Austrian Kidnapper in 'Rage' Before Suicide

The man who held a girl captive for more than eight years in Austria spent some of his last hours in a panicked state, driving around Vienna with a friend, before he committed suicide, the friend said Wednesday.

Police asked Ernst Holzapfel later that day to identify a photograph of Wolfgang Priklopil, who had thrown himself beneath a commuter train after his hostage, Natascha Kampusch, escaped on Aug. 23.

"It was terrible for me," Holzapfel said in comments quoted by Austrian radio. "At the police station, I then had to identify Mr. Priklopil in the photo after the suicide."

Hours earlier, a panicked Priklopil had called him and asked to be picked up from a shopping center, saying it was an emergency, Holzapfel said. They drove to another Vienna location, and Priklopil told his friend he had fled a police checkpoint because he was drunk, Holzapfel said.

Holzapfel -- who met Priklopil in the 1980s and worked with him in the 90s -- said he knew nothing about Kampusch's escape, after she was imprisoned for eight years in Priklopil's tidy, suburban home just north of the Austrian capital. Kampusch, who was 10 when she was snatched off a Vienna street, was kept in a cramped, windowless, basement cell.

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

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In the time he'd known Priklopil, Holzapfel said he never noticed anything unusual about his friend's home in the Strasshof suburb, or about the young woman staying there. He said he met Kampusch there last month, and that 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 was quoted by APA as saying.

"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," he was quoted as saying.

Austrian investigators on Wednesday also resumed questioning the 18-year-old Kampusch at a secret location, focusing on what happened on March 2, 1998 -- the day she was kidnapped -- Gerhard Lang of the Federal Criminal Investigations Bureau told APA.

Police have said they would aim to respect Kampusch's privacy, indicating that whatever Kampusch 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.

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.

Priklopil's DNA turned up nothing in a nationwide criminal database, showing he was not sought in any other missing person cases, investigators said.

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.

Police images of the cell where Kampusch was kept showed it contained books, clothes, a television, a bed, a toilet and a sink, among other things. Investigators say she was allowed to listen to radio and watch videos, and with the help of a book taught herself how to knit.

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.