Kidnapped woman thought she would die, then she complimented her captor's orchids

A kidnapped Austrian triathlete used her captor's flowers to change his mind.

August 1, 2019, 9:37 AM

BERLIN -- An afternoon training session took a horrifying turn for Austrian triathlete Nathalie Birli.

While riding her bicycle on a road in Kumberg in southern Austria last week, she was hit by a car and kidnapped, according to Graz police spokesman Fritz Grundnig. Her abductor tied her with duct tape and took her to a remote house where she was held for hours before she cleverly convinced him to release her.

It was supposed to be an average Tuesday afternoon. The 27-year-old was training on her bicycle until a car slammed into her, knocking her over. During the fall, she fractured her arm. This didn’t stop the driver from beating her with a stick and tossing her into the back seat, The Associated Press reported.

“From them on, I was scared to death," Birli told Austrian news network RTL during an on-camera interview from the Graz hospital on Wednesday where she is being treated for an arm injury. “I thought he would take me somewhere in the woods and bury me there.”

She remembers being dragged through a stairwell and locked in a closet before she lost consciousness, she told the network. When she awoke, she was naked and tied to an armchair, Austrian paper Kronen Zeitung reported.

PHOTO: Police in Vienna, Austria on 29 May 2019.
Police in Vienna, Austria on 29 May 2019.
NurPhoto via Getty Images, FILE

“He was full of hatred,” she said. “He blindfolded me, forced me to drink wine and schnapps and he always held a knife in his hand."

Her captor also held her nose and mouth at one point to suffocate her but then forced her into a bathtub in what she said was an attempt to drown her.

Three times he pressed the triathlete under water. She described it as “a taste, so to speak, of what would happen if I don't do what he tells me to do,” she told RTL.

Birli had given birth to her first child just fourteen weeks ago.

"I was terribly afraid for my little son because I believed that he would have to grow up without a mother,” she told RTL.

But then she made a critical observation. She noticed her attacker’s home was filled with orchids and complimented them. Immediately, his tone changed, she said.

“All of a sudden, the attacker was nice to me,” Birli told Kronen Zeitung. He told her that he was a gardener and started talking about his difficult life which included the death of his father, an alcoholic mother and girlfriends who had betrayed him, the AP reported.

She told RTL that she credits her sports psychology courses for teaching her to always try to understand where people are coming from and to express empathy.

Seeing an opportunity, Birli suggested they pretend what he had done was “an accident” if he would simply let her go. He agreed, and even went as far as driving her home, although she told RTL that he made one stop on the way, which once again filled her with dread. However, he simply wanted to show her the property he had inherited from his grandparents.

PHOTO: A picture taken on March 21, 2019 shows a phalaenopsis hybrid orchid on display at the Museum and Library of Hungarian Agriculture during the "Orchids of Asia" exhibition in Budapest.
A picture taken on March 21, 2019 shows a phalaenopsis hybrid orchid on display at the Museum and Library of Hungarian Agriculture during the "Orchids of Asia" exhibition in Budapest.
AFP/Getty Images, FILE

Once he dropped her off at home, she locked the doors and called her boyfriend. Her captor’s arrest followed the next morning when Austria’s Cobra special forces stormed the man’s house.

Birli said her captor told her she had been a random victim. She said he told her his girlfriend had betrayed him and he wanted to vent his anger “apparently through violence,” RTL reported.

On her Facebook page last Wednesday, she thanked those who had gone out looking for her and said the experienced had been like something out of a “bad movie.”