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The Fritzl case emerged in April 2008 when a 42-year-old woman, Elisabeth Fritzl (born April 6, 1966), told police in the town of Amstetten, Austria, that she had been held captive for 24 years in a concealed corridor part of the basement area of the large family house by her father, Josef Fritzl (born April 9, 1935), and that Fritzl had physically assaulted, sexually abused, and raped her numerous times during her imprisonment. The abuse by her father resulted in the birth of seven children and one miscarriage; four of the children joined their mother in captivity, and three were raised by Josef and Rosemarie Fritzl and reported as foundlings.
On August 29, 1984, Elisabeth’s father lured her into the basement of the family home, saying he needed help carrying a door. This was the last piece needed to seal the chamber. Elisabeth held it in place while Josef fitted it into the frame. Then he held an ether-soaked towel on Elisabeth’s face until she was unconscious, and threw her into the chamber.
On April 19, 2008, eldest daughter Kerstin fell unconscious and Josef Fritzl agreed to seek medical attention. Elisabeth helped Fritzl carry Kerstin out of the dungeon and saw the outside world for the first time in 24 years. He forced her to return to the dungeon, where she would remain for a final week. Kerstin was taken by ambulance to a local hospital (Landesklinikum Amstetten) and admitted in serious condition with life-threatening kidney failure. Fritzl later arrived at the hospital claiming to have found a note written by Kerstin’s mother. He discussed Kerstin’s condition and the note with Dr. Albert Reiter. Medical staff found aspects of the story to be puzzling and alerted the police on April 21, who then broadcast an appeal via public media for the missing mother to come forward and provide additional information about Kerstin’s medical history. The police then reopened the case file on missing Elisabeth. Fritzl repeated his story about Elisabeth being in a cult, and presented what he claimed was the “most recent letter” from her, dated January 2008. It was posted from the town of Kematen.
The police contacted Manfred Wohlfahrt, a church officer responsible for collecting information on religious cults. Wohlfahrt raised doubts about the existence of the cult. He noted that Elisabeth’s letters seemed dictated and oddly written. The news covered some of these issues and Elisabeth watched the story on the cellar television. She pleaded with her father to be taken to the hospital. On April 26, Fritzl released Elisabeth from the cellar along with her sons Stefan and Felix, bringing them upstairs. Fritzl told his wife that Elisabeth had decided to return after a 24-year absence. Governor Lenze told ORF that Fritzl had telephoned him and thanked him and the social services for looking after his family during his granddaughter Kerstin’s illness. Fritzl and Elisabeth went to the hospital where Kerstin was being treated on April 26, 2008. Following a tip-off from Dr. Albert Reiter that Fritzl and Elisabeth were at the hospital, the police detained them on the hospital grounds and took them to a police station for questioning.
Elisabeth did not provide police with more details until they promised her that she would never have to see her father again. Then, over the next 2 hours, she told the story of her 24 years in captivity. Shortly after midnight, police officers completed the three pages of minutes of the interrogation. Josef Fritzl was arrested on suspicion of serious crimes against family members, facing possible charges of false imprisonment, rape, manslaughter by negligence, and incest. During the night of April 27, Elisabeth, her children and her mother Rosemarie were taken into care.
Fritzl’s attorney, Rudolf Mayer, confirmed that a disguised Elisabeth sat in the visitors’ gallery during the second day of proceedings, at the time her video testimony was aired. “Josef Fritzl recognised that Elisabeth was in court and, from this point on, you could see Josef Fritzl going pale and he broke down,” Mayer said. “It was a meeting of eyes that changed his mind.” The next day, Fritzl began the proceedings by approaching the judge and changing his pleas to guilty on all charges.
On March 19, 2009, Fritzl was sentenced to life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for 15 years. He said that he accepted the sentence and would not appeal. Fritzl is currently serving out his sentence in Garsten Abbey, a former monastery inUpper Austria that has been converted into a prison. He is in a special section of the prison for the criminally insane.
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