16 August 1950
|Died||29 June 1994 (aged 43)|
Graz-Karlau Prison, Graz, Styria, Austria
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
|Occupation(s)||Serial killer; journalist, playwright, waiter|
|Criminal penalty||Life imprisonment|
Span of crimes
|1974; 1990 – 1992|
|Country||Austria, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, United States|
|27 February 1992|
Johann "Jack" Unterweger (16 August 1950 – 29 June 1994) was an Austrian serial killer who committed murder in several countries – Austria, West Germany, Czechoslovakia, and the United States. Initially convicted in 1974 of a single murder, Unterweger began to write extensively while in prison. His work gained the attention of the Austrian literary elite, who took it as evidence that he had been rehabilitated.
After significant lobbying, Unterweger was released on parole in 1990. Upon his release, he became a minor celebrity and worked as a playwright and journalist, but within months he resumed killing women. Unterweger hanged himself in prison after being convicted of nine more murders in June 1994.
Jack Unterweger was born August 16, 1950, in Judenburg, Styria, Austria, to Theresia Unterweger, a Viennese barmaid and waitress, and Jack Becker, an American soldier whom she had met in Trieste, Italy. Some sources describe his mother as a sex worker. Unterweger's mother was jailed for fraud while pregnant but was released and travelled to Graz, where he was born. After his mother was arrested again in 1953, Unterweger was sent to Carinthia to live with his grandfather, who was known as a "rough fellow" who regularly used his grandson to help him steal farm animals.
Unterweger was in and out of prison for much of his youth. He worked as a waiter but between 1966 and 1974 he was convicted sixteen times, mostly for theft-related offences, but also for pimping and sexual assault on a sex worker; he spent most of those eight years in jail.
First murder conviction, imprisonment and release
In 1974, Unterweger murdered 18-year-old West German national Margaret Schäfer by strangling her with her own bra, for which he was convicted and sentenced to life in prison in 1976. While incarcerated he wrote short stories, poems, plays, and an autobiography, Purgatory or The Trip to Prison – Report of a Guilty Man, that later served as the basis for a documentary. Several figures, including Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, have since questioned whether Unterweger actually wrote Purgatory.
In 1985, a campaign to pardon and release Unterweger from prison commenced. Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschläger (SPÖ/ÖVP) refused the petition when presented to him, citing the court-mandated minimum of fifteen years in prison. Writers, artists, journalists and politicians agitated for a pardon, including Jelinek and German novelist Günter Grass; along with the editor of the magazine Manuskripte, Alfred Kolleritsch.
Unterweger was released on 23 May 1990, after the required minimum fifteen years of his life term. Upon his release, Purgatory was taught in Austrian schools and his stories for children were performed on Austrian radio. Unterweger himself hosted television programmes which discussed criminal rehabilitation and worked as a journalist for the public broadcaster ORF, where he reported on stories concerning the very murders for which he was later found guilty.
Law enforcement later discovered that Unterweger killed a young woman named Blanka Bočková in Czechoslovakia, and seven more in Austria in 1990—Brunhilde Masser, aged 39; Heidi Hammerer, aged 31; Elfriede Schrempf, aged 35; Silvia Zagler, aged 23; Sabine Moitzl, aged 25; Karin Eroglu-Sladky, aged 25; Regina Prem, aged 32, all in the first year after his release, and all garroted with their bras.
In 1991, Unterweger was hired by an Austrian magazine to write about crime in Los Angeles and the differences between U.S. and European attitudes to prostitution. He met local police, even going so far as to participate in a ride-along of the city's red light districts. During Unterweger's time in Los Angeles, three sex workers: Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Peggy Booth, were beaten, sexually assaulted with tree branches, and strangled with their own bras.
Back in Austria, Unterweger was suggested as a suspect for the sex worker murders. In the absence of other suspects, police took a serious look at Unterweger and kept him under surveillance until he went to the US, ostensibly as a reporter; the police observed nothing to connect him with the killings.
Arrest and death
Police in Graz eventually gathered enough evidence to arrest Unterweger, but he had fled by the time they entered his home. After law enforcement agencies chased him and his girlfriend, Bianca Mrak, through Switzerland, France, and the US, he was finally arrested by US Marshals in Miami, Florida, on 27 February 1992. While a fugitive, he had called the Austrian media to try to convince them of his innocence.
Unterweger was extradited back to Austria on 27 May 1992 and charged with eleven murders, including one in Prague and three in Los Angeles. The jury found him guilty of nine murders by a 6:2 majority, sufficient for a conviction under Austrian law at the time. Based on psychiatric examination, Austrian psychiatrist Dr. Reinhard Haller diagnosed Unterweger with narcissistic personality disorder and presented his findings to the court on 20 June 1994. On 29 June, Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.
That night, Unterweger committed suicide at Graz-Karlau Prison by hanging himself with a rope made from shoelaces and a cord from the trousers of a track suit, using the same knot that was found on all the strangled sex workers.
Prior to his death, Unterweger had asserted his intention to seek an appeal, and therefore, under Austrian law, his guilty verdict was not considered legally binding after his death, as it has not been reviewed and confirmed by the court.
- ^ "Information researched and summarized by Chelsea Newton & Tiffany Waller | Department of Psychology | Radford University | Radford, VA 24142-6946" (PDF).
- ^ Newton, Michael (1990). Hunting Humans: An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers. Loompanics Unlimited. ISBN 978-1559500265.
- ^ a b Leake, John (13 November 2007). Entering Hades: The Double Life of a Serial Killer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 37–38. ISBN 9781429996334.
- ^ Hindmarsh, Richard (2010). Genetic Suspects: Global Governance of Forensic DNA Profiling and Databasing. Cambridge University Press. p. 153. ISBN 9780521519434.
- ^ "Die spektakulärsten Kriminalfälle". Kabel 1. 9 August 2015.
- ^ Milhorn, Thomas H. (2004). Crime: Computer Viruses to Twin Towers. Universal-Publishers. p. 464. ISBN 9781581124897.
- ^ "Murderer's 'final freedom': The bizarre life of Jack Unterweger, poet". The Independent. 3 July 1994. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- ^ Debruge, Peter (13 August 2015). "Locarno Film Review: 'Jack'". Variety. Retrieved 4 February 2017.
- ^ "JACK. Gier frisst Schönheiten, Episode 3". NDR. Retrieved 16 April 2022.
- ^ Leake 2007, p. 40.
- ^ a b c MacFarlane, Robert (13 January 2008). "A Murderous Talent". The New York Times.
- ^ a b Connolly, Kate (30 June 2009). "John Malkovich brings serial killer Jack Unterweger back to life on Vienna stage". The Guardian.
- ^ Legare, Michael Joseph (13 January 2016). When Things Seem Odd: Polly and the Internal Guardian. FriesenPress. ISBN 9781460277539.
- ^ a b c d e f g h Atkinson, Rick (3 August 1994). "Killer Prose". The Washington Post. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
- ^ Czech language article about the victim from Prague
- ^ a b Malnic, Eric (30 June 1994). "Austrian Slayer of L.A. Prostitutes Kills Self". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035.
- ^ Haller, Reinhard (1999). "Malignant Narcissism and Sexual Homicide - exemplified by the Jack Unterweger case". Archiv für Kriminologie. 204 (1–2): 1–11. PMID 10489586. S2CID 32370723. Retrieved 6 August 2018.
- ^ Leake 2007, p. 297.
- ^ Leake 2007, p. 309.
- ^ Leake 2007, p. 314.
- 1950 births
- 1994 suicides
- 20th-century criminals
- 20th-century Austrian dramatists and playwrights
- 20th-century Austrian male writers
- Austrian autobiographers
- Austrian male dramatists and playwrights
- Austrian people convicted of murder
- Austrian people of American descent
- Austrian people who died in prison custody
- Austrian prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment
- Austrian rapists
- Austrian serial killers
- Crimes against sex workers
- Criminals from Los Angeles
- Male serial killers
- People convicted of murder by Austria
- People from Judenburg
- People with narcissistic personality disorder
- Prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment by Austria
- Prisoners who died in Austrian detention
- Serial killers who committed suicide in prison custody
- Suicides by hanging in Austria
- Violence against women in Europe
- Violence against women in the United States