CZECH REPUBLIC:Woman pretended to be both a boy and a girl in child abuse case, writes Daniel McLaughlin
Clutching a colouring book and a teddy bear, little Barbora Skrlova looked like a tired and terrified child when she was arrested at Prague airport this month.
But then, Ms Skrlova is well practised at looking far younger than her 33 years.
She was flown home after being found in the Arctic Norwegian city of Tromso, her breasts bound and head shaved, pretending to be a 13-year-old boy called Adam. When last seen in her native Czech Republic, she was disguised as a 13-year-old girl called Anna.
Now she is being questioned by police about her role in a bizarre case which has enthralled and appalled the Czech Republic, involving alleged child abuse and an obscure religious cult and its possible involvement in child pornography.
The story came to light last May, when a video monitor being used by parents to keep an eye on their child picked up a signal from a similar device in a nearby house and showed an image of a small naked boy tied up on the bare floor of a windowless room.
When police searched the home of Klara and Katerina Mauerova in the sleepy town of Kurim, they found Klara's eight- year old son Ondrej locked in a pantry, bound with duct tape, badly dehydrated and watched over by the video camera that had revealed his plight.
Investigators believed Ondrej had been mistreated for at least six months and he was taken into care with his brother and a girl called Anna.
What was a troubling case of child abuse transfixed the nation, however, when Anna disappeared from the children's home, sparking a major search.
Then came the revelation that "Anna" was actually the diminutive Ms Skrlova, a friend of the Mauerova sisters who, like them, belonged to a breakaway faction of the Grail Movement, an organisation inspired by German mystic Oskar Ernst Bernhardt.
Czech investigators said the sect - which is led by Ms Skrlova's father - seemed to be grooming her to become an "idol" for worship by its followers.
The Czech police lost track of her until this month, when they were contacted by colleagues in Norway who had been searching for a boy called Adam whom they feared was being sexually abused.
He had been placed in an Oslo children's home but fled in December, reportedly dashing to a waiting car while taking a walk.
When police finally tracked him down in a hotel in Tromso, 1,100 miles north of Oslo, he told them: "I am not Adam, I am Barbora Skrlova."
Questioned about how her Oslo school failed for three months to realise that "Adam" was a woman, head teacher Ingjerd Eriksen said staff were baffled by his strange appearance and behaviour but had not known whether to believe his stories.
"Adam said that he was sold to paedophiles by his father and that he was sexually abused by various adults," Ms Eriksen told a Czech newspaper.
She said the school finally contacted police after "Adam" had drawn a picture showing children with "bloody wounds on their hands and legs" being threatened by a man.
Police found that Ms Skrlova had assumed the identity of Adam, the 13-year-old son of Czech theatre director Martin Fahrner. While the real Adam was at home in the Czech Republic, Ms Skrlova pretended to be him and lived with his father in Oslo.
Last year, a Czech actor linked with the cult allegedly helped legally register Skrlova as young "Anna".
Czechs are now intrigued and a little fearful about what Ms Skrlova may reveal about the Grail cult and whether its members were involved in child abuse and pornography.
"How many dangerous deviants are living in the population, about whose excesses we have no idea?" commentator Michal Musil asked in popular Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes.
Experts say Ms Skrlova could be mentally ill, severely traumatised or just desperate not to testify against friends and relatives.
Mr Fahrner told Scandinavian media that Ms Skrlova was very scared, but he would not say why. "We never planned to do anything silly, never wanted to deceive anyone," he said. "What happened was an emergency solution."