Copies of his books flew off the shelves – but the man who’d written them was nothing more than a killer.
Jack Unterweger couldn’t be a serial killer. It was impossible.
He was a narcissist. And if he’d really strangled 11 – or possibly more – prostitutes to death, he wouldn’t have been able to keep quiet.
He’d have shown off. Or so the lawyer at his 1992 trial argued.
For jurors, it wasn’t hard to see Jack Unterweger as a man who loved himself.
He’d arranged his hair carefully, stylishly. He wore an expensive designer suit. And before the trial began, he’d posed for photographers outside court and smiled for them.
It was almost as if Jack Unterweger enjoyed the attention.
Jack was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1950. And, from a young age, those closest to him failed to give him the thing he loved most – attention.
His mother was just a teenager. His father an American soldier who’d been posted in Austria.
But Jack never knew his dad. His parents only had a fleeting romance.
And when was still young, his mum was jailed for theft.
Jack Unterweger went to live with his grandmother and alcoholic grandfather.
When his mother was released from prison a couple of years later, she turned to prostitution. His aunt was also a prostitute, walking the streets after dark, looking for trade.
Before long, Jack was committing petty crimes – theft at first.
Then, when he was 16, he beat up a prostitute.
Ten years later, in 1976, he killed one.
Her name was Margret Schafer. She was just 18.
Jack lured her to a quiet woodland area and, there, he strangled her to death with her own bra.
He was soon caught, and readily admitted his crime.
‘I envisaged my mother in front of me and I killed Margret,’ he told police.
Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison for the brutal murder.
But prison would open doors no-one could have imagined for Jack Unterweger.
Before entering his cell, he’d been barely literate. But, once inside, he decided to educate himself.
He taught himself to read and write.
Soon, he was writing his own poetry and plays.
Then came an autobiography.
It was called Purgatory, and detailed Jack’s early life up until the time he murdered Margret Schafer.
He claimed in the book he’d killed her during a ‘black-out rage’. That he hadn’t been responsible for his actions.
Incredibly, the book found a publisher.
Even more incredibly, it became a bestseller. Within a few years, it had been made into a film.
Soon, Austrian writers were petitioning the government to release Unterweger.
One of those writers was the Nobel-prize winner Elfriede Jelinek.
‘The quality with which he described his childhood made a great impression on me,’ she said.
She wasn’t alone in thinking that Jack Unterweger was a reformed man.
The Austrian government obviously agreed and Unterweger was released from prison in 1990, after serving 14 years.
Now he was mixing with writers, journalists and film-makers.
He was earning money from his book, too. Before long, he’d started splashing out on clothes and cars.
Shortly after his release, he was given a government grant to produce a play he’d written in prison called Scream of Fear.
Unterweger toured the country with it.
However, no-one seemed to notice that wherever Jack Unterweger went, prostitutes were found strangled with their own bras. Six of them in total.
Two years later, Unterweger was writing for an Austrian magazine. And he had an exciting assignment…
He’d travel to Los Angeles, investigate the city’s problems with prostitution. The City of Lost Angels.
At the start of June that year, he checked into LA’s Hotel Cecil, where he’d stay for the next five weeks.
During his visit, he interviewed police officers and sex workers. And carried on murdering.
Shannon Exley was 35. Her body was found dumped by a motorway. She was a prostitute, and she’d been strangled with her own bra.
Irene Rodriguez was 33. She was also a prostitute. Her body was found at a truck stop. She too had been strangled with her bra.
And Peggy Jean Booth was just 26. A prostitute. Found in a canyon outside Malibu…strangled with her own bra.
Initially, LA police didn’t make the connection between the killings and the sharply dressed writer-journalist from Austria.
And after five weeks Unterweger boarded a flight home to Vienna.
However, by then, Austrian police were onto him. They contacted police in LA.
They found prostitutes had been murdered there, too. All strangled with their bras.
Unterweger was arrested and charged with 11 murders, although investigators believed he may have killed more.
While Unterweger had admitted to the murder of Margret back in 1976, this time he denied any wrongdoing.
His lawyer argued that Unterweger was a narcissist, therefore he wouldn’t have been able to keep quiet about being a serial killer.
Except, in a way, he had bragged about being a murderer…
When the bodies of Shannon, Irene and Peggy had turned up in LA, Unterweger had called up one of his contacts at the Los Angeles Police Department.
‘What are you doing about this string of murders?’ he’d asked.
To the LA Police, he must have just seemed like a probing journalist asking awkward questions.
In fact, Unterweger was probably delighted. He was getting away with murder right under the noses of the police.
He may have been a narcissist. But he was also a cruel, vindictive killer who preyed on society’s most vulnerable women.
He was found guilty of nine of the 11 charges of murder.
That night in June 1994, when he was taken to his prison cell, Unterweger killed himself.
Some say he did it with a writer’s flourish. He hanged himself with a cord from his trousers – tied with the same knot with which he’d fastened his victims’ bras around their necks.
Jack Unterweger’s autobiography is out of print now. And no-one performs his plays any more or reads his poems.
He’ll be remembered only for what he was.
A cold-blooded killer.