The Fritzl case emerged in April 2008 when a 42-year-old woman, Elisabeth Fritzl (born 6 April 1966), stated to police in the town of Amstetten in Austria that she had been held captive for 24 years in a concealed part of the basement of the family home by her father, Josef Fritzl (born 9 April 1935), and that he had physically assaulted, sexually abused, and raped her numerous times during her imprisonment. The incestuous relationship forced upon her by her father had resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage.
Three of the children had been imprisoned along with their mother for the whole of their lives: daughter Kerstin, aged 19, and sons Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5. One child, named Michael, had died of respiratory problems three days after birth, having been deprived of all medical help; his body was incinerated by Josef Fritzl on his property. The three other children were raised by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie in the upstairs home. Fritzl had engineered the appearance of these children as foundlings discovered outside his house: Lisa at nine months in 1993, Monika at ten months in 1994, and Alexander at 15 months in 1997. When the eldest daughter, Kerstin, became seriously ill, Josef acceded to Elisabeth's pleas to take her to a hospital, triggering a series of events that eventually led to discovery.
Josef Fritzl was arrested on 26 April 2008, aged 73, on suspicion of serious crimes against family members and went on trial in Sankt Pölten, Austria on 16 March 2009. He was charged with incest, rape, coercion, false imprisonment, enslavement and the negligent homicide of the infant Michael. After a four day trial from which the public and the media were largely excluded, he was sentenced to life imprisonment.
Josef Fritzl was born on April 9, 1935 in Amstetten, Austria. In 1956, at the age of 21, he married Rosemarie, 17, with whom he had seven children: two sons and five daughters including Elisabeth, who was born in 1966. He reportedly began abusing Elisabeth in 1977 when she was 11 years old.
After completing compulsory education at age 15, Elisabeth started a training course to become a waitress. In January 1983, she ran away from home and, together with a friend from work, went into hiding in Vienna. She was found by police within three weeks and returned to her parents. She rejoined her training course and, upon completion in mid-1984, was offered a job in the nearby city of Linz.
On August 29, 1984, her father lured her into the basement of the family home under the pretense that he needed help with carrying a door. He sedated her with ether and moved her into a small concealed underground chamber.
After Elisabeth's disappearance, her mother filed a missing person report. Almost a month later, her father handed over a letter to the police, the first of several that Elisabeth was forced to write while in captivity. The letter was postmarked Braunau. It stated that she was staying with a friend and was tired of living with her family, warning her parents not to look for her or she would leave the country. Her father stated to police that she had most likely joined a religious sect.
Over the course of the following 24 years, Fritzl visited her in the hidden cellar on average once every three days to bring food and other supplies. After his arrest, he admitted that he repeatedly had sexual intercourse with his own daughter and had done so against her will.
Elisabeth gave birth to seven children during her captivity. One child died shortly after birth, and three – Lisa, Monika and Alexander – were removed from the cellar as infants to live with Fritzl and his wife. They adopted Lisa and became Monika's and Alexander's foster carers, with the knowledge of local social services authorities. Officials said that Fritzl "very plausibly" explained how three of his infant grandchildren had appeared on his doorstep. The family received regular visits from social workers, who did not hear complaints or notice anything to arouse their suspicions.
Following the birth of the fourth child in 1994, Fritzl enlarged the prison for Elisabeth and her children from 35 m2 (380 sq ft) to 55 m2 (600 sq ft). The captives had a television, radio, and video cassette player. Food could be stored in a refrigerator and cooked or heated on hot plates. Elisabeth taught the children to read and write. At times in order to punish them, Fritzl shut off the lights to the basement or refused to deliver food for several days at a time.
Fritzl told Elisabeth and the three children (Kerstin, Stefan and Felix) who remained in the cellar that they would be gassed if they tried to escape; investigators concluded that this was an empty threat to frighten the captives as there was no gas supply to the basement. Fritzl stated after his arrest that it was sufficient to tell them not to meddle with the cellar door or otherwise they would receive an electrical shock and die.
According to his sister-in-law Christine, Fritzl would go into the basement every morning at 9 o'clock, ostensibly to draw plans for machines, which he sold to firms. Often he stayed down there for the night – his wife was not even allowed to bring him coffee. A tenant, who rented a ground floor room in the house for 12 years, said he heard noises from the basement but Fritzl said it was the gas heating system.
On April 19, 2008, Kerstin, Elisabeth's eldest daughter, fell unconscious, and Fritzl agreed to seek medical attention. Elisabeth helped Fritzl carry Kerstin out of the dungeon and saw the outside world for the first time in 24 years. She was then made to return to the dungeon where she would remain for a final week. Kerstin was taken by ambulance to a local hospital (Landesklinikum Amstetten) and admitted in serious condition with life-threatening kidney failure. Fritzl later arrived at the hospital claiming to have found a note written by Kerstin's mother. He discussed Kerstin's condition and the note with Dr. Albert Reiter. Medical staff found aspects of the story to be puzzling and alerted the police on April 21, who then broadcast an appeal via public media for the missing mother to come forward and provide additional information about Kerstin's medical history.[15 ] The police then reopened the case file on missing Elisabeth. Fritzl repeated his story about Elisabeth being in a cult, and presented what, he claimed, was the "most recent letter" from her, dated January 2008. It was posted from the town of Kematen.
The police contacted Manfred Wohlfahrt, a church officer responsible for collecting information on religious cults. Wohlfahrt raised doubts about the existence of the cult. He noted that Elisabeth's letters seemed dictated and oddly written. The news covered some of these issues and Elisabeth watched the story on the cellar television. She pleaded with her father to be taken to the hospital. On 26 April, Fritzl released Elisabeth from the cellar along with her sons Stefan and Felix, bringing them upstairs. Fritzl told his wife that Elisabeth had decided to come back after a 24-year absence.[15 ] Governor Lenze told ORF that Fritzl had telephoned him and thanked him and the social services for looking after his family during his granddaughter Kerstin's illness. Fritzl and Elisabeth went to the hospital where Kerstin was being treated on April 26, 2008. Following a tip-off from Dr. Albert Reiter, that Fritzl and Elisabeth were at the hospital, the police detained them on the hospital grounds and took them to a police station for questioning.
Elisabeth did not provide police with more details until they were able to reassure her that she would be safe from her father and her children would be looked after. Over two hours, she told the story of her 24 years in captivity. Shortly after midnight, police officers completed the three pages of minutes of the interrogation. Fritzl was arrested on suspicion of serious crimes against family members, facing possible charges of false imprisonment, rape, manslaughter by negligence, and incest. During the night of April 27, Elisabeth, her children and her mother Rosemarie were taken into care.
Fritzl confessed on April 28, 2008 to having imprisoned his daughter for 24 years and having fathered her seven children. Police said Fritzl had told investigators how to enter the basement prison through a small hidden door, opened by a secret keyless entry code. Fritzl's wife, Rosemarie, had been unaware of what had been happening to Elisabeth.
Fritzl's defence lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, said that, although the DNA test proved incest, evidence was still needed for the other allegations: "The allegations of rape and enslaving people have not been proven. We need to reassess the confessions made so far."
In their May 1, 2008 daily press conference, Austrian police said that Fritzl had forced Elisabeth to write a letter the previous year indicating that he may have been planning to release her and the children. The letter said that she wanted to come home but "it's not possible yet". Police believe Fritzl intended to pretend he had rescued his daughter from her fictional cult. In the same press conference, police spokesman Franz Polzer said the investigation would probably last a few months, as police planned on interviewing at least 100 people who had lived as tenants in the Fritzl apartment building in the previous 24 years.
The Fritzl property in Amstetten is a building dating from around 1890 and a newer building, which was added after 1978, when Fritzl applied for a building permit for an "extension with basement". In 1983, building inspectors visited the site and verified that the new extension had been built according to the dimensions specified on the building permit. Fritzl had illegally created additional room by excavating space for a much larger basement, concealed by walls. Around 1981 or 1982, according to his statement, he started to turn this hidden cellar into a prison cell and installed a washbasin, a toilet, a bed, a hot plate and a refrigerator. In 1993, he added more space by creating a passageway to a pre-existing basement area under the old part of the property, which only he knew of.
The concealed cellar had a 5 m (5.5 yd) long corridor, a storage area, and three small open cells, connected by narrow passageways: a basic cooking area and bathroom facilities, followed by two sleeping areas, which were equipped with two beds each. It covered an area of approximately 55 m2 (600 sq ft). The ceilings were no more than 1.70 m (5.6 ft) high.
The hidden cellar had two access points: a hinged door that weighed 500 kg (1,100 lb) which is thought to have become unusable over the years because of its weight, and a metal door, reinforced with concrete and on steel rails that weighed 300 kg (650 lb) and measured 1 m (3.3 ft) high and 60 cm (2 ft) wide. It was located behind a shelf in Fritzl's basement workshop, protected by an electronic code entered using a remote control unit. In order to reach this door, five locking basement rooms had to be crossed. To get to the area where Elisabeth and her children were held, eight doors in total would need to be unlocked, of which two doors were additionally secured by electronic locking devices.
|1977||Fritzl begins sexually abusing his 11-year-old daughter, Elisabeth.|
|1981 to 1982||Fritzl begins to turn the hidden cellar into a prison cell.|
|August 29, 1984||Fritzl lures Elisabeth, now 18 years old, into the basement and imprisons her.|
|November 1986||Elisabeth has a miscarriage in the 10th week of pregnancy.|
|1989||The first child, Kerstin, is born, and lives in the cellar until 2008.|
|1990||Stefan is born. He, too, stays in the cellar until 2008.|
|1992||Lisa is born. In May 1993, when she is nine months old, she is discovered outside the family home in a cardboard box, allegedly left there by Elisabeth, along with a note asking for the child to be looked after.|
|February 1994||The fourth child, Monika, is born.|
|1994||Fritzl enlarges the prison for Elisabeth and her children from 35 m² (380 sq ft) to 55 m² (600 sq ft).|
|December 1994||Ten-month-old Monika is found in a stroller outside the entrance of the house. Shortly afterwards, a phone call is made to Rosemarie, apparently, from Elisabeth. The caller asks Rosemarie to take care of the child. However, it is assumed that Fritzl was able to use a recording of Elisabeth's voice to make the call. Rosemarie reported the incident to the police, expressing her astonishment that Elisabeth knew of their new and unlisted phone number.|
|May 1996||Elisabeth gives birth to twin boys. One dies after three days; Fritzl removes his body from the cellar and cremates it. The surviving twin, Alexander, is taken upstairs when he is 15 months old. He is "discovered" in circumstances similar to those of his two sisters.|
|December 2002||Felix is born. According to a statement by Fritzl, he kept Felix in the cellar, together with Elisabeth and her two eldest children, because his wife was not able to look after another child.|
|April 19, 2008||Fritzl arranges for the critically ill 19-year-old Kerstin to be taken to a local hospital.|
|April 26, 2008||During the evening, Fritzl releases Elisabeth from the cellar along with her sons Stefan and Felix, bringing them upstairs, informing his wife that Elisabeth had decided to come home after a 24-year absence. Later that evening, after an anonymous tipoff during a visit to the hospital, Fritzl and Elisabeth are taken into police custody where she reveals her decades-long imprisonment during questioning.|
|March 14, 2009||After a 4 day trial in the town of St. Pölten, Fritzl is found guilty of the murder by negligence of his infant son/grandson, Michael, as well as the enslavement, incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment of his daughter, Elisabeth, and is sentenced to life imprisonment.|
After being taken into care, Elisabeth, all six of her surviving children and her mother were housed in a local clinic where they were shielded from the outside environment and received medical and psychological treatment. A local government official speculated on the need to give members of the Fritzl family new identities but emphasized that it was a choice for the family to make.
Owing to their lack of exposure to sunlight, the former captives were extremely pale and could not endure natural light. They were reported to have vitamin D deficiencies and were anemic. They were expected to have underdeveloped immune systems. The clinic head, Berthold Kepplinger, said that the family members needed to stay at the clinic for several months, and that Elisabeth and the two children held captive in the cellar required further therapy to help them adjust to the light after years in semi-darkness. They also needed treatment to help them cope with all the extra space that they now had in which to move about.
In May 2008, a handmade poster created by Elisabeth, her children and her mother at the therapy facility was displayed in the Amstetten town center. The message thanked local people for their support. "We, the whole family, would like to take the opportunity to thank all of you for sympathy at our fate," they wrote in their message. "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 our way back into a normal life."
It was revealed that Elisabeth and her children were more traumatized than previously thought. During captivity, Kerstin would tear out her hair in clumps, and was reported to have shredded her dresses before stuffing them in the toilet. Stefan was unable to walk properly, due to his height of 173 cm, forced to stoop in the 168 cm-high cellar. It has also been revealed that normal everyday occurrences, such as the dimming of lights or the closing of doors, plunge Kerstin and Stefan into anxiety and panic attacks. The other three of Elisabeth's children who were raised by their grandfather are being treated for anger and resentment at the events.
In late July 2008, it emerged that Elisabeth Fritzl had ordered her mother Rosemarie out of the villa they have been sharing in a secret location set up for them by a psychiatric clinic. Elisabeth Fritzl was upset about "the huge issue of Rosemarie's passiveness during Elisabeth's upbringing — a tortured time when, she says, her brutal father Josef began abusing her when she was just 11 years old."
In March 2009, Elisabeth and her children were forced to move out of the family's hide-away home and returned to the psychiatric clinic where medical staff had started trying to heal the family and unite the upstairs and downstairs siblings during the previous year. She was reported to be distraught and close to a breakdown after a British paparazzo had burst into her kitchen and started taking photographs.
On March 18, 2009 Elisabeth Fritzl attended the second day of the criminal trial against her father Josef, in preparation for a book she is to write about her ordeal.
After the trial, Elisabeth and her six children were moved to an unnamed village in northern Austria, where they are living in a fortress-like house. All the children require ongoing therapy — the "upstairs" children who learned the truth about the lies that their father told them about their mother abandoning them and the abuse they received from their father/grandfather during their childhood, as well as the fact that their siblings were imprisoned in the cellar which none of them did not know about at first; and the "downstairs children" for their deprivation from normal development and lack of fresh air and sunshine and the abuse that they also received, as well as their mother Elisabeth did, from their father/grandfather when he visited them in the basement, and all of the children might possible have genetic problems common to children born of an incestual relationship. Although Elisabeth is said to be estranged from her mother, Rosemarie — who accepted Fritzl's story about Elisabeth joining a cult and did not pursue the matter further — Elisabeth allows her three children who grew up in Josef and Rosemarie's house to visit their grandmother regularly. Rosemarie lives alone in a small apartment.
In June 2009, an Austrian newspaper reported that Elisabeth Fritzl had begun a relationship with one of her bodyguards, identified only as Thomas W. The couple are living together.
Josef Fritzl was born on April 9, 1935 in Amstetten, Austria, to Josef Fritzl, Sr. and Maria Fritzl. He grew up as an only child raised solely by his working mother. His father had deserted the family when Fritzl was four, and never again came into contact with him.
After completing his education at an HTL technical college with a qualification in electrical engineering, he started work at a steel company in Linz. In 1956, at the age of 21, he married Rosemarie, 17, with whom he had two sons and five daughters.
In 1967, he served a sentence for raping a woman. After prison, he obtained a job in a construction material firm in Amstetten where he worked from 1969-1971. Later, he became a technical equipment salesman, traveling throughout Austria.
In 1972, he purchased a guesthouse and an adjacent campsite at Lake Mondsee. He ran it, together with his wife, until 1996.
He retired from active employment when he became 60 years old in 1995, but continued some commercial activities thereafter.
Josef Fritzl was convicted for raping a 24-year old woman in the city of Linz in 1967 and sentenced to 18 months in jail. According to an annual report for 1967 and a press release of the same year, he was also named as a suspect in a case of attempted rape and known for indecent exposure. More than 25 years later, when he applied for the adoption of one child and foster care for two others, of children to whom his daughter Elisabeth had given birth, his criminal record was not made available to local social service authorities since it had been expunged in accordance with Austrian law.
After his arrest, Josef Fritzl claimed that his behaviour toward his daughter did not constitute rape but was consensual. His defence lawyer Rudolf Mayer forwarded extracts from the minutes of his talks with his client to the Austrian weekly News for publication. According to these statements, Fritzl said that he "always knew during the whole 24 years that what I was doing was not right, that I must have been crazy to do such a thing, yet it became a normal occurrence to lead a second life in the basement of my house."
Regarding his treatment of the family he had with his wife, he stated, "I am not the beast the media make me to be". Regarding his treatment of Elisabeth and her children in the cellar, he explained that he brought flowers for Elisabeth and books and toys for the children into the "bunker", as he called it, and often watched videos with the children and ate meals with Elisabeth and the children. Fritzl decided to imprison Elisabeth after she "did not adhere to any rules any more" when she became a teenager. "That is why I had to do something; I had to create a place where I could keep Elisabeth, by force if necessary, away from the outside world." He suggested that the emphasis on discipline in the Nazi era, during which he grew up, might have influenced his views about decency and good behaviour. The chief editors of News Magazine noted in their editorial that they expected Fritzl's statement to form the basis of the defence strategy of his lawyer. Critics said his statement may have been a ploy to prepare an insanity defence. However, Fritzl is suspected of having been raping her since age 11.
Reflecting on his childhood, Fritzl initially described his mother as “the best woman in the world” and “as strict as it was necessary”. Later he expressed a negative opinion of his mother and claimed that "she used to beat me, hit me until I was lying in a pool of blood on the floor. It left me feeling totally humiliated and weak. 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 later also admitted that he had locked his mother in her room without sunlight.
In a report by forensic psychiatrist Adelheid Kastner, Fritzl's mother is described as unpredictable and abusive. Fritzl referred to himself as an "alibi" child, meaning that his mother only gave birth to him to prove that she was not barren and could produce children. Fritzl claims that his pathological behaviour is innate. He admits that he planned to lock his daughter up during his prison stint for the earlier rape conviction so that he could contain and express his "evil side". He said, "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." The forensic psychiatrist diagnosed Fritzl as having severe combined personality disorder and a sexual disorder and recommended that Fritzl receive psychiatric care for the rest of his life.
Recent reports have brought to light Fritzl's premeditated plan to lock his daughter up not for discipline but for his own gratification.
Elisabeth Fritzl gave a videotaped testimony before Austrian prosecutors and investigators on July 11, 2008. Christiane Burkheiser, a state prosecutor, and Josef’s lawyer, Rudolf Mayer, in an adjoining room took part in the process. Josef Fritzl was not present but remained in the Sankt Pölten jail. The testimony, which was not made public, was presented at Fritzl's trial in March 2009.
Judge Andrea Humer, who presided over the trial, stated medical experts reported Elisabeth Fritzl and her children were in "relatively good health".
Lawyer Christoph Herbst who represents Elisabeth Fritzl and family, said "fortunately, everything is going very well," as they spend time to answer the hundreds of letters sent worldwide. Felix, Kerstin, and Stefan, brought up underground with their mother, have learned to swim for the first time. And all of Elisabeth's children attended a four-day summer camp organized by firefighters with 4,000 other young campers, in the later part of the summer in August 2008. The children along with their mother also made day trips, including swimming outings, on which care was taken to keep them out of reach of the paparazzi and to protect their privacy.
On November 13, 2008, authorities in Austria released an indictment against Josef Fritzl. He would stand trial for the murder of the infant Michael, who died shortly after birth, and face between 10 years and life imprisonment. He was also charged with rape, incest, kidnapping, false imprisonment and slavery, which carry a maximum 20-year term.
Excerpts of Elisabeth's diary were leaked to the media on March 11, 2009. Prosecutors confirmed that the diary was part of their evidence against Josef Fritzl.
Describing the "abominable events" as linked to one individual case, then-Chancellor of Austria Alfred Gusenbauer said he planned to launch an image campaign to restore the country's reputation abroad.
The trial of Josef Fritzl commenced on March 16, 2009 in the town of Sankt Pölten, presided over by Judge Andrea Humer.
On day one, Fritzl entered the courtroom attempting to hide his face from cameras behind a blue folder, which he was entitled to do under Austrian law. After opening comments, all journalists and spectators were asked to leave the courtroom, whereupon Fritzl lowered his binder. Fritzl pleaded guilty to all charges with the exception of murder and grievous assault by threatening to gas his captives if they disobeyed him..
In his opening remarks, Rudolf Mayer, the defending counsel, appealed to the jury to be objective and not be swayed by emotions. He insisted Fritzl was "not a monster," noting that Fritzl had brought a Christmas tree down to his captives in the cellar during the holiday season.
Christiane Burkheiser, prosecuting her first case since being appointed Chief Prosecutor, pressed for life imprisonment in an institution for the criminally insane. She demonstrated for jurors the low height of the ceiling in the cellar dungeon by making a mark on the door to the courtroom at 1m 74 cm (5 ft 8.5in), and described the cellar as "damp and mouldy," passing around a box of musty objects taken from the cellar, whose smell made jurors flinch.
On the first day of testimony, jurors watched an 11-hour testimony recorded by Elisabeth in sessions with police and psychologists in July 2008. The tape is said to have been so "harrowing" that the eight jurors did not watch more than two hours at a time. Four replacement jurors were on standby to replace any of the regular jurors in case they could not bear to hear any more of the evidence.
Besides the video testimony, Elisabeth's older brother Harald testified, as did a doctor specialising in neonatal medicine and the court psychiatrist. Josef's wife, Rosemarie, and Elisabeth's children refused to testify.
Fritzl's attorney, Rudolf Mayer, confirmed that a disguised Elisabeth sat in the visitors' gallery during the second day of proceedings, at the time her video testimony was aired. "Josef Fritzl recognised that Elisabeth was in court and, from this point on, you could see Josef Fritzl going pale and he broke down," Mayer said. "It was a meeting of eyes that changed his mind." The next day, Fritzl began the proceedings by approaching the judge and changing his pleas to guilty on all charges.