Teen Held Captive In Basement For 24 Years
n April 2008, the world was shocked to hear the story of a woman who had been held as a prisoner for over two decades in her father’s basement, where he reportedly raped her upwards of 3,000 times. Over the course of her 24-year imprisonment, Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to seven children by her own father.
How did all of this happen and what was life like in the dark for so long? Keep reading to uncover the harrowing details of the Fritzl case.
The year is 1956 in the small town of Amstetten, Austria, when 21-year-old Josef Fritzl married his 17-year-old bride, Rosemarie. Growing up an only child without a father, Josef was raised by the fist of his hard-working mother.
Well into his adulthood, Josef and Rosemarie went on to have an unassuming life with two sons and five daughters. It has been reported that Josef was feared by his children, who were forced to remain silent when he entered a room and who were severely punished for misbehaving.
One of their daughters, Elisabeth, was singled out in particular.
Elisabeth Fritzl was born in 1966, just a year before her father Josef was sentenced to 18 months in prison for breaking into a woman’s home and raping her. He served 12 months of the sentence and the incident was eventually expunged from his record after 15 years, in accordance with Austrian law. But that didn’t stop Josef from preying on 11-year-old Elisabeth in 1977 when he reportedly raped her for the first time.
Josef would continue to inflict sexual abuse on his daughter for many years to come. After finishing her primary education, Elisabeth enrolled in a waitressing program with false hopes of escaping her life at home in Amstetten.
Elisabeth tried to run away from home on two occasions, but was retrieved by authorities each time and brought home to her parents.
After completing her waitressing program, then-18-year-old Elisabeth had a job prospect about 40 minutes away in the city of Linz. But that’s when her father Josef decided to trap Elisabeth for good. On August 29, 1984, Josef asked Elisabeth to help him carry a door down to the basement.
Little did Elisabeth know, she was carrying the last piece of her own entrapment and it would be the last time she would see the outside world for the next 24 years.
After Josef knocked Elisabeth out with an ether-soaked towel and threw her into the underground chamber, Josef’s wife Rosemarie assumed her daughter had gone missing and did what any concerned parent would do by filing a missing person’s report.
A month after the report was filed, Josef turned in to the police a letter that he had secretly forced Elisabeth to write. The letter informed her parents that she had run away with a friend and that they shouldn’t look for her.
Using Elisabeth’s previous runaway attempts as evidence she was a troubled teen, Josef convinced his wife and the authorities that she had run away with a religious cult. Elisabeth’s missing person’s case was closed, but what ensued over the following years is truly insidious.
At first, Josef chained Elisabeth to a pole and would only come down to her chamber every few days to bring her food and rape her.
Eventually, she was given a longer leash so that she could use the toilet. Josef would spend copious amounts of time underground under the guise of working on blueprints for machines that he hoped to sell. He instructed his wife Rosemarie never to go down and bother him, to which she complied. Days turned into weeks, then into months, then into years. Josef threatened to gas the basement if Elisabeth ever attempted to escape or attack him.
Elisabeth quickly lost count of how many times her father had his way with her and that eventually had its repercussions.
After a miscarriage in 1986, Elisabeth gave birth in 1988 to her first child-sibling, Kerstin.
The birth of Kerstin was followed by Stefan in 1990 and Lisa in 1992.
After the birth of Lisa, Josef realized that the one-bedroom basement was getting a little crowded, so he came up with a plan.
When Lisa was just nine-months-old when he placed her in a cardboard box and left her on the Frtizl’s doorstep with a note from Elisabeth that asked her parents to take care of the infant. Fritzl made it so that it seemed like Elisabeth briefly returned to give her parents a child that she couldn’t care for.
After three incest kids, Josef still continued to rape Elisabeth, who continued to have four more kids.
Monika was born in 1994, at which point Elisabeth begged for more space in the basement. Josef allowed for enlargement of the basement but made Elisabeth and her two eldest kids dig out more soil for space with their bare hands. Elisabeth then had Alexander in 1997, who was born a twin but the other baby died shortly after birth. Josef reportedly disposed of the body in the furnace used to heat the entire house.
Monika and Alexander were also taken as infants to the outside world to be raised by Rosemarie, who didn’t find it suspicious that these children were seemingly appearing out of thin air.
Elisabeth’s first two children were subject to a life in the basement because they already had memories of living there with their mother and father/grandfather.
Lisa, Monika, and Alexander were taken as infants and were fortunate enough to live a relatively normal childhood, going to school and being taken to extracurricular activities by their grandmother. Josef and Rosemarie successfully adopted Lisa and were approved to be foster parents of Monika and Alexander.
When social workers came to the Fritzl household, nothing appeared suspicious to them. But unbeknownst to everyone besides Josef, there were three hostages underneath the house the whole time.
Elisabeth had one more child in 2002, Felix, who ended up staying in the basement his whole life because as Josef later revealed to investigators, his wife could not take on raising another child.
Felix, his two older siblings, and Elisabeth lived day to day by the harsh artificial light of the basement, not really knowing when it was night or day.
Elisabeth’s three children who stayed with her in the basement had no knowledge of what the outside world was like, although they had a television that would show them things they never thought they’d experience.
What was life like for Josef Fritzl’s captives?
By the time all of Elisabeth’s incest children were born, the basement had two bedrooms and one padded room where Josef would allegedly take Elisabeth to rape her. There was also a small bathroom, a fridge, and hot plates.
Elisabeth taught her kids to read and write, while telling them stories of what she could remember from the outside world and watching movies with them on their television.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth’s upstairs children lived comfortably with Rosemarie, who along with Josef, told neighbors and friends that Elisabeth left them as infants on their doorstep. For 24 years, nobody suspected a thing until finally, the eldest downstairs child, Kerstin, grew fatally ill.
On April 19, 2008, Elisabeth convinced her father to seek medical care for the eldest daughter. Josef agreed and had an ambulance take Kerstin to a local hospital.
Before she left, Elisabeth snuck a note in Kerstin’s pocket that warned hospital workers of Kerstin’s condition, since Kerstin has never had contact with the outside world before. The mysterious note prompted authorities, who urged Kerstin’s mother to come forward so they could get more information about Kerstin’s medical history.
Kerstin, who was in critical condition from kidney failure, made local news as people searched for her mother. Elisabeth watched this transpire from the television in the basement and knew she had to be with her daughter.
Elisabeth urged her father to take her to the hospital, but not before he concocted a plan.
Since authorities were looking for Kerstin’s mother, Elisabeth’s missing person case was reopened. At that point, Josef had Elisabeth forge another letter, dated January 2008 and postmarked from a nearby town. Josef reiterated the claim that Elisabeth had run away with a religious cult and gave authorities the new letter he forced her to write.
This prompted them to investigate the town from which it came, buying Josef more time to come up with a way to cover his tracks for the years-long crime.
The fake letter explained Kerstin’s medical condition and also claimed that Elisabeth planned to return home with her three other children soon. This way, Josef could let Elisabeth and the three downstairs children out of the basement and have a plausible reason for their return.
However, everything didn’t go according to plan. Investigators determined that the letter seemed dictated and that the handwriting was too well constructed for it to be written by someone who was allegedly in Elisabeth’s position. Additionally, after going to the town from where the letter was sent, authorities could find no trace of the religious sect Elisabeth had allegedly joined and began to question whether it existed at all.
Allowing his daughter to resurface to the outside world on April 26, 2008, Josef snuck Elisabeth and their three incest children out of their basement dungeon while Rosemarie and the other three children were away.
Later that day, police were notified that three “suspicious individuals” visited Kerstin at the hospital. Police arrived at the scene in time to catch Josef Fritzl and Elisabeth, who were both taken in for questioning.
At first, Elisabeth didn’t want to talk but opened up to the authorities after she was promised she would never have to see her father again. After gaining Elisabeth’s trust and reassuring her that her children and mother would be taken care of, she told them her horrific story.
It took two hours for Elisabeth to tell the police about her 24 years in captivity, the story of which was recorded on three full pages.
On April 26, 2008, Josef Fritzl was arrested on suspicion of serious crimes against family members.
The following day, police publicly announced his arrest, while Elisabeth, her mother, and five other children were taken into care.
Elisabeth and all of the children reunited in what was reported to be an astonishing reunion. Kerstin, who was 19 at the time of her hospitalization, was induced into a coma due to her fatal condition. By the time she was freed, Elisabeth was already 42 years old.
Elisabeth herself was in terrible condition for being held captive in a windowless basement for so long, as her sallow appearance was emphasized by her completely white hair.
Sons Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5, were also quite pale and were spending time adjusting to the amount of light and space they were newly exposed to.
Stefan had trouble walking since he grew to be 5’8″ while the dungeon was only 5 feet and 6 inches high.
The upstairs children who were raised by grandma Rosemarie were reportedly angered at having been deceived their whole lives. Lisa, 15, Monika, 14, and Alexander, 12, were still happy to be reunited with their mother and siblings.
In his interrogation, Josef Fritzl confessed to imprisoning his daughter and fathering her seven kids. He also admitted to burning the body of his infant son in an incinerator.
On April 29, 2008, police used DNA testing to confirm that Josef was indeed the father of Elisabeth’s children.
Josef Fritzl’s trial commenced in March 2009, when he was tried for murder by the negligence of his infant son—he failed to seek medical care for the infant that could have saved his life—and decades of enslavement, incest, rape, and false imprisonment of Elisabeth.
After extensive psychiatric evaluation determined that Fritzl suffered from a severe personality disorder, prosecutors still determined he was mentally fit to stand trial.
Fritzl pleaded guilty to the charges of rape and incest but not guilty to the murder and imprisonment charges. When he arrived at court, he buried his face in a blue folder to avoid the press and in the courtroom, he appeared stoic and emotionless, reportedly showing no remorse for his crime.
During his psychiatric evaluation, he is reported to blame his abusive upbringing and described himself as an “alibi child,” only conceived so that his mother could prove she was able to have kids.
He reportedly told a psychiatrist, “I was born to rape, and I held myself back for a relatively long time. I could have behaved a lot worse than locking up my daughter,”Time reported.
On the second day of the trial, Elisabeth’s video testimony was aired in court. Reports say that “Josef Fritzl recognized that Elisabeth was in court and, from this point on, you could see Josef Fritzl going pale and he broke down.
It was a meeting of eyes that changed his mind.” After seeing Elisabeth’s testimony, Josef pleaded guilty on all charges the following day.
On March 19, 2009, he was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole. Fritzl accepted the sentence with no contest.
Aged 74 at the time of the trial, he is currently serving his sentence at a monastery in Upper Austra that has been turned into a prison—in a section of the prison for the criminally insane.
During the time of the trial, Elisabeth and her family were undergoing psychiatric and medical care, learning how to reacclimate themselves to the outside world. Encouraged to take creative outlets as a part of their therapy, the family made posters thanking the town for their ongoing support during the trying time.
Their message read, “We, the whole family, would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for sympathy at our fate. Your compassion is helping us greatly to overcome these difficult times, and it shows us there also are good and honest people here who really care for us. We hope that soon there will be a time where we can find out way back into normal life.”
After the trial, they were given the option to take on new identities, in addition to moving to an unnamed village in Northern Austria.
As it turned out, not everyone was oblivious to the harm that Josef inflicted on Elisabeth. Shortly after the sexual abuse began when she was 12, Elisabeth confessed to her closest older brother, Harald, what was going on. In a video testimony that was shown to the court during the trial, Harald confessed that while he did know about Elisabeth’s sexual abuse, he didn’t say anything because “there was little he could do,” Telegraph reports. Harald said, “As Elisabeth’s older brother she trusted me and told me what went on,” elaborating by telling of how their father would perform sex acts on himself in front of her and made her look at pornography.
Harald’s unwillingness to stand up for his little sister stemmed from his fear of his father, who once brutally beat Harald so hard, he broke Harald’s nose.
As the case unfolded, Police feared that the eldest daughter, Kerstin, might have been a victim of Josef’s sexual abuse. Because she was in a coma by the time her mother and brothers were freed, she was unable to be questioned over whether she had suffered at the hands of her father/grandfather.
Franz Polzer, the chief investigator, said: “[Josef Fritzl’s] motive was to recreate once again the situation he had with his first family, the legal family, but this time with a good looking young daughter,” Telegraph reports. Because Elisabeth’s incarceration has caused her to age prematurely, Josef’s sights may have begun to set on Kerstin.
According to British publication Telegraph, “Fritzl’s victims [planned] to sue him for millions of pounds in damages. Elisabeth and her six children [were] assigned state lawyers to help them handle media interest and their financial affairs. The cost of their therapy [was] expected to exceed £750,000 and Fritzl’s financial affairs [were] in such poor shape… that they might be left penniless.” The damage claims include sexual abuse, emotional and physical pain, and the lasting psychological impact that all the victims are expected to have. Experts to cases such as these predicted that each victim could claim at least 200 euros for each day that they were held captive.