How Elisabeth Fritzl Was Imprisoned For 24 Years By Her Father Josef

Published November 18, 2023
Updated April 29, 2024

Elisabeth Fritzl spent over two decades confined to a dirt-walled cellar while being tortured at the hands of her father, Josef Fritzl.

On August 28, 1984, 18-year-old Elisabeth Fritzl went missing.

Her mother Rosemarie hastily filed a missing-persons report, frantic over the whereabouts of her daughter. For weeks there was no word from Elisabeth, and her parents were left to assume the worst. Then out of nowhere, a letter arrived from Elisabeth, claiming she had grown tired of life with her family and run away.

Elisabeth Fritzl

YouTubeElisabeth Fritzl at age 16, two years before her father Josef Fritzl imprisoned her in the family basement.

Her father Josef Fritzl told the policeman who came to the house that he had no idea where she would go, but that she likely joined a religious cult, something she had talked previously about doing.

But the truth was that Josef Fritzl knew exactly where his daughter was. In fact, Elisabeth Fritzl was about 20 feet below where the police officer was standing.

And for the next 24 years, before Elisabeth Fritzl finally gained her freedom in 2008, she was Josef’s prisoner, held captive in the family basement and repeatedly raped and abused by her own father.

This is the chilling story of Elisabeth Fritzl, “the girl in the basement.”

The Imprisonment Of Elisabeth Fritzl, The “Girl In The Basement”

Josef Fritzl Portrait

60 Minutes Australia/YouTubeJosef Fritzl managed to keep his imprisonment of his daughter Elisabeth, “the girl in the basement,” a secret for 24 years.

On August 28, 1984, Josef Fritzl asked his daughter to come into the basement of the family’s home. He was re-fitting a door to the newly renovated cellar and needed help carrying it. As Elisabeth held the door, Josef fixed it into place. As soon as it was on the hinges, he swung it open, forcing Elisabeth inside and knocking her unconscious with an ether-soaked towel.

For the next 24 years, the inside of the dirt-walled cellar would be the only thing Elisabeth Fritzl, “the girl in the basement,” would ever see. Her father would lie to her mother and the police, feeding them stories about how she’d run away and joined a cult. Eventually, the police investigation into her whereabouts would run cold and before long, the world would forget about the missing Fritzl girl.

Basement Prison In The Fritzl Case

SID Lower Austria/Getty ImagesThe cellar home that Josef Fritzl built to keep Elisabeth in.

But Josef Fritzl wouldn’t forget. And over the next 24 years, he would make that very clear to his daughter.

As far as the rest of the Fritzl family was concerned, Josef would head down to the basement every morning at 9 a.m. to draw plans for the machines that he sold. Occasionally, he would spend the night, but his wife wouldn’t worry – her husband was a hard-working man and was thoroughly dedicated to his career.

Josef Fritzl Impregnates His Own Daughter

At minimum, Elisabeth Fritzl would be visited by her father in the basement three times a week. Usually, it was every day. For the first two years, he left her alone, keeping her captive. Then, he began to rape her, continuing the nightly visits he had begun when she was just 11 years old.

Two years into her captivity, Elisabeth became pregnant, though she miscarried 10 weeks into the pregnancy. Two years later, however, she fell pregnant again, this time carrying to term. In August of 1988, a baby girl named Kerstin was born. Two years later, another baby was born, a boy named Stefan.

Elisabeth Fritzl's Prison

YouTubeThe layout of the cellar where Elisabeth Fritzl was imprisoned.

Kerstin and Stefan remained in the cellar with their mother for the duration of her imprisonment, being brought weekly rations of food and water by Josef. Elisabeth attempted to teach them with the rudimentary education she herself had, and give them the most normal life she could under their horrific circumstances.

Over the next 24 years, Elisabeth Fritzl would give birth to five more children. One more was allowed to remain in the basement with her, one died shortly after birth, and the other three were taken upstairs to live with Rosemarie and Josef.

Josef didn’t just bring the children up to live with him, however.

How Elisabeth Fritzl’s Imprisonment Went Unnoticed For Years

Elisabeth Fritzl The Girl In The Basement

60 Minutes Australia/YouTubeFrom age 18 to 42, Elisabeth Fritzl was held prisoner by her father Josef, who raped her so repeatedly that she gave birth to seven of his children.

In order to conceal what he was doing from Rosemarie, Josef Fritzl staged elaborate discoveries of the children, often involving placing them on bushes near the home or on the doorstep. Each time, the child would be swaddled neatly and accompanied with a note allegedly written by Elisabeth Fritzl, claiming that she couldn’t take care of the baby and was leaving it with her parents for safekeeping.

Shockingly, social services never questioned the appearance of the Fritzl children and allowed the family to keep them as their own. Officials were, after all, under the impression that Rosemarie and Josef were the babies’ grandparents.

The Fritzl House

SID Lower Austria/Getty ImagesThe house at Ybbsstrasse 40 in Amstetten, Austria, where Josef Fritzl imprisoned his daughter Elisabeth Fritzl in a basement prison.

It is not known how long Josef Fritzl intended to keep his daughter captive in his basement. He had gotten away with it for 24 years, and for all the police knew he was going to continue for another 24. However, in 2008, one of the children in the cellar fell ill.

Elisabeth begged her father to allow her 19-year-old daughter Kerstin to get medical attention. She’d fallen rapidly and critically ill and Elisabeth was beside herself. Grudgingly, Josef agreed to take her to a hospital. He removed Kerstin from the cellar and called an ambulance, claiming that he had a note from Kerstin’s mother explaining her condition.

For a week, police questioned Kerstin and asked the public for any information on her family. Naturally, no one came forward as there was no family to speak of. The police eventually grew suspicious of Josef and reopened the investigation into Elisabeth Fritzl’s disappearance. They began to read the letters that Elisabeth had supposedly been leaving for the Fritzls and began to see inconsistencies in them.

Josef Fritzl’s Horrifying Crimes Come To Light And Elisabeth Gains Her Freedom

Whether Josef Fritzl finally felt the pressure or had a change of heart regarding his daughter’s captivity, the world may never know, but on April 26, 2008, he released Elisabeth from the cellar for the first time in 24 years. She immediately went to the hospital to see her daughter where hospital staff alerted police to her suspicious arrival.

That night, she was taken into custody to be questioned about her daughter’s illness and her father’s story. After making the police promise she never had to see her father again, Elisabeth Fritzl told the tale of her 24-year imprisonment. The story of “the girl in the basement” would now finally be revealed.

She explained that her father kept her in a basement and that she bore seven children. She explained that Josef was the father of all seven of them and that Josef Fritzl would come down during the night, make her watch pornographic films and then rape her. She explained that he’d been abusing her ever since she was 11.

Josef Fritzl

Public DomainFor 24 years starting in 1984, Josef Fritzl held his daughter Elisabeth Fritzl captive inside his basement prison at the family home in Amstetten, Austria.

The police arrested Josef Fritzl that night.

The Aftermath Of The Fritzl Case And The Fate Of Elisabeth Fritzl Today

After the arrest, the children in the cellar were also released and Rosemarie Fritzl fled the home. She had allegedly known nothing about the events taking place right under her feet and Josef backed up her story. The tenants who had lived in the apartment on the first floor of the Fritzl home also never knew what was happening right beneath them, as Josef had explained away all sounds by blaming faulty piping and a noisy heater.

Today, Elisabeth Fritzl, “the girl in the basement,” lives under a new identity in a secret Austrian village known only as “Village X.” The home is under constant CCTV surveillance and police patrol every corner. The family doesn’t allow interviews anywhere within their walls and decline to give any themselves. Though she is now in her mid-fifties, the last photo taken of her was when she was just 16 years of age.

The efforts to conceal her new identity were made to keep her past hidden from the media and let her live her new life. Many believe, however, that they’ve done a better job of ensuring her immortality as the girl held captive for 24 years.

After learning about Elisabeth Fritzl and her 24-year imprisonment at the hands of her father Josef Fritzl that inspired “Girl In The Basement,” read about the family in California whose children were found locked in a basement. Then, read about Dolly Oesterreich, who kept her secret lover locked in her attic for years.

Katie Serena
A former staff writer at All That's Interesting, Katie Serena has also published work in Salon.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Cite This Article
Serena, Katie. "How Elisabeth Fritzl Was Imprisoned For 24 Years By Her Father Josef.", November 18, 2023, Accessed June 25, 2024.