Where is Elisabeth Fritzl now? Chilling true story of 24 years of rape and captivity of 'Girl in The Basement'
A new Lifetime film shows the unspeakable ordeal of a young woman held captive and abused for decades by her father in Austria
A Lifetime film 'Girl in the Basement' is here to send shudders down your spine. It follows the shocking story of a woman who had been held captive by her father for 24 years, and the rapes resulted in the birth of seven children who remained in captivity with her. What's worse? The film is actually based on real events. Directed by Elisabeth Rohm and releasing on Saturday, February 27, it narrates the ordeal of Elisabeth Fritzel, who endured horrors in the basement while her mother and sister lived upstairs, believing that she ran away from home for a new life.
Elisabeth was imprisoned in the windowless basement beneath the boarding home where she was raised in Lower Austria. The young woman was abused, humiliated and raped repeatedly by her father, Josef Frtizl. She spoke about the "abominable events" in 2008 and her story shook millions and led many to question the human capacity for savagery and survival.
What happened to Elisabeth Fritzl?
On August 28, 1984, the then 18-year-old waitress Elisabeth was living with her mother Rosemarie and father Josef when he called her to the basement of their home to help him place a door. Josef, then a 49-year-old engineer and property developer, had spent years on a basement conversion project. Little did Elisabeth know that this was a trick to imprison her. As she was holding the door in place, Josef held an ether-soaked rag on the teenager's face until she passed out. He then handcuffed her and locked her inside.
Her mother, Rosemarie, was then shown a handwritten letter from her daughter, postmarked from the town of Braunau in Upper Austria, saying that she had left her parents and the town and asked them not to look for her or she’d flee the country. The story was believable since Elisabeth had run away from home in January 1983 and gone into hiding in Vienna with a friend from work, following which she was found by police within three weeks and returned to her parents. This time too, a police report was filed and Elisabeth remained on the Interpol missing person's list. It was believed that she had joined a religious sect, a story her father suggested to the authorities.
A 24-year nightmare
Four years into her ordeal and two years after having a miscarriage, Elisabeth gave birth to her first child, Kerstin, in 1988. Over the next 14 years, she birthed six more children — Stefan, Lisa, Monika, Alexander, Michael and Felix. Michael, Alexander's twin brother, died of breathing problems that were aided by Josef's negligence. He was then cremated by Josef. He then decided that Lisa, Monika and Alexander would be removed from the cellar and raised in the "upstairs family". Rosemarie believed her husband when he said that the infants had appeared outside the home with a note from Elisabeth, asking for them to be taken in.
Meanwhile, Elisabeth was able to nurture her children and teach them to read and write, but over the years she was routinely subjected to torture by her father. She was forced to watch pornographic videos he brought downstairs and then made to re-enact their scenes with him, in front of her children. The imprisoned mother and her children were forced to dig out the soil with their bare hands, eventually enlarging the space from 380 to 590 square feet.
But it was her children, in a way, who eventually managed to save her from a whole lifetime of trauma. On April 19, 2008, for the first time in 24 years, Elisabeth saw the world outside her basement prison but under desperate circumstances. Her eldest daughter, Kerstin, had lost consciousness. Elisabeth and her father brought the 19-year-old upstairs and rushed her to Landesklinikum Amstetten hospital, where she was diagnosed with kidney failure. Elisabeth was quickly returned to the basement, only to be allowed out again a week later when hospital staff made police bring Josef and Elisabeth for questioning. They were suspicious of Josef's note which he said was from Kerstin's mother. It took hours, and a promise she’d never have to see her father again, before the young woman was able to narrate her appalling story to Austrian authorities. Josef, then 73, was arrested on April 26, 2008. After his arrest, Josef admitted to have had abused Elisabeth since the age of 12, and decided to imprison Elisabeth because she "did not adhere to any rules anymore".
Where is Elisabeth Fritzl now?
Elisabeth was given a new name following the trial, with strict laws to prevent her identity from being revealed. She now lives with her six children in a house in a tiny hamlet in the Austrian countryside, which also cannot be identified and is only referred to by the country’s media as ‘Village X’, according to Mirror. The children, now aged between 17 and 31, sleep in rooms with doors open permanently and are undergoing weekly therapy sessions to eliminate the traumas they suffered inside the basement. Their two-storey family home is kept under constant CCTV surveillance and patrolled by security guards, so that strangers caught lurking nearby can be picked up by police within minutes.
The close-knit village’s residents also help protect the family, according to reports. One photographer sent to Village X recalled: “There are only a few villagers and they are all in with the police. I was quickly surrounded by people who told me: They don’t want to talk to you, they don’t want to see you - please get out of here.”
Just as she managed to survive against all odds, keeping her sanity and caring for her children in horrific circumstances, Elisabeth also surprised many by overcoming her ordeal and finding happiness. “The family is doing more than fine," said a local restaurant owner. "They come often to my venue and we treat them like any other guests. Everybody in the village knows them.” Another resident said: “Given what they have been through, they are very polite, happy and smile a lot.”
Just a year after she escaped captivity, Elisabeth found love with Thomas Wagner, a bodyguard with the Austrian firm A&T securities who had been assigned to protect her. The information was revealed in 2009, that Thomas, who is 23 years younger than Elisabeth, moved to live with her and her family. A psychiatric carer revealed that the romance has helped her overcome the traumas of her past, leading her to radically scale back the therapy she was undergoing for post-traumatic stress disorders. The psychiatrist said: “This is vivid proof of love being the strongest force in the world. She lost the best years of her life in that cellar; she is determined that every day remaining to her will be filled with activity," they added.