Is Natascha Kampusch missing the monster who kept her prisoner in his cellar?
06th January 2010
When you hear the latest chapter in her tortuous story, it is difficult not to see Natascha Kampusch, wraith-like and alone, sitting in the dungeon where she was held captive for
eight-and-a-half years, asking herself question after question. Natascha, combative and friendless.
Natascha, who has bought the house in which she was held prisoner. Natascha, media enigma -
'sometimes a princess, sometimes a witch', she says. And you wonder how it will all end.
Since the day in August 2006 when Natascha fled from captivity in Strasshof an der Nordbahn,
just outside Vienna, the web of intrigue around her has grown ever more dense.
She was just ten when she was abducted by 36-year-old Wolfgang Priklopil and, at first, her escape was a source of national rejoicing for Austrians.
She was an intelligent and pretty 18-year-old whose dreadful story had had a happy ending of
She had grown up in an underground cell, relying on her abductor for food, light - even air - and had emerged remarkably intact, articulate and more than willing to tell her tale in newspapers, magazines and on television.
But then doubts crept in. For Austrians, who tend to be instinctively private, there was a little too much of Natascha in the media, of Natascha pontificating about Austria, of Natascha's ordeal and people's reaction to it. And in 2008, of Natascha with her own TV chat show (which was a flop).
There was her seemingly cruel rejection of the father who had never given up looking for her.
There was the empathy she seemed to radiate for the man who abducted her and who threw himself in front of a train after her escape. And, perhaps darkest of all, there were rumours that other men had been involved whom she refused to name.
So it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that Austrians learned that the media- savvy Natascha had agreed to let a television film crew into her life once more - but this time to take them into the house of horror that she has bought for a reported £250,000 and, ominously, into the dungeon where she was held captive.
The result, Natascha Kampusch: 3,096 Days Imprisonment, to be screened later this month, paints a disturbing picture of a lonely and sad young woman trying desperately to find her place in the world.
It reveals how she is spending more and more time on her own in the house that was her prison and, while her relationship with her own family seems to deteriorate, Natasha confides that she is planning to hold a meeting with Priklopil's mother - and that she has even bought his car.
So, what is going on? Are we witnessing a brave young woman confronting her demons? Or a tragic victim retreating deeper and deeper into a dangerous obsession?
Natascha is now 21 and protected by a manager and teams of social workers and lawyers.
Whether or not they are doing a good job is a moot point; she seems constantly haunted by her ordeal, even though on the outside she is eerily cool and confident.
Describing the awfulness of her kidnapping, Natascha tells the TV documentary: 'When he grabbed me, I wanted to scream, but my voice would not come - my vocal cords had just stopped working.
'He bundled me into his white van wrapped in a blue blanket. That journey took about an
hour, and when we arrived I saw where he was taking me - and that it took him all his strength to push aside the door to the cellar.
'He tore the shoes from my feet and burned them. "You won't be needing those now," he said.
'Then he put me inside. The cellar was cold, damp, disgusting. I was preserved alive like an Egyptian pharaoh. I would 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?'
During the years that followed, Priklopil slowly allowed Natascha out of her cell and into the house upstairs. But only to work as a virtual slave.
'He integrated me increasingly into his household, but I was always sent back into the cellar when anyone came,' she says. 'And then when they had gone he would tell me all the details of what they had done together. But I could never meet them.
'He was a finicky person who wiped down every surface after I touched it - not just to hide any traces of me, but because he was obsessional about tidiness.
He made me bind my hair with clips and wear a plastic shower cap to catch any hair that might fall out when I was upstairs. Later, he made me shave myself bald, saying it was for hygiene reasons.
'He forbade me to cry 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.
'When I had the chance to escape, I took it - I ran as fast as I could, as fast as my legs could take me.'
Natascha was soon to find out that escaping was not the same as being free. Quickly, as it emerged that she had been out shopping and even on a skiing vacation with Priklopil, people began to ask why she hadn't escaped sooner.
Austrian journalists wanted to know whether she had been sexually assaulted or, as some claimed, used by a paedophile pornography ring.
Her reticence to answer questions fully was seen by some as deliberate obstruction of the police investigation into her abduction. But she had clearly drawn a line and was determined not to cross it.
'When I was free, I remember the first indication of the interest in my case,' she recalls.
'I can remember the flashes from the photographers that were standing outside the police station.
'Since then I have seen a lot of headlines about myself, but what can I say? Sometimes I'm a
princess, sometimes I am a witch. Now I am an outlaw for life. It is like I have a stamp on my forehead that says: "I am a victim of violence."
'I live in an almost completely withdrawn way in Vienna and almost never go out in public. I have no idea what to do in my life. I feel like a plant which gets swamped somewhere and
strikes roots for a short while - only to get swamped further.'
She says she tries to keep herself busy, but even her pastimes are solitary and rather sad.
'At the moment, I have my favourite activity which is reading. And I love to breed cacti,'
she says. 'I have even managed to reproduce them. I am also studying, and practising with my computer, and taking photographs.
'I prefer to photograph inside. Glasses on a table, a few leaves from the Ficus benjamina over there (pointing), the way the light falls in a room, just details. And I paint - oils, acrylics - and I draw. But, yes, I am lonely.'
Some see an oddity, others a symmetry in the fact that Natascha spends so much time in the house where she was held captive.
Asked what her plans were for it and why she was often cleaning, tidying and staying there, she says prosaically: 'You might just as well ask why someone goes to the hairdressers. It's practical to clean. For good or bad, this was my home.
'One thing I will say, if I choose to sell it, I will make certain that the cellar is filled in.'
And why buy Priklopil's BMW? 'I don't have a driving licence,' she says evasively. 'But the car is driven regularly just so that it doesn't get rusty.'
One of her aides says buying the car is simply a way of preventing another crackpot from getting hold of it, yet Natascha seems to demonstrate an attachment for all things Priklopil - she even carries his picture with her.
'I forgave him everything, otherwise I would have been filled with too much hate and negative feelings-that would have left me psychologically and physically at square one,' she says.
'I think he suffered deep wounds as a child that retarded his conscience. It awoke in me a kind of sympathy, compassion.'
All of which might explain her desire to meet Priklopil's mother, 67-year-old Waltraud Priklopil. 'I do feel the time is right to meet Mrs Priklopil,' says Natascha. 'Within the next two months we have arranged to make contact.'
But it does not explain the rejection of her father, Ludwig Koch: 'I haven't been in touch since he let me know via the media that I neglected him on Father's Day. I have not understood my father for a long time. He is kind of strange.'
Rumours persist that Priklopil did not act alone. Immediately after her abduction, he is supposed to have used his mobile phone, telling Natascha: 'The others aren't coming.'
If there were others, is it possible she developed an attachment to them, too, and is covering for them?
She says, cryptically: 'I could, of course, say how it really was, but I don't have to. I don't have to justify myself about things that are said speculatively about me and that are nothing to do with the facts.
'As far as I'm concerned, I never saw anyone else and I don't know any other accomplice.'
Conspiracy theorists in Austria claim that if there were accomplices, then Natascha's life is in danger. Rational psychologists, however, see things differently, arguing that the biggest threat to her comes from within.
Dr James Thompson, a clinical psychologist at University College London and an expert in posttraumatic stress in kidnap victims, believes that Natascha is at a pivotal moment in her recovery.
'I think in some senses she is trying to build a dungeon for herself to protect her from the outside world,' he says.
'When Terry Waite was released from captivity in Beirut, he had a tiny, windowless room at Kings College that he used to retreat to and colleagues would joke that he was putting himself back in his cell. In a way, they were right.'
But is spending so much time in the house where she was held prisoner healthy?
'It depends,' continues Dr Thompson. 'At the right time, I often take patients to the scene of an incident that might have disturbed them, just to reassure them that the incident is in the past and can no longer hurt them. If this is what Natascha is doing, then it could be beneficial.
'However, a part of the healing process is to put the thing behind you and move on. It is crucial to see what she does next. If she keeps the house and stays in it without moving on, then I'm afraid that wouldn't be a good sign.'
Dr Thompson says that, so far, Natascha's apparently odd behaviour shouldn't cause alarm and that she could still have a relatively normal and happy future.
Dr James McCracken, Director of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the University of California, Los Angeles, is not so upbeat.
'It is difficult to comprehend the horror of kidnapping, sexual and physical abuse, deprivation and isolation that someone like Natascha experienced,' he says.
'It is equally impossible to appreciate what re-entry into the world years later - but emotionally still as a child - must be like.
'In general, signs of healthy adjustment would include putting the traumatic experience further and further out of daily life. What little I know about Natascha Kampusch today makes me very worried about the prospects for a happy future.'