Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Daughter-Dungeon of Joseph Fritzl

Rosemarie and Her Missing Daughter

Theirs was not a storybook or an expected marriage. Josef Fritzl, a searingly intelligent young man of 21 with a promising career, married unsophisticated 17-year-old Rosemarie, at the time newly employed as a kitchen helper.

He dominated her just as he would dominate their children and grandchildren years later. She was a submissive and, it would seem, unsuspicious housewife, dealing ably with the home, the children and the guesthouse but deferring to her husband on any matters of real significance. Fritzl's Linz crimes did not seem to affect their marriage. Nor did his solo vacations to Pattaya — a seaside Thai city that, popular as it is with European families, also has a reputation as a sex tourism destination. Rosemarie's sister has said that when the couple stopped having sex, Rosemarie simply accepted it. It seems clear, though, that when Fritzl went down to the basement, supposedly to work on mechanical drawings, she knew not to follow or to ask questions.

Did Rosemarie not find herself with lingering questions when her daughter disappeared?

Fritzl seems to have convinced her without great effort that her daughter was gone and that there was nothing to be done. Elisabeth's running away proved a valuable plot point, one that cunning Fritzl made good use of. Rosemarie reported Elisabeth as missing the day after she disappeared. A few weeks later Fritzl handed over to the police a letter from their daughter (postmarked from Branau am Inn, the Bavarian-bordering town most notorious for being Hitler's birthplace) stating that if they tried to find her, she would disappear for good. That threat likely convinced Rosemarie; while witnesses attested to her heartbreak, she does not seem to have tried to take action. The Austrian authorities, having filed the missing person report, do not seem to have pursued the case further either.

Elisabeth Fritzl
Elisabeth Fritzl

In later letters, Elisabeth, writing at her father's command, implied she had joined a cult. The authorities were not concerned enough by this to investigate the mysterious sect; the matter raised no suspicions with them. This no doubt made the situation seem all the more hopeless to Rosemarie.

Yet one can't help wondering: was Rosemarie Fritzl really so naïve that she trusted her husband all that time, never suspecting his deceptions, or at least wondering what he was doing in his basement hideaway? Was she unaware of the initial abuse? And how did Fritzl treat their other children? Was she so gullible, or was she so cowed herself that she could not stand up to this man, or even think for herself? While the investigation shows that Fritzl acted alone in holding his daughter and their children captive, surely Elisabeth Fritzl must find it hard to avoid asking herself how it is that her mother was blind to her torture.

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