Cellar captives: the key facts

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The Independent Online

A 73-year-old man has confessed to holding his daughter captive in a secret, windowless cellar in the Austrian town of Amstetten for 24 years, and fathering her seven children. The Reuters news agency has put together these key facts about the case:


Elisabeth Fritzl, now 42 years old, 'disappeared' in August 1984. She says her father Josef lured her into the cellar of their house, drugging and handcuffing her before imprisoning her.

A key puzzle is how Josef's wife Rosemarie could have remained ignorant of her plight. Police have said they believe she did not know what happened. It was assumed Elisabeth had left voluntarily when her parents received a letter in her handwriting saying they should not search for her.

Police reported that Fritzl said Elisabeth had joined a sect and forced Elisabeth to handwrite letters to prove his claims.

From 1984 until now, Elisabeth was kept locked in the basement and abused by Josef, who fathered her seven children, the youngest of whom is 5 years old.

Franz Polzer, head of criminal investigations in the state of Lower Austria, said: "He deceived us all,. This man, who already had a family with seven children by his wife, had in this cellar seven more children by his own daughter."


In captivity, Elisabeth bore seven children over the course of 14 years, one of whom died.

Three of them remained imprisoned with their mother in the dungeon and never saw daylight. They are Kerstin, a daughter of 19, who was taken to hospital this month after becoming very ill, and two boys, Stefan, 18, and Felix, 5.

The other three were taken in and raised by Elisabeth's parents, Josef and Rosemarie. The first, Lisa, now 15, was supposedly left on the doorstep in 1993 along with a letter from Elisabeth saying she could not care for her. In later years another girl and a boy followed - Monica, now 14, and Alexander, 12.

Alexander had a twin who died. Police say Josef has confessed to burning the child's body.


This month, Kerstin was taken to hospital in Amstetten with a serious illness. Police made an appeal for information from her mother, the "missing" Elisabeth.

In response, Josef let Elisabeth, Stefan and Felix out of the basement. Elisabeth agreed to make a statement about her ordeal to the police after getting assurances that she would have no further contact with her father.

On Monday, Josef confessed to imprisoning Elisabeth in a cellar for 24 years, and to fathering her seven children.


The family were imprisoned in the cellar of the plain, two-storey residential block, which Josef subsequently extended.

He installed a sliding reinforced concrete door, locked by number code, and hid it behind shelves.

Some parts of the basement cells were no more than 1.70 metres (5 foot 6 inches) high.

A narrow corridor led into several rooms including a cooking and sleeping area, a small bathroom with a shower, and a padded cell. A tube provided ventilation.


Natascha Kampusch , then 10 years old, was snatched from another small town in Austria, Strasshof, in 1998, and kept imprisoned in a basement for eight years.

Her 44-year-old captor committed suicide after she fled. Kampusch has since said she feels sorry for him.