August 25, 2006

Austrian kidnapper built cell long before abduction

By Angelika Gruber

STRASSHOF, Austria (Reuters) - Wolfgang Priklopil built the
underground prison where he held Natascha Kampush captive a
long time before he abducted the 10-year-old, a neighbor
recalled on Friday.

"He started building the workshop pit maybe a year or half
a year before the kidnapping," said the neighbor in the sedate
Austrian village of Strasshof, some 25 km (15 miles) northeast
of Vienna.

"It really looks like he planned this well in advance.

Underneath the garage of Priklopil's two-storey house is a
six-sq-meter cell in which he had locked up Natascha, who
escaped on Wednesday after eight years as his captive.

The vault-like entrance to the girl's pen had been hidden
in a workshop pit -- a recess in the floor used to repair cars
from beneath.

"He did everything himself and often worked late into the
night," the neighbor added. "He was very assiduous."

He and other residents of the village of 7,000 struggled to
grasp how they could have overlooked a kidnapper's imprisonment
of a girl in their midst for eight long years.

"How can one person be so deceived by another one?" asked
one man, who lived across the street from Priklopil, declining
to give his name. "I never thought something like this could
happen in our neighborhood," he said as he walked his dog.

Only a few people were curious enough on Friday to go to
the cordoned-off street to try to catch a glimpse of the
communications technician's house tucked behind a cultivated
hedge and neat fence.

Another resident in the street, a woman in her 50s,
remembered Priklopil, 44, as a quiet and unobtrusive man.

"We never really had contact," she said, who like other
residents would not give her name. "He always worked and was
very inconspicuous."

Abducted in 1998, Kampusch stumbled into a neighbor's yard
on Wednesday, pleading him to call police -- and propelling one
of Austria's most notorious, mysterious crimes back into the

Priklopil, suspected of having snatched the girl on her way
to school, committed suicide on Wednesday after Kampusch's
escape triggered a major manhunt.

Strasshof is a mixture of family homes and summer retreats
for pensioners, and a pensioner from a nearby summer house said
she was shaken by the thought that she had walked so many times
past the house where Kampusch languished for so long.

"I had to think of this all the time over the past few
days," she said. "Eight years the girl was locked up. No one
noticed anything."