Suspected Dutch kidnap brings back bad memories in Austria

The case of an Austrian man suspected of holding a Dutch family captive for nearly a decade has opened old wounds in Austria.

Suspected Dutch kidnap brings back bad memories in Austria
The farmhouse in Ruinerwold, Netherlands. Photo: Vincent Jannink/ANP/AFP

The case of an Austrian suspected of holding a Dutch family captive for nearly a decade has sparked memories of two other high-profile kidnappings in the Alpine country.

Following the detention earlier this week of Josef B in the Netherlands, where he is being investigated together with a Dutch man who allegedly held his six children in a secret room in a farmhouse, Austrian media have evoked two other past cases – those of Elisabeth Fritzl and Natascha Kampusch.

Fritzl was imprisoned and raped over 24 years by her father until 2008, while Kampusch was held for eight years by and unemployed telecoms engineer before she escaped in 2006.

“Bad memories of the Josef Fritzl case” and “Crimes that shock” were among the headlines since Wednesday pointing out similarities in the three cases.

Natascha Kampusch in front of a poster of a movie based on her story. Photo: Samuel Kubani/AFP

Kampusch, who has just published her third book, this one on fighting online hate postings after her ordeal, told a talk show by the tabloid Krone's TV channel that the Netherlands case opened old wounds.

“It's terrible. I'm not surprised because there are many cases, which we don't know about, also on other continents, where this is common too,” she said.

Kampusch was kidnapped in 1998 at age 10 by Wolfgang Priklopil on the way to school in Vienna and held in an underground room measuring less than six square metres.

She recounts being starved, beaten and sexually abused in the room under Priklopil's house until her escape. Priklopil committed suicide the day she escaped.

Since then, Kampusch has tried to live as normal a life as possible, reuniting with her family, making friends and finishing school, travelling and learning languages. For a short while she even had her own TV chat show.

Despite her ordeal, Kampusch has received hate mail, been shouted at and even attacked by an old woman in the street.

A lot of the antipathy towards her has been fuelled by the perception that she has become rich and by conspiracy theories swirling around over the past decade.

At her recent book publishing, she told the media she refused to be silenced by hate postings – as her kidnapper had tried to do by locking her away.

The softly-spoken Kampusch told AFP in 2016 that adjusting back to a free life had been “very difficult”.

“I had no foundation to build on, no socialization with other young people, with people of my own age… But I'm young and I have to swim with other people in the 21st century. I have to integrate myself in this century,” she said.

Josef Fritzl was locked up for life in 2009. Photo: Helmut Fohringer/AFP

Fritzl, on the other hand, who was 18 when her father Josef locked her in his purpose-built cellar in 1984, has disappeared from public view.

Her father, claiming she had run away from home, kept her in the cellar of the family home west of Vienna until 2008, raping her repeatedly resulting in the birth of seven children, one of whom died just a few days old.

The case came to light when one of the surviving children became ill and had to be hospitalized.

Josef Fritzl was jailed for life in 2009, being found guilty of murder for the baby's death as well as incest, sequestration, grievous assault and 3,000 instances of rape.

Elisabeth and her surviving children took on new identities and moved to an undisclosed location where they have lived quietly, with no details seeping out even in the Austrian tabloids.

Josef Fritzl, now 84, too has requested he be allowed to change his name. He remains in prison.