Jack Unterweger – The Beloved Writer Who Committed Serial Murder

Jack UnterwegerJack Unterweger

A native of Styria, in southeastern Austria, Jack Unterweger was the illegitimate son of an American soldier and an Austrian prostitute. Born in 1951, he was raised among hookers and pimps, growing up wild with an unpredictable temper.  He was a chronic truant by age nine and logged his first arrest at 16 for assaulting a prostitute.  Over the next nine years, he accumulated 16 convictions-mostly for sexual attacks on women-and spent all but 12 months of that time behind bars.  Briefly freed in 1976, he was charged with murder after he bludgeoned another streetwalker with an iron bar, then strangled her with her own brassiere.  In court, he admitted his crime, telling the judge, “l envisioned my mother in front of me, and I killed her.”

Sentenced to life imprisonment, Jack Unterweger followed the lead of certain American convicts, reinventing himself as an author of “important” literature.  Over the next 14 years, he produced various poems, plays, short stories, and an autobiography that made him the toast of Viennese café society.  Influential Austrians petitioned the government for his release, and the “rehabilitated” killer was paroled on May 23, 1990.  “That life is over now,” he told the press.  “Let’s get on with the new.”

Jack UnterwegerThe New Jack Unterweger

And so he did.  Overnight, Jack became a fixture on television talk shows, posing as a model of prison rehabilitation, enjoying most-favored-guest status at high-society cocktail parties.  Money follows celebrity, and Jack Unterweger sported designer clothes, drove a Ford Mustang with the license tag reading “Jack 1,” and acquired a blond girlfriend the same age as his last victim. Unfortunately, Jack’s “new life” was a charade.  Austrian police report that Unterweger killed at least six prostitutes within his first 12 months of freedom.

In June 1991, Jack got a chance to take his show on the road.  An Austrian magazine commissioned him to write about crime in Los Angeles.  Winging off to L.A. with his lover, Unterweger wangled several ride-alongs with local police.  He wrote a couple of articles, focusing primarily on Hollywood prostitutes, but Jack Unterweger also had a more personal interest in his subject.

The Killings of Jack Unterweger

The first victim, 35-year-old Shannon Exley, was found in Boyle Heights on June 20th.  Number two, 33-year-old Irene Rodriguez, was found in the same neighborhood 10 days later.  Peggy Booth, age 26, was found dead in a Malibu canyon on July 10th.  All three women were hookers, all three had been savagely beaten before they were strangled with their own bras, and all three bodies were sexually violated with tree branches. (Some accounts refer vaguely to a fourth, unnamed victim in San Diego, but no charges were ever filed in that case.)

Jack UnterwegerJack Unterweger was safely back in Austria by the time Interpol officials recognized descriptions of the L.A. killer’s MODUS OPERANDI in February of 1992.  An Austrian SWAT team raided Unterwegers Vienna apartment, but their suspect was already gone, embarked with his teenage lover on a jaunt that would take them through Switzerland, France, and Canada and back once more to the United States.

Along the way, he paused for telephone calls to the Austrian media, alternately taunting police and proclaiming his innocence.  A trail of credit card receipts led man-hunters to Miami, Florida, where Jack Unterweger was captured without resistance. (His girlfriend told police they had chosen Miami as their refuge because she “liked Don Johnson,” star of the Miami Vice TV series.)

Jack Unterweger Back In Jail

In custody once more, Jack Unterweger was accused of killing 11 prostitutes since his release from prison-six in Austria, three in Los Angeles, and two more in Czechoslovakia.  The Czechs didn’t want him, but Austria and the United States squabbled over jurisdiction, Jack’s homeland winning out when Austrian officials agreed to try Unterweger for five foreign murders as well as the six committed on their own soil.  Extradition was thereby approved, and Los Angeles authorities packed up their forensic evidence for shipment across the Atlantic.

Jack UnterwegerBack home in Graz, Jack Unterweger was indicted on 11 murder counts in August of 1992, but legal maneuvers delayed his trial for nearly two years.

The proceedings finally began on April 20, 1994, and lasted for two months, including testimony by FBI experts imported from Quantico, Virginia. Jack Unterweger seemed confident throughout the trial, never failing to smile for the cameras, but evidence was mounting up against him.  A bomb blast at the courthouse failed to disrupt jury deliberations on June 28th, and Unterweger was convicted that afternoon on nine murder counts and acquitted of two others.

The judge promptly sentenced him to life imprisonment in maximum security, but Jack Unterweger had the last laugh.  At 3:40 A.M. on June 29, jailers found him hanging from a curtain rod in his cell, the drawstring from his sweatpants looped around his neck.  Several audio cassettes were recovered from his cell, but their content has never been divulged.

credit murderpedia / Michael Newton – An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers