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There was love between me and Elisabeth.

Josef Fritzl is an Austrian serial rapist and one-time indirect killer who held his daughter, Elisabeth, captive in his basement for several years.


Fritzl was born in Amstetten, Austria, on April 9, 1935. At the time, Austria was under the control of Nazi Germany. His father abandoned the family when he was four years old and later died in the war, leaving him to be raised by his mother, who often beat him severely. Later in life, he was reputedly very strict and disciplined. At the age of 21, he married a woman named Rosemarie, who was four years younger than him and worked as a kitchen helper. In 1967, he was known to have raped a young woman at knifepoint in Linz, though the record was erased after 15 years. Fritzl was also a suspect in two other assaults in the area, is said to have engaged in indecent exposure, and is also alleged to have raped one of his sisters.

At some unknown point, he graduated from a technical college with a qualification in electrical engineering and worked at Voestalpine, an Austria-based steel company. For a while, he worked in mail-order lingerie, but gave up on it in 1972 and bought an inn and campsite near Salzburg. He is currently a suspect in the unsolved murder of a young girl in the area. None of this apparently affected Fritzl's marriage, in which he dominated his wife to the point that he was able to make frequent trips alone to Pattaya, a city in Thailand known for its sex tourism. Fritzl and Rosemarie had seven children together, including two sons and five daughters, including Elisabeth, whom he reportedly started sexually abusing as early as 1977, when she was 11 years old.

Captivity of Elisabeth Fritzl[]

Fritzl Family Tree

Fritzl family tree.

In January 1983, Elisabeth ran away from home with a friend and went to Vienna, but was found and returned to her family in less than a month. In an apparent attempt to keep Elisabeth isolated from the outside world, Fritzl started building the dungeon below the Amstetten house that he shared with his wife. The construction is believed to have started in 1978, not long after his first rape of Elisabeth. The windowless dungeon had electrical lighting, electronic locks on each door, and a remote code-lock on the main door, which Fritzl, an electrician by trade, installed himself. On August 24, 1984, Fritzl lured Elisabeth into the basement by having her help him put on the door, after which he drugged her with an ether-soaked towel and locked her in the 15' x 15' cell. She wouldn't see the light of day again for over two decades. During her first year of captivity, she was kept entirely restrained, but afterward, she was allowed to walk around freely inside. Fritzl's wife eventually filed a missing persons report. To cover up Elisabeth's disappearance, Fritzl forced her to write a letter saying she had moved in with a friend and that she would try to leave the country if her parents came after her. The letter was postmarked in Branau.

Fritzl Dungeon

A layout of the dungeon Fritzl built.

Over the following 24 years, Fritzl would come down to Elisabeth every three days to give her food and supplies and rape her. After the birth of her first three children, he expanded the cell from 380 sq. feet to 590 sq. feet. He also put in a TV set, a VCR, hotplates, and a fridge. In total, she gave birth to seven children, all conceived by her father:

  • 8/30/1988: Kerstin
  • 2/1/1990: Stefan
  • 8/29/1992: Lisa
  • 2/26/1994: Monika
  • 5/28/1996:
    • Alexander
    • Michael (Alexander's twin brother; died after three days and was cremated)
  • 12/16/2002: Felix

Monika, Alexander, and Lisa were all taken above ground by Fritzl, who deceived his wife into thinking they were foundlings and raised them with her. The other children were left in the basement with Elisabeth until their discovery. To keep them from trying to leave, Fritzl convinced them that the cell was rigged to gas or would electrocute them if they tried to force the door.

This captivity went on for over two decades, until April 19, 2008, when Kerstin collapsed in the dungeon. Fritzl took her out of the dungeon and had her admitted to a hospital, where she was treated for severe kidney failure. When the topic of Elisabeth came up, Fritzl told the authorities that she was living with a cult, presenting as proof a letter he had dictated and postmarked in Kematen. A week later, Elisabeth convinced Fritzl to let her visit Kerstin in the hospital. When a doctor saw Elisabeth and tipped off the police, the two of them were detained at the hospital and questioned. After being promised that she wouldn't have to see her father again, Elisabeth told the whole story of her captivity. Fritzl was arrested shortly after midnight on the following day.

In March 2009, Fritzl was put on trial for incest, coercion, rape, false imprisonment, enslavement, and negligent homicide for Michael, the twin who died shortly after birth. He pleaded guilty to all charges and was sentenced to life in prison. During the trial, he expressed his guilt over what he did to his family. In the meantime, his daughter and her children had been working on readjusting to the outside world and are currently receiving therapy. Kerstin was reunited with them in June 2008 after waking up from an artificially induced coma. Elisabeth has reportedly forgiven her mother for believing Fritzl's lies and they are working on rebuilding their relationship. She is also now romantically involved with a bodyguard appointed to her. The dungeon where the family was held captive has since been filled with cement. The house itself was put on the market, but was never bought and has since been offered as housing for asylum seekers.

Known Victims[]

Elisabeth Fritzl

Elisabeth Fritzl.

  • Unspecified dates in 1967, Linz, Austria:
    • Unnamed 24-year-old woman (raped at knifepoint)
    • Unnamed 21-year-old woman (attempted to rape; she escaped)
  • August 28, 1984, Amstetten, Austria: Elisabeth Fritzl (his daughter; held captive for years and raped repeatedly; she escaped on April 19, 2008)
  • May 31, 1996, Amstetten, Austria: Michael (his son with Elisabeth; died three days after his birth due to Fritzl's negligence)

On Criminal Minds[]

  • Season Five
    • "Cradle to Grave" - Fritzl was mentioned along with Gary Heidnik as an example of rapists who kept their victims in a homemade dungeon and conceived children with them. He also bears some resemblance to the episode's main unsub, Robert Reimann - Both are serial rapists who were married, had histories of sexual abuse (though Reimann's isn't further specified), had at least one child with their wives who was the fixation for their later crimes (Fritzl raped his captive daughter for many years, while the Reimann's son was a stillborn), held their female captives (temporarily bound) in dungeons they made in their homes, they raped them repeatedly and subsequently fathered children with them (including a daughter named Lisa and a son named Michael), their wives raised these children outside the dungeons as non-captives (though this was unbeknownst to Fritzl's wife in his case), and their crimes went undetected for years before they were finally apprehended in the mid 2000s.