Trigger warning: this article discusses sexual assault and violence and may be distressing to some readers.
The abhorrent crimes of Austrian-born Josef Fritzl are unforgettably horrific, and yet the man who fathered seven children by his own daughter, locking her in a dungeon and using her as a sex slave for 24 years, could soon be released.
Josef Fritzl, now 88, was given a life sentence for his crimes in 2009, for the incest, rape, coercion, false imprisonment and enslavement of his daughter, Elisabeth Fritzl, in Amstetten, Austria.
His sentence also included negligent homicide for the death of one of the seven children, who were birthed in captivity.
The UK’s Metro newspaper reports that Fritzl is up for parole this year, and that it could be likely after a psychiatric report deemed him “no longer dangerous”.
“I am already in the process of obtaining a conditional discharge for him,” Fritzl’s lawyer Astrid Wagner told Austrian newspaper Kronen Zeitung.
The lawyer also told The Mirror that Fritzl would be placed in a home for frail people. They report that he requires a walking frame to move around and has had a number of falls.
Fritzl made a previous attempt to be released in June 2022, which was blocked by Austrian high court judges. The judges decided he must be kept in a high security jail rather than being moved to a lesser security jail.
Fritzl’s crimes came to light in 2008, when he took one of his daughter’s children to hospital with a life-threatening illness. Of the seven children, one died shortly after being born, and while three were kept in the dungeon with Elisabeth and three were raised upstairs by Fritzl and his wife Rosemarie. He claimed they were placed on their doorstep.
What Did Josef Fritzl Do?
According to The Guardian, Elisabeth was lured down into the family’s cellar, which Josef had been building for months beneath the family home, to help him install a door. The door would become the final piece of her prison.
It was August 1984, and as she turned to leave, a cloth soaked in ether was held over her mouth. She was kept in the dungeon, with eight doors separating the cellar from the house. Elisabeth had attempted to escape the home multiple times prior, so when she did not resurface publicly, Fritzl told friends and family that she had absconded to join a sect.
Instead, she was kept downstairs for 24 years, forced to endure near constant sexual abuse and seven pregnancies. Her ordeal ended when her 19-year-old daughter Kerstin became so ill there were fears she could die. Fritzl took her to hospital and the doctors became suspicious about her and who her mother could be. Media appeals were watched by Elisabeth from the dungeon, who begged to be let out. Fritzl’s ailing health had already become an issue, so he finally relented, saying the family showed up on his doorstep from the sect. Elisabeth was questioned, and she promised to tell them the story, provided that she would never have to see Josef Fritzl again.
Elisabeth was in captivity from the age of 18 to 42. She was given a new name following the trial and now lives in an unnamed village in Austria with her children.
The Mirror reports that Elisabeth eventually found new love, with a bodyguard assigned to protect her. A psychiatrist said: “This is vivid proof of love being the strongest force in the world.
“With the approval of her doctors she has ceased psychiatric therapies while she gets on with her life – learning to drive, helping her children with their homework, making friends with people in her locality. 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.”