Josef Fritzl covered his tracks by telling his wife and the authorities that Elisabeth ran away to join a cult, forcing her to write letters to back up the story. When room in the basement got scarce, he even integrated three of the children fathered with his daughter into his family with his wife and “upstairs” kids (via Spiegel).
The ordeal of Elisabeth and her three surviving “downstairs” children came to an end when the eldest, Kerstin, then aged 19, became gravely ill and Josef felt obliged to take her to hospital. Doctors were suspicious of their peculiar new patient and reported her, prompting the police to reopen Elisabeth’s missing person case. Their investigations eventually pushed Josef out into the open; in a last bid to maintain his ruse, he took Elisabeth to visit Kerstin in hospital, where the police picked them up and learned the full story.
After the horrors of Josef’s purpose-made dungeon, Elisabeth and her “downstairs” children required medical care and therapy but still managed to start semi-normal lives. Albert Reiter, of the Amstetten State Hospital, said of Elisabeth: “I have rarely seen such a strong woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if she had superhuman powers.”
Emma Donoghue said she wanted “Room” to be about “how a woman could create normal love in a box” rather than give Old Nick any attention (via The Guardian). That was the right choice, because we already have plenty of movies and true crime shows that often profile criminals like him and Josef Fritzl while treating the victims as side characters in their own story. By focusing on a resilient mother and her imaginative child, both the book and the film celebrate love and unbreakable human spirit, leaving the ghastly monster who inspired them in the dungeon of history where he belongs.