In the latest in true crime documentaries, Channel 5 has released the documentary The Girl in the Cellar: 8 Years Underground, which tells the story of Natascha Kampusch.
For those not familiar with Kampusch, she was abducted when she was 10 years old. News of her kidnapping dominated headlines for years, and many assumed that the little girl was dead - but eight years later, Kampusch emerged alive.
This is everything you need to know about Kampusch, and how you can watch the Channel 5 documentary.
Who is Natascha Kampusch - what happened to her?
Kampusch is an Austrian author and former talk show host who was abducted at the age of 10, on 2 March 1998, and held captive by her kidnapper Wolfgang Priklopil for more than eight years whilst he emotionally, physically and sexually abused her.
During her time with Priklopil, Kampusch was kept in a small cellar situated underneath Priklopil’s garage, the entrance to which was hidden behind a cupboard. The door was made of concrete and reinforced with steel, and the room itself was soundproofed, with no windows.
As time went on, Kampusch was slowly allowed to leave the small room and access other areas of the house, however she still spent the majority of her eight years in the cellar. Eventually, Priklopil allowed her to spend time outdoors with him in the garden, and to leave the house with him - but always emphasised that if she attempted to get help, he would kill her.
Kampusch said that Priklopil admired Adolf Hitler, stating: “He gave me little to eat, little clothes, humiliated me, let me do heavy work and shaved my head. He admired Adolf Hitler and wanted me to feel like the Nazi victims.”
She also kept a secret diary which was written on toilet paper which she hid from Priklopil. One entry is reported to read: “At least 60 blows in the face. 10 to 15 nausea-inducing fist blows to the head. One strike with the first with full weight to my right ear.”
Following her escape, Kampusch released a statement for the “journalists, reporters, and people of the world” in which she answered some questions about her time in captivity and about Priklopil.
She wrote that her room “was equipped with everything I would need and I made it my home” and that she and Priklopil had “furnished the room together”. She added that her daily life was “carefully regulated”.
“Mostly it started with a joint breakfast - he was anyway not working most of the time. There was housework, reading, television, talking, cooking. That’s all there was, year in and year out, and always tied in with the fear of being lonely,” she said.
Kampusch added: “On my relationship [with Priklopil]: he was not my master. I was just as strong as him, but he would, symbolically speaking, sometimes be my support and sometimes be the person who kicked me. But with me he had picked the wrong person, and we both knew that.”
How did she escape?
Kampusch was 18 years old when she escaped from Priklopil’s house. On 23 August 2006, at 12:53pm, Kampusch was cleaning out Priklopil’s car, a red BMW, when Priklopil received a phone call. Because Kampusch was vacuuming the vehicle, the noise caused Priklopil to step away to take the call.
Seizing the opportunity, Kampusch left the vacuum running and ran away whilst Priklopil was distracted. She ran through the neighbouring gardens and streets, asking passers-by for help, however it wasn’t until she reached the house of a neighbour known as Inge T that the police were called. The authorities arrived shortly afterwards, and Kampusch was escorted to a police station in Deutsch-Wagram.
DNA tests confirmed Kampusch’s identity, and she was reunited with her parents. Her parents had divorced during the years she was missing.
Speaking to Austrian TV at the time, her mother, Brigitta Sirny, said: “We fell into each other’s arms… I recognized her from her way of being, her face… I always thought she was alive.”
Her father, Ludwig Koch, said in an interview on Austrian television that he could not come to terms with the fact that his daughter was alive and had managed to escape.
He said: “I simply cannot describe it, it’s unbelievable. She greeted me just like she did when she used to return from the playground. It was no different. I recognised her by her nose, her hair. The computer image the police had constructed showing what she would look like eight years on was spot on.”
Who was Wolfgang Priklopil - what happened to him?
Priklopil was a communications technician who was in his 30s when he kidnapped Kampusch.
His friend and former business partner Ernst Holzapfel told the Austrian magazine News that Priklopil had wanted an “untouched virgin” whom he could marry, thus leading to the kidnapping of Kampusch.
Holzapfel said: “Wolfgang had been unhappy since boyhood because no girl had ever fallen in love with him. He was insecure about his looks, especially his nose which he thought was crooked. He once considered cosmetic surgery but in the end he decided to spend the money it would have cost for an operation on building a bunker beneath his home."
He said that Priklopil’s idea was “to kidnap a young girl and turn her into his dream woman”, and that before she escaped, he had been planning a “white wedding”.
Erich Zwettler, of the federal crime office, said that Priklopil had told Kampusch that the police wouldn’t find him alive if she ever managed to leave, stating that he would kill himself first - which is exactly what happened. Priklopil fled in his red BMW, which was later found in a Vienna car park.
He took his own life at 44, hours after Kampusch’s escape by jumping in front of a commuter train. He was found dead on the tracks.
Regarding Priklopil’s death, Kampusch said in her open letter: “In my eyes, his death was not necessary. It would not be the end of the world if he had simply been given a prison sentence. He has been a big part of my life, and as a result I do feel I am in a sort of mourning for him.”
What is Natascha Kampusch doing now?
Kampusch went on to become an author, TV host and activist who has since released two books about her ordeal - 3069 Tage (3069 Days) in 2010, which was adapted into a film of the same name in 2013, and 10 Years of Freedom in 2016.
She briefly had her own talk show on the Austrian TV channel PULS 4, called Natascha Kampusch meets, which aired in 2008 but only ran for three episodes.
Kampusch suffered from extreme online abuse following her ordeal with Priklopil, and released a book on the subject in 2019 called Cyberjealous.
She told Business Insider: “[After escaping Priklopil] online abuse became a part of my everyday life. There were times where I didn’t even go out anymore because the abuse was so bad. But I don’t want to hide. I never wanted to. This is why, in my book, I want to bring attention to the issue and tell people how cyberbullying can feel.”
According to her website, Kampusch “often listened to the radio” whilst she was imprisoned, and when the 2004 tsunami broke out near Sri Lanka, “she wanted to help”.
It says: “After her liberation, it took several years before this idea could be implemented. In 2011 the time had come. With the support of "Jugend Eine Welt", a charity run by the Salesians of Don Bosco, she [built] the "Natascha Kampusch Children’s Ward" children’s hospital in Bulathsinghala, in southern Sri Lanka.
“The clinic was financed purely from her own donations and the proceeds from the sale of her books. The clinic building has 25 inpatient beds and cares for 50,000 people per year.”
Where to watch Channel 5 documentary?
On Tuesday 17 January, Kampusch told the harrowing story of her abduction in the Channel 5 documentary called The Girl in the Cellar: 8 Years Underground.
The film originally aired on Tuesday evening at 10pm on Channel 5, however you can still watch it on the Channel 5 website. The documentary will be available to watch until 15 February.
Just head to the website and sign into your account to watch.