STRASSHOF, Austria – Natascha Kampusch vanished on her way to school on March 2, 1998, when she was 10. Police said Thursday they were “quite sure” she is the young woman who turned up this week claiming she had been a captive, confined much of the time in a small cellar.
The man who allegedly held the woman killed himself Wednesday a few hours after she sought help at a home on the quiet, small-town street where she says she was held.
While expressing confidence in the women’s identity, investigators said they were still waiting for DNA verification of the identity claim by the young woman, who turned up in a garden near the man’s house.
The missing girl’s parents met with the woman and said they were sure she is the daughter who disappeared in nearby Vienna eight years ago. Police said she had a surgery scar like Natascha and reported finding the missing girl’s passport in the house.
Police, who confirmed the identity of the alleged kidnapper as Wolfgang Priklopil, a 44-year-old communications technician, said he comitted suicide by throwing himself in front of a commuter train in Vienna.
They cordoned off the street where Priklopil lived in Strasshof, less than 10 miles northeast of Vienna, and released photos of the hiding place in his house where the young woman purportedly was held.
One photograph appeared to show a small, cluttered room and narrow concrete stairs leading down to it from an entrance so small it would have to be crawled through. Another photo showed a metal hatch that sealed the windowless, underground room.
A female police officer, Sabine Freudenberger, said the young woman told of spending her days with her captor and even doing gardening. Freudenberger, one of the first officers to have contact with the woman Wednesday, told Austrian television the man apparently threatened her, saying that was probably the reason she didn’t try to flee sooner.
Police said the young woman had been examined by a doctor and did not have signs of injuries, but added that her condition was still being studied. Freudenberger said she believed the young woman had been sexually abused but didn’t realize it. “It won’t become clear to her. … She did everything voluntarily, she said,” Freudenberger said.
Investigators released few details as they worked to piece the story together. But state broadcaster ORF carried remarks from Erich Zwettler of the Austrian federal police saying the woman escaped when the door to her hiding place was left open. Strasshof residents were reluctant to speak with reporters Thursday. Neighbors said they were shocked by the reports and had seen no signs of anything to raise suspicion.
“I couldn’t sleep last night after I heard the news,” said a middle-aged woman who gave only her first name, Elisabeth. “What goes through the mind of someone like that?”
Natascha’s sister told Austrian television her mother almost had a breakdown when police notified her Wednesday afternoon of the discovery of the young woman. She said her mother always held on to the hope that Natascha would come back one day.
“She always said she was still alive,” said the sister, identified as Sabina Sirny.
Nikolaus Koch, a lead investigator, said on Austrian television that the police had contact with the alleged kidnapper about three months after Natascha disappeared in 1998 but he had a “sturdy alibi” at the time.
At the time, another girl told police she had seen Natascha being dragged into a white van. Police interviewed hundreds of van owners and also briefly interviewed Priklopil.