Ever since Josef Fritzl, the authoritarian patriarch of a sprawling family in the north Austrian town of Amstetten, was discovered to have imprisoned his daughter as a sex slave in a cellar for 24 years and fathered seven children with her, Austria has been locked in an emotional debate over what could cause such a crime. Some have claimed Fritzl’s sadism to be a vestige of Nazism’s moral corruption, others that the psychological strain of living for years under the threat of nuclear destruction was to blame.
But on Wednesday, six months after Fritzl was arrested on suspicion of incest and abduction, leaked portions of a long-awaited psychiatrist’s report to prosecutors suggest that personal, rather than societal, causes were behind Fritzl’s crimes. Fritzl’s actions, the report said, can be partly attributed to the abuse he suffered as a child. “His story describes an unpredictable atmosphere with humiliating and unprovoked attacks from his mother,” psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner wrote in her 130-page report. “His childhood made him susceptible to an emotional handicap; [he felt] the need to possess an entire human being.”
Fritzl reportedly blamed his behavior not on his upbringing but on an innate “evil streak” that he battled against his whole life. “I was born to rape, and I held myself back for a relatively long time,” Fritzl reportedly told Kastner. “I could have behaved a lot worse than locking up my daughter.”
In six lengthy interviews, Fritzl described himself as an “alibi child” who was only conceived so that his mother could prove to her partner that she was not sterile. According to Fritzl’s account, she neglected him and subjected him to traumatic experiences like abandonment. During World War II bombing raids, for example, Fritzl’s mother would retreat to an air-raid shelter for safety, leaving Fritzl alone in the family home.
Kastner’s report, a portion of which was leaked to Austria’s Oesterreich newspaper on Wednesday, also contains more troubling details of Fritzl’s crime. The 73-year-old deliberately never looked his daughter in the face while he was raping her, the report says, and purposefully shunned contraceptives “so that she would always stay with me, because as a mother of six, she would no longer hold any attraction for other men.”
Fritzl also told Kastner that he would punish his imprisoned family by turning off the cellar lights or withholding food for several days. He taunted his children with photographs of other kids playing outside in the sun.
From these and other details, Kastner diagnosed Fritzl with severe combined personality disorder and a serious sexual disorder, although she also found him sane enough for a criminal trial due to start in the coming months. According to her report, Kastner recommends that Fritzl remain in psychiatric care for the rest of his life, regardless of the outcome of his prosecution. Kastner believes Fritzl, who carries a conviction from a rape of a nurse in 1967, will always be a danger to society.
Austrian authorities meanwhile are focusing on the rehabilitation of Fritzl’s 42-year-old daughter Elisabeth and her six children. Psychiatrists say the children are more likely to suffer from a range of psychological problems in adulthood, including becoming abusive themselves. As a nation obsesses over one man’s evil, the challenge now is to help his children escape their dark past.
See photos of Austria’s house of horrors.
Read a TIME story on the children of the cellar.