Apr 28 2008

What Ever Happened To Baby Natascha?

Published by at 11:01 pm under Blog

This week sees the newspapers knee deep in the latest Austrian kidnap story, that of a woman who was held captive for 24 years by her father who repeatedly and routinely abused her and fathered her 7 children. The woman, known as Elisabeth Fritzl was locked in a tiny basement for many years and systematically raped by this evil man (am I supposed to stick the word ‘allegedly’ in here somewhere?).

It’s hard not to think of the story of another Austrian, Natascha Kampusch, who escaped on 23rd August 2006 after being held by Wolfgang Priklopil for more than eight years. Priklopil kept her stowed away in his tiny soundproof basement from age 10 until she had the opportunity to run away aged 18. On a day when he had allowed her access outside, he turned his back to take a phone call and she ran. Climbing over fences and banging on doors, her pleas were ignored until she reached the home of an elderly neighbour. Before the police could locate him, Priklopil jumped in front of a train in Vienna, committing suicide before he could provide any answers or explanations.

I remember when this story broke, it was very big news, all over the newspapers and television, but I thought it odd that as quickly as the story broke, it seemed to fade back into obscurity. Presumably, much of the drop-off in media interest was Natascha’s understandable refusal to talk to the media, despite being offered large sums of money for her ‘exclusive’. But it was a story (I hesitate to use the word story, as I acknowledge it is a person’s life I’m talking about), it was a story that I was eager to hear more of and over the past year and a half I have spotted small headlines and updates on what Natascha has been saying and doing.

She firstly agreed to do an interview with ORF, a respected Austrian broadcaster. The interview was given without payment (although the sale of the interview to other broadcasters did net her a fee). Further newspaper interviews were granted in exchange for housing and the payment for her education. These interviews, in September 2006, showed a well educated, surprisingly confident and articulate young woman who would not, perhaps, be the imagined picture of a victim of 8 years of serial abuse. She told of how he would give her books and teach her, how he would share meals with her, how he ‘allowed’ her to play in his garden and how he had taken her on holidays with him. She also spoke of the beatings and sexual abuse. She told of her abduction eight years previous but could not recollect a second man, although a witness claimed to have seen her bundled into a minivan by two men.

There was speculation that she was suffering from Stolkholm Syndrome, where the victim identified with and grows to appreciate, need and in some cases love their captor. She strenuously denied this, describing Priklopil as a “criminal”. It’s impossible to imagine what she went through for all those years, and the fact that he had a ‘nice’ side, a side that provoked Natascha to light a candle for him in the morgue, a side that had her say she felt “more and more sorry for him – he is a poor soul”, probably made it worse. It must be psychologically destroying to have someone act kindly towards you some of the time while beating you and raping you and locking you in a tiny room the rest of the time. It would not be surprising if there was an element of Stolkholm to it.

The Natascha Kampusch story did not end there however. I recall a side piece buried in the newspaper that revealed she was being kept away from her mother for her own safety. No more details were given and I had to go searching to find that her mother had been officially charged last May for aiding in the abduction and in covering up abuse. If guilty, she would have been responsible for helping Wolfgang Priklopil to kidnap her 10 year old daughter. What is more disturbing is that she further sought to gain from the ordeal by releasing her own book detailing her “Frantic Years”, as it was called.

In the past few months, Natascha has added a further obscure chapter to her life’s story. She has taken a job fronting a chat show on Austrian television, entitled “In Conversation with Natascha Kampusch”. I am all in favour of the girl getting her life together and finding a path for herself that she has been denied for so long, but a career in the celebrity spotlight seems odd. Well, I look forward to the subtitled version.

Which brings me to my point. I’m not sure why this story gained my attention, but it truly has and it did from day one. Perhaps the slow leak of details and the still as yet unanswered questions, maybe the fascination with a good mystery (whatever happened Priklopil’s supposed male accomplice), or I wonder if it’s just my morbid curiosity that has me ask, when will she bring out her own book about her eight years of imprisonment? I’ll buy it.

I don’t mean to be flippant, but while it is a sad story, it is also very fascinating. Fascinating and frightening that this could go on for so long in today’s world, in a developed country. So too, it is fascinating and frightening that it is not a one off. The arrest of Elisabeth Fritzl’s 74 year old father will do little to ease the minds of his poor daughter, abused for 24 years, or her children, who cannot possibly know normality. I make no apologies for it, but this is a story that I will continue to follow. Yes, it is unsettling and yes, it makes me angry and sick, but it is better to be informed and angry that to ignore it and turn a blind eye, allowing ourselves to live in ignorant bliss.

Update: Bock has more on the Fritzl story

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “What Ever Happened To Baby Natascha?”

  1. Darren.. tooon 29 Apr 2008 at 1:47 pm

    It really is weird that three of the kids were raised in relative normality and the other three have not seen the light of day.

  2. Darrenon 29 Apr 2008 at 1:51 pm

    Yeah, I don’t understand that (Well I don’t understand any of it, but that’s particularly odd). Maybe it was getting too crowded and he thought that raising three himself would make things easier to conceal.

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