Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Sex Slaves: The Psychology of Mastery

The "Master"

Natascha Kampusch
Natascha Kampusch

Natascha was ten years old when Wolfgang Priklopil, 36, forced her into a white minibus and took her away on March 2, 1988, as she was on her way to school in Vienna. A massive search was undertaken, including a quick search of Priklopil's minibus that turned up nothing, but Natascha's whereabouts remained a mystery. Her parents were frantic.

Priklopil's dungeon door
Priklopil's dungeon door

Having planned this abduction carefully, Priklopil took the little girl to his home in Strasshof, half an hour from Vienna, where he lived with his parents. He already had a room prepared there, a windowless six by nine foot underground cell that he could enter from behind a cupboard in his garage. A ventilator pumped fresh air into the cell.

Wolfgang Priklopil
Wolfgang Priklopil

He wanted Natascha to call him "Master," although she denied that she ever had. Her dubious claim that as a child she was "equally strong" may indicate her inability to actually appreciate what had been done to her. Others who knew about her said that she had been severely beaten at times and had endured it. After six months of captivity, she was allowed increasingly more time outside the cell and in the house. She also read books and educated herself with public radio. For part of the time at least, despite death threats from Priklopil, she formed a plan of escape, noting exactly whom she should call once free. In addition, she had a plan to prevent the media from exploiting her — another lesson from radio.

Natascha Kampusch, older
Natascha Kampusch, older

By February 2006, Natascha was allowed to leave the house for brief periods, and on August 23, 2006, she finally escaped. Once her desertion became known, Priklopil threw himself in front of a commuter train to end his life. However, instead of being angry or afraid upon gaining her freedom as many such victims are, Natascha issued a press statement via psychologist Max Friedrich saying that her captor was "part of my life" and that being locked away that long had not deprived her of anything. She even found positive effects: she had never started to smoke or drink, and she'd been spared the ordeal of making "false friends." (This sounds like the kind of thing that captors try to persuade their victims to believe, rather than something she figured out on her own.) What Natascha told herself then might well evolve as she experiences her freedom.

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