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Easter Sunday Massacre
Easter Sunday Massacre
March 20, 2024

The Family in the Basment


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Josef Fritzl, a despicable man in Austria, held one of his four daughters captive in his basement for 24 years. Fritzl raped his own daughter, Elisabeth, thousands of times, leaving her pregnant 7 times and mother to 6 children. 

Josef Fritzl was originally a rather average man, his single mother raised him after his father left when he was 4. In 1956 he married his wife, Rosmarie, when she was 17 and he was 21. The two would have 7 children together, 3 sons and 4 daughters. The family was reportedly happy and normal. Except for a dark secret they hid from most of the world. 

In 1967, Josef broke into a 24-year-old woman’s home when she was home alone. He was said to have raped her several times with a knife to her throat. Later that same year he was arrested for indecent exposure. For both crimes, he was only sentenced to 18 months, for which he only served 12 months. His criminal record was expunged after only 15 years. He was also suspected of 3 murders, though none have been proven. 

Elisabeth’s sexual abuse was said to have started when she was only just 11 years old. When she was 15 she got a job as a waitress and then ran away to live with her friend from work. She was found 3 weeks later and was returned to her parents. This was when Josef decided that Elisabeth had become too rebellious and lured her to the basement on August 28, 1984. Her mother was understandably worried when she couldn’t find Elisabeth and filed a missing person’s report. Being the evil man he is, Josef had forced Elisabeth to write a letter to be given to the police. She had written in the letter that she had gone to stay with a friend and would run from the country if they had tried to look for her. Fritzl told police that she had most likely joined a cult. 

During the time that Elisabeth was trapped in the basement, Fritzl visited her a minimum of 3 times a week, bringing food/supplies, and raping her. Deciding that Josef wanted more children, he devised a plan of stealing some of Elisabeth’s children he impregnated her with. After she gave birth, he would take the infant and tell his wife, along with CPS that his daughter had left the child on their porch with a note that she did not have the means to care for them. Since his sexual crimes had been expunged, he was able to formally adopt the child with no trouble. He did this with three children, Lisa, Monika, and Alexander, who were left clueless that their mother and other siblings lived just underneath them. The other three children Elisabeth had, Kerstin, Stefan, and Felix, were forced to stay downstairs with their mother. 

Elisabeth did the best she could for her children, teaching them to read and write, and overall caring for them. Josef had let them enlarge the basement, scraping away dirt in the corners in 1994, leaving them with an extra room to sleep in. He also left them a television, a radio, a videocassette player, a refrigerator, and hotplates to warm food on. In the basement, the family had two small rooms, a tiny “kitchen”, and a closet-sized space with a toilet and sink. Josef claimed that Elisabeth lived under these conditions completely consensually and that he treated them quite well. He said that he brought Elisabeth flowers and the children toys and books. He said he spent quality time with them, watching videos with them and sharing his meals with them. Later he contradicts these claims by saying in an interview, “[I] was born to rape.” He also threatened Elisabeth and her children, saying that if they ever tried to leave the cellar they would be gassed, if they ever tried to touch the door, they would be electrocuted. These were, of course, empty threats as there was no gas supply to the basement and no electricity connected to that door. 

To further prove Josef was a horrible person, he imprisoned his mother as well. After he had married, she moved in with him and Rosemarie, not wanting to live alone. Eventually, he got tired of her and locked her in the attic and boarded up the windows. When neighbors got curious and asked him what happened to her, he said that she had died. It’s unclear exactly how long she was held captive but estimated to be upwards of 20 years before she died there. 

As for the basement family, he would also punish them by turning off the electricity or not feeding them for days. Later when other family members who lived in the house were interviewed, Rosmarie’s sister said that Josef went downstairs at 9 a.m. almost every morning to “draw plans for machines,” he was strict with his rule that no one was to disturb him while he was down there. The Fritzl’s had a downstairs tenant who lived right above the basement. He reported hearing noises from the basement on several occasions, but Josef blamed bad pipes for any strange noises. 

After 24 years, all of Josef’s secrets caught up with him, and he begged for medical assistance for Kerstin, the eldest of the children. She had been unconscious and wasn’t waking up, so Elisabeth believed that something was terribly wrong. Reluctantly, Josef allowed Elisabeth to help carry Kertin upstairs where he waited with Kerstin for the ambulance. Before they left, Elisabeth was forced back into the basement. When Kerstin was admitted to the hospital for kidney failure, he was asked where he had found her. He said that she was left on his porch with a note from Elisabeth. The hospital staff did not buy his story and contacted the police. 

All officials decided that it would be a good idea to broadcast all over the media for the missing mother to come forward to provide a medical history for the child. When Josef was asked if he had any other information on his daughter, he repeated his theory that she had probably joined a cult. He said that the last letter he had gotten from her was written in January of 2008, but when experts looked at the letters, they doubted his story. They said the letters were written weirdly. 

On April 26, 2008, Josef finally let his daughter and her remaining children out of the basement and to the hospital. Josef was immediately brought to the sheriff’s office for questioning after the doctor told police about Elisabeth’s whereabouts. Elisabeth only gave details on her imprisonment after the officers promised that she would not need to see or go near Josef again. She told the police everything, including all the rapes, some that were even in front of the children. On April 26 Josef was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and rape. 

On April 27th, the police investigated the basement where Elisabeth and her children were held. When Rosemarie was questioned, she claimed that she had known about none of the abuse, she genuinely thought her daughter had run away. By April 29th, DNA evidence provided all the evidence the court needed to prove him guilty. The children were all Josef’s.

During his trial, Josef pleaded guilty to all charges except murder (of the dead fetus) and grievous assault. On Marth 19, 2009, he was given a life sentence without the possibility of parole for at least 15 years. Josef said that he accepted his sentence and claimed that he would never appeal. He is now living out his sentence in Garsten Abbey. As for Elisabeth, she is living in Austria with all of her children, including the ‘upstairs children.’ They have all been given psychiatric help with the trauma that has been forced on them and been provided with new names and identities to escape the press.

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About the Contributor
Mitchell Sherman is a sophomore who lives with her grandparents, dogs, and other pets. Her hobbies include but are not limited to, crocheting, sewing, herbology, gardening, and baking.

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    Wendy CruzDec 4, 2023 at 12:45 pm

    This is so sad I hope Elisabeth and her kids are doing well!