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S1 / EP03: Natascha Kampusch and The Secret Cellar

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

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.


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

Speaker 4: (23:46)

opened the door to the hall and he introduced her to me as an acquaintance. I shook her hand and said, hello, Scott.

Speaker 1: (23:59)

That's about all kindness. That was hardly a situation where I could have said something, so I didn't try to escape. I just did what I was supposed to do, shook his hand and said nothing the way he drummed it into me.

Speaker 4: (24:18)

Mostly me. [inaudible] then I had to leave because I was under time pressure.

Speaker 1: (24:25)

Over the many years she was held captive. Natasha never lost hope that she would one day be free and knew that her opportunity to leave the house was coming close. She told Wolfgang that he could no longer force her to stay with him, that she was her own person with her own needs. She thanked him for not killing her and for taking such good care of her, but let him know that their situation would be coming to an end. He didn't beat her for saying those things, but he looked at her sad and defeated. Natasha described how she first thought she would never escape, but why and how she managed to hang on to hope through those very difficult ears

Speaker 5: (25:10)

sometimes. It was like that, especially at the years, at the beginning. But then I had hope because I had so many plans for my life and uh, I didn't want to give up this plans and so it was so important to survive and to, to be strong and to looking forward to some options and possibilities to escape.

Speaker 1: (25:42)

Just prior to 1:00 PM on Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006 Natasha was told to clean and vacuum Wolfgang's fan in the garden of his home, a duty that of course Wolfgang supervised. During this time, Wolfgang received a phone call on his mobile phone, the Tita. He was talking on his cell phone and he told me to vacuum the then, which I almost doing plan poss

Speaker 1: (26:13)

does. Habesha Hague decking by the noise was so loud that you walked over to the swimming pool maybe 11 meters away. He'd left the garden gate open, unlocked and eat fresh. Pat the cap, so I grabbed the opportunity. I left the vacuum cleaner on and ran away really, really fast as fast as my legs could carry me. Natasha finally saw chance to escape and she took it. Natasha ran through the neighbor's gardens, jumped fences, and finally asked anyone she could see to call the police, but no one paid her any attention. After about five minutes running and trying to locate anyone to help her, she ran into the garden of a neighbor and knocked on the window. 71 year old INGAA Tay walked to her window where she encountered the frantic girl who whispered, please help me. [inaudible] called the police who arrived at her home at 1:04 PM where they then took Natasha to the police station.

Speaker 1: (27:22)

Upon arrival at the station, police were able to identify the now 18 year old Natasha by scar on her body by her passport, which they found at the home of Wolfgang and by her DNA. Natasha was pale and shaken, but was an overall good health. Weighing about 106 pounds, a few pounds heavier than she was at the time she was abducted and was about six inches taller than she was eight years prior. The first officer to speak with Natasha was Sabine Freudenberger, who stated that she was astonished by her intelligence and her vocabulary. Upon discovering that Natasha had escaped Wolfgang, knew this was the end, and that the police would be after him. He sought the help of his friend Ernst Holzapfel and had him drive around Vienna for three hours. While Wolfgang confessed everything to him and admitted that he was a kidnapper and rapist errants then let him out of the car near the van Nord train station in Vienna.

Speaker 1: (28:30)

Wolfgang laid his head down on the railroad tracks and waited for a train just like Natasha's abduction. This was all part of Wolfgang's plan. He never planned on being caught and had told Natasha they would not catch him alive on learning of his suicide. Natasha was distraught and admitted that his death did affect her. He was part of my life. She said this is wine a certain way. I did mourn him. She described feeling sorry for her captor, stating that he was a poor soul and actually still carries a picture of him with her. After visiting his body in the morgue following his suicide, she explained her visit sane. I had only one person I was close to for many, many years on whom my survival depended. You can't just simply banish someone that you've spent eight and a half years of your life with from your memory

Speaker 1: (29:34)

and what became of Wolfgang prick lapels house in secret cellar. Natasha actually claimed the house from estate because she wanted to protect it from being torn down or vandalized. Natasha said she had retained the house because it was a large part of her formative years adding that she would fill in the seller if she ever sold it, not allowing it to become a McCobb museum. Natasha still owns that house, has to visit it regularly to maintain it. And in 2011 did eventually have the seller filled in as was mandated by her town. In this clip from good morning Britain with Pierce Morgan from 2017, Natasha talks about why owning the house was important to her instead of just getting rid of it.

Speaker 6: (30:23)

It's also, um, to have, to control, to have, to power and to, to have, to have, um, you know, this, uh, satisfaction. You now have the control. Yes. So, so this horrible man controlled you and abused you for so long and now you have his house. It's your property until there's a closure. There's hope. You are living proof. Everybody thought you were dead, but you weren't. You were alive

Speaker 1: (30:59)

during the years. Many people have speculated that there could have been more than one person involved in the kidnapping. It's hard to fathom that one person can keep a young girl locked up and hidden away from everyone over an eight year span, but we've seen this many times before. Even recently in the case of Ariel Castro, when in 2013 it was discovered that he had had ducted and imprison not one but three girls in his home over a span of 11 years. Clearly, this type of crime can be committed and carried out by one perpetrator and according to Natasha's own account, no one else was responsible or involved in her abduction. Wolfgang planned and prepared for the abduction and he was the one who was solely responsible. There are many theories as to what motivated Wolfgang to abduct and keep Natasha prisoner, but we should look at Natasha for those answers.

Speaker 1: (31:58)

She States that his ultimate goal was for her to love him, to be dependent on him, to marry him and spend the rest of her life in a normal relationship with him willingly. Perhaps he had even begun the process of obtaining false papers as a check citizen in order to begin a new life with Natasha. In this 2013 CNN interview, Natasha describes how she is able to get over what happened to her during those eight and a half years as you live with it. You live with it in your head your whole life. You have to try to see the positive and look forward to the future and to bury hate. You feel for the person who did this to you. Natasha continues to have regular therapy to help her cope with her past and has been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. She explains her battle with this saying that it is like a physical disease. It can be exhausting when it is quiet and I'm by myself. The flashbacks come. I always need to be doing something. I can't sit somewhere and relax. 2009 Natasha cam push became the new face of the animal rights group. PETA in Austria. She would go on to demand freedom for zoo animals, saying that the animals would, if they could flee as I did, because a life in captivity is a life full of deprivation. Natasha will be 32 years old on February 17th, 2020

Speaker 7: (33:40)


Speaker 1: (33:41)

Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed this podcast, please be sure to subscribe and rate the podcast on Apple podcast or on your favorite podcast application so you can be sure to catch the next episode. Be sure to check out our website at for the latest episodes and show notes and be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram @thecrimeshackpodcast and of course on Twitter @thecrimeshack. At the crime shack.


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