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S1 / EP03: Natascha Kampusch and The Secret Cellar

Updated: Feb 6

Reading about an individual who has been abducted and suffered at the hands of another is difficult; reading about a child who has gone through this experience is heart breaking. As I read this story of a little girl who endured so much, it put so much in perspective about my own life, and how much we take for granted each and every day. Simple things like eating whatever you want, whenever you want, being able to turn on air conditioning when it gets hot, or simply looking out a window on a sunny day. Natascha Kampusch has grown up to be a successful novelist and speaks about her ordeal often, and continues to thrive in a world where she has endured much.

Natascha Kampusch (Prior to her abduction)

Check out our INSTAGRAM for additional photos related to case!

Transcribed EP03: Natascha Kampusch and The Secret Cellar


This podcast episode contains crimes against children and may not be suitable. For some listeners, listener discretion is advised.

Welcome to episode three of the crime shack. I'm your host Michelle Pense. Hope you all had an amazing 2019.I'm looking forward to bringing you many more exciting stories for 2020 so with that, let's dive into episode three of The Crime Shack. Be sure to head over to, to get the show notes for this episode and also like and subscribe to us on your favorite podcast app. Let's talk about statistics. It's estimated that 22,000 children go missing every single day worldwide. That's a total of at least 8 million per year. According to the United States national center for missing and exploited children and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2019 the total number of reported missing children in the United States was 421,394 according to the international center for missing and exploited children.

Speaker 1: (01:08)

Over 80,000 children go missing annually in the U K 45,000 go missing annually in Russia and 25,000 in Australia and unfortunately in many countries these stats aren't even available. With those statistics in mind abductions by a stranger are extremely uncommon of the reported cases of missing children. Only about 4% are family abductions and less than a 1% are actually non family member abductions. Now let's brush up on my German and step back a few years to the year 1998. A 10 year old girl named Natascha Marie Kampusch was living with her mother Brigitta Sirny in the Donaustadt district of Vienna, Austria. The districts of Vienna are sort of like the neighborhoods in New York. Each one with its own personality and Vienna of course, is the national Capitol and one of the nine States of Austria with a population of about 1.9 million people. Natascha lived in a flat or apartment and described remembering her modest neighborhood as having a lot of alcoholics, which is an interesting thing to remember about a neighborhood, some of whom were mentally disturbed and felt that they had failed at life.

Speaker 1: (02:28)

Natascha's family consisted of two adults, sisters and five nieces and nephews. Natascha's parents had separated when she was a child and even though she lived mainly with her mother, she would often visit her father, Ludwig Koch on occasion or during holidays. According to some reports Natascha's home life was not very happy and her parents would often slap and insult her. A claim that Natascha's mother vehemently denied. As other children her age, Natascha attended middle school and even though she lived just a few blocks away from her school, her mother took her to school each day. But on that Monday, March 2nd, 1998 Natasha asked her mother if she could walk herself to school. Up to that point, her mother had only allowed her to go to school by herself about two to three times. Natascha's home life being as it was lent itself to Natascha becoming a depressed, lonely young girl with a compulsive eating disorder. She would often fantasize about suicide, imagining throwing herself in front of a car only to make her mother feel sorry for what she did or said. As a matter of fact, she had just had an argument with her mother and was thinking this very thought when she walked herself to school that morning in the direction of a white delivery van. In this interview from 2017 Natascha describes the events on that fateful morning.

Speaker 2: (04:01)

It got to two minutes tonight. I was almost halfway to school when I saw a man in the distance standing in front of a white van as though he were waiting for someone. I wanted to cross the street, but then I decided to keep going straight. Can send me, when I came near him, he came towards me. He grabbed me and direct me into his truck.

Speaker 3: (04:44)


Speaker 2: (04:48)

I tried to scream, but no sound came out. My voice box froze. No sound. The kidnapper said if I didn't scream and didn't stand up and did what he said, he wouldn't hurt me.

Speaker 3: (05:09)


Speaker 2: (05:10)

it will stay in me. I didn't know what was going to happen in that moment. I thought it was the end.

Speaker 3: (05:25)


Speaker 2: (05:26)

just kind of did he get it? I kind of knew the neighborhood from the dangle cause when I used to drive home with my mother, I'd see the tree tops and telephone poles, so a knew roughly where we were headed. Yeah, fun [inaudible] by then he drove the right truck up to his garage

Speaker 1: (05:57)

rep, Nina blue blanket and carried me into the house

Speaker 2: (06:18)

at Michigan tech. He carried me downstairs and put me down for a moment. I didn't know it then, but he'd opened everything up society shoulder. Then he dragged me and carried me in a tagging [inaudible] Dan Hutton when he left me in the cell on the floor in the dark [inaudible].

Speaker 1: (06:53)

When Natascha failed to return home from school that afternoon, her mother immediately contacted the local police. The police began their extensive investigation even broadening the investigation to other countries. As Natascha had her passport with her at the time of her disappearance as she had just returned from a trip to Hungary with her family, a witness told police that she saw a girl in a red jacket being pulled into a white van. Police searched over 1500 white trucks and minivans, including one owned by a man named Wolfgang Přiklopil. When interviewed by police, Wolfgang told police that he was home alone the morning of the kidnapping and used his minivan to transport materials from the construction of his home. The police convinced of his explanation and having no reason to search his house, filed a report and didn't question him any further. Following this initial interview with Wolfgang.

Speaker 1: (07:53)

The police then receive a second tip eight days later from a neighbor stating that he suspected his reclusive neighbor may be involved in the kidnapping as the neighbor kept to himself, may have stored weapons at his home, was thought to have a sexual interest in children and had a surveillance system for his home. The police looked into the additional tip but found out that Wolfgang didn't actually own the house he lived in, but it was owned by his mother. The police filed the tip away with no further action. Wolfgang Přiklopil was a 44 year old communications technician who lived about 30 minutes from Vienna in the lower Austrian town of straws, health. He was an only child. His father was a cognac salesman and his mother was in shoe sales. Wolfgang was also confirmed to have no criminal record. Wolfgang had been planning the abduction for a while.

Speaker 1: (08:52)

He had made a custom built room underneath the garage of his home, especially for his captive. There was a hidden trap door in the garage which led down to a set of concrete steps. Once at the bottom of the steps there was another small room where a set of tires and a heavy cabinet had to be moved aside to reveal a small safe in the wall. The safe was about 27 inches high and was screwed flush into the wall. The safe opened up into a hollowed out hole in the wall which led to another room. You had to literally scoot backwards inside the hole to get to the other space once through the hole you encountered and would have to close a 330 pound concrete and steel door behind you. Once the store would close, it would lead you to another set of wooden doors. These doors led into a 54 square foot damp, cold and musty empty room, which had no windows, had a plastic ventilator fan, which caused a constant annoying rattling sound and was made to be completely sound proof. The entire elaborate entrance to the secret cellar was so well constructed and complicated that it took an hour just to open it and get inside.

Speaker 1: (10:20)

When first introduced to the seller, Wolfgang took away Natascha schoolbag, which she was still clinging to, telling her that she could have hidden a transmitter in the bag that she could use to call for help. What a bizarre statement to say to a child. Did he say this because he really believed it or was it a ruse to get her to relinquish the bag without a fuss? Either way OD, but do we really expect anything rational coming from a person who built a hidden seller to hold someone captive,

Speaker 1: (10:53)

Wolfgang also took her shoes and burn them, telling her that she didn't need them. The first night Wolfgang brought Natascha mattress, which was a piece of foam rubber about two inches thick. She had to use the blue rug. He wrapped her in as a blanket and her jacket as a pillow that night, Natasha was away from her family and her home not knowing when she'd ever see them again. She asked this strange man who put her in this dark, hidden space to tuck her into bed, read her a story and give her a kiss goodnight. He did gladly for the first six months of her captivity. Natascha didn't know if it was day or night as she was not allowed to leave the seller at any time and for several years she wasn't allowed to leave it at night at all. After six months, Wolfgang allowed Natascha to leave her seller during the day and spend time with him upstairs in his home, but each night she was forced to go back the seller where she was locked in until the next morning or during times when Wolfgang would be away at work to allow her some determination of time or maybe as another means of control.

Speaker 1: (12:05)

Wolfgang eventually installed a timed light system, which would automatically turn the lights on and off in the cellar, determining when a Tasha would rise and sleep at night. When she would call for her parents, he would whisper to her in the dark. They don't love you. They don't want you back. To be honest, they were happy to have you gone. I'm the only one that cares for you. I saved you. Meanwhile, the police still continuing their investigation with no further leads. At one point, the press in the public began throwing ludicrous theories out, even pointed fingers at Natascha's mother claiming that she could have been responsible for her disappearance. We know that there are many times the police do a thorough job investigating. However, we can honestly say that this was not one of those times if the police had just acted on that second tip from the neighbor and question Wolfgang further about his whereabouts, the day Natascha disappeared or had they just obtained cause to search his house, they would have found Natascha in the downstairs seller. That's not a mistake. That's a tragedy. In this interview, Natascha described her life in the dark and feeling imprisoned.

Speaker 2: (13:25)

I didn't see any daylight for a long, long time. Then when I finally came upstairs, I still didn't see any, even though it was day time, because he closed the blinds that mr [inaudible], he began integrating me more and more into his household until I became a kind of slave. He always made sure I couldn't run away. He threatened me and kept everything locked. That's the most relevant. It must have been incredibly gratifying for him to keep someone captive. Someone who was there for him alone, someone not even his mother or grandmother knew about.

Speaker 1: (14:15)

At first, Wolfgang would bring Natascha fancy croissants and expensive toys. During those times, Natascha would say that she would often regress psychologically to the age of a dependent toddler as a way to cope with her situation. After a while, his gifts changed and they began to take on a very different purpose. He would bring her mouth wash, scotch tape, orange juice. Natascha didn't care what he brought her. She was happy to get anything as an additional threat and deterrent. Wolfgang told Natascha that the doors and windows of his home were booby trapped with high explosives. He'd also tell her that he kept a gun and would kill her in the neighbors if she attempted to escape. The threats didn't stop Natasha from having constant thoughts of escape. She tried to escape once by jumping out of his car and would try to attract attention when he would take her out of the house on car trips, but with no luck.

Speaker 1: (15:16)

She fantasized about chopping his head off with an ax, although quickly dismissing the idea she would attempt to make noise during her early years in the cellar by throwing bottles of water against the walls. Although Wolfgang was employed, he rarely worked and Natasha would spend a good portion of her time doing housework and cooking for him. They would eventually come to have breakfast together most days and during the rest of the day they would talk and she would listen to the radio and television. Her hours of TV and radio would help to increase Natasha's vocabulary and essentially would become her educator in replace of school. She would keep the radio tuned mostly to a station that was known for promoting education and classical music. She was initially only allowed to watch certain taped programs and listened to foreign radio stations so that she would not be aware there was a search going on for her.

Speaker 1: (16:16)

Wolfgang allowed Natasha some liberties such as being able to keep school books, newspapers, and other reading material in her windowless cell. After many years, he eventually allowed her to venture outside in the garden alone where she was seen by neighbors. She would have to let him bathe her and in those situations she would mentally picture herself in another place such as a spa when he would feed her, she felt so humiliated that she would imagine that he was a gentleman who was doing all of that to be gentlemanly to serve her. Wolfgang strange thinking and behavior never seemed to wane. He was obsessed with cleanliness, not liking to see fingerprints on any surface of his home. He had a strange dislike for hair and didn't like seeing any hair on the floor or any on the furniture of his home. Because of this. He would make Natasha where an old plastic bag on her head for many years until finally that wasn't good enough, so he opted to completely shave her head.

Speaker 1: (17:19)

Instead, he refused to let her cry because he said that tears would damage the tiles in his house. He would tell her that he was an Egyptian God, something she thought she would just go along with to appease him. He would also videotape her videos of her eating her birthday cake, cleaning the house, or forcing her to run up and down the stairs for one hour. Wolfgang sought enjoyment from torturing Natasha in many ways. Aside from the mental and emotional abuse, Wolfgang would often beat Natasha sometimes so badly that she can barely walk. He continued to beat her for the next six years in an effort to make him stop hitting her. She would often punch herself in the face over and over until he begged her to stop. He tried to give her as few closes possible in an effort to show her he was master.

Speaker 1: (18:18)

He would put her in the cellar and keep her in darkness for long periods of time or randomly turn on and off the lights. He had created an Intercom system so that he could yell insults at her all night long from his bedroom upstairs and enjoyed comparing her life in the cellar like the life of a concentration camp victim. Wolfgang would go between fits of rage and moments of kindness. He would sometimes apologize to her or buy her gifts and tell her of his dreams of a life they would have together he would make her bleach her hair blonde in an effort to mimic his dream of having an area in servant and would tell her that the Jews were responsible for nine 11 she was also raped by Wolfgang. To this day, she will not disclose any intimate details of her time with him. Only to say that anything sexual was very minimal and he preferred to often just cuddle with her. Oftentimes she would prefer to remain in her cell because it was there that she would feel safe and not be forced to do things that she didn't want to do. But one of Wolfgang's favorite methods to inflict his dominance and control over her was with food,

Speaker 2: (19:32)

denounce and took going hungry was dreadful. You almost feel like a drug addict and ask yourself, why am I hungry? Why do I even feel hunger? Why can't I manage without food? Coleman at [inaudible], he would show me all the food that was before he gave me anything to eat, but then he'd only cut off a tiny piece for me. He decided exactly how much I got to eat. He never let me have what I wanted or as much as I wanted because he said I moved around so little in the cell. I didn't need it. [inaudible]

Speaker 1: (20:16)

what's very interesting is that Natasha would describe her days in captivity as that she didn't feel as if she missed anything of significance during that time. In contrast, she said that she was able to avoid smoking, drinking and hanging out with bad company, but she also said that it was a place of despair. During her time being held. She would attempt suicide sometimes slitting her wrists with a knitting needle when she was 14 we certainly can't imagine that being kept captive. A dark underground cellar would be a positive experience and it's difficult to imagine that she viewed her time in that situation as a time where she was kept from experiencing the other bad things in life or what she viewed as being a negative to her life. Her attitude and viewpoint speaks volumes to her resilient and strong character. Over the eight and a half years that she was held captive with Wolfgang, Natasha struggled to resist his strange demands.

Speaker 1: (21:17)

As she approached her teen years, she found it more and more difficult to go along with his delusions and would often try to fight back or rebel against them. One of those times was when she absolutely refused to call him Maestro. They did not completely live in isolation and what often have visitors come to the home? Wolfgang's mother and friend Ernst Holzapfel would drop by his home to visit on occasion and be completely unaware of the child he kept in the cellar when she turned 18 years old. Natasha was allowed to leave the house with Wolfgang on the condition that he would threaten to kill her if she made any noise. He even took her on a skiing trip to a Viana resort for a few hours when she was questioned by police about this trip. Natasha originally denied that it had happened, but then eventually admitted that it did, stating that she had no chance to escape during the trip. In addition to the skiing trip he took Natascha on other day trips about 13 in total to a hardware store, a chemist, and to empty flats that he was helping his best friend Ernst Holzapfel renovate. Natasha was always made to do manual labor and she was always afraid to say anything to the other strangers she encountered or too frightened to run away. Ernst first saw Natasha when Wolfgang had to drop by to borrow a trailer he owned. Here's Ernst's recollection of that first time that he saw Natasha [inaudible].

Speaker 1: (22:53)

I own an event and in July, 2006 Peter called me and told me he wanted to borrow my trailers and one evening we drove to this hall [inaudible] he had to pick up a trailer he owned that he owned with halts Apple. What's up? [inaudible] [inaudible] didn't have it and then I saw halts up, but I didn't know if he was his accomplice or if you would believe me because he was obviously his best friend [inaudible] when he came, he was accompanied by a young girl. I saw the girl as I