STRASSHOF AN DER NORDBHAN, AUSTRIA — On the afternoon of August 23, 2006, a frantic teenage girl scrambled across the front lawns and through backyards of a sunny neighborhood just outside Vienna, yelling as though her life depended on it — because it did.
“I’m Natascha Kampusch! I was kidnapped!”
And with that, eight years of dungeon imprisonment, physical abuse, mental torment, and sexual slavery screeched to a halt. Natascha Kampusch, who had been snatched off the street age 10, had finally eluded her captor. She was free.
The horror commenced on March 2, 1998, when Wolfgang Priklopil, a Czech-born computer technician, spotted Natascha walking by herself on a street just a short distance from her family’s home.
With every conceivable malice on his mind, Priklopil drove up alongside the child, forced her into his white mini-bus, and sped off.
From there, Priklopil transported Natascha to his home about a half-hour away. Once inside, he tossed her into a dank, windowless, 54-square-foot chamber underneath his garage, locked up behind a 300-pound, concrete-and-steel security door that was disguised by a false cupboard.
Over the course of the next eight years, Priklopil allowed Natascha to exit this subterranean hellhole only to clean his home, prepare his meals, or to service his perversions.On occasion, Priklopil allowed Natascha to work in the garden while he was nearby, and at least once he took her on a ski trip, threatening to kill her if she made a single questionable move.
All the while, Priklopil starved this girl down to skin and bones, beat her black-and-blue, and routinely raped her. Natascha’s lone attempt to escape by jumping from a moving car failed, and brought with it savagely violent consequences.
To Natasca’s loved ones, and the rest of the world at large, she seemed to have simply disappeared — until she came back.
On that final, fateful summer day, Priklopil ordered Natascha to clean his prized BMW, which he had parked next to the house. While Natascha ran a vacuum cleaner along the floor of the vehicle, Priklopil stepped away to take a business call.
Natascha, using the vacuum noise to cover her activity, hopped over the garden gate and made her mad dash for freedom. An hour later, police had her safely in their custody.
Priklopil, upon realizing what happened, reportedly made good on his earlier promise to Natascha that, should he ever be exposed, the authorities “would not take him alive.” He hurled himself in front of an oncoming commuter train, getting decapitated in the process.
Natascha, who barely weighed 100 pounds and had grown only a few inches between during her time being held, immediately impressed the entire planet with her resilience.
Detectives said she immediately astonished them with her “intelligence [and] vocabulary,” traits she developed while detained by constantly reading books and listening to educational radio programs. She also taught herself various skills such as knitting. Natascha refused to waste time, even while not knowing if her life would ever change.
Initially Natascha announced, “I will not answer any questions about personal or intimate details,” but in 2010 she penned 3,096 Days in Captivity: The True Story of My Abduction, Eight Years of Enslavement, and Escape, a best-selling memoir about her ordeal. Three years later, a German studio adapted the book into the dramatic film, 3096.
As inspiring as Natascha’s wherewithal and bravery is, her tragic case also proved to be a study in Stockholm Syndrome — a condition in which kidnap victims come to sympathize with their captors.
Natascha reportedly “wept inconsolably” upon learning that Priklopil committed suicide and, years later, continued to refer to him as a “poor soul.”
In 2016, Natascha published a second autobiography, 10 Years of Freedom. She also revealed that, as part of court-awarded compensation package, she won ownership of the home where Priklopil held her for that horrendous period.
Natascha said she finds spending time in the home “therapeutic” and — not without a palpable degree of weirdness — she demonstrated how she continues to meticulously clean the dwelling inch-by-inch, to the exact specifications that Priklopil had always forced her to follow.
In addition, Natascha is a spokesperson for animal-rights group PETA. She campaigns for the abolition of zoos in her native Austria, and has officially stated:
“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.”
Clearly, one is ever going to hold Natascha Kampusch against her will, by any definition, ever again.
Main photo: Natascha Kampusch/YouTube video [screenshot]