It was on April 26, 2008, that Austrian police arrested Josef Fritzl after learning that he’d kidnapped his daughter Elisabeth, held her captive for 24 years in a windowless basement, and raped her an estimated 3,000 times.
Fritzl’s arrest was just the beginning of the massive police investigation into the man the press dubbed the “Incest Monster” and his “House of Horrors.”
Authorities learned that in 1984, Fritzl had lured Elisabeth, then 18, down into the cellar where he drugged her and locked her inside. She would not see the outside world for 24 years. After telling his wife Rosemarie that Elisabeth had ran away and joined a cult, Fritzl forced his daughter to be his sex slave.
He fathered seven children with his daughter while his wife lived upstairs, unaware that her “missing” daughter was beneath her floorboards, in a basement prison, behind a secret door. He brought three of the children upstairs to live with him and Rosemarie, telling his wife that Elisabeth had deposited them on their doorstep. Those three kids had a relatively normal life, unaware of what was happening beneath their feet, and believing their mother had abandoned them.
Authorities finally arrested Fritzl after the eldest daughter, Kerstin, became ill with kidney failure and Fritzl took her to the hospital, where her bad condition, malnourishment, and rotting teeth were noted. Fritzl allowed Elisabeth out to visit her daughter in the hospital, where, as it was believed she was responsible for Kerstin’s neglect, she was arrested, and then exposed her evil father’s deeds. At first, Elisabeth refused to talk to the police, only agreeing to tell her story after being promised that she would never have to see her father again.
Police chief William Reitner, who interviewed Elisabeth shortly after she was freed from the clutches of her evil father, said that her first words were “no one will ever believe me.” Reitner told Channel 5 in an interview that Elisabeth refused to refer to Josef by his name, simply saying “him.”
After Fritzl was convicted of mass rape, incest, wrongful imprisonment, coercion, and murder by negligence in 2009, he was sentenced to life in Austria’s most secure prison for the criminally insane. His wife has divorced him, and he has no contact with Elisabeth and the children he fathered by her.
Today, Elisabeth and her six surviving children live in a heavily fortified and secure house in a small village in northern Austria where they all receive regular psychological treatment. The “upstairs” and “downstairs” children reportedly have developed relationships and have adjusted relatively well to a more normal life.
Recently, journalist Mark Perry made a movie about the case, entitled Fritzl: What Happened Next. In the film, Perry says, “Fritzl is still in prison of course, and he still dreams of coming free. That’s what the solicitor told me. He still thinks he’ll come free one day, go fishing and, and carry on with life.”
In its own way, the Amstetten community in which the “House of Horrors” was located has attempted to move on.
The home that was built above the soundproofed basement has been renovated and transformed into a modern apartment complex. Herbert and Ingrid Houska bought the run-down 25-room property at 40 Ybbstrasse for the bargain price of 120,000 euros (about $173,000) and have transformed it from a crime scene to ten refurbished apartments with modern kitchens. The first tenants have already moved into the flats, which cost 500 euros a month to rent.
But the building has one quirk: The secret cellar where Fritzl kept Elisabeth and the children captive has been filled in on the orders of Amstetten authorities, so the apartment complex has no basement.
Houska, who also runs a strip club in Amstetten, said, “Most of the apartments have gone. No one feels there is a stigma in living here. We wanted to bury the terrible past and usher in a new era here.”
Main photo: Josef Fritzl [EPA/AUSTRIAN POLICE HANDOUT]