Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

The Daughter-Dungeon of Joseph Fritzl


In April of 2008, Elisabeth's eldest captive child, the 19-year old Kerstin, became gravely ill. She had long been suffering. She had in the past pulled her own hair out, and ripped her clothing into pieces and used them to flood the toilet. Now she was feverish, experiencing abdominal cramps, coughing, and biting her lips and tongue until the bled.

Elisabeth begged Fritzl to take the girl to the hospital. Shockingly, he relented. Whether out of actual tenderness, or out of fear of what might happen if the girl died, Fritzl agreed that the girl needed immediate medical attention. For the first time in her life, she went outside and was touched by the air and sun.

Fritzl stuck with his old device: he pretended Elisabeth had abandoned Kerstin. After an ambulance brought them to Mostviertel-Amstetten State Hospital, Fritzl told police that he had of course found the girl outside with a note from Elisabeth saying she needed help—and that the doctors should rely on Fritzl, who, inexplicably by the logic of Fritzl's earlier lies, was the only person Kerstin knew and trusted.

Doctors struggled to assess what was wrong with Kerstin—and they made a widely publicized plea begging Elisabeth to meet to talk with them about Kerstin's medical history, prompting the police to reopen the case on her disappearance. Fritzl once again produced a letter from Elisabeth to try to reassure them, once again postmarking it from another town, this time Kematen an der Krems.

Elisabeth saw on her television that the hospital was looking for her. Somehow she convinced Fritzl to let her go. Was he simply tired of the ruses or sensing that the jig was up? Would he get a sick enjoyment from convincing the world that Elisabeth had given up on the cult and was returning home? In any case, the Elisabeth and the other two children were free, if still tied to the pretense that they were returning from a cult.

Hospital authorities derailed that plan. They saw Elisabeth's arrival as suspicious and called the police. Investigators questioned Fritzl and Elisabeth separately. Once she was promised that her family would be safe and they would not have to see Josef Fritzl again, Elisabeth told police the whole horrible story behind her captivity and abuse. Fritzl initially confessed to many of her allegations.

The case against Josef Fritzl had finally begun—and the family's recovery could begin.

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