Natascha Maria Kampusch (born 17 February 1988 in Vienna) is an Austrian television hostess mostly known for her abduction at the age of 10 on 2 March 1998. Kampusch was held in a secret cellar by her kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil for more than eight years, until she escaped on 23 August 2006. The media attention later led to her signing a contract with Austrian channel Puls 4 for her own talk show, which had its premiere on 1 June 2008.
Early years and family
Kampusch was raised by her mother Birgitta Sirny (née Kampusch) and her father Ludwig Koch, in Vienna, Austria. Her early life with her mother was reportedly not a happy one, according to Ludwig Adamovich, head of a special commission looking into possible police failures in the investigation of the kidnapping. He claimed that "the time Kampusch was imprisoned might have been better for her than what she experienced before", a statement absolutely refuted by Birgitta Sirny, who threatened to sue the commission chief over his remarks.
Her family included two adult sisters, and five nieces and nephews. Sirny and Koch separated while Kampusch was still a child. Kampusch spent time with both of them, and had returned to her mother's home from a holiday with Koch the day before her kidnapping.
The 10-year-old Kampusch left her family's residence in Vienna's Donaustadt district on the morning of 2 March 1998, but failed to arrive at school or come home. A 12-year-old witness reported having seen her being dragged into a white minibus by two men, although Kampusch did not report a second man being present. A massive police effort followed in which 776 minivans were examined, including that of her kidnapper, Priklopil, who lived about half an hour from Vienna by car in the Lower Austrian town of Strasshof an der Nordbahn, near Gänserndorf. Although he stated that on the morning of the kidnapping he was alone at home, the police were satisfied with his explanation that he was using the minibus to transport rubble from the construction of his home.
Speculations of child pornography rings or organ theft were offered, leading officials to also investigate possible links to the crimes of the French serial killer Michel Fourniret. Because Kampusch had carried her passport with her when she left (she had been on a family trip to Hungary a few days before), the police extended the search abroad. Accusations against Kampusch's family complicated the issue even more; there have even been unsubstantiated allegations that Kampusch's mother was somehow involved in the abduction or its cover-up.
During the eight years of her captivity, Kampusch was held in a small cellar underneath Priklopil's garage. The entrance was concealed behind a cupboard. The cellar only had 5 m² of space (approximately 54 ft²). It had a door made of concrete and was reinforced with steel. The room had no windows and was soundproof. For the first six months of her captivity, Kampusch was not allowed to leave the chamber at any time, and for several years of her captivity she was not allowed to leave the tiny space at night. Afterwards, she spent increasing amounts of time upstairs in the rest of the house, but each night was sent back to the chamber to sleep, as well as while Priklopil was at work. In later years, she was seen outside in the garden alone, and one of Priklopil's business partners also said that he met Kampusch near his home when her kidnapper called and came to his home to borrow a trailer. After her eighteenth birthday, she was allowed to leave the house with Priklopil, but her kidnapper threatened to kill her if she made any noise. He later took her on a skiing trip to a resort near Vienna for a few hours. She initially denied that they had made the trip, but eventually admitted that it was true, although she said she had no chance to escape during that time.
According to Kampusch's official statement after her escape, she and Priklopil would get up early each morning to have breakfast together. Priklopil gave her books, so she educated herself, and according to a colleague of his, she appeared happy. Later, when explaining that in general she did not feel she had missed anything during her imprisonment, she noted, "I spared myself many things, I did not start smoking or drinking and I did not hang out in bad company". But she also said: "I always had the thought: surely I didn't come into the world so I could be locked up and my life completely ruined. I give up in despair about this unfairness. I always felt like a poor chicken in a hen house. You saw my dungeon on television and in the media. Thus you know how small it was. It was a place to despair." Dietmar Ecker, Kampusch's media advisor, said Kampusch told him Priklopil "would beat her so badly she could hardly walk. When she was beaten black and blue, he tried to smarten her up. Then he would take his camera and photograph her".
Priklopil had warned Kampusch that the doors and windows of the house were booby-trapped with high explosives. He also claimed to be carrying a gun and that he would kill her and the neighbours if she attempted to escape. Nevertheless, Kampusch on one occasion fantasized about chopping his head off with an axe, although she quickly dismissed the idea. She also attempted to make noise during her early years of captivity by throwing bottles of water against the walls. She said that on trips out with Priklopil, she had attempted to attract attention, but in vain.
The 18-year-old Kampusch reappeared on 23 August 2006. She was cleaning and vacuuming her kidnapper's BMW 850i in the garden. At 12:53 pm, someone called Priklopil on his mobile phone. Because of the vacuuming noise, he walked away to take the call. Kampusch left the vacuum cleaner running and ran away, unseen by Priklopil, who, according to the caller, completed the phone call without any sign of being disturbed or distracted. Kampusch ran for some 200 metres through gardens and a street, jumping fences, and asking passers-by to call the police, but they paid her no attention. After about five minutes, she knocked on the window of a 71-year-old neighbour known as Inge T, saying, "I am Natascha Kampusch". The neighbour called the police, who arrived at 1:04 pm. Later, Kampusch was taken to the police station in the town of Deutsch Wagram.
Kampusch was identified by a scar on her body, by her passport (which was found in the room where she had been held), and by DNA tests. The young woman was in good physical health, although she looked pale and shaken and weighed only 48 kg (approximately 106 lb), almost the same weight (45 kg) as eight years earlier when she disappeared. She had grown only 15 centimetres (approximately 6 in).
Sabine Freudenberger, the first police officer to speak to Kampusch after her ordeal, said that she was astonished by her "intelligence, her vocabulary". After two years, Priklopil had brought her books, newspapers and a radio, which she kept tuned mainly to Ö1, an ORF station that is known for promoting education and classical music. She also states that she constantly had a feeling that she lacked something: "a deficit. So I wanted to make that better and I tried to educate myself, to teach myself skills. I have learned to knit for example." Priklopil, having found that the police were after him, killed himself by jumping in front of a suburban train near the Wien Nord station in Vienna. He had apparently planned to commit suicide rather than be caught, having told Kampusch that "they would not catch him alive".
In her official statement she said "I don't want and will not answer any questions about personal or intimate details".
In the documentary, "Natascha Kampusch: 3096 days in captivity", Kampusch sympathized with her captor. She said "I feel more and more sorry for him – he's a poor soul", in spite of having been held captive for eight years by him, and according to police she "cried inconsolably" when she was told he was dead, and lit a candle for him at the morgue. She has, however, referred to her captor as a "criminal".
There was speculation that Kampusch may have Stockholm syndrome as a result of her ordeal. Kampusch denies this in her book "3096 Tage" (3,096 Days) published in September 2010. She suggests that people who use this term about her are disrespectful of her right to describe and analyse for herself the complex relationship she had with her kidnapper. She does not shy away from describing in detail the physical and psychological abuse Priklopil exposed her to, but at the same time Kampusch is able to discuss the occasions where he gave her gifts, and to see him as a weak and pitiful creature, and not simply a monster.
In 2009 Kampusch became the new face of animal rights group PETA in Austria. In June Kampusch wrote to Ilse Aigner, agriculture minister in Germany where the campaign is based, demanding freedom for zoo animals, stating: "The animals would, if they could, flee as I did, because a life in captivity is a life full of deprivation. It is up to you whether social, intelligent and wonderful creatures are to be freed from their chains and cages where ruthless people keep them."
In January 2009, Vienna's public prosecutor stated that DNA tests and questioning of witnesses had led to theories being discounted that Wolfgang Priklopil had an accomplice. Natascha Kampusch has also maintained that her captor acted alone.
After reportedly "hundreds of requests for an interview" with the teenager, "with media outlets offering vast sums of money", Kampusch was interviewed by Austrian public broadcaster ORF. The interview was broadcast on 6 September 2006 after her approval. ORF did not pay for its interview, and said any proceeds from selling the interview to other channels would be forwarded to Kampusch. The interview was sold to more than 120 countries at a fee of 290 euros per minute. This money—estimates say some hundred thousand euros—will be donated to women in Africa and Mexico by Kampusch. Likewise she plans projects to help these women. As of 6 September interest has been enormous.
The newspaper Kronen Zeitung and news magazine NEWS also interviewed Kampusch. The interview was published on 6 September 2006. Both press interviews were given in return for a package including housing support, a long-term job offer, and help with her education.
New developments challenged the Austrian government in February 2008. Politicians of the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) threatened to break up the newly formed SPÖ–ÖVP ("red–black") coalition government in April and May 2008. Kampusch said that she had lost confidence in Austrian justice. Revelation of mistakes in the interior ministry's investigation of her kidnapping came to light, as well as statements of a policeman which were repeatedly ignored in 1998.
On 16 June 2008, the newspaper The Times published an in-depth interview with Kampusch by Bojan Pancevski and Stefanie Marsh.
On 17 February 2010, the British TV channel Five broadcast an exclusive hour-long interview with Kampusch, entitled Natascha: the Girl in the Cellar.
The book Girl in the Cellar: the Natascha Kampusch Story by Allan Hall and Michael Leidig appeared in November 2006, written in English. Kampusch's lawyer described the book as being both speculative and premature and therefore planned to take legal action against it.
Together with two journalists, Kampusch's mother wrote a book about the ordeal, Verzweifelte Jahre ("Desperate Years"). Kampusch appeared at the initial presentation of the book in August 2007, but did not want to be photographed or interviewed. Her mother writes that she did not have much contact with Kampusch after the escape because Kampusch was shielded from the outside world.
Kampusch wrote a book about the "3096 Tage" (3,096 Days) published in September 2010.
Kampusch established her own website containing personal information including pictures of herself on 5 December 2007. She has become the host of her own talkshow at the new Austria TV station PULS 4 starting on 1 June 2008. The show had the working title of In Conversation with…Natascha Kampusch and eventually premiered as Natascha Kampusch trifft (Natascha Kampusch meets...).
On 17 June 2010 German film-maker and director Bernd Eichinger announced that he was making a film based on Kampusch's captivity and wanted Kate Winslet to star in the film. Bernd Eichinger died on 24 January 2011 and Natascha attended his funeral.
Kampusch now owns the house in which she was imprisoned, saying, "I know it's grotesque – I must now pay for electricity, water and taxes on a house I never wanted to live in". It was reported that she claimed the house from Priklopil's estate because she wanted to protect it from vandals and being torn down; she also noted that she has visited it since her escape. When the third anniversary of her escape approached, it was revealed she had become a regular visitor at the property and was cleaning it out possibly to move in herself. As of 2009, she is living in central Vienna. In January 2010 Kampusch said she had retained the house because it was such a big part of her formative years, also stating that she would fill in the cellar if it is ever sold, adamant that it will never become a macabre museum to her lost adolescence.
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