Published: June 17, 2008
A police officer inspecting the house near a town in Naples where a woman was discovered Friday locked in a room.
ROME — The discovery of a woman on Friday who the authorities say was kept in a locked room in her family’s home for 18 years has Italians pondering the similarities with the widely publicized abuse cases that have shaken Austria in recent years.
Acting on a tip, investigators freed the 47-year-old woman, Maria Monaco, from her squalid living quarters. The police arrested her 80-year-old mother, Anna Rosa Golino, as well as a sister, Michelina Monaco, and a brother, Prisco Monaco, and accused them of kidnapping.
Prosecutors say Ms. Monaco was kept locked up at home because she became pregnant out of wedlock, according to a lawyer representing the other family members.
“She could barely walk, and instead of speaking she emitted a sort of wailing sound,” said Carmine Rosciano, the military police captain who oversaw the operation.
Ms. Monaco was found surrounded by filth and cigarette butts, Captain Rosciano said in a telephone interview. She was transferred to a psychiatric ward in a Naples hospital.
Gianfranco Carbone, the lawyer representing the three defendants, dismissed the accusations. Mr. Carbone said that Ms. Monaco had severe psychological problems.
“The family was only trying to be discreet,” he said in a telephone interview, adding that she had not been prevented from leaving the family home.
The case immediately drew parallels in the media with the kidnapping of Natascha Kampusch, the Austrian schoolgirl who spent eight years in a basement cell before escaping from her abductor in August 2006, and Elisabeth Fritzl, who was kept locked up in a cellar for 24 years, bearing seven children by her father. She and her captive children were freed in April.
Mr. Carbone called the comparisons “decidedly wrong.”
Ms. Monaco “has serious psychological problems and refused to undergo any therapy,” or take care of her personal hygiene, he said. “The family was ashamed for her.”
“What’s happened is a drama within a drama,” Mr. Carbone said.
The room where investigators say Ms. Monaco spent nearly two decades of her life — which was accessible through a locked gate — was on the second floor of a two-story house in Santa Maria Capua Vetere, a small town near Naples.
Ms. Monaco had access to a “fetid washroom,” Captain Rosciano said. Her family used dog bowls to feed her, the captain said.
Ms. Monaco’s son, who is 17 and attends high school, lived in the house, but seldom saw his mother because he understood that she was seriously ill, Mr. Carbone said. “The family accepted him,” he said. “That should mean something.”
Investigators are trying to establish who impregnated Ms. Monaco to see whether that might shed light on the case. Antonio Ricci, the prosecutor handling the case, said he could not comment because the investigation was under way.
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