The case of Josef Fritzl. He locked his daughter underground for 24 years

And he not only imprisoned her: he raped her regularly – Elisabeth became pregnant seven times. Three children had to live under lock and key with their mother, and Fritzl “adopted” another three and took them into his family upstairs. The seventh child, a boy, died in a dungeon in 1996 shortly after giving birth.

Incest is taboo in most societies throughout human history, and for good reason. However, Fritzl’s crime went far beyond violating this taboo repeatedly: he was not only a rapist and tormentor of his own offspring, but also a murderer.

In any case, the eight jurors of the district court in the Lower Austrian capital of St. Poelten, classified the death of a newborn as a murder by omission. They also found him guilty of slavery. 73-year-old Fritzl received a maximum life sentence as sane, it is unlikely that he will ever be released.

The sentence marks the end of a criminal “career” that lasted at least 41 years. Fritzl, born in Amstetten in 1935, was first accused in 1967 of rape and attempted rape, for which he was sent to prison. By this time, Fritzl had been married for three years and his eldest daughter, Elisabeth, had already been born.

It was Elisabeth who lured her own father to the basement on August 28, 1984 and locked her in a windowless, musty and damp dungeon. The next day he reported the then 18-year-old girl as “missing”; Fritzl claimed she escaped to a sect. In fact, the father raped his daughter several thousand times over the next few years.

The bathroom in the basement where Elisabeth lived for 24 yearsBathroom in the basement where Elisabeth lived for 24 years – Austrian Police / Getty Images

In 1988 and 1990, Elisabeth gave birth to two children in successively expanded dungeons – a girl and a boy. Three years later, the Fritzels reported to the police – they claimed that the “missing” Elisabeth had abandoned a nine-month-old girl with a letter attached to her in front of their house. Elisabeth was supposed to ask her parents for help, because she could not take care of the newborn and her two other children.

Fritzl, who of course was both the father and grandfather of the little ones, adopted them. The situation repeated itself in December 1994 – Elisabeth “gave” them another girl, this time ten months old.

Apparently nobody from the family living upstairs knew about the birth of twins, two boys, in the dungeon in April 1996. One of the twins died after two days, and Fritzl burned his corpse in the furnace. The second boy was “found” again by the Fritzels.

For over ten consecutive years, Elisabeth had to vegetate with her two eldest children, and from the end of 2002 with another son of her father, in a dungeon that had been turned into a small two-room flat, underground and without daylight. The three children did not see sunlight until 2008.

The nightmare ended when the eldest imprisoned child – 19-year-old Kerstin, who was born in 1988 – became seriously ill. On April 19, 2008, Fritzl led them out of the dungeon and abandoned them on the street – Kerstin asked passers-by for help and was hospitalized. On April 26, when the television broadcast an appeal to her mother to contact the hospital, after 24 years in the basement, Elisabeth managed to convince her father to take her and the children out of the basement upstairs. Fritzl told his wife that Elisabeth had returned home after 24 years.

On the same day, after an anonymous phone call, the police arrested Fritzl and took Elisabeth and her children to the hospital. Initially, Fritzl claimed that everything was happening at the request of his daughter. Elisabeth herself refused to testify – she did not give it until the police convinced her that she would never have contact with her torturer.

The trial of Josef Fritzl, March 2009. Fritzl sits on a bench on the right, covering his face with a briefcase The trial of Josef Fritzl, March 2009 Fritzl sits on the bench on the right, covering his face with a briefcase – APA / Getty Images

Austria was shocked by this crime. Just two years earlier, over 3,000 days, Natascha Kampusch has managed to break free from the violence of the kidnapper. The man committed suicide, so no criminal proceedings were initiated.

It was different with Josef Fritzl: He was tried in public, although Elisabeth’s testimony, recorded on video, was presented to a jury behind closed doors. On that day, the now 42-year-old woman sat in the courtroom’s visitor gallery, at a safe distance from Fritzl, but was still visible to him. As a result, the perpetrator, who had already pleaded guilty but was still looking for excuses, made extensive testimony.

The trial was cut from an estimated five days to four days due to clear evidence. Fritzl accepted the verdict and decided not to appeal. Theoretically, Fritzl may be released on parole, but according to the Austrian media, this is unlikely.

After Fritzl’s case, similar acts came to light in many places around the world. In the USA in 1991, an 11-year-old girl was kidnapped, detained for 18 years, and after being raped, gave birth to two children in a dungeon. In Brazil, a fisherman hid his daughter in an inaccessible hut for 12 years and fathered seven children with her, and in Italy, a mother kept her daughter in captivity for 18 years.

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