Is Girl in the Basement Based on a True Story?

Lifetime’s ‘Girl in the Basement’ is a movie that explores the horrific tale of Sara (Stefanie Scott), a vibrant teen from a suburban community who gets imprisoned by her father, Don (Judd Nelson), in their own house. Although she was looking forward to her 18th birthday just so she could move away from him and his controlling nature, he manages to capture her before her plans could unfold.

Don subsequently convinces his wife that their daughter merely ran away when, in reality, she’s in their basement, where he abuses her for years to come. Involving aspects like kidnapping, incest, childbirth, and deception to the extent that appears almost unimaginable, this film has it all. Now, if you’re wondering whether actual events truly inspired it, we’ve got the details for you!

Is Girl in the Basement Based on a True Story?

Yes, ‘Girl in the Basement’ is based on a true story. This Lifetime film from its ‘Ripped from the Headlines’ special marathon reimagines the harrowing case of Elisabeth Fritzl, a young woman from Amstetten, Austria, who was held captive by her father for roughly 25 years. Even though it dramatizes, adds, omits, and rewrites some parts of her real-life story for our screens, the central point stays rooted in reality.

On August 28, 1984, almost four months after Elisabeth Fritzl turned 18 in April, her father Josef Fritzl lured her into their home’s basement by saying that he needed assistance carrying a door. Once downstairs, he used the same door to seal his daughter in what would turn out to be her home/prison for two decades. Elisabeth’s mother filed a missing person report soon after. Yet, the search for her started to wind down almost a month later, when Josef gave investigators the first of the numerous letters he’d forced Elisabeth to write. He’d even postmarked it from Braunau am Inn.

Josef also claimed that his daughter had most likely joined a cult and then tried to tell his wife that they should do as she says and not look for her in the country. Over the next 8,516 days, he visited Elisabeth in the bunker at least three times a week to force himself on her or provide her with food and supplies. During this atrocious captivity, Elisabeth gave birth to seven children, one of whom passed away shortly after birth. Moreover, three of them were removed as toddlers and raised by Josef and his wife upstairs. He’d ensured that no one ever came to the basement.

Image Credit: 60 Minutes Australia

As for how Josef explained the infants, he often left them on the doorstep for his wife to find with a note/recorded call from Elisabeth explaining that they were her children and that she couldn’t care for them. With this, local social services also got involved, but they observed nothing suspicious, so the Fritzl’s were allowed to foster their “grandchildren.” It was only in April 2008 that things took a turn for Elisabeth and her children. When her eldest daughter fell ill, Josef took her to the hospital and claimed that he’d found a note written by her mother and came to help.

The medical personnel found his allegations dubious and thus alerted the authorities. Hence, when Josef finally conceded and allowed Elisabeth to come out of her cell for the first time in decades to visit her daughter, the police detained them. After being promised that she would be secure and would never have to see her father again, the then 42-year-old explained all of Josef’s crimes. She said that he sexually abused her in front of their kids and often threatened to hurt or kill them if they ever attempted to escape. DNA tests further confirmed her claims.

In the end, it came to light that Josef was planning on releasing Elisabeth, whom he had been sexually abusing since she was around 11, and his other captives into the real world. His idea was to have “rescued” them from the fictitious cult and take them home. However, the genuine truth came to light before any of that could happen. Josef ultimately pleaded guilty to several counts of false imprisonment, rape, manslaughter by negligence, and incest and was sentenced to life in prison. As for Elisabeth and the kids, they have since managed to secure a good life for themselves.

Read More: Where is Elisabeth Fritzl Now?