Written by John Glatt, this is the true story of the 2008 Austrian incest case that shocked the world.
Josef Fritzl, a distinguished-looking gray-haired man who seemed very polite and very normal, imprisoned and molested his daughter for 24 years. He claimed she had run away in 1984, aged 18, to join a religious sect and had not been seen since. Until Elizabeth’s 19-year-old daughter Kerstin was sent to the emergency room in a hospital. Kerstin had been apparently neglected, was missing most of her teeth, had several bald patches, her skin was deathly white and she appeared to be severely anemic. As her vital signs started to shut down, she was put on life support and police were called regarding this mysterious female in critical concition. The police reopened the case of Elizabeth with a plea to the public on TV.
One week later, Josef called with the astonishing news that Elizabeth had returned and would be going to the hospital to see her daughter. After much questioning, Elizabeth (now 42 years old) eventually broke down and told the truth, including how she had been raped by her father since she was 11, became a sex slave after being drugged at 18 and how she bore him 7 children (one of whom for which Josef was charged with murder). This was the first time she had ever been outside the dungeon in 24 years.
Elizabeth had no choice but to submit to Josef’s violent attacks or starve to death. She resigned herself to captivity and lived a torturous existence. Josef employed many cunning red herrings over the years to convince the world that Elizabeth had joined a mysterious cult. He had a bizarre new role for Elizabeth – as his second wife and the mother of a subterranean family.
How did Elizabeth cope with her pain and at what point was her will broken? She seemed to be a textbok victim of Srockholm syndrome – a psychological condition where a hostage becomes sympathetic or loyal to their captors to survive, in order not to go insane. Elizabeth now obeyed Josef’s every command for the sake of her children and he cunningly exploited this.
Elizabeth’s surviving children’s balance and coordination affected living their lives in artificial light in a confined place. They suffered unimaginable sensory deprivation, vitamin deficiencies and problems with their immune system. It was a miserable existence.
Josef lived his complicated double life with military precision, getting an extra thrill of beating the system.
After 8,516 days in the dungeon, Elizabeth was finally brought our of the cellar into the daylight. She finally broke down after several hours of gentle coaxing and assurances that she would never have to see her father again, and that she and her children would be protected against him, and told her story.
The incredible story would plunge Austria into a national scandal. It was the worst crime in history and Josef Fritzl is the worst kind of scum. (The book suggested that Josef might have raped Kerstin when he found Elizabeth too old and unattractive.)
Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Austrian-born movie superstar and California governot, sent a personal invitation for the family to visit him in Hollywood; movie star Ben Affleck declared in an interview to promote his directional debut in a movie about child abduction called Gone Baby Gone that “emotionally, I think the Austrian sex offender Josef Fritzl should be killed”.
Elizabeth is an extremely courageous woman, who does everything for her children without worry about herself. What she had suffered is unspeakable.
The publisher, St Martin’s, has many titles that bring readers to the scene of the crimes and into the minds of the notorious murderers in sensatiional cases. If Secrets In The Cellar is any indication, the other St Martin’s True Crime Library paperbacks would be better than any thriller, because they’re all true! I will look for the other titles in the library soon!