true crime

Australia's Josef Fritzl and the reason you don't know his name.

Content warning: This story includes mentions of sexual abuse that may be distressing to some readers.

In 2009 in Austria, a man named Josef Fritzl was sentenced to life for the imprisonment, torture and rape of his daughter Elisabeth for over 24 years. 

While holding her captive in a dungeon, Fritzl fathered seven of Elisabeth's children while subjecting her to unimaginable cruelty and horror - the details of which reverberated around the world. 

In 2024, his crimes are again making headlines because 15 years later, he is now eligible for parole. 

Watch: Inside the horrific secret chamber where Josef Fritzl kept his daughter.

Video via 60 Minutes.

Although it's almost completely unknown, Australia actually has its own Fritzl-esque horror story. Crimes just as depraved and shocking that occurred in country Victoria, almost in parallel to the cruelty unfolding in Europe.

In 2009, Australian police quietly arrested a Victorian man in his late sixties for the systematic rape, abuse and imprisonment of his daughter *Katherine.

She was held captive for 30 years and gave birth to four of his children, one of whom died at just 12 weeks old.

Katherine was sexually abused so many times over the decades, detectives investigating the case found it impossible to count. All up, her dad was charged with 83 separate offences and at trial those charges were condensed into 13 counts of indecent assault, incest and assault.


Each charge represented multiple offences. One charge alone, represented 700 counts of rape.

He was sentenced to 22 years and five months jail, with a non-parole period of 18 years. 

While Katherine wasn't kept in a basement or held behind bars, she was a psychological prisoner - kept by her father as a sexual slave. He controlled every minute of her day; her money, where she went, what she wore and who she spoke too. 

Katherine's father was finally arrested n 2008, after decades of abuse. Image: Getty.


Born just a few months apart from Austria's Elisabeth Fritzl, the similarities between the cases are impossible to ignore. Both women were abused for the first time in their early teens. Both women escaped in 2008 after decades of abuse. 

In the April 2009, Elisabeth tricked her father into allowing her to take her sick child to hospital where she was able to alert authorities to her situation.  

In June that same year, Katherine walked into a police station in Morwell, Victoria and told officers her story. 

Their fathers were convicted just weeks apart, and both are regarded as being among the worst sex offenders the world has ever seen. 

Josef Fritzl's face is recognisable worldwide, as is Elisabeths'. We've seen the images of the dungeon where she was held and heard about the horrible conditions she was subjected too. While Elisabeth lives in relative anonymity now, she would no doubt still be recognised on the street. 

But Katherine and her abuser remain anonymous, and she has fought meticulously to keep it that way. 

She wants her three sons to live a normal life, free of the media attention their family's story would no doubt attract. But that doesn't mean she wants what her father did to her to remain a secret. 

In a 2015 memoir called Behind Closed Doors, written with Sue Smethurst, Katherine shared a detailed account of her experience. 

It took some time to piece the details of her life together with the help of professionals, as much of what she endured was so shocking she had blocked it out. She lived in multiple homes and went to multiple schools as a child as her father didn't like being in one place too long. He was violent and cruel to everyone in the household - Katherine, her mum and her two brothers, and their family was well known by police and child welfare. 


But Katherine has been especially critical of Australian authorities, who she says let her down. During the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2013, she detailed the betrayal she felt at having been ignored for so long. In one instance she says authorities accused her of making the abuse claims up and wrote to her abuser, instead offering him help.

Katherine will live with the trauma she endured at the hands of her father forever. She can still remember the smell of him, and if she ever gets a whiff of a similar scent - it paralyzes her. 

But unlike Elisabeth Fritzl, who will no doubt be seeing her father's face being splashed across the world's media once again as he asks the court to grant him freedom, Katherine and her family's identity remains a secret. 

She and her boys - now men - have spent the years since her father's conviction building a new life for themselves, away from the glare of the spotlight. 

Away from his face staring back at them on every media publication. 

*Katherine is a pseudonym to protect her identity.

If this has raised any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service.

If this brings up any issues for you, contact Bravehearts, an organisation dedicated to the prevention and treatment of child sexual abuse, on 1800 272 831.

Feature image: AAP/AP Photo/Robert Jaeger.