She was approaching death when paramedics rushed her inside the Amstetten Emergency Services building on Saturday morning, April 19, 2008.
The patient had become “severely anemic” from a bite through her own tongue — nearly severing it to the point of becoming lodged in her throat.
Her lungs began drowning in her blood; the body was working against itself, and the organs began failing — cascading one by one — a trauma surgeon's worst nightmare.
Her life now rested with Dr. Albert Reiter — head of the client’s Intensive Care Medicine, who, despite his best efforts, was quickly losing his patient. Still, Dr. Reiter persisted, determined to keep this teenage girl, whoever she was, alive. Death, he thought to himself, would have to come down and rip this girl’s soul from her body — and if that was the case, he would make sure she put up one helluva fight.
Her body started convulsing on the table; her spasms now reached a new dangerous level. The 02 sensor shrieked as her oxygen depleted from her brain.
Death began pulling with both arms now, but Dr. Reiter had one last hand to play. He shot a single glance at the head nurse, who knew — almost as if they were talking through a hidden medium — exactly what he needed done. She pulled the tubing from the dialysis machine with intense speed and within seconds, the unknown girl was stable. Her body lay still, and her mind traveled far away in the deep sleep of a medical-induced coma. Dr. Reiter had bought himself some time, but how much, he did not know.
Dr. Reiter pulled back his mask and looked down at his patient. Nothing in the thirty years of his trauma care had prepared him for a challenge like the one that laid peacefully in front of him.
First, who was she? — he thought. He needed her medical history — or family medical history — in order to treat the patient successfully.
Second, what exactly was killing her? Her head was covered in bald patches, which she must have pulled out amid a psychotic fit of some kind. She was “deathly white”, perhaps poisoned, he thought. But test for these showed negative. Her teeth were nearly all missing, making her look older than she was, and further complicating the identification.
The staff informed the doctor that her “grandfather” had dropped the near-dead woman at the front desk, but he quickly disappeared without giving any other information.
Other than looking for the “grandfather,” the only clue Dr. Reiter and his staff had to go on was a single letter found in the patient’s shirt pocket. It read:
“Wednesday, I gave her aspirin and cough medicine for the condition. Thursday, the cough worsened. Friday the coughing got even worse. She has been biting her lip as well as her tongue.
Kerstin is very scared of strangers. She has never been in a hospital before. I’ve asked my father for help, because he is the only person she knows.” — Letter found with patient.
Kerstin… at least she has a name.
Dr. Reiter was convinced that Kerstin’s mother could help by disclosing any pre-existing health conditions that may be causing her body to fail.
The doctor was desperate for answers. He needed to find Kersten’s mother; and to do that, he decided to do something unconventional. Dr. Reiter appeared on national television and pleaded for Kerstin’s mother to come into the hospital because her daughter was dying.
The doctor’s persistence paid off when the mother, Elisabeth Fritzl, walked through the hospital doors a few days later.
And then Elisabeth dropped a bombshell.
At first, Elisabeth refused to give honest answers, but eventually she broke down, agreeing to tell police officers the true story in return for full protection from her father — the man who dropped off her daughter Kerstin days before.
Elisabeth told them that she was eleven-years-old when her father, Josef Fritzl, first raped her, and since 1984, she has been locked inside his underground dungeon.
Even worse, she said that she had been forced to mother several of her father’s children in secrecy.
It was a shocking and unbelievable story, but the police, and the entire world, would soon realize that Elisabeth Fritzl has been living a life of pure hell, exactly as she described it.
Josef Fritzl was born on April 9, 1935, to a domineering mother. The mother, Marie, was a devout Roman Catholic who married a poor laborer that she considered worthless. Even Josef, as a child, would consider his father a “loser”.
On March 13, 1938 — three years after Josef was born — Austria welcomed its honorary citizen, Adolf Hitler, to occupy the nation under the Nazi regime, and like most Austrian citizens, both Josef and his mother welcomed the Nazi Party, young Josef even joining the Hitler Youth program.
Josef Fritzl would later admit that the infamous Mauer clinic — known for extinguishing “unworthy lives” — was a place of wonderment and significance to him as a child.
It was when the bombs started destroying the surrounding city that Josef’s mother became physically, mentally, and sexually abusive to her son. One of Josef’s future sister-in-laws would later state that his mother was “beating him until he was black and blue almost every day.”
Although Josef would later claim that his mother never sexually molested him, most experts believe he suffered sexual trauma as a child, even if he had tucked away those memories from his conscience.
Secrets in the Cellar
Although handsome as a child, Josef was a loner, and instead of spending time with friends, he would go through as many books as he could get. He boasted a high I.Q. and was an excellent student at Amstetten’s Secondary Sports School.
Josef received an electrical engineering certificate from Polytechnic and took a job in Linz at the highly reputable VOEST, a Hermann Goring company. He was well-trimmed, wore nice suits, expensive shoes, and had a morning routine of visiting his favorite barber shop.
To the outside world, Josef Fritzl was successful and a perfect citizen, but on the inside something evil was brewing.
Now in his early 20s, Josef Fritzl became a routine exhibitionist, constantly showing his penis out in public. Multiple police reports, accusations, and arrest show Josef would ride his bicycle through the city, exposing his naked member to females.
Soon Fritzl stepped up his sexual deviance by attempting to stalk and rape women walking alone on the street.
Even though Josef knew he could never stay monogamous, he still desired a steady wife and a family of his own. He met his wife Rosemarie in 1956, who would continue to stay married to Josef until his arrest in 2008.
Rosemarie would eventually bear Josef seven children. Josef never remained faithful to his wife and recalls the three years he spent working in Ghana, “I had various short flings with women in Ghana,” he would later boast. “Nothing serious. I was worried about sexually transmitted diseases. I always chose nice girls, no prostitutes, for that reason.”
In 1967, police arrested Josef Fritzl for the rape of a 24-year-old newlywed nurse whose husband was working the night shift. Fritzl broke into the woman’s home through her bedroom window and, wielding a knife, he raped her.
“I felt the bedclothes being pulled back,” the woman would tell an Austrian newspaper in 2008, still too traumatized to give her real name. “At first I thought it was my husband coming, but then I felt this knife being pushed against my throat. He pushed it against my neck and said, ‘If you scream, I will kill you.’ Then he raped me. I will never forget those eyes.” — victim of Josef Fritzl
No-one could imagine the sick and depraved thoughts that Josef was having about his fourth child Elisabeth, or “Liesel” as he called her.
Soon after Elisabeth turned eleven, her father raped her for the first time. After his arrest, Josef would vehemently deny the fact that he indulged in paedophilic acts, claiming, “I am not a man that has sex with little children. I only had sex with [Elisabeth] later, much later.”
Josef, obviously lying so as not to be labeled a child rapist in prison, would force sex on his own daughter at the home, in his car, and in the woods.
To cope with the sexual trauma given to her by her pervert father, Elisabeth began drinking and partying whenever she could, to the dismay of her father. Afraid someone else would have their way with his daughter, Josef began building an underground dungeon, what he refers to as his “personal kingdom.” He wanted to lock his daughter away forever, so that no one else could touch her.
Buried, But Alive
Josef drugged his daughter and tossed her into the subterranean cellar on Tuesday, August 28, 1984. According to police, Rosemarie never knew that her daughter was living under her feet for twenty-four years.
She would stay in the dungeon for the next 8,516 days, being constantly raped by her father and giving birth to seven of his children.
Josef Fritzl will hopefully serve the rest of his life in prison, however, he could parole as soon as 2024. Elisabeth Fritzl and her secret family are now living under government witness protection.
They could be anywhere. Let’s just hope they are high above ground.