Her red hair swept under a headscarf and eyes betraying emotions of suffering and quiet defiance, Natascha Kampusch, the teenager who was held prisoner in an underground cell for eight years, appeared on Austrian television last night and told how she had imagined cutting her captor's head off with an axe to escape her ordeal.
It was the moment that Austria and much of the rest of the world had been waiting for. Ever since Natascha, 18, made her dramatic escape from her kidnapper, a 44-year-old communications technician on 23 August, offers for an interview with her had risen to sums totalling more than a million euros.
Last night, Natascha agreed to break her two-week attempt to escape the media by giving her first televised account of her ordeal. Austrian viewers witnessed an extraordinarily composed young woman. Wearing a purple headscarf and blouse, she coughed nervously but shed not a tear during her 45-minute interview, despite the obvious trauma of her experiences.
Natascha was only 10 years old when her abductor, Wolfgang Priklopil, grabbed her off a Vienna street as she walked to school and bundled her into the back of a builder's van. She spent most of the next eight and a half years confined beneath the garage of her kidnapper's suburban home in a converted yet windowless car-inspection pit. It was equipped with nothing more than a bunk bed, a bookshelf, television and a radio.
She finally managed to escape while Priklopil was making a phone call, and staggered, terrified, into a neighbour's front garden where she was found, looking thin and ghostly white because of the years she had spent underground. Priklopil committed suicide hours after her escape by throwing himself under an express train.
Yesterday, Natascha said in interviews carried by Austria's ORF television channel and two Vienna newspapers: "I had bad thoughts. Sometimes I dreamt of chopping his head off, had I possessed an axe." She added: "I kept thinking: I was certainly not born to be locked up and have my life ruined. I was in despair over this injustice. I always felt like a poor battery hen on a chicken farm. You have all probably seen my dungeon on television, you know how small it was, it was desperate."
Natascha revealed details about her life with Priklopil, whom she described as somebody who "suffered heavily from paranoia and was chronically mistrustful". She feared that any attempt to escape would have meant that she would have been permanently confined to her cell and never let out.
"I was always working towards a point when the time would be right, but I felt I could risk nothing, particularly an escape attempt."
A major police hunt for Natascha failed to find her. She said that, after seeing television reports ofmechanical diggers being used to scour gravel pits for her body, she completely lost hope: "I was convinced nobody would come looking for me and that I would never be found. I was locked up. I could never understand why I was being locked up for doing nothing. Normally only criminals are put in prison."
She recalled how she was bundled into the back of Priklopil's van in March 1998, while walking to school: "I thought he was going to kill me," she said. She was taken to his house in the Vienna suburb of Strasshof and immediately put in a pitch-dark pit under his garage. "He only brought a light after half an hour. I was allowed upstairs to wash after six months. For the first two years, I heard no radio. I got no news."
Describing the humdrum existence she later developed with her captor, she said that she was allowed to go upstairs on most days for a few hours. "I did a few things with him, just everyday things, but immediately afterwards I was sent back down. When he was away during the day I had to sleep and live down there. It was particularly bad when he had visitors or when his mother came for the weekend. I developed feelings of claustrophobia."
Natascha said that, on the rare occasions when she accompanied her abductor on shopping expeditions, she had tried desperately to make eye contact with people and signal to them that she needed help. No one responded. Once, when she tried to leap out of Priklopil's car, he grabbed her by the arm and drove away at breakneck speed to avoid a recurrence.
Her escape, which began while she was vacuuming the inside of Priklopil's BMW parked outside his garage on 23 August, was unplanned. "It was completely spontaneous. When I saw him telephoning, I ran out of the garden gate and into some allotments nearby and started talking to people. But they just shrugged their shoulders and walked past. So I started jumping the fences of the gardens in total panic - just like in an action film."
Finally, Natascha saw a neighbour's house with a ground-floor window open. She heard the sound of a woman working in the kitchen. "I told the woman to call the police. I was terrified he was going to find me and kill me," she said.
Numerous media and police reports published in the aftermath of Natascha's escape claimed that she had been sexually abused by her abductor. In a letter distributed to the press last week, Natascha said that Priklopil had lavished care and attention her but that she had also been metaphorically "trampled underfoot" by him. In the interviews that were given to Austrian television and two Viennese publications yesterday, Natascha made a point of refusing to discuss intimate details of her personal relationship with her captor. "I was faced with the alternatives of being on my own or with him, and neither was particularly exciting."
Of Priklopil's suicide, she said: "It was simply a waste. Nobody should kill themselves. He could have given me and the police so much information. But, basically, I don't want to talk about Mr Priklopil any longer."
Natascha's confident account of her ordeal and her repeated references to her abductor as a "criminal" were expected to cast doubt on psychologists' claims that she had developed "Stockholm syndrome". The condition results in long-term hostages developing feelings of sympathy for their kidnappers.
Her interview still left one of the key questions concerning her case unanswered - how her abduction and imprisonment beneath a house in a middle-class commuter town on the outskirts of Vienna could have gone unnoticed for so long.
Natascha also gave a notion of her future plans, which are likely to be heavily influenced by the €1.2m (£815,000) she is expected to obtain in interview fees and compensation from the criminal injuries compensation board. "I would like to start a foundation which helps people who do not get enough to eat."Reuse content