VIENNA – It was just another order by the man who had enslaved her for eight years, this time to vacuum his car. But Natascha Kampusch glimpsed a tiny window of opportunity — then bolted to freedom while her abductor was busy with a cell phone call.
As investigators interviewed the 18-year-old about her harrowing ordeal, some neighbors questioned Friday whether they could have done more to end it earlier.
Stefan Freiberger, a retiree in his 60s, recalled his daughter and a friend telling him that the man now believed to have abducted Kampusch had exposed himself a few years ago as the two girls rode their bikes past the back of his house. Freiberger said he contemplated going to the police about the man, Wolfgang Priklopil — but didn't.
Priklopil's house in this semi-rural community — where children play freely in the streets and doors are left open — had a menacing aura, Freiberger said.
"Whenever I went by, everything was closed," he told The Associated Press, recalling a house characterized by shuttered windows, closed gates and a well-manicured lawn.
Priklopil, 44, killed himself Wednesday by jumping in front of a Vienna commuter train.
Police have said they are looking for a possible accomplice based on the testimony eight years ago of a 12-year-old girl who claimed to have seen two people in a white van stop and seize Natascha.
Priklopil's suicide came just a few hours after Kampusch escaped and frantically pleaded for help at a neighbor's door.
Erich Zwettler, the head of Austria's federal police, told reporters that Kampusch had taken advantage of an unguarded moment while her abductor stepped away to talk on his cell phone.
Expressing relief and incredulity that Kampusch was found alive, Interior Minister Liese Prokop told reporters: "We were only looking for a corpse."
Kampusch, whose identity was confirmed through DNA testing, was at an undisclosed location Friday for police and psychologist questioning, and her relatives declined to talk to the media.
Some Austrian newspapers claimed to have interviewed Kampusch on Friday. The Kronen Zeitung tabloid quoted Kampusch as saying "He dragged me into his car and said, 'Stay quiet, lie down, or something bad will happen to you."'
The daily also said she "slept well" during her first night in freedom and described her breakfast, shared with police — croissants, orange juice, salty rolls, butter, chocolate spread, marmalade and muesli.
Police had contact with her abductor about three months after Kampusch disappeared but he had a "sturdy alibi" at the time, Nikolaus Koch, a lead investigator, said on Austrian television.
Photos released by police of the hiding place in his house where the young woman said she was kept showed a small, cluttered room with narrow concrete stairs leading down to it from an entrance so small it would have to be crawled through. Another photo showed a metal hatch that sealed the windowless, underground room.
Authorities said there was a bed and a toilet in the cramped space. Images on TV showed a small television in the room, which also had a sink and was littered with piles of books. Police said the woman was occasionally allowed to watch videos.
Local police official Adolf Brenner said Kampusch appeared in relatively good spirits, saying her "fairly large vocabulary" suggested she might even have been schooled by her captor.
It was unclear how much of her time the young woman spent in confinement, with some neighbors suggesting she was allowed to accompany Priklopil at least briefly by the time she was in her teens.
Retiree Maria Rath remembered seeing a young woman in his car a few years ago. "Finally he found a girlfriend," the daily Kleine Zeitung quoted her as saying.
She did not see the young woman again until Wednesday.
"When I came home, there was police everywhere suddenly," she said. "And there was this same woman in the middle, wearing a red dress."