Who is Natascha Kampusch?
Natascha Maria Kampusch, an Austrian national, was kidnapped when she was 10 by Wolfgang Přiklopil, who held her captive for over eight years in a cellar. She finally managed to escape on August 23, 2006. She later revealed that she was frequently subjected to physical violence from her captor who sometimes beat her up to 200 times a week. He also forced her to do house chores in half-naked conditions in addition to sexually assaulting her. He psychologically manipulated her by telling her that her parents had refused to pay ransom, and that he had kidnapped her on someone else's orders. Reportedly, just before she escaped, Přiklopil was in the process of obtaining fake documents identifying him as a Czech immigrant, so that he could marry her and start a new life. He committed suicide by jumping before a train on the very day she escaped. The case attracted immense media attention, and when Kampusch showed sympathy for her captor, she was branded as a sufferer of the Stockholm Syndrome. One of Kampusch's interviews with Austrian public broadcaster ORF was sold to media companies in over 120 countries for a fee of 290 euros per minute. She wrote two books about her torment; and one of which, titled '3,096 Days,' was converted into the German-language movie, '3096'. Despite the horrors she witnessed in the house where she was held captive, she bought it 10 years after her escape and reportedly spends a lot of time there.
Childhood & Early Life
Natascha Maria Kampusch was born on February 17, 1988 to Ludwig Koch and Brigitta Sirny in Vienna, Austria. She was the youngest of three sisters, and her parents separated while she was very young. They got divorced after Kampusch’s abduction.
Her parents lived in separate houses, and she used to alternate her time between both places. When she was kidnapped on March 2, 1998, she had just come back to her mother's home after spending a holiday at her father’s home. She was only 10 years old at the time of her abduction.
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Natascha Kampusch, who was staying with her mother in Vienna, left for school on 2 March 1988, but never reached there. According to a 12 years old eyewitness, she was “pulled into a white minibus by two men." The involvement of another abductor has not been verified by either Kampusch or the police.
A massive lookout was launched by the police and around 800 minivans were examined, which included the white minivan of the abductor, Wolfgang Přiklopil. He lived just 30 minutes away from Vienna. He convinced the police that he was transporting rubble in his minivan.
When it was revealed that Kampusch had her passport with her when she left home, the police expanded its search beyond Austria’s borders.
During the time she was missing, Ludwig Adamovich, the head of a special commission looking into the possible police loopholes in the investigation, claimed that "the time Kampusch was imprisoned might have been better for her than what she experienced before (sic)". Kampusch's mother Brigitta Sirny threatened to sue the commission chief over his remarks.
For over eight years, Natascha Kampusch was forced to live in a tiny, 54-square feet soundproof and windowless cellar beneath Přiklopil's garage. Its entrance, which was made up of steel and concrete, was hidden from the view by a cupboard.
For the initial six months after her abduction, Kampusch was confined to the small cellar all day. After that, she was allowed to venture out of her chamber, but only during the daytime. Gradually, she started spending more and more time in the house upstairs. However, she was sent back to the tiny dungeon to sleep.
During the last years of her captivity, she was allowed to roam around in the garden. Přiklopil once took her to his business partner’s home, who later revealed that Kampusch had appeared happy and relaxed during the visit.
After her 18th birthday, Přiklopil allowed her to accompany him on his visits outside the house on the condition that she would not make any noise or attempt to escape. He once took her to a resort located on the outskirts of Vienna for skiing, but she did not get any opportunity to flee during a few hours she was there.
Kampusch later revealed that she used to have breakfast with her kidnapper early in the morning. She had access to books, TV and radio but Přiklopil did not let her watch live programmes in the later years. She once attempted to flee by jumping off from of a running car. She stated that after a while into her imprisonment, she did not feel she missed out on much.
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During her captivity, Kampusch spent most of her time doing housework such as cooking and knitting. She later revealed that Přiklopil would routinely beat her blue and black, and then photograph her bruises. He also starved her to weaken her physically to so that she could not escape. Much later after escaping, she revealed that she was sexually assaulted as well.
To dissuade her from escaping, Přiklopil told her that he had booby-trapped the house’s windows and doors; and if she tried to escape despite that, he would shoot her with a gun.
On August 23, 2006, Natascha Kampusch suddenly reappeared in front of the world. She was 18 at the time. According to her statement, she was in the garden, cleaning Přiklopil's BMW vehicle with a vacuum cleaner when he received a phone call. In order to avoid the noise coming from the vacuum cleaner, he moved away from her and got busy on the call. Kampusch saw her window of opportunity and without turning the vacuum cleaner off, she fled the house by jumping fences.
No one that Kampusch encountered after running away from Přiklopil's house helped her. Five minutes later, she alerted a 71 years old neighbour by knocking on his window, who eventually called the police. The police verified her identity with a body scar, her passport (later found in her chamber) and DNA tests.
While Kampusch appeared to be in optimum physical conditions, she weighed just 48 kilograms as opposed to 45 kilos when she had disappeared. At 5 feet 9 inches, she grew just 15 centimetres during her eight years of captivity.
On the day she escaped, Přiklopil, afraid of criminal proceedings, committed suicide by jumping before a train. Before that, he was in the process of obtaining fake documents identifying him as an immigrant from the Czech Republic, so that he could marry her and start a new life.
After the Escape
In her statement, Natascha Kampusch said "I don't want and will not answer any questions about personal or intimate details". When she learned about Přiklopil's death, she “cried inconsolably and lit a candle for him at the morgue,” the police had revealed. Several mental health experts and media reports branded her symptoms as Stockholm syndrome, but she categorically denied it.
In a documentary about her kidnapping, titled, 'Natascha Kampusch: 3096 days in captivity', she expressed sympathy towards her captor but also referred to him as “a criminal.”
On September 6, 2006, Kampusch's interview with Austrian public broadcaster ORF was aired. The interview was sold to media companies of over 120 countries for 290 euros per minute. The money was later donated to poor women in Mexico and Africa.
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News publications, 'Kronen Zeitung' and 'NEWS,' also secured interviews with Kampusch in exchange for helping with her education expenses, housing support and a long-term job offer.
Subsequently, the newspaper 'The Times' and British TV channel 'Five' also interviewed her.
Later, Kampusch set up her own website, which contained many more personal details. She got her own talk show on the Austrian TV channel, PULS 4, which began airing on 1 June 2008. It ran for just three episodes.
In 2009, she became the face of PETA, the animal rights group, in Austria.
In 2010, the “incorruptible” Vienna police colonel, Franz Kröll, who supervised Kampusch’s disappearance investigation, killed himself under mysterious conditions.
Kampusch's mother Brigitta Sirny co-authored a book with two journalists about her daughter’s ordeal, titled 'Verzweifelte Jahre' (Desperate Years).
Kampusch later wrote an autobiography, detailing her years in captivity, '3096 Tage' (3,096 Days). Published in September 2010, the book was later turned into a German-language movie titled, '3096'. It released on February 28, 2013.
She got her second book '10 Years of Freedom' released on August 12, 2016.
Kampusch has bought the house that she was held captive in. She has however demolished the cellar, which was her dungeon, by getting it filled in. The house was originally constructed by Přiklopil's grandfather who had also built a bomb shelter, which later became Kampusch's chamber.