I took a break from some of my other books in progress to read this true crime retelling of the horrible case of Josef Fritzl, whom had kept his daughter Elizabeth Fritzl prisoner in the family cellar for twenty-four years.
Josef Fritzl was a manipulative, perverse individual. Having grown in an abusive household during Hitler’s years, Fritzl learned how to control and dominate. Josef attributed a lot of his behavior to his repressed sexual feelings towards his mother, whom he had locked in a room and sealed the window so that she could never see the light of day again. It was rumored they had a incestuous relationship.
Fritzl had a high sex drive and would frequent brothels and seek out prostitutes that he would force to play out his sick fantasies, all the while maintaining the image of firm patriarch for his two families. Fritzl had carefully planned the construction of the cellar, with the intention of keeping Elizabeth there. He had begun raping her at age 11, and never allowed her to date or have friends. The cellar was his way of completely having her to himself. He was charged and convicted of a rape and keeping Elizabeth prisoner was his way of controlling his urges and to avoid arrest.
Fritzl tricked his daughter into the cellar in 1987 by asking her to help him move some furniture and help install the cellar door. He drugged her with an Esther soaked rag and when she came to, she was handcuffed to a pole. Josef had soundproofed the room so no one could hear her screams for help.
Josef Fritzl explained his daughters disappearance with a story that she had run off and joined a cult. He had told Elizabeth that he had wired the cellar to release a poisonous gas if she were to try to escape.
Elizabeth mothered seven children during her twenty-four imprisonment, one of which had died due to lack of proper medical care. Three of the children had been brought upstairs and adopted into the family. Fritzl had Elizabeth write letters to help explain that they were indeed her children and needed them to care for them.
It wasn’t until one of the children, Kerstin, was experiencing severe medical problems that Josef Fritzl took the girl out of the cellar and to the hospital, where the story began to unravel.
It was a quick read and it definitely gave more insight than most documentaries I’ve watched on this case. The intimate details were harrowing. And I still cannot imagine the horrors that Elizabeth Fritzl and her children faced. I do commend her on her astonishing strength, during and after her imprisonment. I wish her the best in her and her children’s recovery and hope they are out there living their best life. I was relieved when I had reached the end.
Secrets in the Cellar by John Glatt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Harrowing. Absolutely disgusting and the most profound case of abuse and captivity seen by Austrian police, aside from the story of Natascha Kampusch.
For twenty-four years, the community was led to believe that the young and impressionable Elizabeth Fritzl had run off and joined a cult, and had later left several of her children on the doorstep of her parents. with a note promising that one day she would return. Little did everyone know, that Elizabeth had not been far at all, and was being kept locked away in a dungeon cellar that her father, Josef Fritzl, had built.
The more I read about the case, the more repulsive it got. Fritzl was a sick man, and he deserved every year in prison for what he did to his daughter. I hope Elizabeth and her children are living their best lives.
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