The story of Josef Fritzl is now back in the spotlight with Lifetime’s Girl in the Basement. In the TV movie, The Breakfast Club actor Judd Nelson plays a controlling father who imprisons his daughter, played by Insidious: Chapter 3 star Stefanie Scott, in his basement.
Girl in the Basement is another installment of Lifetime’s “Ripped From the Headlines,” and sure enough, the plot bears uncanny resemblances to Fritzl’s story. Read on for the details on the dramatization and Fritzl’s real-life crimes.
Content warning: Child abuse and sexual assault.
What’s ‘Girl in the Basement’ about?
In the Lifetime movie, which premiered on Thursday, March 11, father Don locks daughter Sara in their basement, where he tortures and abuses her. And Don tells his wife, Irene — played by 9-1-1 actress Joely Fisher — that the teen simply ran away.
“As the years pass, Sara gives birth to several children, alone in the basement,” a Lifetime synopsis explains.
“Don eventually brings up their youngest son, leaving him on the doorstep for Irene to find with a note from Sara saying that was her son and she couldn’t care for him, leaving Irene to finally accept Don’s claims about Sara," it adds. "After decades of captivity, Sara finally escapes, and her family learns the devastating truth about what had been going on for over 20 years right beneath their feet.”
What case inspired ‘Girl in the Basement’?
In real life, Josef Fritzl kept two families in his home in Amstetten, Austria, according to BBC News: Upstairs, he lived with his wife, with whom he had seven children. But in his soundproofed cellar, he had imprisoned and raped one of his daughters, Elisabeth Fritzl, who gave birth to seven of his children.
Fritzl kept the daughter “in a slave-like position by kidnapping and locking her up in the cellar… [and] demanding her sexual services and disposing of her as if she was his property,” prosecutors said.
In 2008, though, investigators uncovered Fritzl’s crimes after one of his daughter’s children had to be hospitalized, and his daughter was freed after 24 years in the cellar. At the subsequent trial, Fritzl was found guilty of all charges he faced — including rape, incest, murder, and enslavement — and sentenced to life in prison.
Where’s Josef Fritzl now?
As of 2019, Fritzl was serving his life sentence in Austria’s Stein Prison, according to the Daily Mirror. The newspaper also reported that he had changed his name to Josef Mayrhoff and that he is beloved to have dementia.
After interviewing Fritzl in his cell, British journalist Mark Perry said the man showed no remorse. “He kept saying, ‘Just look into the cellars of other people, you might find other families and other girls down there,'” Perry said, per the Mirror. “He doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong at all. He thinks it’s a failure of justice and that he’s been wrongly locked up.”
If you need support, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 or visit RAINN.org to chat online one-on-one with a support specialist at any time.