Kampusch was raised by her mother, Brigitta Sirny (née Kampusch), and her father, Ludwig Koch, in Vienna, Austria. Her early life with her mother was reportedly not a happy one, according to Ludwig Adamovich, head of a special commission looking into possible police failures in the investigation of the kidnapping. He claimed that "the time Kampusch was imprisoned might have been better for her than what she experienced before", a statement absolutely denied by Brigitta Sirny, who threatened to sue the commission chief over his remarks.
Her family included two adult sisters, and Five nieces and nephews. Sirny and Koch separated while Kampusch was still a child and divorced after her abduction. Kampusch spent time with both of them, and had returned to her mother's home from a holiday with Koch the day before her kidnapping.
The 10-year-old Kampusch left her family's residence in Vienna's Donaustadt district on the morning of 2 March 1998, but failed to arrive at school or come home. A 12-year-old witness reported having seen her being dragged into a white minibus by two men, although Kampusch did not report a second man being present. A massive police effort followed in which 776 minivans were examined, including that of her kidnapper, Přiklopil, who lived about half an hour from Vienna by car in the Lower Austrian town of Strasshof an der Nordbahn, near Gänserndorf. Although he stated that on the morning of the kidnapping he was alone at home, the police were satisfied with his explanation that he was using the minibus to transport rubble from the construction of his home.
Speculations of child pornography rings or organ theft were offered, leading officials to also investigate possible links to the crimes of the French serial killer Michel Fourniret. Because Kampusch had carried her passport with her when she left (she had been on a family trip to Hungary a few days before), the police extended the search abroad. Accusations against Kampusch's family complicated the issue even more.
During the eight years of her captivity, Kampusch was held in a small cellar underneath Přiklopil's garage. The entrance was concealed behind a cupboard. The cellar only had 5 square metres (54 sq ft) of space. It had a door made of concrete and was reinforced with steel. The room had no windows and was soundproof. For the first six months of her captivity, Kampusch was not allowed to leave the chamber at any time, and for several years of her captivity she was not allowed to leave the tiny space at night. Afterwards, she spent increasing amounts of time upstairs in the rest of the house, but each night was sent back to the chamber to sleep, as well as while Přiklopil was at work.
In later years, she was seen outside in the garden alone, and Přiklopil's business partner has said that Kampusch seemed relaxed and happy when she and Přiklopil called at his home to borrow a trailer. After her eighteenth birthday, she was allowed to leave the house with Přiklopil, but her kidnapper threatened to kill her if she made any noise. He later took her on a skiing trip to a resort near Vienna for a few hours. She initially denied that they had made the trip, but eventually admitted that it was true, although she said she had no chance to escape during that time.
According to Kampusch's official statement after her escape, she and Přiklopil would get up early each morning to have breakfast together. Přiklopil gave her books, so she educated herself. Later, when explaining that in general she did not feel she had missed anything during her imprisonment, she noted, "I spared myself many things, I did not start smoking or drinking and I did not hang out in bad company". But she also said: "I always had the thought: surely I didn't come into the world so I could be locked up and my life completely ruined. I give up in despair about this unfairness. I always felt like a poor chicken in a hen house. You saw my dungeon on television and in the media. Thus you know how small it was. It was a place to despair." She was given a television and radio to pass the time with, although she was initially only allowed to watch taped programmes and listen to foreign radio stations so she would not be aware of the publicised search for her. At one point, she tried to escape by jumping out of a car.
A large portion of Kampusch's time upstairs was spent doing housework for Přiklopil and cooking for him. Dietmar Ecker, Kampusch's media advisor, said Kampusch told him Přiklopil "would beat her so badly she could hardly walk. When she was beaten black and blue, he tried to smarten her up. Then he would take his camera and photograph her". According to her autobiography, as part of her abuse, Přiklopil would starve her to make her physically weak, therefore unable to escape. Her body mass index (BMI) had reached as low as 14.8 during captivity (normal BMI: 18.5 to 25).
Přiklopil had warned Kampusch that the doors and windows of the house were booby-trapped with high explosives. He also claimed to be carrying a gun and that he would kill her and the neighbours if she attempted to escape. Nevertheless, Kampusch on one occasion fantasized about chopping his head off with an axe, although she quickly dismissed the idea. She also attempted to make noise during her early years of captivity by throwing bottles of water against the walls. She said that on trips out with Přiklopil, she had attempted to attract attention, but in vain.
The 18-year-old Kampusch reappeared on 23 August 2006. At 12:53 pm, when Kampusch was cleaning and vacuuming her kidnapper's BMW 850i automobile in the garden, someone called Přiklopil on his mobile phone. Because of the vacuuming noise, he walked away to take the call. Kampusch left the vacuum cleaner running and ran away, unseen by Přiklopil, who, according to the caller, completed the phone call without any sign of being disturbed or distracted. Kampusch ran for some 200 metres through gardens and a street, jumping fences, and asking passers-by to call the police, but they paid her no attention. After about five minutes, she knocked on the window of a 71-year-old neighbour known as Inge T, saying, "I am Natascha Kampusch". The neighbour called the police, who arrived at 1:04 pm. Later, Kampusch was taken to the police station in the town of Deutsch-Wagram.
Kampusch was identified by a scar on her body, by her passport (which was found in the room where she had been held), and by DNA tests. She was in good physical health, although Kampusch looked pale and shaken and weighed only 48 kg (106 lb); she weighed 45 kg (99 lb) when she disappeared eight years earlier. Kampusch grew only 15 cm (5.9 in) during her captivity.
Sabine Freudenberger, the first police officer to speak to Kampusch after her ordeal, said that she was astonished by her "intelligence, her vocabulary". After two years, Přiklopil had brought her books, newspapers and a radio, which she kept tuned mainly to Ö1, an ORF station that is known for promoting education and classical music. She also states that she constantly had a feeling that she lacked something: "a deficit. So I wanted to make that better and I tried to educate myself, to teach myself skills. I have learned to knit for example."
Přiklopil, knowing that the police were after him, killed himself by jumping in front of a suburban train near the Wien Nord station in Vienna. He had apparently planned to commit suicide rather than be caught, having told Kampusch that "they would not catch him alive".
Wolfgang Přiklopil (14 May 1962 – 23 August 2006) was an Austrian communications technician of Czech origin. Přiklopil was born to Karl and Waltraud Přiklopil, in Vienna, and was an only child. His father, Karl, was a cognac salesman and his mother, Waltraud, a shoe saleswoman. Přiklopil worked for a time at Siemens as a communications technician.
Evidence recovery was complicated by the fact that Přiklopil's only computer was a 1980s Commodore 64, which is incompatible with modern-day data recovery programs.
He was buried under the name "Karl Wendelberger" on 8 September 2006 in the Piplitz family grave plot in the town of Laxenburg, south of Vienna.
Přiklopil allegedly had a daughter with the sister of a business partner.
Before Kampusch escaped, Přiklopil was trying to procure false papers as a Czech citizen, in order to "begin a new life" with Kampusch.
In her official statement Kampusch said "I don't want and will not answer any questions about personal or intimate details". After Kampusch's escape, police investigated whether Přiklopil had an accomplice. Eventually, it was determined Přiklopil acted alone.
In the documentary, "Natascha Kampusch: 3096 days in captivity", Kampusch sympathized with her captor. She said "I feel more and more sorry for him—he's a poor soul", in spite of the fact that he held her captive for eight years. According to police she "cried inconsolably" when she was told he was dead, and lit a candle for him at the morgue. She has, however, referred to her captor as a "criminal".
Newspapers quoting unnamed psychologists suggested Kampusch may suffer from Stockholm syndrome, but Kampusch, in her book 3096 Tage (3,096 Days) says this is not the case. She suggests that people who use this term about her are disrespectful of her and do not allow her the right to describe and analyse the complex relationship she had with her kidnapper in her own words.
In 2009, Kampusch became the new face of animal rights group PETA in Austria. In June Kampusch wrote to Ilse Aigner, agriculture minister in Germany where the campaign is based, demanding freedom for zoo animals, stating: "The animals would, if they could, flee as I did, because a life in captivity is a life full of deprivation. It is up to you whether social, intelligent and wonderful creatures are to be freed from their chains and cages where ruthless people keep them."
In January 2009, Vienna's public prosecutor stated that DNA tests and questioning of witnesses had led to theories being discounted that Přiklopil had an accomplice. Kampusch has also maintained that her captor acted alone.
After reportedly "hundreds of requests for an interview" with the teenager, "with media outlets offering vast sums of money", Kampusch was interviewed by Austrian public broadcaster ORF. The interview was broadcast on 6 September 2006 with her approval. ORF did not pay for its interview, and said any proceeds from selling the interview to other channels would be forwarded to Kampusch. The interview was sold to more than 120 countries at a fee of 290 euros per minute. This money—estimates say some hundred thousand euros—will be donated to women in Africa and Mexico by Kampusch. Likewise she plans projects to help these women. Interest was enormous.
The newspaper Kronen Zeitung and NEWS magazine NEWS also interviewed Kampusch. The interview was published on 6 September 2006. Both press interviews were given in return for a package including housing support, a long-term job offer, and help with her education.
New developments challenged the Austrian government in February 2008. Politicians of the conservative Austrian People's Party (ÖVP) threatened to break up the newly formed SPÖ–ÖVP ("red–black") coalition government in April and May 2008. Kampusch said that she had lost confidence in Austrian justice. Revelations of mistakes in the interior ministry's investigation of her kidnapping came to light, as well as statements of a policeman which were repeatedly ignored in 1998.
On 16 June 2008, the newspaper The Times published an in-depth interview with Kampusch by Bojan Pancevski and Stefanie Marsh.
On 17 February 2010, the British TV channel Five broadcast an hour-long documentary about the case, including an exclusive interview with Kampusch, entitled Natascha: the Girl in the Cellar.
The book Girl in the Cellar: the Natascha Kampusch Story by Allan Hall and Michael Leidig appeared in November 2006, written in English. Kampusch's lawyer described the book as being both speculative and premature, and therefore planned to take legal action against it.
Together with two journalists, Kampusch's mother Brigitta Sirny wrote a book about the ordeal, Verzweifelte Jahre ("Desperate Years"). Kampusch appeared at the initial presentation of the book in August 2007, but did not want to be photographed or interviewed. Sirny writes that she did not have much contact with Kampusch after the escape because Kampusch was shielded from the outside world.
Kampusch wrote a book about her ordeal, 3096 Tage (3,096 Days), published in September 2010. It was adapted into a German movie, 3096, in 2013.
On August 12, 2016 Natascha Kampusch released her second book titled "10 years of freedom".
Kampusch established her own website containing personal information including pictures of herself on 5 December 2007. She had her own talk show on the new Austria TV channel, PULS 4, starting on 1 June 2008. The show had the working title of In Conversation with…Natascha Kampusch and eventually premiered as Natascha Kampusch trifft (Natascha Kampusch meets...). It ran for only three shows.
On 17 June 2010, German film-maker and director Bernd Eichinger announced that he was making a film based on Kampusch's captivity and wanted Kate Winslet to star in the film. Bernd Eichinger died on 24 January 2011; Kampusch attended his funeral.
On 2011, the Austrian film Michael, which has a plot that resembles the Natascha Kampusch case, was released.
On 15 April 2012, a German newspaper reported that a movie based on her autobiography with the same name was to be made, featuring Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Kampusch and Thure Lindhardt as Přiklopil. The movie 3096 Tage (3096 days) was directed by Sherry Hormann and was released on 28 February 2013.
The house where Kampusch was imprisoned was built by Přiklopil's grandfather, Oskar Přiklopil, after World War II. During the Cold War period, Oskar and his son Karl built a bomb shelter, thought to be the origin of Kampusch's dungeon. Přiklopil took over the house in 1984 following his grandmother's death.
Kampusch now owns the house in which she was imprisoned, saying, "I know it's grotesque – I must now pay for electricity, water and taxes on a house I never wanted to live in". It was reported that she claimed the house from Přiklopil's estate because she wanted to protect it from vandals and being torn down; she also noted that she has visited it since her escape. When the third anniversary of her escape approached, it was revealed she had become a regular visitor at the property and was cleaning it out possibly to move in herself.
In January 2010, Kampusch said she had retained the house because it was such a big part of her formative years, also stating that she would fill in the cellar if it is ever sold, adamant that it will never become a macabre museum to her lost adolescence. The cellar was indeed filled in, though Kampusch still owns the house.