Held captive in basement dungeon for 24 years
When the public found that Josef Fritzl had held a woman, his daughter, and three of her children captive in a rat-infested basement dungeon for 24 years, the act seemed unspeakable, as if a real-life boogey man had stepped from the pages of a horror novel into their reality. The four-day trail of Josef exposed a web of horror, a series of events that surpassed the worst snuff film or penny dreadful, events that would cause permanent physical and emotional damage to the captives and send one person to prison for life.
Elisabeth flees from Josef Fritzl’s abuse
Josef Fritzl was born on April 9, 1934, in Amstetten, Austria, a small town of 14,000 located halfway between Vienna and Salzburg. At the age of twenty-one, he married 17-year-old Rosemarie and together they had seven children: two sons and five daughters. Elisabeth Fritzl was born in 1966 when Josef was 31 years old. When Elisabeth turned 11 years old, Josef began sexually abusing her.
When Elisabeth was 15 years old, she began training to be a waitress at the Rosenberger highway rest stop on the A1 autobahn near Strengberg. She and other girls in the program slept in a dormitory below the kitchen. For the first time in her life, Elisabeth felt safe.
In January 1983, she ran away from home to escape her father’s abuse. She hid in Vienna, in the city’s 20th district, with a friend. Police found her within three weeks and returned her to her parents. Her failed attempt to escape his abuse had just given her father the story he would present to authorities when Elisabeth “went missing”.
Elisabeth finished her waitress training and found a job in nearby Linz in northern Austria. With the means to support herself in hand, she planned to move from the home and leave her childhood tormentor behind.
Elisabeth is trapped and locked in a room
An engineer by trade, Josef had no problem designing a secure, soundproof dungeon in his basement. Josef had discovered a small hidden basement under an older section of the property. Under a new section of the house, he constructed a basement and connected it to the older, pre-existing basement using a web of narrow corridors which he constructed. In 1982, he began building an underground dungeon within its walls. Plumbing, electricity, sink, and toilet were all he needed to sustain and control a human’s life.
On August 29, 1984, Josef asked Elisabeth to help him carry and install a door he was putting in the basement. This was the final piece Josef needed to complete the dungeon. Elisabeth held the door while Josef fitted it into the doorframe. Once completed, they stood back and admired their work. Josef reached behind him and grabbed an ether-soaked rag which he held on Elisabeth’s face until she lost consciousness. Josef drug her limp body into the basement dungeon, raped her, and secured her with a chain around her stomach tied to a column. He closed the door, leaving Elisabeth in a rat-infested hole where she would remain for the next 24 years.
Where had Elisabeth disappeared to?
After her “disappearance”, her mother, Rosemarie, filed a missing persons report with the police. A month later, Josef claimed to have received a letter from Elisabeth in the mail. He turned the letter over to the police explaining that Elisabeth had joined a cult. The letter, dated September 21, 1984, was postmarked from Braunau and made clear that she was tired of living at home and was living safely with a friend (similar circumstances to her prior, failed runaway attempt). She warned her parents, “If you look for me, I will leave the country.” Her father, threatening to shut off all gas and electricity in the basement, had coerced her into penning the letter in her own hand.
Life in the basement dungeon, hidden from the outside world for 24 years
Elisabeth’s first years inside the cell were a particularly brutal type of hell. Early on, the chains that bound her to a column were removed and replaced with a leash that let her reach the toilet. Sometime later the leash was removed, and she was allowed to move about the small basement room. While in captivity, Elisabeth gave birth to seven children, all fathered by Josef.
The eldest of the children was born in 1989.
Stefan was born next, in 1990.
Lisa was born in May 1993. At 9 months old, for reasons unknown, she was removed from the cellar to live with Josef and Rosemarie in the upstairs home. According to Josef, she was ‘found in a box” on the doorsteps of their home. Inside the box was a note that read:
“You will probably be shocked to hear from me after all these years, and with a real live surprise, no less. I breast fed her for about 6 ½ months, and now she drinks milk from the bottle. She is a good girl, and she eats everything else with a spoon.”
Authorities were sufficiently impressed to allow Josef and Rosemarie to keep the child in their home.
Monika was born in February 1994. Presumably running out of room in the cellar, Monika was removed as an infant to live with Josef and Rosemarie. The Fritzl’s told authorities that Monika was found in Lisa’s stroller in the vestibule of the Fritzl house. The phone rang minutes later, and Rosemarie answered. It was Elisabeth’s voice on the other side who simply stated, “I just left her at your door.”
Authorities later found that Josef had forced Elisabeth to record the message which Josef played back using a mobile phone from another room. Rosemarie was surprised by the call, telling the authorities so, because they had just received an unlisted number and nobody outside the house knew the new number.
Regardless, once again, the authorities were impressed enough to allow the Fritzl’s to keep young Monika in their home.
Alexander was born in May 1996. One of twin brothers, he too was removed from the cellar as an infant to live with Josef and Rosemarie in the “overground” house.
The youngest of five children, Felix was born in December 2003.
Michael was the second of the twins born in May 1996. The baby developed breathing problems soon after he was born but Fritzl ignored Elisabeth’s pleas to take him to get help saying, “It is what it is.” Michael died within two days after birth. His death would eventually provide authorities the means to prosecute Josef to the fullest extent of the law.
Life in the basement dungeon
Fritzl went into the basement each day at 9:00 AM under the pretense of drawing plans for mechanical machines (he was an engineer by trade). Following the birth of the fourth child in 1994, at Elisabeth’s request, Fritzl enlarged the room, adding about two hundred square feet via a narrow corridor connecting an older, pre-existing basement room. Elisabeth and the children spent years digging out the dirt for the corridor with their bare hands.
Inside the room, they had a television, radio, and a VCR. Food, passed to them through a hatch, was stored in a small refrigerator and cooked on hot plates. If the food was brought directly into the room, Elisabeth knew she was going to be raped. According to Elisabeth, “Light off. Mold. Light on. Rape. Light off. Mold. Light on. Rape.”
Inside the room, Elisabeth schooled the children, teaching them to read and write, and tried to keep them occupied with mind-stimulating games that she made up.
Josef dishes out abuse, threats, and punishment
It is estimated that Josef raped Elisabeth more than 3,000 times during her 24 years in captivity. Typically, the assaults occurred in the presence of the children.
If any of the captives misbehaved, refused Josef’s commands, or made too much noise, Josef would turn off the gas and electricity and stop delivery of food and supplies for days at a time to punish them.
Josef told his prisoners that the door was electrified and if they tried to escape, they would be electrocuted. Each time he left the room, Elisabeth and the children noticed that he fiddled with something at the door as if setting a system. He also told them that the gas lines had been rigged so that any time, he could gas the occupants to death.
Did anyone else know about the family being held captive in the basement?
Rosemarie noted that many times Fritzl spent the night in the basement and instructed her to leave him alone. She knew he had built something in the basement, but he had told her he was building a nuclear shelter. Police later concluded that Rosemarie was so afraid of her husband that she “submitted herself to him entirely.”
A tenant, Alfred Dubanovsky, who rented a ground floor room for over a decade, claimed to have heard noises coming from the basement. When he approached Josef about the sounds, Josef explained it away as sounds from the gas heating system. Still, Dubanovsky wondered about the many bags he saw Josef carrying into the basement.
Gerturd Ramharter, Josef’s neighbor who lived across the street, says she often heard hammering and construction noise coming from the house. She wondered, “What’s he building? And how big is it going to be?”
Other tenants were told if they entered the basement, they would receive an immediate eviction notice.
During Josef’s trial, Elisabeth told jurors,
“I screamed many times during those long years, but no one ever heard.”
An illness prompts a visit to the hospital
On April 19, 2008, Kerstin, the eldest daughter, fell ill. Elisabeth begged Josef to take her to the hospital. Possibly fearing the task of hiding a full-grown adult body, Josef conceded. Kerstin was taken by ambulance to a local hospital, Landesklinikum Amstetten, where they discovered her kidneys had failed. Elisabeth recalled how Josef had to physically drag her from the room as it was her first exposure to “life overground” and she was mentally overtaken by the sight of the enormous space surrounding her.
Inside her pocket, Elisabeth had hidden a cryptic note. It read:
“Please, please help her. Kerstin is really terrified of other people. She was never in a hospital. Kerstin, please stay strong until we see each other again.”
When asked about the note, Josef admitted that Kerstin was Elisabeth’s daughter and tried his best to explain the note’s unusual message.
Authorities become suspicious
Hospital workers found the note puzzling. They questioned Kerstin’s uncommon physical condition too. She was in fair shape, but was malnourished, unkempt, with rotten teeth and very pale skin. Three days after Kerstin was admitted, on April 21, 2008, they notified the police that a mysterious “female person” had arrived, brought in by Josef Fritzl of Ybbsstrasse 40.
The police released a massive public appeal for Elisabeth to come forward and explain the note. Meanwhile, police reopened the file on Elisabeth’s missing-persons case to track her down. They questioned Josef again. He said that he had found young Kerstin against the wall on the ground floor. He then showed them a letter from Elisabeth dated three months prior, posted from Kematen, allegedly written by Elisabeth explaining her absence. Josef again reiterated she had run away and joined a cult. Police called Kematen church officer, Manfred Wohlfahrt, and asked about local cults in the area. Wohlfahrt said there were none.
Details of captivity brought forward, captives are released, Josef is arrested
Elisabeth hounded Josef daily, querying him about Kerstin’s condition. She begged him to take her to the hospital to see her. For some unknown reason (possibly he felt the noose tightening), Josef took Elisabeth to the hospital with strict instructions to keep her mouth shut.
At the hospital, Dr. Albert Reiter received word that Josef and Elisabeth were at the hospital checking on Kerstin. Dr. Reiter quickly notified the police that two suspicious persons had visited Kerstin. Police rushed to the hospital and took both into custody for questioning.
Suspecting that Elisabeth and Kerstin may have been held against their will, they interviewed Elisabeth alone and pressed her to tell them what was really going on. Elisabeth insisted that the only way she would tell the true story was if they could ensure her children were safe and that they would never see Josef again. She then told police the story of her 24 years in captivity. Her initial statement filled over three pages. During the trial, Josef would say he was surprised by how quickly Elisabeth had “betrayed him”.
Josef was arrested and charged with false imprisonment, rape, manslaughter by negligence (in the death of Elisabeth’s infant son), and incest. Late that night (or early morning on April 27, 2008), police raided the home. The children were removed from the house and put into protective care. The children saw the outside world and breathed in fresh air for the first time in their lives. Chief Inspector Leopold Etz recalls the children hardly spoke at all except for when little Felix said that it was wonderful. “What was wonderful?”, Inspector Etz asked the little boy. Looking around in amazement, Felix replied, “Everything.”
Authorities get their first look at Fritzl’s basement dungeon
On April 29, 2008, Josef admitted to having imprisoned his daughter and three children for 24 years. He also admitted to being the father of her seven children. He told police how to enter the basement prison and gave them the secret keyless entry codes for the electronic locks that secured two of the doors. That same day, the first piece of Elisabeth’s story was validated when DNA evidence confirmed Josef was the father of the seven children.
Using the lock codes supplied by Josef, police entered the dungeon for the first time. Officers on the scene say the first thing they noticed, and what they will never forget, was the stench emanating from the cellar.
They noted that the Fritzl property in Amstetten was an older building dating to around 1890 with a newer addition added sometime in the late 1970’s. Checking city records, they found a building permit for an “extension with basement” that Josef had filed. They confirmed that building inspectors had visited the site and verified that the new extension had been built according to building codes. They then realized that Josef had illegally excavated additional space behind the basement that was concealed with false walls. Josef had used this extra space to construct a 16-foot corridor that connected the new basement to the older, pre-existing basement that nobody but Josef knew existed under the old section of the house.
The dungeon consisted of a small room in which Josef had installed a washbasin, toilet, hot plate, small refrigerator, and a bed. The room connected to two small 5-foot by 12-foot sleeping rooms, each with two beds. Originally the single room provided just 188 square feet. After nine years, it was expanded to 590 square feet with ceilings no higher than five foot six inches tall, forcing some of the occupants to stoop as they moved about.
The hidden dungeon had two points of entry – a hinged door that weighed over 1,000 pounds which, because of its weight, could not be opened from the outside, and a 3-foot-high by 2-foot-wide metal door reinforced with concrete that weighed more than 600 pounds. The tiny entryway to the dungeon was hidden behind a shelf in the back of Josef’s basement workshop.
To enter the secret dungeon required passing through eight doors, two of which were protected by electronic locking devices, and five rooms including a room containing a furnace, a small office room, and Josef’s workshop.
The floors of the dungeon were uneven and bumpy. Most parts of the dungeon had padded walls and were well sound-proofed. A small tube had been installed to provide ventilation but was later found to be insufficiency small for its task. Lack of oxygen had contributed to Kerstin’s organ failure.
The trial of Josef Fritzl reveals the man behind the horrendous crime
The man behind the horrendous crime, Josef Fritzl, was born on April 9, 1935, to Josef Fritzl Sr. and Maria Fritzl. His father deserted the family when Josef was just four years old (he was later killed in action during World War II). Teachers recall Josef being highly intelligent. Classmates recall him being a loner. He completed HTL Technical College earning a degree in electrical engineering providing him the wherewithal to provide for his family and knowledge to construct most anything his demented mind desired.
Police found that Josef had a previous conviction for indecent exposure. They also discovered that in 1967, Josef broke into a home in Linz and raped a 24-year-old nurse while holding a knife to her throat threatening to kill her if she screamed. For that crime he served an 18-month prison sentence.
He had also been named in the attempted rape of a 21-year-old woman but was not charged. Oddly, Austrian law requires a criminal record be expunged after 15 years. As a result, police were unaware of these crimes when Elisabeth went missing (the Fritzl case would force a change in this faulty law).
Josef never referred to the basement dungeon as such and instead, referred to it as a “bunker”, implying that it offered protection, not confinement, for the prisoners. Authorities were horrified when Josef tried to justify his crime saying, “he was not the beast the media made him out to be.” He explained that he had fed Elisabeth and the children and on occasion had even purchased toys for the kids. Josef seemed to have little grasp of the evil he had committed.
Doctors found that when he was a small child, Josef’s mother had “beat him until he was lying in a pool of blood on the floor”. He told them that his mother often called him “Satan” and that he had a horrible fear of her (a psychiatric profile on the mother described her as “unpredictable and abusive”).
Josef told investigators that his behavior was innate, that he was born to abuse others.
“I was born to rape, and I held myself back for a relatively long time. I could have behaved a lot worse than just locking up my daughter.”
Josef admitted to psychiatrists that his thoughts of imprisoning another person began when he was in prison for his rape conviction. A forensic psychiatrist diagnosed Josef as having severe combined personality disorder which included borderline schizotypal and schizoid personalities and a severe sexual disorder. They determined that Josef abused people solely for his own gratification. According to prosecutors,
“The dungeon was his playground. He used her like a toy.”
Doctors suggested he should receive psychiatric care for the remainder of his life.
Another victim is discovered
During the psychiatric evaluation, a surprising twist was revealed – Elisabeth and the children were not Josef’s first captives. Josef told police that his mother had moved in with them in 1959. Over time, the roles reversed, and Josef’s mother came to fear him. He admitted that he had locked his mother in the attic and bricked up the window telling neighbors that she had died. Josef’s mother was kept locked in the attic until she died in 1980. She had been held captive for over 20 years. Police recognized that immediately after her death, he began to plan for construction of his basement dungeon where he would house his next prisoner.
The trial of Josef Fritzl
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.
Josef’s trial began on Monday March 16, 2009, in the city of Sankt Polten, about forty miles west of Amstetten where Elisabeth and the children had been held. It was presided over by Judge Andrea Humer. Security was extremely tight. A no-fly zone was established in the airspace above the courtroom and the locks to the courthouse doors were changed.
During the trial, Josef attempted to hide his face behind a blue binder. He entered the courtroom wearing a gray suit, dark shirt, striped tie, and flanked by six police officers. He plead guilty to most of the charges except for murder (of the infant) and assault. His attorney told the jury that Josef was not a monster and explained that he had even taken a Christmas tree into the basement for the prisoners.
Eight jurors watched an 11-hour video of Elisabeth’s testimony. It was so horrifying, the judge allowed it to be shown in two-hour segments with time in between for jurors to recover. Doctors and counselors were kept on hand to offer assistance to anyone who found the evidence too overwhelming, and four replacement jurors stood by in case a juror was unable to withstand the emotional assault.
Elisabeth’s brother, Harald Fritzl, testified to having been a victim of his father’s abuse, suffering a series of brutal beatings during his youth. Josef’s wife, Rosemarie, refused to testify, a decision that would eventually cause a serious rift between her, Elisabeth, and her grandchildren. Rosemarie claimed to have known nothing about Elisabeth and the children’s imprisonment under the house. It was later revealed that Rosemarie herself had been severely beaten and intimidated by her husband.
Elisabeth entered the visitor’s gallery on the second day of testimony wearing a disguise. The next day, Josef changed his plea to guilty on all charges. On March 19, 2009, Josef was sentenced to life imprisonment with the possibility of parole after 15 years.
Physiological and mental impact to Elisabeth and the children
Immediately after they were rescued, Elisabeth and the six children were housed in a local clinic where they were shielded from the outside world while receiving medical and psychological treatment. The age of the participants varied greatly, as would the permanent physical and emotional damage they would suffer because of the incident.
At the time of their escape:
Elisabeth – 42 years old
Kerstin – 19 years old
Stefan – 18 years old
Lisa – 16 years old
Monika – 14 years old
Alexander – 12 years old
Felix –5 years old
Mentally of course, they all were a mess. Kerstin was known to tear her hair out in large clumps, and another was known to shred her clothes and flush them down the toilet. But there were many bizarre physical ailments resulting from their prolonged existence underground. The dark confines of the basement dungeon impacted the children more than originally thought.
The children all required therapy to help them adjust to the light after years in semi-dark conditions. They also required physical therapy to help them cope with the extra space that they now had to move about in. Many simple activities, like walking up and down stairs and taking a shower, were foreign to them and had to be learned.
The small confines caused permanent physical damage for Stefan who will likely never walk properly. At a height of 5 ft. 8 in., Stefan was forced to spend the latter half of his life walking in a stoop (the dungeon cell only reached a height of 5 ft. 6 in.). Doctors say he will suffer prolonged spinal trouble.
All of the children suffered from vitamin D deficiency and anemia which caused them to develop weak and deformed bones. All required getting use to the additional space and different food. For most of the older children, walking for longer than 30-40 feet would cause their motor responses to go awry, and they would become disoriented.
Despite the possibility of being cured of their ills, all the children are at risk of genetic problems due to the incestuous relationship between their father and mother.
Most disturbing of all are the emotional difficulties Elisabeth and the children suffer today. Some normal everyday events and sounds still terrify the children. The dimming of lights or closing of doors plunges some of the children into anxiety and triggers panic disorder attacks. All suffer from panic disorders if they find themselves in a room that they feel is too small. Interestingly, doctors foresaw the potential for this problem. Immediately upon their rescue, when they were first taken to a psychiatric unit for care, doctors placed a small cargo container outside so they could retreat there if they felt too traumatized by the large spaces.
Although amazed at their new world, some aspects of the outside world proved bizarrely disturbing to them. For instance, many would shower up to ten times each day while others persisted an extreme distaste for any food that was not bland.
Doctors found that even the children who were not held captive and were raised inside the house still experienced deep emotional problems. They were treated for anger and resentment conditions after experiencing extreme guilt from living a “normal” life while their mother and siblings suffered. All have been forced to move in and out of psychiatric clinics and require persistent ongoing therapy. All the children must take prescription mood- and emotion-altering drugs to cope with their newly expanded world.
Elisabeth’s pain is uniquely strong. She spent the longest period of time in captivity and, unlike the children, had experienced freedom for the first 18 years of her life, giving her something to compare her torment to. Most of all, the hurt from the betrayal of her father may never be undone. Police told the media,
“We understand that Elisabeth was his favorite child because she was so pretty.”
On the other hand, doctors see a ray of hope for recovery. Elisabeth formed a strong bond with her three captive children and given the horrendous conditions, was a good caregiver to them. The bonds she so courageously formed are expected to contribute to the childrens’ healing.
All the children have been given new identities and are now living in a secret remote village in the Austrian countryside referred to simply as “Village X”. They live in an unusual, fortress-like house across the Danube, about forty miles away from where they were imprisoned. The home is protected by high fencing, security lights, CCTV cameras, and private security. They survive off a stipend provided by the Austrian government. The “upstairs children” have now accepted Elisabeth as their mother. The “prisoner children” love spending time outdoors.
At the time of this writing, Josef Fritzl is serving his sentence in Garsten Abbey in Upper Austria. He is in a section of the prison for the criminally insane.
Kerstin recovered from the failure of her kidneys. She came out of a medically induced coma on June 8, 2008, and has made a full recovery.
In July 2008, Elisabeth ordered her mother Rosemarie out of the home they were sharing. Elisabeth blamed Rosemarie for passiveness during her and the children’s confinement. Rosemarie now lives alone in a small apartment. After several years, the fragmented relationship was repaired, and Elisabeth now allows occasional visits for the children who grew up with Rosemarie as their “mother”.
The “House of Horrors” today
On June 28, 2013, the basement of the Fritzl home was filled with concrete after teenagers were repeatedly caught holding secret parties in the basement of the “house of horrors” (they said the soundproof walls made it an excellent location for loud teenage parties). That same year, the house was put on the market but despite the rock-bottom price, failed to sell. It now serves as a shelter for the homeless.
To this day, Elisabeth says she never wishes to see her father again. Doctors say it’s a miracle she did not lose her mind. The director of intensive medicine at the Amstetten State Hospital, Albert Reiter said,
“I have rarely seen such a strong woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had superhuman powers.”
Elisabeth is now in a relationship with a man named Thomas Wagner, a private security guard with the Austrian firm AT&T Securities. Wagner had earlier been assigned to the family to ensure their security. He is 23 years younger than Elisabeth. To date she has refused offers for interviews and books about her 24 years locked in the cellar prison under the family home.
Silence is partially broken
Although many lessons could be learned from the saga, the family insists on maintaining anonymity. The silence was somewhat broken in 2010 by Josef Fritzl’s sister-in-law who identified herself to the media only as Christine R. She says Elisabeth is slowly returning to a normal life. She told reporters:
“Elisabeth likes to go shopping a lot. She couldn’t do that while she was locked in the cellar for those 24 years. She loves jeans with glitter pockets, and she passed her driving test without difficulty. Now she’s looking for a car. The kids are all going to school and working hard.”
The movie Room
The 2015 film Room was written and adapted by Emma Donoghue who says the movie is not “based on” the Fritzl story but rather, was “inspired by” the case. Regardless, many of the details in the movie match the Fritzl real-life case. The lead actress in the movie, Brie Larson, who played the part of Elisabeth Fritzl, won the Oscar in the Best Actress category at the Academy Awards.
Josef/Elisabeth Fritzl timeline
The key events, in this case, are as follows:
1977 Fritzl begins sexually abusing his 11-year-old daughter Elisabeth.
1981–82 Fritzl begins to turn the hidden cellar into a prison cell.
29 August 1984 Fritzl lures 18-year-old Elisabeth into the basement and imprisons her.
November 1986 Elisabeth has a miscarriage in the 10th week of pregnancy.
1989 The second child, Kerstin, is born, and lives in the cellar until 2008.
1990 Stefan is born. He also stays in the cellar until 2008.
1992 Lisa is born. In May 1993, at 9 months old, she is discovered outside the family home in a cardboard box, allegedly left there by Elisabeth with a note asking for the child to be looked after.
February 1994 The fifth child, Monika, is born.
1994 After repeated requests by Elisabeth, Fritzl allows the enlargement of the prison, putting Elisabeth and her children to work for years digging out soil with their hands. The prison was enlarged from 35 m² (380 sq ft) to 55 m² (600 sq ft).
December 1994 10-month-old Monika is found in a stroller outside the entrance of the house. Shortly afterwards, Rosemarie receives a phone call, asking her to take care of the child. The caller sounds like Elisabeth, but it’s assumed that Fritzl used a recording of her voice. Rosemarie reported the incident to the police, expressing astonishment that Elisabeth knew their new, unlisted phone number.
May 1996 Elisabeth gives birth to twin boys. One dies after 3 days, and Fritzl removes and cremates the body. The surviving twin, Alexander, is taken upstairs at 15 months old and “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 with Elisabeth and her two eldest children because his wife could not look after another child.
April 19, 2008 Fritzl arranges for critically ill 19-year-old Kerstin to be taken to a local hospital.
April 26, 2008 During the evening, Fritzl releases Elisabeth, Stefan and Felix from the cellar and brings them upstairs, informing his wife that Elisabeth had decided to come home after a 24-year absence. Later that evening, after an anonymous tip off 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 pleads guilty to the charges 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.
Transcript of The Longest Night: Secrets of the Austrian Cellar
This documentary fills in many details that have now become available after Josef Fritzl’s upcoming trial. Below is a transcript of the documentary.
A small village in Austria.
A house sits on a quiet residential street. What lurks beneath is a specially built cellar prison for a young, 18-year-old woman. Elisabeth Fritzl was imprisoned and raped and there she remained for 24 years. It was the longest night.
30 Years as a prosecutor i think I’ve seen everything.
I’ve never seen anything like the Fritzl case.
In that sunless, airless space, Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to seven children.
Her tormentor? Her own father.
Translator: Intelligent, a strategist, an almost perfect criminal of the worst kind.
For more than two decades, Josef Fritzl fooled everyone who knew him.
Nobody, nobody on the street noticed anything at all.
Until a few months ago when his cellar disgorged its dark and unspeakable secret.
You couldn’t write this in a novel.
Fritzl’s evil quickly became a worldwide story.
How did he do what he did? And, most importantly, how could he?
APRIL 19th, SATURDAY MORNING In a small Austrian village 70 miles from Vienna.
A call comes in to 911…. A teenage girl, Kirsten Fritzl, is seriously ill. An ambulance is sent to number 40 Ybbestrasse, the home of Josef Fritzl. At the local hospital, it had been a quiet morning.
That was about to change as a young patient is admitted with symptoms that confound doctors.
Translator: She was in a state between life and death.
The young woman is unconscious and had lost most of her teeth.
Shortly afterwards, a 73-year-old man, Josef Fritzl, arrived at the hospital. He told doctors that the patient’s mother was his daughter and that she had run away years ago to join a cult. He gave them a note from her.
“Please help her.
Kirsten is very scared of strangers. She has never been in a hospital before. I’ve asked my father for help because he is the only person ” >> it was signed, “Elisabeth “
Translator: The man who claimed to be this young woman’s grandfather said this was the fourth time his daughter, who had disappeared, had abandoned the child with him.
We said to ourselves, it must be possible to find this woman. That’s not the hospital’s job. It’s a job for the police.
Fritzl’s dark secret remained concealed as authorities concentrated on finding the sick girl’s mother, Elisabeth Fritzl.
Translator: All the schools were written to, the central registry database was furnished.
Inquiries were made at the social security office. Every avenue was explored. There wasn’t a shred of information about Elisabeth.
ON APRIL 21st, WITH Kirsten Still in a coma, doctors broadcast a television appeal.
Translator: What would you like to achieve for our interview?
Translator: I would like the mother to contact us.
We’ll treat the contact with high discretion, and we’ll probably get a step further in our diagnosis and treatment.
In her basement prison, one of Elisabeth Fritzl’s few luxuries was a tv set.
She watched and decided the time was ripe to demand Herr Fritzl free her children and her. Meanwhile, in the outside world, the police were changing tactics. They started taking DNA samples from the Fritzls. Since three of Elisabeth’s children were living upstairs with Josef Fritzl, children he said his daughter had abandoned.
Translator: We wanted to have everyone’s DNA samples in order to trace a possible father or fathers.
We always thought that a woman with so many children may have had more than one partner. One of them might have had a criminal record.
Herr Fritzl didn’t have time to give a DNA sample and kept postponing because he had so much to do.
ON APRIL 26th, A WEEK AFTER Kirsten was admitted to the hospital, Josef Fritzl opened up the cellar prison and ended the long night for Elisabeth and her children. But to keep his secret safe, Fritzl told his wife that Elisabeth, now a haggard looking 42, had heard the tv appeals and fled the cult to nurse her sick daughter.
At the hospital, the police had lots of questions for Elisabeth.
Translator: The questioning focused on this woman, where she’d actually been and why she had neglected her children like that.
Elisabeth said little.
She wasn’t ready to reveal her awful truth, not yet.
Linda Fairstein was the head prosecutor for New York city’s sex crimes unit. Today she is a bestselling writer of crime novels.
When Elisabeth got to the hospital and began to work with police and health care professionals to talk, there’s no reason for her to trust them.
This is a world that betrayed her, in a sense, by giving up, by not looking for her in her own home with her own father.
Finally, Elisabeth admitted that she did have a story to tell but only if she never saw her father again.
Translator: She was given this assurance and then without a break in a mere two hours she gave an account of the 24 years she spent in the cellar.
Well, it still sends shivers down my spine.
Translator: The first detective was presented with a strange picture.
He looked at this woman and her physical appearance. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but looking at this woman, you could believe that she’d been imprisoned for many, many years.
The full horror of what lay buried beneath number 40 Ybbestrasse began to emerge.
Elisabeth Fritzl’s tale of her 24 years under ground filled a few sheets of paper but the impact of her terrible story was devastating and beyond belief.
Coming up, the police uncover Herr Fritzl’s chamber of horrors.
Translator: I went to see this dungeon, this prison for myself once.
I went through it and was very glad to be able to leave.
When “the longest night” returns.
During her interview with police, Elisabeth Fritzl told a story no one could believe at first.
She talked about how her own father, Josef Fritzl, had imprisoned her at age 18 in a cellar compound he had secretly designed and built in their own house. There he raped her repeatedly. There she’d given birth to seven children.
APRIL 27th, WITH Elizabeth’s Testimony in hand, police go to Herr Fritzl’s house.
The Fritzls live on the third floor, leasing out the first two floors to renters. What the police found shocked them.
To this day, there is no video footage available of the basement, but using evidence from police photos, we have rendered a computer animation of what that awful cellar compound might look like.
To access it, one needed to go down the cellar stairs and through a warren of rooms. There were eight locked doors before reaching the living area. The final door was concealed behind a shelving unit.
There was no natural light and little fresh air. Inside their tiny prison, there was a kitchen, a bathroom, and a living area. And beyond this, two bedrooms. The ceilings were low because of all the sound proofing required to muffle the cries of the imprisoned.
Translator: I went to see this dungeon, this prison for myself once.
I went through it and was very glad to be able to leave.
The environment in this room where the ceilings were kept very low, around six foot at the highest point, the environment was anything but pleasant because everyday living, personal hygiene, etcetera, must have kept the level of humidity high.
If we all sat down and attempted to capture 30 years in a few lines or a brief report, or even in a slightly longer documentary, we wouldn’t succeed.
It was, I believe, that in those 24 years, life must have felt as if it lasted ten times as long as real time.
It’s so unusual and extraordinary to me that it’s not only in a home in a city but in what sounds like an apartment building and certainly a closely surrounded one.
How he’s able to — how he was able to construct this, soundproof it to the extent that he did and, yet, that still air to breathe could get in and out for these individuals is far beyond my engineering capacity.
All around number 40, Josef Fritzl had created a natural barricade.
His nearest neighbors were three gardens away. Immediately next door, the old lady had moved into nursing care. Next to her, the couple spent their time in Vienna. The couple in the third house is Herbert and Regina Pence.
Translator: All the gardens are open while Herr Fritzl’s is all concealed, built up and the spaces are covered by trees and bushes.
You can’t see anything. The neighbor wanted to prune the hedge last year, but Herr Fritzl said no, leave it.
Fritzl’s neighbors speak of a family who kept to themselves always.
Translator: The Fritzl family never came to any of the garden parties we used to have around here.
They never came.
So in the end, basically, people stopped inviting them, because everyone knew the Fritzls would never come to any kind of party.
Josef Fritzl was a successful electrical engineer who owned several properties that he rented out.
His only hobby seemed to be home repair.
Translator: Herr Fritzl was always very hard working.
We often heard the noise of a cement mixer.
I think Herr Fritzl did most of the building work himself.
We thought he was adding on an extra room to rent out or something like that.
According to the police, years before imprisoning his daughter Fritzl carefully planned and built his maximum security prison.
One of the strangest things about the Fritzl case is the amount of preplanning, not just premeditation, I assume, about what he wanted to do to his daughter, but the amount of planning to enable him to build this bunker, fortify it, make sure that nobody in very close quarters could hear anything in it.
Translator: Today we know with certainty that part of the old cellar in the old house was kept back as a reserve, so to speak, and that this news house suddenly gained a small space of 30 to 35 square meters, without anyone noticing.
We’re now proceeding on the assumption that he had already settled upon the plan to build his own personal reich as early as 1978 and to start a relationship with his pretty daughter Elisabeth in the cellar.
Coming up, Elisabeth Fritzl goes missing and even her friends can’t find her.
Translator: All of the sudden all contact ended and when i called, it was palmed off and i never heard from her again.
What Josef Fritzl did to his daughter and their children was not his first criminal act.
In 1967, Fritzl was convicted of raping a 24-year-old nurse at knife point. At the time, he was already married with four children. For this crime, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison.
Translator: I can’t investigate matters of which i know nothing.
In Austrian law, there is a statute of limitations.
The Austrian statute requires that criminal convictions be removed from all records after ten years.
Thus, erasing Fritzl’s criminal past.
As a result, Josef Fritzl presented himself to the outside world as a strong family man in a devoutly catholic country. His favorite daughter, Elisabeth, was the fourth child of seven from his marriage to Rosemarie.
There were five girls and two boys, with a father ruling the roost.
Translator: I did hear talk amongst the neighbors that Herr Fritzl was very firm with his children and that absolute obedience to Herr Fritzl prevailed.
His wife, too, was very submissive towards him. We all knew it. He was very domineering with his family.
According to classmates, Elisabeth found the atmosphere at home oppressive, causing her to run away.
Translator: I did get the impression, though, that she felt more comfortable at school than at home and that sometimes she went quiet when it was time to go home again.
It was the same for both of us. It was like a silence descending.
Andreas Kruzig was Elisabeth’s former boyfriend.
Translator: She really confided in me.
I knew that she was under pressure from her parents and that she ran away from home when she was 14 or 15.
According to Elisabeth’s testimony to police, the situation at home was worse than just a stern father.
She says her father’s sexual abuse began at age 11. She’d kept it secret.
Translator: The abuse at 11 years.
I thought about it a lot recently, whether I noticed anything back when we were at school. Now it’s easier to understand why she didn’t talk about boys or about sex. Now with hindsight I understand why she didn’t talk about certain things or why she was distant and quiet.
Fritzl has told investigators that his decision to incarcerate his daughter was to rescue her from what he described as persons of questionable moral standards and that ever since she started puberty Elisabeth had ceased to obey his rules.
One of the things with all of us in law enforcement see over the years especially applies in cases of familial violence and it’s the defense that I was doing something to protect or better the life of the victim.
They’re absurd but that doesn’t stop most of these guys from trying.
Fritzl admitted in an interview for an Austrian magazine that he had other reasons to lock up his daughter.
“My desire to have sex with Elisabeth also got much stronger as time went by. We first had sex in spring 1985. I could not control myself any longer.”
Not surprisingly, Elisabeth had a different version from her father’s. She told police that her longest night started in august, 1984, when she was only 18. That’s when her father drugged her and dragged her to the cellar, chaining her to a wall. For the first four years of her incarceration, she lived in complete isolation. According to her own account the only visitor her own father, who raped her every few days.
You could probably talk to 50 different psychiatrists and read all of the literature and get 50 different answers about what drives the incest dynamic.
Some of it is control. Some of it is lust. Some of it is a narcissistic attraction to self and the creation of self.
Meanwhile, Fritzl fabricated a believable cover story, telling family and friends that Elisabeth had fled her home to join a cult, insisting she didn’t want to be found.
He even presented letters from her that he forced her to write.
Fritzl’s careful web of lies worked. No one came looking for Elisabeth — not her mother, not her friends, not the neighbors, not the police.
Translator: This is something the police see time and time again and, as we all know, every child leaves the family home at some point.
Then her 19th birthday arrived. And the Austrian police aren’t allowed to search for missing persons over the age of 19, because from this age onwards, an Austrian citizen can go anywhere in the world they want.
In planning Elisabeth’s disappearance, Fritzl was meticulous.
He was known to be highly organized, a quality appreciated by those with whom he did business. The Fritzl family ran a summer guest house in the mountains and rented land from Anton Graf.
Translator: We had a business relationship.
He was correct. If he gave you his word, you could count on it. If he borrowed a tool and said he would return it two days later, then two days later it was back. What he said, he did. You could always count on it.
Anton Graf saw the Fritzls every summer and had known Elisabeth throughout her childhood, so when she went missing, Josef was sure to let him know all about it.
Translator: And then one day he came to see us and he told us “lizzie won’t be coming home.
She’s involved in a sect and has ” >> to reinforce the idea that his daughter had disappeared to join a sect Josef Fritzl began an elaborate deception which lasted over two decades.
To stop too many probing questions, he even started to manufacture evidence.
Translator: And a bit later on, I don’t remember exactly when, he told us that a letter had arrived.
The letter said that it was pointless to search for her because she was deeply involved with a sect and that she was so happy there that she was definitely not coming home.
Translator: We were a couple.
We wrote to each other. We saw each other. All of a sudden all contact ended. When I called, I was palmed off. It was over. And I didn’t hear from her again.
Elisabeth Fritzl had simply vanished and no one seemed to think it unusual.
Coming up, Elisabeth is forced to give up three of her children.
Translator: “People said it was irresponsible.
What a bad mother Elisabeth was to leave the children.
After four years in the cellar prison, the next stage of Elisabeth Fritzl’s terrible ordeal began.
Bearing her father’s seven children. In 1988, the first child, Kirsten, was born in the cellar with no medical assistance. Elisabeth was all of 22.
Translator: If we want to discuss when things deteriorated for Elisabeth, then certainly there was the moment when she realized that she was pregnant for the first time.
And then the worry throughout the pregnancy whether her child would be healthy and the births, themselves, would have taken their toll. Especially given there was no help on hand. Like a midwife or a doctor.
Escaping from her dungeon with its eight locked doors was always going to be difficult, but with pregnancy and becoming a mother, Elisabeth seems to have simply given up.
Translator: There was a change.
She said herself that even before she was incarcerated she’d been abused by her father, and after being taken prisoner, had endured brutal, physical violence in some shape or form, and then she told us that this had lessened.
Having been where she’d been for so long, doing it and knowing your children aren’t likely to get out of there either, so the mixed blessing of having a child but knowing that child is also going to be a prisoner and that happening over and over again.
I just can’t imagine how she did not, how Elisabeth did not shut down entirely and give up.
In total, Elisabeth gave birth to seven of her father’s children.
Today, only six are alive. Michael, a twin, died soon after birth. His tiny body incinerated by Josef Fritzl, most likely in the furnace.
Three others, Felix now 5, Stefan now 18, and Kirsten, 19, were condemned to lead a life in captivity with their mother.
But, incredibly, Fritzl selected the middle three children for a life of freedom upstairs. Alexander, age 12, Monika, 14, and Lisa, 15.
Translator: Why this man took these three middle children upstairs we’ll probably never get a final on that.
You can imagine that it was getting a bit crowded. You must have guessed the more prisoners in the cellar the more complicated it became to look after them.
Taking the three middle children upstairs posed problems.
How to explain the arrival of the babies? His solution was simple. Elisabeth was a bad mother and had abandoned her children.
A pattern was established in the middle of the night, a baby would be left on the Fritzls’ door step with a note from Elisabeth, again, a letter the father forced her to write.
Translator: “I’m really sorry that I have to turn to you again.
I hope lisa is doing well. She must have grown by now. Monika is now 9 1/2 months old. She was breast fed for 7 1/2 months and now eats almost anything but she still likes the bottle best. The whole appetite has to be a “
When the second baby arrived, the Austrian press took note. Mark perry covered the case for a local newspaper.
1994, The first story, just after Christmas.
The second time she put the baby in front of the door of her grandfather. How bad must she be? Fritzl quoting here, vanished since 1984. “We think she’s in the hands of ” and, in fact, she was in his hands.
Even Austrian social services bought in to Fritzl’s complex web of deception.
Translator: If, as people assumed and her father kept claiming, Elisabeth was living with a sect, it wouldn’t have been difficult at all for a member of the sect to give Elisabeth a lift at night and for her to leave the baby on the door step at a time when she wouldn’t have been seen.
Fritzl’s closest neighbors bought his story, too.
Translator: People said that it was irresponsible.
What a bad mother Elisabeth was just to leave the children on the doorstep. Frau Fritzl already had seven children and now she has to bring up grandchildren, as well. Terrible.
Incredibly, over the 24 years Elisabeth was in captivity, there were more than 100 tenants renting rooms in the Fritzl house right above Elisabeth’s prison.
Translator: In hindsight, you can always claim that you heard something, like knocking, but that simply isn’t the case.
I can’t recall ever hearing knocking or anything at all. And if I heard something, what could I have done? It could have been children playing. You don’t know.
After the first child was abandoned in 1992, social services paid some 20 visits to the house.
With Fritzl’s rape conviction erased from his records, they had no reason to be suspicious. In fact, social workers left, impressed by his wife, Rosemarie.
The grandmother took loving care of the children, Lisa, Monika, and Alexander.
These three children were very well brought up. They were doing very well at school. They were integrated in the community. And the notes and records about all the meetings with the grandmother frau Fritzl suggested the atmosphere was normal.
There was sympathy for the elderly couple who had suddenly acquired a new, young family.
Translator: Only the first child, lisa, was adopted.
The other two were officially raised as foster children.
This option was chosen because the state does not pay support for adopted children whereas in the case of foster care, child support ranging from 397 to 410 euros is paid per child per month depending on the age of the child.
In hindsight, and to an outside observer, it is almost inconceivable that this man claimed support.
Josef Fritzl was not only above suspicion, he was actually getting financial help from the state.
The fact was that nobody, neighbors or social services, thought there was anything wrong.
Translator: In the world upstairs, everybody who knew them said so, everything seemed right.
The children went to school. They did their homework properly. They were brought up strictly by this father. And so after sometime, people would have said, this is an honorable man. He may be strict, but as we say in austria that strictness never hurt anybody. So all this certainly played a part.
Coming up, did others know about Fritzl’s cellar?
At some point, did she know about and buy into some aspect of this?
Could she have been completely ignorant of the husband’s nature and character?
When “the longest night” returns.
in this seemingly normal Austrian town, Josef Fritzl was able to create his extraordinary mirror image families.
Decorations in the windows of the children’s bedrooms upstairs were eerily replicated in the dungeon bathroom below.
In his interview with the Austrian magazine, Fritzl talked proudly about his secret family.
“I was delighted about the children.
Hyde, Herr Fritzl always made sure to celebrate birthdays and holidays with his cellar family, even bringing down a Christmas tree.
Translator: We know today from the doctors that those who are imprisoned do things that are totally at a different pace, the way they talk, the way they now choose to spend their time in freedom.
It’s simply impossible to imagine what it must have been like to establish a daily routine in this prison and to live with the constant reminder of the world outside, watching television, seeing pictures, and hearing stories from their father about what life was like up there.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth tried to give her imprisoned children a degree of normality, teaching them to read and write.
They had lessons.
They learned grammar. They learned the language. They learned mathematics. So I mean, they have raised very well. They have a — they are very well behaved.
It’s really astounding if you experience Stefan, he’s a very, very polite and dedicated person. And so I think Elisabeth tried her best to give them a structure and a good life under the given circumstances in the dungeon.
Recent home video of Fritzl frolicking in Thailand suggests that he didn’t have a care in the world.
It also suggests that he may have had a voracious sexual appetite. His sex life can definitely not be classified as normal. My information is that on numerous occasions, he visited brothels, where he indulged in various perverted activities.
His absences on holiday for several weeks at a time have raised questions that he might have had an accomplice to look after his family, but police believe he was so well organized it wouldn’t have been necessary.
Translator: Based on evidence, we know this prison had a very restricted living area which was equipped with everything necessary to keep them alive.
For example, large quantities of food in freezes, the fridges, the facility to do laundry. There was a washing machine, as well, and an electric cooking range for preparing meals.
It required detailed planning to maintain two families — one in total secrecy for 24 years with four secret prisoners downstairs to clothe and feed, Fritzl used to drive out of Amstetten to do his shopping, ever careful not to arouse any suspicion locally with unusual purchases.
The provisions were taken underground at night. Clearly, Fritzl was not your typical criminal with a short attention span and an unconscious need to be found out.
What we count on in law enforcement is that criminals get sloppy, that they do stupid things.
Fritzl is a very unusual man, which kept these crimes unsuspected for more than two decades. It was the amount of planning and the amount of control.
What about his wife, rose marie?
How could she not know or at least suspect?
I don’t understand why she didn’t take the opportunity at some point, maybe while he was away on one of his four-week holidays, to take action and say, “this is my child and i want to know where my child is.
Why did my child leave one baby or even three babies on my doorstep?” She didn’t take action as a mother. I don’t understand either the authorities or the mother.
This is a woman who knew her husband’s background as a rapist.
This is somebody who disappeared for hours at a time in their own home. I believe she’s at least of moderate intelligence, if not more. Where was he going? What was he doing that many hours? Why did these children appear from time to time on the doorstep during the night? Could she have been completely ignorant of the husband’s nature and character?
In fact, according to some, Rosemarie played an essential role in keeping the deception going.
Rosemarie fritz, if she hadn’t kept the family together so long, it might have turned up much earlier but she tried to keep playing on the outside the idyllic family, taking the children and adopting them and being perfect grandparents and giving the love to them the mother couldn’t give.
So actually unwittingly she was an accomplice of her tyrant man.
Austrian police, however, still believe Fritzl acted alone.
Translator: Up til now, no one has been ruled out as a suspect.
We’ve always categorically stated that our investigations have so far given us no reason to suspect anyone else.
It may be hard to comprehend but we must accept that a woman bringing up seven children can’t take care of everything or pay the same amount of attention to her husband that she would if she had a smaller family.
Dna samples taken from the cellar indicate that no other suspect was present, apart from Josef Fritzl.
Translator: Up to now we’re only looking at a single suspect and I have to add there’s a certain logic to the fact that this man didn’t tell anyone else about his affairs, because it was the only way, through secrecy and iron self-discipline, that he was able to keep it hidden from everyone for such an incredibly long time.
Coming up, what future awaits Elisabeth Fritzl and her children?
I’m sad to say that I think she is profoundly damaged.
In light of the crimes Josef Fritzl has admitted to, law enforcement is seeking to find out what drove Fritzl to live his bipolar existence and to manifest such inhumanity towards his own progeny.
His defense lawyer points to his Nazi era childhood. Born in 1935, the Nazis were taking over Austria. Josef Fritzl was brought up as an only child by a strict and cruel mother, a woman he worshiped, telling the Austrian magazine she was the best woman in the world.
“I suppose you could describe me ” he admits he had sexual longings for her but says “i was capable to keep my desires under ” meanwhile, the victims of his cruelty, the six children he fathered, his daughter, Elisabeth, and his wife, Rosemarie, were reunited in a psychiatric clinic outside Amstetten, where they could get the emotional counseling they needed.
It was very amazing to watch the family, because they behave like a normal family.
There are lots of things which have been reported badly or wrongly. I mean, first, I mean, the children speak normal German. They communicate as anybody does. They walk as anybody does. And also what has been reported about Elisabeth, I mean, she’s a normal looking woman, very attractive person. If you meet her and if you see her, you know, the most important point right now is that she has the feeling that the kids are happy. They feel comfortable. And that gives her, I would say, the best relief.
Since Elisabeth Fritzl’s long night began, so much has changed, but she retains a working knowledge of a world she last saw in 1984, when Ronald Reagan was president of the united states.
Translator: Elisabeth, let’s say, is led back in to a world which she once knew, in which she can remember and which she has seen reflected on television.
The others, the children will be let out and will have to be taught how to live, and those senses that weren’t stimulated downstairs will have to be stimulated.
One day ago it rained and Felix just said, “i want to see for the first time rain because ” I mean, even if you hear that, you just realize, yes, he didn’t.
He didn’t see that before. So I think he still has lots of things to experience.
But ordinary life is still not possible.
The international interest in the case is such that the family cannot leave the hospital in which they are staying. It’s rumored that the first photo event is worth millions of dollars. Effectively, they are still in prison.
They cannot go outside because there are always lots of paparazzi who want to take photographs, so this is something which gives them, again, the feeling of being captured.
It’s very difficult right now for alex, lisa, and Monika, who lived together with their grandma upstairs. They cannot see their friends. They cannot meet their classmates. They even miss school. And this is something which is very hard for them.
They are just asking, when can they meet them again, when they can go to school again, and we all hope that this will happen pretty soon, because they have to have their normal life again.
The man responsible for all this now sits in a real prison 40 miles away.
So far, Josef Fritzl is reported to have shown little remorse, even though he has confessed to his heinous crimes.
Translator: When I met him again in his cell I said, “it was you, Herr Fritzl?
I’m appalled by you, to which he replied, “I’m very, very sorry for my family.”
Fritzl is said to be angered by coverage of his case.
He dictated a statement to his lawyer, denying being a monster. He still maintains that he was kind to his family, citing that he could have killed them and didn’t.
Translator: The media coverage is completely over the top.
And so part of my job is to move it away from the monster back to the human being. Because there’s a human being on trial but not a monster.
With Fritzl in prison, questions are being asked about who else is to blame.
In Amstetten, local authorities have been accused of failings, accusations they deny.
Translator: Herr Fritzl was a patriarch, very authoritarian.
So certain areas in his house were exclusively for his use. But why would this lead to suspicion there was a second family being kept down there? Who would get such an idea into their head? I ask you. It’s like the former tenants now talking. It’s all too easy to be wise after the event.
There has been one admission of failure.
Austria’s statute of limitations.
Fritzl’s conviction for rape was wiped from the record books after ten years. Had it remained on his record, perhaps more questions would have been asked.
The Austrian parliament is now changing the law, but some wonder if there is something about the Austrian psyche.
Translator: We tend to look the other way when a child gets a smack in the face rather than be brave and intervene and say, what on earth are you thinking?
What are you doing? We respect privacy so much that we don’t pick up the phone and call the police to send someone over. Everyone is left to mind their own business. We have a saying in Austria, don’t get involved.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth and her children from the cellar continue to suffer severe ailments due to the poor air and lack of sun or exercise or medical care stemming from their long, inhumane confinement.
After several months in the hospital, Kirsten has finally been released and reunited with her brothers and sisters. However, doctors say their emotional recovery will be long and difficult, especially Elisabeth’s.
I am sad to say that I think she is profoundly damaged.
To imagine somebody held captive for 24 years, I truly see some sort of recovery that she lives and hopefully is healthy and is restored to some kind of life that she can lead, but I think there is absolutely no way to repair all of the damage that she sustained.
However, there is some sign of hope.
Recently the Fritzl children sent a note of thanks to the townspeople for their expressions of concern and wrote of their relief at being free.
Stefan, age 18, wrote — >> Translator: “I like the sun ” >> Felix, age 5, wrote — >> Translator: “I want to look ” >> and alexander, age 12, writes — >> Translator: “I want freedom ” >> in july the family was well enough to move from the psychiatric clinic to a non-disclosed location in the Austrian countryside.
Josef Fritzl’s trial is due to begin in the fall. His is a case that only continues to confound.
It makes me think of so many questions that haven’t been answered yet.
Did he have any other uses for it? Were there other victims before his daughter? Are there bodies anywhere?
Some questions may never be answered in this darkest of cases.
But at least for Elisabeth Fritzl and her six children, their longest night is over.
Image CreditsEntrance to Josef Fritzl dungeon basement via Luju Bar with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Josef Fritzl as a young boy via Luju Bar with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Education posters Elisabeth Fritzl made for the children via Luju Bar with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Josef Fritzl and his wife, Rosemarie Fritzl via Luju Bar with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Police gathering evidence in the Josef Fritzl case via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Fair use (low res)
Police gather evidence in the Josef Fritzl case via Altered Dimensions with usage type - Fair use (low res)
Josef Fritzl view from cellar police photo via Medium with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
View of bedroom area in Josef Fritzl cellar police photo via Medium with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
via Medium with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Elisabeth Fritzl with aging sketch via Medium with usage type - Editorial use (Fair Use)
Josef Fritzl via YouTube with usage type - Fair use with modification
Elisabeth Fritzl via YouTube with usage type - Fair use with modification