June 3, 2005
Police search the area around the house in Graz, Austria, Friday, where the bodies of at least four slain newborns where found stuffed into a freezer and entombed with cement in a paint bucket. (AP/Markus Leodolter)
VIENNA, Austria (AP) - In a gruesome discovery that stunned usually tranquil Austria, police said Friday they found the bodies of four newborns - two of them stuffed into a freezer - at an apartment complex in the southern city of Graz.
Authorities charged the infants' 32-year-old mother with murder, saying she confessed to killing them out of despair over her inability to pay bills and fear that having a child might drive away her longtime male partner. The companion also was placed under investigation.
The grisly killings and disposals, which authorities said may have begun three years ago, shocked the alpine country - where multiple homicides are rare - and led to calls for more assistance for women who have crisis pregnancies.
Police said two of the bodies were found in the freezer of the apartment building in Graz, about 200 kilometres south of Vienna. Authorities arrested the suspect and her 38-year-old partner on Thursday, police said.
Austrian state broadcaster ORF said two bodies were wrapped in plastic bags and stuffed in a freezer, and a third had been placed in a paint bucket and filled with cement.
Police came across a fourth body, wrapped in a plastic bag beneath a pile of debris, in an adjacent garden shed.
Graz's Kleine Zeitung newspaper reported that the first body was discovered Monday by a resident of the multi-family apartment block when he went to the basement to get ice cream from a chest freezer shared by the building's occupants
The stunned tenant called police, who later located a second body in the freezer, buried beneath frozen meat and vegetables.
Although police initially considered the possibility that the infants had been stillborn, evidence at the scene pointed to the newborns' slayings.
The suspect, a bookkeeper whose name was not released in line with Austrian privacy laws, lived in the building with her boyfriend for the past eight years, authorities said. Neighbours described the woman as a hard-worker who kept a tidy house and a beautiful yard.
Police Lt.-Col. Werner Jud said Friday the suspect was not entirely coherent during questioning, but told investigators she gave birth to all the babies in her bathtub.
"Various reasons can lead women into such violent situations that they can't even think straight," said Dr. Roswith Roth of the University of Graz's Institute of Psychology.
"When a mother kills a child right after its birth, it's clear that she does so because she sees no other way out," Roth told the Austria Press Agency. "There is still an enormous amount of ignorance in how to prevent such things."
Police said they believed the bodies may have been placed in the freezer as long as three years ago. They said the woman mentioned in her confession that she was in despair over her ability to survive and had been worried she would lose her companion if she had a child.
Her partner allegedly told police he was unaware of her pregnancies and insisted he played no role in either the slayings or hiding the bodies.
Although the province of Styria, where Graz is regional capital, has had a program in place since 2001 allowing women who don't want to keep their babies to give birth anonymously, women's advocates called for greater attention to their plight.
"The climate in which a woman must deal with an unplanned pregnancy is not very supportive in Austria," said Sylvia Groth, who heads a women's health centre in Graz.
Autopsies were held, but results had not yet been released, officials said. They said the forensic examination was held up by the need to slowly thaw the frozen remains of the infants found in the freezer.