Saturday 21 April 2018

Austrian girl's book reveals horror of eight years of captivity in a cellar

Robert Mendick

NATASCHA Kampusch, the Austrian kidnapped at the age of 10 and held captive in a cellar for eight years, will reveal in her autobiography this week the full extent of the terrifying abuse meted out to her by Wolfgang Priklopil, a reclusive technician.

The book -- entitled 3,096 Days in reference to the amount of time Ms Kampusch was held captive -- tells of her ordeal and how she learnt to "manipulate her abductor" in order to survive.

Its publication, for which she was paid €1.2m, could not come at a more embarrassing time for Austrian authorities. Newly released documents suggest growing evidence of a cover-up over the bungled investigation to find her.

Ms Kampusch, now 22, will emerge from self-imposed isolation to heavily promote her autobiography. The book will chart the day Ms Kampusch was kidnapped, her captivity in a 5ft-high cellar, and the day she escaped.

"It was like being buried alive," she said. "There was oxygen, that was the only thing that made it different from a tomb. I had terrible thoughts. Sometimes I dreamt that I would cut off his head had I had an axe."

Ms Kampusch was walking to school on March 2, 1998, when she was grabbed by Priklopil, bundled into a van, and imprisoned in his home.

"When he grabbed me I wanted to scream but my voice would not come -- my vocal cords just stopped working," she said earlier this year.

"He bundled me into his white van wrapped in a blue blanket. When we arrived I saw where he was taking me... he tore the shoes from my feet and burned them. 'You won't be needing those now,' he said.

"The cellar was cold, damp, disgusting. I was preserved alive like an Egyptian pharaoh. I'd lie awake at night wondering what would happen to me if he were to die or be unable to come back for me. Would I die and nobody would ever know?"

For the next eight years she suffered terrible abuse, gradually being allowed out of the cellar and into the house. Priklopil was a hygiene obsessive who treated Ms Kampusch like a slave. She had to wipe down all surfaces she touched and was forced to shave her head to prevent hairs falling out inside the house.

"He forbade me to cry," she said, "because he didn't want salt traces anywhere. When I did cry, because I could not help it, he choked me. And he pushed my head under a basin of water if I left so much as a fingerprint on a glass surface or a door handle."

She managed to escape at the age of 18 on August 23, 2006 -- "I ran as fast as a I could, as fast as my legs could take me" -- while Priklopil's back was turned as she stood in his garden vacuum-cleaning his car. Tipped off that the police were about to arrest him, Priklopil, 44, committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.

For the first six months, Ms Kampusch was kept in the windowless cellar, whose entrance was specially concealed behind a steel door. Gradually Priklopil gave her more freedom -- including taking her on a skiing trip for a night away -- although Ms Kampusch has reacted angrily in the past to suggestions that she could have escaped but chose not to.

She said that in part she let Priklopil manipulate her but that she was also able to manipulate him, explaining: "It was like a wrestling match."

Following her escape she attempted to embrace her new found freedom, even securing her own chat show Natascha Kampusch meets... on an Austrian television channel, including an interview with the former racing driver Niki Lauda. But the show was axed after just a handful of episodes and Miss Kampusch slowly began to withdraw from public life.

Her mistrust was fuelled by constant questioning over the precise nature of her relationship with Priklopil as it developed over the years.

Commentators noted that since her release she has bought Priklopil's house and even his BMW -- despite the fact that she cannot drive. She also is said to always carry a photo of her kidnapper.

Nowadays, she spends most of her time in her flat in Vienna, where she breeds cacti, takes still-life photographs or reads. She sometimes revisits the house where she was held prisoner.

Her book will be pored over by senior politicians, anxious about claims that the investigation into her disappearance was bungled and covered up.

An Austrian MP published on the internet a series of leaked files which suggested she could have been freed within days if detectives had followed a tip-off from a police dog handler, who suspected Priklopil. The files show how two senior officers visited the dog handler in 2006 -- shortly after Ms Kampusch escaped -- and asked him to keep quiet about the statement he gave in 1998. Ms Kampusch may yet sue Austrian authorities for their failure to find her.

Further intrigue was stoked by the suicide at the beginning of the summer of Franz Kroll, the police officer who led the investigation. He shot himself, having suffered from depression.


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