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Josef Fritzl

Crime Files
Josef Fritzl

“...sometimes the most dreadful of crimes can happen in the most ordinary of places.”Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

“If it’s not your business, don’t get involved.”Austrian proverb


Fritzl’s grandmother, Anna Fritzl, was born in the ‘somewhat unglamorous’ town of Amstetten, in Austria.She married a mill owner. Their loveless marriage was made worse because Anna couldn’t conceive. So Fritzl’s grandfather had sex with his servants. One of these, Maria, would become Josef Fritzl’s mother.


In 1934, Maria met a very poor man called Josef. On 9 April 1935, the unmarried couple had a child. They gave their son his father’s first name and Anna’s maiden name.Josef Fritzl was probably stigmatised by his conservative community from birth because of his illegitimacy. At home, Josef was just as likely to be mistreated;

“The only emotion that Mr Fritzl knew in his early years was fear. Fear for his mother, and fear of his mother...she maltreated him without any obvious reason. He never knew when it would come again.” - Dr Heidi Kastner, Forensic Psychiatrist to Josef Fritzl

On 12 March 1938, when Josef was nearly three years old, Hitler’s troops marched across the border in to Amstetten.Hitler himself followed a few days later to be greeted by a large crowd.Young Josef was in that crowd perched on the shoulders of his father to greet the Führer.In 1938, 99.7% of Austrians voted to become part of the Third Reich. There was no unity in Josef’s home:

“I grew up in a poor family. My father was a no good scoundrel who always mother threw him out of the house when I was four...She was the best woman in the world, and I was her husband in some way. I was the only man in the house. I loved her over everything.” - Extract from Josef Fritzl’s statement, released shortly after his arrest in April 2008

Josef’s feelings towards his mother weren’t reciprocated. And Maria’s independent ways, her lack of conformity, and her feisty temper, soon meant she was in trouble with the Nazi authorities.

“During the Second World War, (Maria) was arrested and interned to a concentration camp where she spent a few months...Josef was left on his own... that must have left scars on the young boy’s psyche.” - Bojan Panchevski, European Correspondent

Nine-year-old Josef was sent to an orphanage during this period and told that his mother was dead. Only as the war ended did he realise she was still alive.

Young Josef’s father had joined the German army and fought on the Eastern front until he was taken prisoner by the Russians. He was released in 1948 and returned to Amstetten where he was shunned by both the boy and his mother.

After the war Fritzl’s mother became even more eccentric and aggressive. Maria’s discipline towards her son grew more violent:

“There’s absolutely no doubt that Maria...was not a loving mother...she didn’t have the psychological makeup to understand that she had responsibilities for her child, that she should care for her child. And so, she would regularly beat him.” - Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

Childhood friends remember Josef as intelligent, if a little aloof:

“He was slightly superior to us.” - Karl Dunkl, Fritzl school friend

His relationship with his mother changed when Josef turned 15. He finally stood up against Maria’s attacks. Disturbingly, a connection between family, violence and sexuality was already being set:

“Did I fantasise about my mother? Probably...But I was strong and I have therefore managed to suppress my urges.”Josef Fritzl

But Josef's urges found other outlets.

“We see some really difficult psychosexual behaviours emerging around (this) time...he becomes what’s known as a lurker. We would probably call this a peeping Tom. He’s going to listen out for young couples having sex in their homes so that he can hear their sexual activity. He’s also going to develop from that kind of behaviour to exposing himself to women.”Professor David Wilson, Criminologist


Fritzl's evil is finally exposed

“I knew that with every passing day, what I had done would be more severely judged.”Extract from Josef Fritzl’s statement released shortly after his arrest in April 2008

Fritzl starts to make plans to free Elisabeth at the end of 2008.But in the middle of March that year, 19-year-old Kerstin becomes seriously ill:

“The only medication at their disposal was aspirin, so she had been given aspirin for weeks, but obviously that didn’t help. Elisabeth managed to convince Fritzl to take Kerstin to the hospital, and this was probably the first time in those 24 years that she really put her foot down. She was adamant that she would just not go on if he were to allow Kerstin to die.”Bojan Panchevski, European Correspondent

On 19 April 2008, Elisabeth helped her father carry 19-year-old Kerstin upstairs before returning to join Stefan and Felix.Fritzl tells Dr Reiter at the hospital that Elisabeth is unwilling to care for the sick and severely malnourished Kerstin. But Dr Reiter needs more medical information; information only her mother could provide.The police put out a television appeal for Elisabeth.She sees it on her underground television.She persuades Fritzl that she has to go to the hospital to explain what’s been happening to Kerstin.

8516 days after first entering, Elisabeth leaves her dungeon.

Fritzl takes Elisabeth to the hospital:

“Dr Reiter interviews Elisabeth, tries to get as much information as possible, and once that interview is finished, the police arrest Elisabeth, take her into a room and begin to interrogate her. And it’s only when they threaten to take away her children that Elisabeth reveals for the first time what Josef Fritzl has been doing to her. And the police arrest Josef Fritzl. And the game is, in effect, up.”Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

Fritzl’s other children, Stefan and Felix are exposed to the world for the first time;

“...they were in an extremely bad condition... Their skin was all pale. They had all sorts of infections, because of the filth, of the humidity of the place where they lived. It was infested with bacteria, with insects.”

Forensic experts enter the cellar of 40 Ybbstrasse in Amstetten. Police find the conditions so difficult they organise limited shift patterns. They also have to drill extra air-holes;

“What I will never forget is the smell, the smell of the cellar.”Dr. Hans-Heinz Lenze, District Commissioner

On Sunday, 27 April 2008, police in Amstetten hold a press conference. The name of Josef Fritzl is soon known around the world.

The first journalist to break the story worldwide was British born Mark Perry working for a Vienna based newspaper;

“Josef Fritzl was the most horrific story I’ve ever reported in thirty years of journalism. And it was the most touching story; especially when the little children were coming out, and they saw the daylight for the first time in their lives.”

Second Family

What lurks beneath

In 1988, Elisabeth delivers her firstborn by herself. She names her daughter Kerstin. It is later speculated that as unnatural as the situation was, the fact that Elisabeth became a mother and had to care for another, probably saved her sanity.

In 1990 Elisabeth has another child, Stefan.

UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRSBy 1991, Elisabeth hasn’t seen sunlight for nearly seven years. She becomes pregnant again. Just above the cellar, her prison, her mother, brothers and sister carry on oblivious.In August 1992, Elisabeth and Fritzl’s third child, Lisa, is born.Lisa has a heart defect.

“Fritzl is worried that this so called sound-proofed cellar is not going to be able to cope with a small baby who is constantly in pain and therefore constantly crying.”Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

His solution is both sinister and simple. He forces Elisabeth to write another letter. In it, she says she can’t care for her child and would her family take her in. This letter, along with Lisa, is placed on the doorstep of 40 Ybbsstrasse by Fritzl.On discovery, Lisa is given emergency surgery to correct her heart defect. Once recovered, she’s taken into the Fritzl household. She’ll be the first of three of Fritzl’s incestual offspring Rosamarie will raise.But life downstairs is getting cramped for the growing children. So Fritzl converts more space and attempts to normalise day-to-day life in his DIY dungeon. He installs refrigerators, provides toys, flowers, and gives them a goldfish and a canary.

On 16 December 1994 a second child arrived on the doorstep. Another note was found from Elisabeth saying the baby was called Monika.

Journalist Mark Perry runs the strange story of the second abandoned baby.

On 28 April 1996 Elisabeth gives birth to twins, Michael and Alexander…

Josef Fritzl has now fathered six children with his own daughter…But one of his latest, Michael, is very sick. His breathing difficulties require medical attention. Fritzl can’t risk the attention. He tells Elisabeth;

“Whatever will be, will be.”

He, in effect, allows the little boy to die. Just 66 hours after little Michael is born, he is no more.

HELLTo dispose of the evidence of his crime, he burns Michael’s little body in the furnace of his house. But Alexander is sick too. Elisabeth won’t survive and can’t tolerate both of her twins dying.Fritzl leaves a third child on his own doorstep.Social services do question him about the spate and rate of grandchildren appearing unexpectedly. He’s said to have ‘very plausibly’ explained them away.

By now, Fritzl is so comfortable and confident in his dysfunctional set up, that he spends long periods away from his above and below ground families. He likes to relax in Thailand. Holiday video shows him enjoying a Thai massage on the beach. Footage also shows him about to buy a dress that’s clearly too small for his wife. It’s intended for Elisabeth.

“He would often be gone for a few weeks at a time, and during that time, the family would be left to their own devices. There would be enough food and water for them to survive. But, of course, anything could have happened. There could have been a fire, there could have been a case of illness, there could have been an emergency. He didn’t seem to much care about that. He would just leave them without any contact to the outside world, and then just come back three weeks later, after a nice little holiday in the sun.”Bojan Panchevski, European Correspondent


By December 2002, Elisabeth Fritzl has been imprisoned underneath her own family home for 18 years.

14-year-old Kerstin and 12-year-old Stefan have never been outside the cellar. They’ve never seen daylight. Fritzl compensates by providing them with Vitamin D supplements and lamps to reduce their inevitable deficiencies. In order to feed his underground family and avoid suspicion, he shops for them outside Amstetten.

“The cellar in my building belonged to me and me alone. It was my kingdom, which only I had access to. Everyone who lived there knew it.”Josef Fritzl

Elisabeth gives birth to a final child, Felix.

“Interestingly there’s a kind of mirror going on here. Fritzl has 7 legitimate children and...has 7 children through his incestuous relationship. So there’s a sense of mirroring...because he’s so fond of Felix, and wants Felix to inherit his world, we begin to see Fritzl trying to manage that process.‘How do I get this downstairs family integrated with the upstairs family?’ And part of that’s pragmatic, he wants Felix to go to school. He realises he can’t send Felix to school, and perhaps even by this stage Fritzl has realised there can’t be a fourth foundling found on the doorstep.”Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

For 24 years, Josef Fritzl had kept his own daughter captive in a cellar beneath his house…In that time he’d used her as a sex slave and fathered seven children…

Elisabeth is now 42 and has spent over half her life in captivity and in inhuman conditions.It’s estimated that Fritzl has raped her more than 3,000 times, often in front of their children.Apart from one tenant’s dog, that constantly scratched and barked at the floor for seemingly no reason, no one suspected what was going on beneath them;

“...about 100 people lived during the 24 the flats above the cellar. Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything. Nobody.”Dr. Hans-Heinz Lenze, District Commissioner

The Aftermath

Life after the dungeon

Elizabeth and her children are now living a secluded life away from the media in an undisclosed location and with new identities. It is hoped the children can have something approximating normal lives. The same is wished for their mother, Elisabeth;“I think she didn’t go mad because she had the children. I think it would be, it would’ve been almost impossible for her to survive alone, on her own. But she had a reason to live, they had the children, she taught the children, she tried to maintain an almost normal life. She made the children get up at the set time and she made breakfast for the family and she had them go to school so to speak, because she taught them. She tried to maintain a normal, almost, seemingly normal life. And I think that is what saved her.”Dr Heidi Kastner, Forensic Psychiatrist to Josef Fritzl

Elizabeth and her children are now living a secluded life away from the media in an undisclosed location and with new identities. It is hoped the children can have something approximating normal lives. The same is wished for their mother, Elisabeth;“I think she didn’t go mad because she had the children. I think it would be, it would’ve been almost impossible for her to survive alone, on her own. But she had a reason to live, they had the children, she taught the children, she tried to maintain an almost normal life. She made the children get up at the set time and she made breakfast for the family and she had them go to school so to speak, because she taught them. She tried to maintain a normal, almost, seemingly normal life. And I think that is what saved her.”Dr Heidi Kastner, Forensic Psychiatrist to Josef Fritzl


I want to watch a Robbie Williams concert

“I want to watch a Robbie Williams concert...A new life is starting for all of us – let us be happy.”Kerstin Fritzl’s first words on awaking in hospital for the first time outside of her prison“Little Felix, pressing his nose to the window, being in this car for the first time in his little life; watching all the lights, seeing moonlight for the first time. Gluing his little nose, till it’s white, to the window shield of the car, just looking, staring – wide eyes, saying nothing. That was his first look at the normal life.”Journalist Mark Perry’s remembering Felix Fritzl’s first moments outsideFREEDOM & THE PRESSFrom the point of view of the criminal police, the missing person case of Elisabeth Fritzl was solved. But what Fritzl had done as a father to his family went beyond criminal law.On 27 April 2008, Colonel Franz Polzer, the head of Lower Austria’s Criminal Police, holds an impromptu press conference. He states that Josef Fritzl has kept his daughter in his cellar for 24 years and that she has borne him several children. The world’s press goes wild.

World's Press Heas to Amstetten

Comments Fritzl made to his lawyer are leaked to a local magazine;“...I must have been crazy because I did something like this.”Police announce DNA test results confirming Fritzl is the father of Elisabeth’s children.Within two days, the small Austrian town of Amstetten floods with around 800 camera crews and journalists, accompanied by their interpreters, fixers, TV vans and satellite dishes;“In Austria, there was a huge backlash against the international coverage, and part of it was justified, because especially tabloids from the English-speaking world were very intrusive, because they were hungry, they were demanding images from the family. They were demanding details of the ordeal, and the family refused, Elisabeth refused, and she refuses to this very day to be photographed, to speak to anyone. She doesn’t want her story told by herself or the family. She doesn’t want them to be in the spotlight.”Bojan Panchevski, European Correspondent

Dr Heidi Kastner gives a psychiatric evaluation of the 73-year-old Fritzl to see if he’s fit to stand trial. She describes him as emotionally deficient. But she states to one reporter;“Mr Fritzl is as sane as you and I.”On the 16 March 2009, Josef Fritzl is brought to trial at Sankt Polten, the capital of Lower Austria.He’s charged with rape, enslavement, incest and the murder of one of the children that he had conceived with Elisabeth.At first Fritzl pleads not guilty to murder.Dr Heidi Kastner notes Fritzl’s initial calmness at the trial’s opening;“He was polite. He answered the questions. He was sitting there like a stone.”Everything changes when Elisabeth’s video testimony is played.Perhaps for the first time, Fritzl cannot deceive himself:“...he had to listen to her, he couldn’t close his ears...What she was saying was quite another story than he was telling. And she was telling about how horrible the time was when it had been, and how brutal he had been... And she did not at all feel like a partner. She didn’t see that as a partnership. She saw it as a crime.”Dr Heidi Kastner“She decided to show up as a final act of defiance. She just wanted to see him there in the dock, being put on trial, shamed, his crimes exposed for everyone to see, for the first time in her life. She was over forty years old at the time. She had been abused by him for the whole of her life basically, ever since her early childhood. Her whole family had been abused by him. He was a tyrant. He kind of ruled over her fate for the whole of her life, and this was one final moment where she appears as a free, independent woman, and he was on trial.”Bojan Panchevski, European CorrespondentFritzl is exposed before the world. For the intensely private Fritzl, used to being in control, it is unbearable. He resorts to hiding his face behind his defence folders. Some believe his change of plea isn’t because he finally understands the pain he’s caused, but to stop this painful process.After a four day trial Fritzl is found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment for murder by neglect, 20 years for enslavement, 15 years for rape, ten years for deprivation of liberty, five years for coercion and one year for incest.Before the verdict is announced, Fritzl makes a rare expression of remorse;“I’m sorry from the bottom of my heart...Unfortunately, I can’t change anything now.”



Fritzl's evil secret

“I knew that Elisabeth did not want the things I did to her. I knew that I was hurting her. But the urge to be finally able to taste the forbidden fruit was too strong. It was like an addiction.”Extract from Josef Fritzl’s statement released shortly after his arrest in April 2008

Fritzl first rapes his daughter in 1978. Elisabeth isn’t yet a teenager.He has ‘prepared’ her by leaving pornographic magazines under her pillow. He then exposed himself to her. He then starts to sexually abuse her.

Elisabeth never discusses her abuse with anyone.


The construction work underneath the family home nears official completion. This is, however, only the start for Fritzl. He’ll build a labyrinth of rooms covering an area of 60 sq metres.The flats above are rented out to tenants. But Fritzl’s principle rule is that any entry into the cellars below would mean instant eviction. Nobody dares cross him.

“... he managed to camouflage himself as a respectable member of society while...leading this double life of monstrosity.”Bojan Panchevski, European Correspondent

On 28 January 1983, Elisabeth runs away from home.But being underage, a warrant is issued for the minor’s return. Police find her in Vienna. Tragically, they return her to her parents. Josef Fritzl promises her that she will never run away again.

By summer 1983 the cellar is completed.Fritzl says they will be used as workshops and for storage.But the ‘rabbit warren’ like complex has cupboards with doors in them that lead to narrow corridors through which one can only crawl. Using his skills as an engineer and an electrician, Fritzl installs electric locks that can only be opened using a special code and activated only by a remote control he always keeps on him.

ESCAPE FROM AMSTETTENIn May 1984, Elisabeth announces she will move in with her sister in nearby Linz. This is effectively an exit strategy. But Fritzl fears that if Elisabeth is free of his daily control, she may go public with what he’s been doing to her in private. He can’t go back to prison.So instead, he decides to imprison her.

SECRET CELLAROn 28 August 1984, Fritzl requests his 18-year-old daughter come to his study. When her back is turned, he uses a chloroform infused rag to cover her face.He carries Elisabeth’s unconscious body to her prepared prison. It contains a bed, TV and video. He chains her up.When she wakes, he forces her to write a letter. In it Elisabeth says she’s runaway to join a cult.Fritzl drives 100 miles out of town to post the letter. Rumours spread that if Elisabeth hasn’t joined a cult, she’s probably prostituting herself in Holland.

British born, local journalist, Mark Perry is contacted by the police. They want him to put a picture of the missing girl in his paper. They’re convinced she’s the victim of a crime, but can’t track her.She was literally under the noses of the press and police in a prison on a dog’s leash.

In that fetid, dark, humid prison, Fritzl starves, beats, tortures and repeatedly rapes his daughter. To ensure compliance, he chains her to the wall. When he leaves her, her only company are rats and insects.

“...the only way we can explain that survival is her own personal resilience and the psychological concept of the Stockholm syndrome, whereby the person who has been taken hostage learns to accommodate the hostage taker. In other words, if the hostage wants to survive that experience, they have to do basically what the hostage taker wants them to do...(and) part of the Stockholm Syndrome is making the hostage feel as if there is literally no escape. He convinces Elisabeth that there’s gas traps, that there’s electronic doors, that there’s no way that anybody can hear her cry. It’s part of the process of controlling her in that space.”Professor David Wilson, Criminologist

The rapes continue.Inevitably, horrifically, Elisabeth becomes pregnant. Alone, she miscarries.The rapes continue. She becomes pregnant again. Fritzl gives her a book on childbirth, a couple of nappies, a towel...and a pair of scissors.


First Family

The evolution from a man to a monster

In 1951, at the age of 16, Josef Fritzl left Amstetten and went to work an hour’s drive away at the Austrian city of Linz, some 40 miles away. He became a technical assistant in an engineering company.There, in 1956, Josef Fritzl met Rosemarie Bayer:“She had never had a boyfriend before. He (Fritzl) was the first one...My first impression was good. He was friendly, nice and young...That changed over the years. He became a despot.”Christine Ranner, Rosemarie’s Sister“...he told friends that she would make a good wife, a good housewife, because she seemed to be obedient, accepting of things.”Bojan Panchevski, European CorrespondentLess than a year after meeting Rosemarie, Josef married her. She was just seventeen. The year after first meeting, they had their first child.By September 1963, after seven years of marriage, Fritzl and Rosemarie had three children, two daughters and a son. The family have moved back to 40 Ybbstrasse in Amstetten.

Josef Fritzl’s job was going well. Engineers were in constant demand in the post war years.The shabby illegitimate boy had turned into a confident and authoritative man.His firm then sent him to Ghana for a couple of years. When he returned, his three children were older, and less dependent on him. Unsure of himself, he resorted to violence. One source claims he broke his son’s nose and that the child was often too bruised to be sent to school.ELISABETHOn 8 April 1966, 40 Ybbstrasse saw the arrival of the Fritzl’s fourth child, Elisabeth. The household was by now, ‘increasingly volatile.’Fritzl was back working as an engineer in Linz and reverted to the predatory habits he picked up as a teenager.The industrial city of Linz in the Northern part of Austria, on the banks of the river Danube, had a red light district. There, he ‘could escape the scrutiny of a small town’ and ‘indulge in his sexual interests’. But even paid prostitutes couldn’t satisfy all his desires.HUSBAND, FATHER, BUSINESSMAN, RAPISTOn 6 October 1967 he followed a young mother home. After she’d fallen asleep, he broke in. At knife point, he raped her. Her child was asleep next to them in a cot.Fritzl received just 18 months for the rape at knifepoint of a young mother.He served less than a year.And worse, under Austrian law, unless a crime carries a life sentence, the conviction doesn’t stay on the person’s record. In the eyes of the state, after 15 years, Fritzl had never raped.And as far as Fritzl’s wife was concerned, he was forgiven.She had visited him in the prison. And after release, she never mentioned the incident again.This did not stop Fritzl trying again. Maria Neubauer was attacked by Fritzl as she returned home from work at the local factory. But he failed to get her to the ground and she managed to fight him off. She reported it to the police but Fritzl was never identified.By the end of 1972, the Fritzl family had seven children – 4 girls and 3 boys. Fritzl was a successful professional and a wealthy and respected member of the Amstetten community. Neighbours and colleagues described him as hard-working, polite and affectionate. His predilection for administering corporal punishment to his children was entirely fitting to his time and place.In 1973 Fritzl decided to set up a side business. He purchased Seestern guest house next to Mondsee Lake in Salzkammergut. This three storey hotel had 40 bedrooms. It wasn’t a success;“...when he got financially into trouble, the place caught fire and burnt down...authorities suspected an insurance scam, but never managed to prove anything.”Bojan Panchevski, European CorrespondentIn 1978, Josef Fritzl decided to expand the family home at 40 Ybbsstrasse.He wanted a roof terrace and a new extension with nine new flats for tenants…And planning permission was given for a rather large cellar.Elisabeth Fritzl was now 11-years-old. Her manner reminded Fritzl of himself as a boy. He believed they had a special connection. This belief became an obsession. He spied on her and demanded to know where she was at all times.Elisabeth did have a few close friends, among them, twins – Jutta and Christa Haberci; they used to secretly smoke cigarettes and Christa and Elisabeth used to walk to school together.“We knew that several things in the family were not okay, well, one sensed it, but you didn’t talk about it.”Christa HaberciChrista knew Elisabeth’s father was not a good man. He had a “strictness in the face...sinister eyes, no smile, no kindness.”In September 1981 Elisabeth started a tourism and gastronomy course in Waldegg, a small town 12 miles from Amstetten. She also worked in a petrol station restaurant to support herself.Such independence scared Fritzl. He planned to make sure she could never leave him:“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.”Josef Fritzl