Lifetime's 'Girl in the Basement' Is Based on the Harrowing True Story of Elisabeth Fritzl

Elisabeth Fritzl had seven kids with her dad one the decades he had her trapped in the family's basement. Where is Elisabeth Fritzl now? Details.

Shannon Raphael - Author

Nov. 1 2023, Updated 3:04 p.m. ET

The Gist:

  • In August 1984, 18-year-old Elisabeth Fritzl was asked by her father to assist him in the basement. It is then that he captured her and locked her up.
  • Elisabeth spent the next 24 years locked away in her family's basement.
  • While being held captive, Elisabeth's father sexually abused her, resulting in her giving birth to seven children.
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Lifetime's "Ripped from the Headlines" thriller might be its most sinister yet. Starring The Breakfast Club star Judd Nelson and A.N.T. Farm alum Stefanie Scott, Girl in the Basement centers around a father who traps his daughter in a basement for 20 plus years.

The disturbing plot is based on the true story of Elisabeth Fritzl, whose own dad, Josef Fritzl, kept her in the bottom of their family home for decades in Austria.

During this time of torture, Elisabeth Fritzl's own mother and siblings were unaware of what was going on, as they believed Josef Fritzl's tale that she had run away. He forced Elisabeth Fritzl to write letters to confirm this story, preventing the truth from being discovered.

Josef Fritzl continually raped his own daughter, which produced seven kids. Three of them ended up living with Josef Fritzl and his wife upstairs, and the nefarious scheme was only discovered in 2008.

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Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to seven kids during her time in captivity.

Long before Josef Fritzl trapped his daughter in his elaborately constructed basement cellar in 1984, he began sexually assaulting her. Elisabeth Fritzl had run away from home in 1983, though she was returned just three weeks later. She had made it clear to her family that she was going to leave home and never return once she turned 18. 

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That's part of the reason why her mother, Rosemarie Fritzl, could fathom her daughter's absence beginning in 1984. Plus, the letters written in Elisabeth Fritzl's hand corroborated a story that she had left to join a sect, and that she had no interest in seeing her family again. 

Meanwhile, what actually happened was far more sinister than a runaway story. For years, Josef Fritzl built a basement underneath the garden of the family home. 

When it was nearly complete, he asked Elisabeth Fritzl to help him install a door in his new basement. It was a ploy to get her in the vicinity, and he eventually knocked her out and locked her in.

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A bathroom in the basement where Elisabeth Fritzl was held captive by her father.
Source: YouTube/60 Minutes Australia

A bathroom in the basement where Elisabeth Fritzl was held captive by her father.

Within days of her capture, Elisabeth Fritzl was continually raped by her father, and she was subjected to tremendous violence and extremely poor living conditions.

Five years after she lost her freedom, Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to her first child, a daughter named Kerstin. As her time in captivity progressed, Elisabeth Fritzl would give birth to seven babies. When labor would begin, Josef Fritzl offered his daughter a pair of dirty scissors and a birthing book from the '60s.

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About a year after Kersten's birth, Elisabeth Fritzl had a son named Stefan. 

Her following three children, Alex, Monika, and Lisa Fritzl all ended up living with Josef Fritzl and Rosemarie Fritzl in their home. Josef Fritzl had told his wife that the children were abandoned, and Social Services later approved the couple as foster parents. 

Alexander Fritzl was a twin, but his brother died at around 3 days old. Josef Fritzl disposed of the body in an incinerator. 

In 2002, Elisabeth Fritzl gave birth to her youngest son, Felix Fritzl. 

As for Elisabeth Fritzl and the children who remained with her, they were discouraged from attempting to flee the basement. Josef Fritzl told them that poison gas would be released if any of the doors were opened. 

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How did Elisabeth Fritzl and her children escape?

In April of 2008, 19-year-old Kerstin Fritzl collapsed in the basement. Her father allowed her to seek medical treatment, and Elisabeth Fritzl went outside for the first time in 24 years to help Kerstin Fritzl get in the ambulance.  

While she was at the hospital, the staff identified that Kerstin Fritzl was dealing with kidney failure. They inquired about Kerstin Fritzl's mother, and Josef Fritzl offered doctors a handwritten note. 

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Though Josef Fritzl claimed that he had just found Kerstin Fritzl in distress, the hospital staff questioned his story. They also noticed that the letters were strangely written, and that the cult he alleged Elisabeth Fritzl was in did not exist.

Within a week of Kerstin Fritzl's hospitalization, Josef Fritzl allowed Elisabeth Fritzl and several of her kids to visit her. While there, Elisabeth Fritzl was detained, and she agreed to detail her years in captivity once authorities promised her that she'd never have to see her father again.

Josef Fritzl was arrested on April 26, 2008. He is now in his mid-eighties, and he is still serving time in an Austrian prison.

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Where is Elisabeth Fritzl now?

According to The Sun, Elisabeth Fritzl and her children are all living under different names now in a quiet Austrian village. The children reportedly sleep in rooms with the doors open, because of their past traumas.

Girl in the Basement premiered in March 2021, and can be streamed on multiple platforms including Hulu and Lifetime.

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