Austrian Met Kidnapper's Captive Girl

The Associated Press
Wednesday, August 30, 2006; 2:34 PM

VIENNA, Austria -- A friend of the man who held a girl captive for more than eight years in an underground cell said Wednesday he met her at the kidnapper's home last month, where she was introduced as an acquaintance.

Ernst Holzapfel said he never noticed anything unusual about Wolfgang Priklopil's home or about the young woman staying there, and said she seemed friendly and happy.

"When I opened the door, he introduced the young woman to me as an acquaintance and didn't give any name," Holzapfel said. "I was very surprised and couldn't tell if she was his girlfriend or really just his acquaintance. Of course, at that point in time I didn't know it was Natascha Kampusch."

Kampusch, who was 10 when she was abducted on a Vienna street in 1998, escaped last week while Priklopil stepped away to talk on his cell phone. Priklopil committed suicide hours after her escape by throwing himself in front of a train.

Austrian investigators resumed questioning the 18-year-old Kampusch at a secret location Wednesday, focusing on what happened on the day she was kidnapped, Gerhard Lang of the Federal Criminal Investigations Bureau told the Austria Press Agency.

Police have said they would aim to respect Kampusch's privacy, indicating that whatever she told them would not be relayed to the media in detail, if at all.

"Everything will happen the way she wants it to," police spokesman Armin Halm said.

Police on Tuesday searched Priklopil's house once more to make sure there were not other secret, windowless rooms _ or victims. Priklopil's DNA turned up nothing in a nationwide criminal database, showing he was not sought in any other missing person cases, investigators said.

Holzapfel, who met Priklopil in the 1980s and later worked with him in the '90s, said Priklopil called him and asked to be picked up from a shopping center, saying it was an emergency. They drove to another Vienna location, and Priklopil told his friend he had fled a police checkpoint because he was drunk, Holzapfel said.

"I tried to calm him down by speaking mostly about professional things," Holzapfel said. He said he thought Priklopil would turn himself in to police, but then found out he was dead. "I'm shocked," he said.

Neighbors said Tuesday they had seen Kampusch riding with her captor in his car, and walking around his garden on several occasions in the past few months.

"She looked friendly, but pale," said Josef Jantschek, according to state broadcaster ORF. He said he thought it was strange that the girl had always entered the house through the garage, where police have since uncovered a flight of hidden stairs that led to her cell.

Vienna lawyer Guenter Harrich said he met Tuesday with Kampusch about her rights to financial assistance, including the possibility of her getting the proceeds from a sale of the house where she was confined.

Austria's Justice Ministry said it planned to toughen the penalty for kidnappers who imprison their victims. Had Priklopil not committed suicide, he would have faced a maximum sentence of 10 years _ only 18 months longer than Kampusch was held.

On Monday, Kampusch broke her silence with a statement saying she mourned for the man who abducted her and did not feel she had missed out on much during her captivity.

In her statement, Kampusch said she understood the curiosity about what she endured and how she is faring, but she pleaded: "Please leave me alone for the coming while."

"Everyone always wants to ask me intimate questions. That's nobody's business," she said. "Maybe I'll tell a therapist one day or someone when I feel the need to. Or maybe never. The intimacy only belongs to me."

© 2006 The Associated Press