Jack Unterweger - International Serial Killer

Austria’s big whoopsie

Mystery Mob!

Happy Friday! Today we’re headed all around the globe to learn about an international serial killer who, at one point in his life, was praised by Nobel prize winners for showing the redemption of man… the only problem was, well, he kept on murdering. So if you’re looking for your daily dose of bummer- here it is! 

But first here’s the answer to Wednesday’s riddle: 

What can run but never walks,

has a mouth but never talks,

has a head but never weeps,

has a bed but never sleeps?

Answer: A river. 

Speaking of the weekly riddle, we’ve definitely noticed how much our readers like the mystery of a good a puzzle. We’ve got some exciting things happening behind the scenes in that regard - one is the digital escape room and the other may be some kind of… riddles-only squad???  So stay tuned.

But for now, let’s get over to Austria. 

So that’s why we don’t trust people with pinky rings

Johann "Jack" Unterweger had an unstable, traumatic, and tumultuous childhood. And in 1974, at age 24, he committed his first murder, strangling 18-year-old Margaret Schafer with her own bra. 

He tried to explain his actions during his trial, claiming “he had seen his mother’s face” in Margaret’s eyes… yikes buddy.

He was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. 

Well that should be the end, right?

Unfortunately, that is not where the story ends. In prison, Unterweger learned to read and write… and write… and write. Short stories, poems, plays, an autobiography… the man spent all of his time putting words on the page. His book Terminal Prison won a literary prize and his autobiography Purgatory became a bestseller and was adapted into a movie. 

Now, we know humans have a bizarre obsession with artists (especially damaged ones) and this particular incident was no exception. Unterweger’s prolificacy gained notable attention from Austria’s creative elite. It seemed like everyone was praising him - writers, artists, politicians, journalists, and 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek. Heck, a campaign to pardon Unterweger even came to pass.

Murderer?? Nah, baby I’m an artiste!

On May 23, 1990, Unterweger was released from his prison term after serving the minimum 15 years. His autobiography was taught in schools, his stories for children were performed on Austrian radio, and he even hosted a television program discussing criminal rehabilitation. 

Unterweger, with his newfound fame, had established himself as both a literary sensation and an important investigative journalist. He interviewed Vienna’s chief of police about a slew of recent prostitute murders that got him enough attention to come work in the United States. He checked into the famous Cecil Hotel, and was even given a “ride along” with the LAPD.

According to Peter Heumer, an Austrian historian, many saw Unterweger as a sign that a person could rise above their conditions & environment: 

“Unterweger represented the great hope of intellectuals that, through the verbalization of problems, you can somehow get to grips with them… We wanted to believe him very badly.”

The prison governor that overlooked Unterweger’s prison claimed, “we will never find a prisoner so well prepared for freedom.”

You’re telling me this ISN’T going to be a happy ending?

At this point, I know you’re waiting for the bad news… so here it goes:

On May 27th, 1992, Unterweger was extradited back to Austria and charged with 11 murders including one in Prague and three in Los Angeles. Every victim was a woman strangled with her own bra.

He was diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

That same night, Unterweger hung himself with a rope made from shoelaces, using the same style knot that was used on all of his victims. 

Well, Austria, did we perhaps learn a few things?

Now I’ve never read any of his work so I’m not one to pre-judge, but what is it about human’s obsessions with artists, even mediocre ones, that we willingly allow them such power? One murder should probably convince us otherwise, right? RIGHT?!

Deep dives below, if you’re into that sort of thing.

As always, 

Stay ‘spicious 

-Andy & Mark

Leave a comment

Pssst. Hey! You. Yeah, you, the one still reading. Question: are you a true fan of Mystery and Crime? If so, join our official Mystery Nibbles Facebook group and our official SubReddit. We discuss all the goods: mysteries, crime, and anything ‘spicious.