When this case first was revealed in 2008, it sickened me. Not only was Elisabeth held captive for over 24 years, but held captive by her father. The one man she should have been able to trust implicitly. Instead he may have given her life, only to take it away and prevent her from living. This is the story of Elisabeth Fritzl and her disgusting father Josef.
Josef Fritzl, was born in 1935 in Amstetten, Austria. At age 21 he married 17 year old Rosemarie, and had three sons and four daughters, including Elisabeth, born in 1966. In 1977, when only 11 years old, Josef began abusing Elisabeth.
At age 15, after completing her compulsory education, Elisabeth started a course to become a waitress. Shortly after she ran away from home and stayed with a friend from work in Vienna for three weeks before the police returned her to her parents. She finished her waitress course in mid-1984.
On August 28, 1984, Elisabeth was now 18. Her father asked her to help him in the basement with a door. This was the last part of his dungeon where Elisabeth would remain for 24 years. Elisabeth held the door in place while her father fitted it into the frame. Then holding an ether-soaked towel on his daughter’s face until she became unconscious and then threw her into the dungeon.
Elisabeth’s disappearance didn’t go unnoticed. Her mother, Rosemarie filed a missing person’s report. Approximately a month later, a letter arrived from Elisabeth. It stated she was tired of living with her family and she was now with friends. She didn’t want her family to come looking for her. Josef explained to police she likely joined a religious cult. This was accepted by police and family, as the letter was in Elisabeth’s hand. But nobody knew she had been forced to write it by her father.
The basement at the Fritzl home was off limits to everyone even Rosemarie, except for Josef. Even the tenet who lived in the Fritzl home for over 12 years accepted the noises from the basement as the faulty water pipes or the gas heating system. Nobody questioned a thing.
For 24 years, Josef visited Elisabeth every day, or at a minimum of 3 times per week. He brought food and other supplies to her. He also repeatedly raped her. Eventually Elisabeth would become pregnant by her father, seven times. One child died shortly after birth and the infant’s body was disposed in the incinerator. Of the six remaining children, three Lisa, Monika, and Alexander were removed from the cellar as infants to live in the house with Josef and his wife Rosemarie. He explained that the children were left on their doorstep from Elisabeth. Eventually Josef and Rosemarie were approved from social services to become their foster parents. Social Services visited the home often, and nothing aroused their suspicions.
Elisabeth and the other three children, Kerstin, Stefan, and Felix, all remained in the dungeon. They were threatened with being gassed, or electrical shocks if they tried to touch the door. Elisabeth did her best to teach her children how to read and write.
In April of 2008, the eldest child, Kerstin, became ill and was unconscious. Elisabeth and Josef removed her from the dungeon and then he took her to the hospital. Elisabeth was forced back into the dungeon for another week.
Kerstin had a life threatening condition, kidney failure. Josef later arrived at the hospital with a note written by Kerstin’s mother, and he discussed her condition with the doctor.
For the first time in 24 years, someone didn’t fully believe Josef. The police were alerted. They broadcast an appeal to have the missing mother come forward and provide more information about Kerstin’s medical history. The police also reopened the case on Elisabeth’s disappearance.
Police finally did some investigating and contacted a church official who was an expert on cults. He raised doubts about the whole story presented by Josef, and stated that the letters from Elisabeth seemed dictated.
Back in the dungeon Elisabeth pleaded with Josef to be taken to the hospital. Finally he released her, Stefan, and Felix from the basement. He took Elisabeth to the hospital. The police detained them, and took them both to the station for questioning.
Before she told the police anything, Elisabeth wanted a guarantee that she would never have to see her father again. When she had gotten that assurance, she talked. For two hours she talked. Telling officers of the 24 years of captivity, the raping, being forced to watch pornographic videos which she was then to re-enact with her father in front of her children. After she told them everything, the police arrested Josef, age 73, on suspicion of serious crimes against family members.
Rosemarie, Elisabeth, and her children were taken into protective custody that night. Two days later DNA evidence confirmed Josef as the biological father of his daughter’s children. His defense lawyer stated that although this proved incest, it didn’t prove rape or enslavement.
In March of 2009, Josef pleads guilty to the charges of murder by negligence for that of the infant (Michael) that died after birth. As well as the decades of enslavement, incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment. He was sentenced to life in prison.
Josef’s name was changed in prison, I’m assuming for security reasons, to Josef Mayrhoff. He is still alive as of today, currently 86 years old. Rosemarie divorced him in 2012.
Kerstin made a full recovery and was reunited with her family. Elisabeth and her children had to be treated with both medical and psychological therapy. Rosemarie, Elisabeth, and her children were staying in a secret location, and shortly after they were saved, Elisabeth kicked out Rosemarie as she was upset about her mother’s passiveness during her upbringing.
The most recent information is that Elisabeth and Rosemarie have started to rebuild their relationship, they currently do not live together. Elisabeth and her children continue to participate in therapy. It is not known if they have changed their names, as this was provided as an option to them.
I sincerely hope that given enough time, Elisabeth and her children are able to live and enjoy life to it’s fullest. I also hope that when Josef meets his maker, that he has to pay dearly for the crimes and torture that he inflicted on his children.
Be strong, make good choices, be safe