seema rightly pointed, the case is under investigation and the truth would come out only in the end.

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  3. Apprehensions regarding the “truth” depicted by media is nothing new. It is an established truth infact that Media does misinterpret and misrepresent truth. There are several movies made on this can’t recall the names right now. The book Manufacturing Consent by Naom Chomsky and Edward S Herman is also written on this.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manufacturing_Consent:_The_Political_Economy_of_the_Mass_Media
    Skeptisism taken to an extreme level has led to various philosophies and thought such as nihilism, post-structuralism, post-modernism.
    The angle of whether the daughter(Brittany Murphy) consented in an alleged rape by her father and if so how shameful or bizzarre is it was also put up in the movie Girl Interrepted.
    History also gets manufactured my the powerful. Every thing is a game of power.
    Apart from that there remains the basic underlying principal that nothing is really real, cause reality without fail depend on the perception of the one perceiving the realilty. A person’s own history, belief system, psychology, personal experience plays an important role in his seeing things, so the truth can never be a constant object as each individual looking at the same object is perceiving a different object.

    My point is (a) by raising these questions u r not doing anything break thru (b) u by reaseraching n blogging bout this incident r proving the point that media is nothing but a multi-national multi-crore business. someone somewhere earned some money as u typed in the key words in google and read th various news websites. the man was a well establsihed person, building such high technology cellar. this story is definately bizzarre but may be not as much as media is depicting. there are many such bizzarre things happening everywhere around the world- no wait a minute- everywhere around the 3rd world rather.

    I say ignore these sensational news. And concentrate on the happenings in ur country. i remember clearly u not reacting to the bomb blasts in delhi back in 2006 nearing diwali in places like SN nd Paharganj among others. U r a consumer with which those news did not sell, this news may be because it deals with sexuality is selling much more.

    Food for thought????

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  4. Very True. It must be revisited. Society has cultured very bad habit of snubbing some serious things.”Come on! its not happening at my home” kinda attitude. Nobody wants truth as long as its doesnt effect their own personal life. Its just a bloody fact.

    How far media will stick to to this news??Will this be pushed to history??May be…But what about such kind of incidents which haven’t seen light yet?

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  5. Could’nt agree more with you. I would tend to blame the media here.

    The media’s role, of late, has been to sensationalize all news and come up with its own judgement rather than reporting facts and letting the people decide. This trend has caught on everywhere, Obama-Jeremiah Wright controversy, bhajji-symmonds controversy etc. In all these cases, we have seen the media demonize one party mindlessly instead of being the impartial watchdog it is supposed to be.

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  6. She may have ‘given in’ after years of imprisonment. Fritzl himself admitted that he told those in the dungeon that if they tried to escape or harm him in anyway, they would be gassed. Out of fear for herself, & more importantly her children, she may have ‘given in’ solely for the sake of survival.

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  7. Hi … while this issue has massive psychological angles i do not consider it to be a very relevant social issue, on the simple grounds that there are more pertinent issues that require ample media attention and constant coverage. This article can be very interesting study for society on psycological aspects but then this is really not a singular instance. from elderly being deserted on the streets, to mentally challenged people handcuffed and chained to beds and posts, we have ample social issues in india requiring our attention and a reformative approach. interestingly, the daughter’s psyche may be analysed from the point of view of helsinki or stockholm syndrome where the captive actually starts relating to the captor, even sympathising, empathising and falling in love! have you analysed this angle for your story? Its a well researched and written piece but then you need to present a logical solution to the problem if you actually want to address it. regarding why people around this man didnt raise the red flag .. well, arent we as human beings too individualistic about actually working on core issues that we see in other people’s life. our complacent self makes us social bystanders and if you may, gossipmongers. from this perspective we need a massive pyscological overhaul of us as social animals! we have become animalistic, the social touch is gone! You have been influenced by this story to ponder and write, while I have been wondering what happened to manjunath kalmani – did he get the promised social and govt aid, that was promised when he was all over national TV for a day???

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  8. @Manoj

    You are right…there are more such skeletons in the closet, as it turns out incestuous relationship is more common than we thought it is. Both as part of silent abuse and discreet pleasure. Look at the Orkut community for one, you’d be surprised to see the discussion that takes place there. People freely talking about sexually desiring their parents, uncles, brothers. The point is who decides what kind of sexual arrangement between two individual is right and what is wrong. There are more than we can perceive and I think we need to learn to absorb all of them as they come out of the closet.

    @Kaushik

    Thanks for pointing out those other example. You are right this trial by media is not the best thing, although I am not sure if we can completely do away with it. And its not even something new you know, I remember having read a case in college days on this, will Google out…

    @Yv es

    Sure, that is one of the many possibilities, I am not ruling out any of them.

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  9. Hmm….You think world is coming to full circle??I mean, no differentiation between human and animals??I dont understand, why this generation is so despearte for sex.Just because sex has been discussed in open air??.Specially in India,realtionships are standing on someones sexual abilities!!.

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  10. @Seema,

    I addressed your points on the post itself.

    @Snigdha,

    thanks for reminding of the gaps in pregnancy and delivery process.

    @Swagata

    You are right, I am talking about this issue because it deals with sexuality and crime. Yes I didn’t bother about the delhi bomb blasts. Everybody has a different social cause to follow…Some follows poverty, some environment some animal rights etc. I write about issues and causes that I follow and feel have concern for, that shouldn’t be a problem so long as each one of us follows at least one social cause.

    Talking about concentrating on what is happening in our country, the thoughts in this post is not country or region specific. It’s about how human beings perceive a situation.

    And about doing breakthrough, I am not sure if any writer / journalist / philospher / thinker in this world has ever done anything breakthrough besides inspiring people to think a little different from mundane, which is what I do too…There isn’t anything more breaking that I am trying to do, I am a writer. And as it seems I and my writings are a part of this media too…once I published this post this blog got a hundred thousand visits making me rich (although not monetarily). That way we are all a part of it.

    I loved what you wrote about what is real…but what is the whole point of ur comment that I didn’t get…

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  11. Hi, from Toronto, Canada

    Just a quick hello from as I’m new to the board. I’ve seen some interesting posts so far.

    To be honest I’m new to forums and computers in general :)

    Mike

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  12. I had read about this piece of cruel news some 2 years back.. you have mentioned exactly the things that had crossed my mind too..
    Let me try and say something on why she did or could not flee or at the least try.
    Like lack of sunlight made those children sick, similarly, lack of support, encouragement and right vision or people also makes a human cripple. One seem to end thinking beyond the point of present atrocities that she may be subjected to. I have undergone this stage few times personally and so can vouch for it.
    Once, Sampada came to rescue, rest of the times the memory of “Sampada rescued me” made me move.
    Killing oneself over isn’t easy.. Woman being woman, this lady had “her” children to live for. Yes, thats how the children play on one’s mind. My mom had completely wasted herself to bring me up.. Had I been in her place, I probably would have not been so brave and acted selfishly; then again, thats one of the reasons why I have chosen to be “childless”.. More than love of a spouse, its the children who make you live or die whatever the case may be..
    To even make an attempt to express what this lade may have undergone would be futile; its barbarian!
    I wish her all the best for her future life..
    Since you wrote about her, I feel my wishes for her would also travel to her through your post.

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