In 1984 Josef Fritzl claimed his 18-year-old daughter Elisabeth had run off to join a religious sect. But 24-years later the horrifying truth emerged, and it was truly shocking.

Rex Features

Rex Features

On 19 April 2008, 19-year-old Kerstin Fritzl was rushed to a local hospital in Amstetten, Austria. She was unconscious, suffering kidney failure – her condition life-threatening.

Her grandfather Josef Fritzl claimed to have found her, along with a note from his daughter Elisabeth.

Crimes that shocked the world

PA Photos

Doctors were suspicious. Kerstin was on death’s door, deathly pale, with terrible teeth. Media appeals were broadcast for Elisabeth to come forward with information that could help save Kerstin’s life.

Finally, a week later on April 26 2008, under mounting pressure, Fritzl, told his wife and the hospital that Elisabeth, along with two more children, had appeared on his doorstep having escaped the sect.

PA Photos

PA Photos

Doctors didn’t buy it. Detectives interviewed Elisabeth and she told them the whole harrowing tale.

She explained her father had been sexually abusing her since she was 11, and that in August 1984 he’d lured her down to the basement he’d specially built under the house.

There he drugged her, handcuffed her and locked her in, telling everyone she’d run off to join a religious sect.

His wife, Rosemarie, family, friends all believed him. After all, Elisabeth had run away before.


But Elisabeth spent the next 24-years imprisoned in the purpose built dungeon underneath the family home. Her father raped her an estimated 3,000 times.

For the first five years she was utterly alone. But then she bore seven children to her father. She had to give birth in her underground prison alone, with no medical help.

First, Kerstin arrived in 1989, followed by a son shortly after.

PA Photos

PA Photos

The next two of Elisabeth’s children, two girls, were taken upstairs. They ‘mysteriously’ appeared on the doorstep of Fritzl and Rosemarie. Fritzl claimed they’d been abandoned by Elisabeth, who had delivered them to him and Rosemarie from her sect.

In 1996 Elisabeth gave birth to twin boys. Sadly one died in Elisabeth’s arms at just 3-days old. Fritzl then burned the body in an incinerator. The surviving twin was taken upstairs to be brought up as the Fritzls’ own.

In 2002, another boy was born. Along with his mum, Kerstin and brother, he had to live in the 60m square, 5ft6in high basement. Fritzl worried his wife couldn’t cope with another ‘abandoned’ child.

Fritzl threatened Elisabeth and her children. He told them they would be killed if they tried to escape their stinking, cramped underground prison.

Crimes that shocked the world

When Elisabeth and her children finally escaped, the shocking crime made the news around the globe.

The world’s press descended on Amstetten, Austria.

Elisabeth was reunited with her three ‘upstairs’ children, and her distraught mother who had no clue of her daughter’s 24-year enslavement.

Kerstin made a full recovery. Now seven years on the family are living under a new identity, trying to put their horrific ordeal behind them.

During his trial in March 2009 Fritzl, 73, pleaded guilty the incest, rape, coercion and false imprisonment of Elisabeth. He was convicted of enslavement and murder by negligence of his baby son/grandson.


Now, finally, it is Josef Fritzl who is the one imprisoned. Sentenced to life, he’ll spend the rest of his days locked up in a secure psychiatric facility.