Natascha Kampusch disappeared on the morning of March 2 1998 on her way to school. She was 10 years old. For eight years the trail went dead. Natascha had simply vanished. Until August 2006, when she was found running terrified through the streets of a Viennese suburb.
Natascha Kampusch was born in 1988 in a council estate in the suburbs of Vienna.
But one day in March 1998, Natascha left home to walk to school – only she never turned up.
A 12-year-old witness reported seeing Natascha being dragged into a white minivan.
An investigation was launched, police searched hundreds of minivans. Speculation was rife – theories of paedophilia gangs, a serial killer or even organ theft. It didn’t get officers any closer to finding Natascha.
She’d vanished without a trace.
Then on August 23 2006, frantic Natascha banged on the door of an elderly lady. ‘I’m Natascha Kampusch,’ she cried. The woman called police.
Natascha, now 18, was pale, shaken and weighed only 7st 7lb – almost the same as when she’d disappeared aged 10. She’d only grown 15cm. She’d been held captive for 3,096 days – the title of her later memoir.
As the incredible news broke, the world’s media descended on Vienna desperate for more information.
Where had Natascha been? Who had taken her?
And as she began to talk, a terrible tale unfolded.
On that day in 1998, communications technician Wolfgang Priklopil had thrown Natascha into the back of his van, driven her to his home in Strasshof, a suburb of Vienna, and kept her prisoner in a tiny, 5ft square, windowless, soundproof cellar under his garage.
It was custom built, the door was made of concrete and reinforced steel.
After her escape, Natascha released a statement.
She said Priklopil had given her books, and she had educated herself. She explained how, for six months she wasn’t allowed to leave the dungeon.
But that, as years passed she spent increasing time upstairs, even going out with her captor – only she’d been too afraid to escape.
It was only when Priklopil left her cleaning his van one lunchtime while he took a phonecall that she ran, leaving the vacuum cleaner running.
But Natascha said she would not answer ‘personal or intimate’ questions.
On the day Natascha escaped, Priklopil, then 44, threw himself under a train.
Reportedly, Natascha ‘cried and cried’ on hearing the news that he was dead. There was speculation that she was suffering from ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ when hostages feel empathy or sympathy toward their captors.
It would be several years before Natascha was ready to reveal the full horror story.
In her 2010 memoir she admitted she was little more than a slave. She said Priklopil would beat her up to 200 times a week, starve her, threatened to kill her and kept her half-naked. Her body was always covered in a jigsaw of bruises.
But it was only in February 2013, just before a film based on her book was released, that she admitted Priklopil repeatedly raped her during her time in captivity.
It’s impossible to imagine just what Natascha Kampusch endured for her eight long years in captivity, and the impact it might have had, but one thing is for sure – it sounds like the stuff of nightmares.