Serial killers who utilize the art of persuasion are nothing new, but there is one killer in the annals of history whom I believe took this art to a whole new level. His name was Johann “Jack” Unterweger. Jack was born in 1951 to a Viennese barmaid mother and an American GI father he never met. He was abandoned by his Mom before the age of two, left alone with an abusive, alcoholic grandfather.
And so began his life of crime. It started early, Jack was drinking by the age of five and getting into fights before he reached double digits. As he grew, his crimes escalated with Jack spending most of his teens in and out of jail. In December 1974, a twenty three year old Jack crossed paths with Margret Schafer, an 18-year-old German girl whom he murdered by strangulation using her bra to create a ligature. He was captured soon after and sent to prison to serve a life sentence. But that’s not at all what happened.
Austria, 1990: After serving just 15 years of a life sentence for murder, Jack Unterweger was released. His premature freedom due largely in part to the immense support he received for his jail cell writings. Poems and short stories all written by Untetweger somehow convinced the powers that be of his rehabilitation. Unterweger’s 1984 autobiography, “Fegefeuer oder die Reise ins Zuchthaus” which roughly translates to ‘Purgatory or the Trip to Jail- Report of a Guilty Man” became a best seller. Intellects, historians and influencers like Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, Peter Huemer, and Alfred Kolleritsch who was editor of the magazine ‘Manuskripte’ all were moved by his story and supported his release. With the backing of these individuals, somehow, some way he was deemed rehabilitated and suitable for release back into the public.
In a matter of weeks, Jack was tooling around in a white Mustang, vanity plate and all, doing the talk show circuit. But that wasn’t everything, Jack was up to his old tricks again and his newfound fame afforded him many opportunities to keep it under wraps. He was set free for just a few months when he murdered Blanka Bokova, a Czech prostitute, she was strangled with her bra in September 1990. The following month, Brunhilde Masser was murdered. Heidi Hammerer was killed in December 1990. The carnage continued, all while he was living the life of a successful author. In 1991, Elfriede Schrempf, Silvia Zagler, Sabine Moitzi, Regina Prem and Karin Sladke-Eroglu were all murdered and dumped in forests near Vienna. He even made his way to the United States reportedly to do research on red light Districts, more specifically the prostitutes of the LA area, and guess where he stayed? The Cecil Hotel. The same notorious hotel that hosted Richard Ramirez and served as Elisa Lam’s watery grave. While in Los Angeles Unterweger murdered three more women all prostitutes. They were Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Sherri Ann Long. The distinctive lingerie ligature made from his victims’ bra straps had become his calling card. This modus operandi would eventually lead to his capture when after evading police for several months he was captured in Miami in February 1992.
In June 1994, Unterweger was convicted of multiple murders by an Austrian court. He was sentenced to life with no possibility of parole.
But Jack Unterweger would carry his fate in his own hands. That same night he would hang himself in his prison cell. Using the same ligature knot he had tied around all his victims.
Newton, Michael. “An Encyclopedia of Modern Serial Killers – Hunting Humans”. Murderpedia.
“Murderer’s ‘final freedom’: The bizarre life of Jack Unterweger, poet. The Independent. 1994-07-03.