- Held a daughter captive for 24 years behind eight locked doors in a concealed corridor part of the basement area.
- Physically assaulted, sexually abused, and raped his daughter during the long years of imprisonment that resulted in the birth of seven children were reported as foundlings.
It was a case that not only shocked the country of Austria but the entire world. A story of decades of abuse and neglect, that had many recoil in disgust. It was the story of Josef Fritzl, a man who not only kidnapped his own daughter but held her captive for 24 years, abusing her and fathering seven children with her.
Born on April 9, 1935, in Amstetten, Austria, he would marry 17-year-old Rosemarie in 1956. Together, they would have seven children, including five daughters. One of the girls, Elisabeth, was born in 1966. One year later, Josef was convicted of rape and served 18 months in prison.
For Elisabeth, her home life was troubled and at the age of 17, she ran away from home and hid in Vienna with a friend. She was found three weeks later and returned home. According to Elisabeth later, her father started sexually abusing her in 1977, when she was only 11. One year later, her horrible ordeal would begin. For Elisabeth, it all started innocently enough with helping her father move a door down the stairs. On August 29, 1984, when she was 18, she would carry the door downstairs and help his dad put it into place on the door frame. It was not until the door was in place that she realized that the door was for her and that she was now calling the basement dungeon home. After knocking her out with ether, her father threw her into the chamber. She would remain there for over 20 years. Her mother knew nothing of this and filed a missing person report with the police when her daughter disappeared. One month later, Josef gave police a letter he said was mailed to them by Elisabeth.
In reality, he had forced her to write it while in captivity. Postmarked from a different community, the letter told she was living with a friend and did not want to be found.
From this moment on, her life of terror and abuse would continue. Every three days her father would visit her in her chamber, bringing her food and supplies. He later admitted that during the visits he sexually assaulted her. Those attacks would result in the birth of seven children in captivity. Three children would be removed from captivity and began living with Josef and his wife. Amazingly, he was able to convince not only his wife but social services, that the children appeared on his doorstep. He and his wife would be approved as foster parents as a result. Social services would visit the home on a regular basis to check on the children, but there was nothing reported to raise any doubts or suspicions in them.
The prison, and that was what it was, would be enlarged 10 years after Elisabeth was kidnapped by her father, and items such a VCR, television, fridge and hot plates would be added. Despite the amenities, there was no mistaking that Elisabeth and her children were living in hell. Her father would often turn the lights out for days to punish them. He also told Elisabeth and the three children with her that if they tried to escape, he had the ability to gas them and kill them all. This was an empty threat as it was found there were no capabilities to do this at all. Josef also told Elisabeth that if she touched the door, she would receive an electric shock that would kill her.
One can wonder how his wife never figured out that her own daughter was being assaulted by her husband in the basement, where three other children lived, but she claimed she never knew. Josef’s sister-in-law stated that she would see him go into the basement at 9 a.m. every day to draw up plans for devices to sell to firms. Another tenant who lived there for 12 years said noises were heard in the basement, but Josef just stated that the noises were the heating system.
Elisabeth’s ordeal would finally come to an end in 2008. It was on April 19 that her oldest daughter Kerstin fell ill and had to get medical attention. Kerstin would leave the basement for the first time in her life, seeing the outside world for the first time. It was Elisabeth’s first time seeing the outside world in 24 years, but she was returned to the dungeon and remained there for another week. When Kerstin began to develop kidney failure, Josef said that he had a note from her mother that discussed the condition. This raised the eyebrows of medical staff, who began to question the story and put out an appeal for finding the missing mother. It was at this moment that police reopened the missing person case associated with Elisabeth. Josef stated that Elisabeth had left to join a cult, but a church official who had knowledge of cults had doubts about the story. The letters seemed to have been dictated and were written in an odd manner.
Elisabeth begged her father to let her go to the hospital to see her daughter, which he allowed. Upon arrival, police were tipped off, and Josef and Elisabeth were taken to the police station for questioning. Elisabeth refused to talk until the police told her that she would never have to see her father again. Once she was assured of this, she spoke for two straight hours about her captivity. Many of the details would cause revulsion around the world, including the forcing of her father to make her watch pornographic movies, and the repeated times he sexually abused her. According to Elisabeth, her father would make her recreate the scenes from pornographic movies in front of her children with him.
On April 27, 2008, Elisabeth, her children and her mother were taken into care. Two days later, DNA evidence confirmed the seven children were Josef’s. Josef was arrested and charged with an extensive series of crimes.
On March 16, 2009, Josef Fritzl would go on trial. He would plead guilty on all accounts except grievous assault and murder. During the trial, jurors watched an 11-hour testimony from Elisabeth that was so horrendous, many could only watch for two hours at a time. Four replacement jurors had to be brought in because several jurors could not stand to hear any more evidence. On March 18, following the testimony from his daughter, Josef changed his plea to guilty on all accounts. On March 19, he was sentenced to life imprisonment. The incident would send shockwaves around Austria, and the Chancellor of the country would have to launch a massive image campaign to try and restore the reputation of the country in the eyes of the world.
As for Elisabeth, as well as Kerstin who made a full recovery, there would be years of therapy for her and her children. She would get her driver’s license, and begin going shopping and spending her time outdoors. She would also develop a relationship with her bodyguard, Thomas, who became a "big brother" figure to her children. Her children, including the three taken from her, also began to develop healthy sibling relationships with each other.
Having faced the "morbid reality", Elisabeth eventually forgave her mother Rosemarie.