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.
By 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.
To 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.”
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 years...in the flats above the cellar. Nobody saw anything, nobody heard anything. Nobody.”
Dr. Hans-Heinz Lenze, District Commissioner