The Father Who Imprisoned and Raped His Own Daughter for 24 Years and Fathered 7 Children With Her
The monster Josef Fritzl and the tragic story of her daughter Elisabeth
Before I begin a warning: The following article contains descriptions that may be upsetting to some readers.
On August 28, 1984, Josef Fritzl told her 18-year-old daughter Elisabeth to help him carry a door to his home's basement as he needed to put it in the frame.
Elisabeth agreed and carried the door with her father to the bunker in the basement.
She held the door in place with both hands as Fritzl started fitting it into the frame. When the work was nearly done, Fritzl suddenly took an ether-soaked towel in his hand and pressed it on her daughter's face.
Within seconds, Elisabeth lost consciousness.
Fritzl threw her into the tiny chamber and locked that door and the other seven doors of the bunker.
From now on, this little soundproof damp cellar would be Elisabeth's new home.
A dark chapter began in her life. Sadly, the villain here was her own father.
If you're wondering, to have a bunker like that (with thick concrete and steel reinforced doors) wasn't uncommon in Austria during those years of the cold war. As the threat of nuclear war was real, building a bunker in the basement was encouraged by the government.
"In 1978, Josef Fritzl applied for permission from the planning board in Amstetten to build his bunker," Allan Hall writes in the book Monster, "and that is how he always referred to it - not as a basement, nor a cellar, but a bunker."
His bunker had two access points - a hinged door of 500kg (left unused because of its weight) and a metal door of 300kg, located behind a shelf in Fritzl's basement workshop. And this door was protected by an electronic code only known to Fritzl.
To reach the chamber (where Elisabeth was kept imprisoned), you had to pass eight custom-made doors - of which five had an intricate locking system that required special cylindrical keys. The other three needed electric codes entered using a remote control.
Unfortunately, Fritzl built this secret bunker not to save her family from a nuclear attack but to captivate her own daughter and teach her some discipline.
No one, not even the inspection visit carried out by the fire department in 1983 or the routine inspection in 1999, noticed the existence of the sliding wall behind Fritzl's bookshelves that hid the gangway to the cellar complex.
So, no one knew the existence of that secret chamber.
You might be thinking: What did Fritzl tell her family about Elisabeth's disappearance?
"'She's gone.' With two syllables, Josef Fritzl told his family that Elisabeth - the runaway, the problem child, the rebel - had decided to flee the nest," writes Allan Hall in his book.
Her family believed this because Elisabeth had threatened them several times before saying she would leave the house. At the age of 16, she even flew away from the house, and later the police had to return her home.
So, Fritzl easily convinced his wife, Rosemarie, and others that Elisabeth escaped home and joined a religious sect. Rosemarie immediately filed a missing report.
What Fritzl did afterward to her own daughter was unthinkable.
Over the next 24 years, Fritzl kept her daughter imprisoned in that tiny soundproof damp cellar and raped her repeatedly, at least three times a week.
Elisabeth was drugged and forced to watch pornography as well.
"My desire to have sex with Elisabeth also got much stronger as time went by," Fritzl later admitted. "We first had sex in spring 1985. I couldn't control myself any more. At some stage somewhere in the night I went into the cellar and lay her down on the bed and had sex with her."
She became pregnant (for the first time) in 1988, four years after her captivity, and was extremely worried about it.
Fritzl brought her medical books on childbirth. He also brought her a scissor, disinfectants, and nappies when the day came. Eventually, the first baby was born in 1989 and named Kerstin.
And the misery continued.
Another one, Stefan, was also born in the same way - alone and unaided - in 1990 - then Lisa in 1992, Monika in 1994, Alexander in 1996, and Felix in 2002.
When Lisa was born, she screamed too much. Soon she became severely ill due to the lack of oxygen in that unhealthy environment. Unfortunately, the situation was deteriorating with time.
Finding no way, Fritzl decided to bring her into the outside world. So, he made a plan.
"Elisabeth and I planned everything together, because we both knew that Lisa, because of her poor health condition and the circumstances in the cellar, had no chance to live if she remained there," Fritzl later explained.
Lisa was secretly taken outside on May 18, 1993, and kept in front of Fritzl's front door with a letter written by Elisabeth, where she introduced her daughter to the family.
She wrote that she is in no position to raise the baby, so she is sending it to the family to take care of her.
Monika was sent upstairs the same way in 1994.
Then two years later, on April 28, 1996, Elisabeth gave birth to twin boys. But one died within three days due to the bad condition in the cellar. Fritzl removed the body and cremated it to destroy any evidence. The other one, Alexander, was sent to Fritzl's family using the same technique as his sisters'.
So the three children were upstairs, and the other three lived with their mother, Elisabeth, in the cellar.
This way, Fritzl was maintaining two families - one upstairs and the other downstairs, in the cellar.
Can you imagine the life of those unfortunate three children who lived with Elisabeth in that cellar and never saw daylight since birth?
Their idea of the outside world was formed seeing the TV Fritzl installed there. However, they have no real idea how it feels to go outside, stand on the grass, see the sky, play with pets, or anything.
That tiny cellar was their entire world.
They used to call Fritzl 'grandfather.' But for the children and their mother, the situation was the same. They were living like caged animals.
"She controlled nothing. Only the time she could go to the toilet or wash. She paced around the labyrinth like some demented Minotaur, seeking an exit that wasn't there," Allan Hall describes the situation in the book. "And she would try to lose herself in her past - a past that contained little of pleasure with its beatings and its secretive nocturnal visits by her abusive father - trying desperately to recall some moments of joy. She would imagine games played in the meadows behind the Seestern in the summer months when her father was away in some foreign country, or in Amstetten, and she had been free from his tyranny. She remembered the kindnesses of her mother: the money scrimped to buy her presents that Josef never approved of or allowed; swimming in the Mondsee; going off with her sisters to meet friends on the campsite. The friends she had started to make as she prepared to break away like her older siblings."
It was impossible for Elisabeth to get out of that cellar without his father Fritzl's help because only he knew all the passwords of those electronic doors.
Even killing her father was not an option. If she somehow managed to kill her father, she would still die there with her kids imprisoned as she didn't know the passwords.
So at one point, Elisabeth was quite convinced that her and her children's lives would go on like this, and they would never be free.
But in 2008, after 24 l-o-n-g years of her captivity, a little window of opportunity opened.
In April 2008, their 19-year-old daughter Kerstin fell extremely ill and needed to be hospitalized immediately to save her life. But Fritzl refused to do so.
Allan Hall describes the situation in his book like this -
"Elisabeth had lost track of how long Kerstin had been sick. For days she lay on her bed, her body growing sicker and sicker. She had fits that her mother and Stefan tried to ease by putting a piece of cloth-wrapped wood in her mouth. Little Felix cried as she bit her lips in torment until they bled. Sweat poured from her body, soaking the mattress. The cellar air was growing ever poorer as the ancient ventilator system struggled to cope. In their isolation her pain was magnified, reverberating off the walls, echoing into every corner of the chamber. Elisabeth had nursed her children through many crises during the years; nothing had ever been this bad."
Elisabeth had already experienced one child's death in the cellar, so she begged Fritzl to get her daughter hospitalized and save her life.
Fritzl realized that if Kerstin died in the cellar, it would be nearly impossible for her to move the dead body elsewhere as his 73-year-old body was no more strong enough to do that.
So, he finally agreed to take Kerstin to a hospital.
On April 19, Fritzl sent his wife, Rosemarie, away on holiday and then told Elisabeth to take Kerstin upstairs.
With Stefan's help, Elizabeth wrapped half-conscious Kerstin with a blanket. Then, they carried her through the cellar portal to her father's car upstairs.
"It was the first time she had seen sunlight since 1984 and she was temporarily blinded, writes Allan Hall. "For Stefan, it was the first time ever that he had seen a world beyond the walls of the cellar."
But that's all.
Soon, they were taken back into the cellar. Fritzl, once again, closed the doors.
Fritzl then dialed 144 (the Austrian emergency medical assistance) and told them that he had just found her granddaughter unconscious.
When the ambulance came, he said he found her in the hallway and put her onto the car's back seat to make her comfortable.
Kerstin lost consciousness in the ambulance.
When Kerstin arrived at the hospital, her appearance evoked curiosity in the doctors. She was fragile, her skin was different, and most vital organs were failing or malfunctioning.
She was immediately placed on the critically ill list and treated by Dr. Reiter, the head of the intensive care unit at the Amstetten Hospital.
One of the Medical staff described Kerstin's condition like this:
"She was like a phantom lying in bed. She was a rarity in the modern world - an unknown citizen. There was no medical history, no paperwork - and you know how much we Austrians like paperwork - she looked as if she had never seen a doctor. In fact, she just looked terrible. We were staring at an enigma."
Soon clever Fritzl rushed to the hospital and showed Dr. Reiter a note where Elisabeth told him to take care of Kerstin as she felt dizzy after having some drugs for headaches.
But Dr. Reiter wasn't entirely convinced because when he asked about the relevant papers and history of the patients, Fritzl completely ignored his questions.
Dr. Reiter later said, "What made me particularly suspicious was that he didn't seem to think it important to answer any of my questions about the wider background, like the fact there were no medical records - she didn't seem to exist. He simply demanded we make Kerstin better so that he could take her away again."
He was also suspicious about the note Fritzl produced because he couldn't understand why the mother of a seriously-ill girl wasn't on the scene.
So, Dr. Reiter contacted Fritzl again and told him to bring her mother as soon as possible to save the girl. In response, he said he would try to find out the mother.
However, Dr. Reiter informed the local media about this mysterious patient and gave away his personal number so anyone could give any information about the girl's mother. He also informed the police station about this patient with no previous history or papers.
When journalists arrived at Fritzl's house for cooperation, he told them to clear off.
But the situation was slowly going out of Fritzl's control.
A DNA test of Kerstin and some of the upstairs members showed a possibility that Fritzl could be Kerstin's father, not grandfather. However, when Fritzl was asked for the DNA test, he strongly refused to do so. And it made him more suspicious.
On the other hand, local media broadcasted the news that Elisabeth was still missing, and the only hope for Kerstin's recovery was to find her mother.
When Elisabeth saw the news on the TV, she understood what was happening. So, she begged his father, Fritzl, to take her to Kerstin.
As he had almost no option available, Fritzl agreed to take Elisabeth to the hospital.
"Against the backdrop of his increasingly diminishing options Fritzl had made up his mind to allow Elisabeth and the other children out of the cellar at the weekend to visit Kerstin," writes Allan Hall in his book. "His wife was still away in Italy with the other half of his incest tribe but he telephoned her to say Elisabeth had arrived home, unexpectedly. 'What a miracle!' he lied. Rosemarie and the upstairs children hurried back."
Fritzl told Elisabeth not to tell anybody about her captive life. Instead, she had to tell everybody that she had returned from the sect to help her sick daughter.
But on the evening of April 26, 2008, Fritzl made his biggest mistake.
He called the hospital before leaving home and said, "Elisabeth has returned. I'm bringing her to the hospital and she wants to see her daughter. We don't want any trouble - do not call the police."
But one medical staff called the police anyway.
When Elisabeth arrived at the hospital, Dr. Reiter asked Elisabeth many questions about Kerstin and her whereabouts. But in most cases, she was stopped, and Fritzl himself answered them.
The doctor was confused and also shocked to see Elisabeth's condition as it was almost the same as Kerstin's.
Fritzl and Elisabeth then left the hospital.
But Elisabeth - for the first time in 24 years - turned out to be lucky because when they were only a few yards away from the hospital, two police detectives appeared and wanted to have a chat with them in the police station.
At Amstetten police station, Elisabeth and Fritzl were taken to two separate rooms.
Elisabeth remained silent when asked where she had been all those years. She was worried about her other children.
Then the police officer made it clear that if she didn't talk about matters, she would lay herself open to charges of the most serious kind of child abandonment - carrying the most serious penalties.
Finally, the moment came.
Elisabeth burst into tears and said -
"I have a lot to tell you, but can you promise me one thing? Will you promise me that I will never, ever see him again? This story is not what you think it is. I can tell you another story."
Shortly after midnight, the police completed their investigation and arrested Fritzl on suspicion of serious crimes against family members.
When police arrested Fritzl for imprisoning and raping her daughter for 24 years, he claimed that his behavior toward his daughter was consensual, not rape.
He also said that he decided to lock up Elisabeth only to teach her discipline as she was an unruly teenager.
When asked what would have happened if he'd been killed in a car accident, he replied: 'I prepared well for this eventuality. Every time I left the bunker I switched on a timer that would definitely have opened the door to the cellar after a set time. If I had died, Elisabeth and the children would have been free.'
But it was a lie because the police didn't find any such timing device.
Fritzl's trial began on March 16, 2009.
On the first day, jurors watched eleven hours of testimony recorded by Elisabeth in sessions with police and psychologists in 2008 (as she refused to confront Fritzl again).
Elisabeth's older brother Harald also testified and told the court how Fritzl physically abused him as a child.
The court found Josef Fritzl guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 15 years. Fritzl accepted the sentence and didn't appeal.
But this wasn't Fritzl's only crime.
You will be shocked to know that Fritzl locked up his own mother, Maria, for 20 years in a small room where she finally died in 1980.
Why did he do that?
Because he hated his mother.
Fritzl's childhood was terrible. His mother didn't remarry when her first husband died in 1927, eight years before Fritzl was born. Instead, she developed a relationship with one of her cousins, who fathered Fritzl. But he was a drinker and very abusive and violent to Maria. Eventually, their relationship ended when Fritzl was only four.
Allan Hall writes that Maria was a woman with an explosive temper and resorted to violence against little Fritzl at the slightest infraction. She used to beat him almost every day.
Fritzl confirmed the same: "My mother was a servant, and she used to work hard all her life, I never had a kiss from her, I was never cuddled although I wanted it - I wanted her to be good to me."
He said that his mother considered him an "alibi" child. That means she gave birth to him to prove that she could produce children, nothing else. So, Fritzl took his revenge later, locking her up in a tiny room until her death.
And you know why Fritzl chose Elisabeth over his other daughters? Because Elisabeth looked almost like her mother, Maria.
Fritzl had other criminal records too.
In 1967, he broke into a 24-year-old nurse's bedroom while her husband was away and raped her while holding a knife to her throat. Moreover, Fritzl served in jail for twelve months in another case of attempted rape of a 21-year-old.
I don't know what you think about Josef Fritzl - but I am sure he is a monster in human form.
Because what he did to his own daughter is impossible for any father on earth unless he is a complete MONSTER.
Elisabeth is now in her fifties, living in peace with her children in a secret Austrian village known as "Village X" under a new identity. They still sleep with their bedroom doors open only to come out of the traumas they went through in the bunker.
Her home is also under 24/7 CCTV surveillance, and security guards patrol the building constantly.
This tragic incident inspired movies like "Girl In The Basement" and "Room". But I suggest you read the book by Allan Hall titled "Monster" if you want to know more.
Sources: Monster by Allan Hall, The Guardian, Independent, Mirror, Real Stories, Wikipedia, Suggest.
*originally published on Medium (link)