Jack Unterweger

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Jack Unterweger
Jack Unterweger.jpg
Full Name: Johann "Jack" Unterweger
Alias: The Vienna Strangler
Origin: Judenburg, Styria, Austria
Occupation: Writer
Hobby: Writing books and plays
Goals: Convince the public he had been rehabilitated (successful until 1994)
Crimes: Murder
Sexual assault
Type of Villain: Serial Killer

Johann "Jack" Unterweger (16 August 1950 – 29 June 1994) was an Austrian serial killer known as the Vienna Strangler. Initially convicted in 1974 of a single murder, he 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, he was released on parole in 1990.

After his release, he became a minor celebrity and worked as a playwright and journalist, but within months he began to kill women serially. After being convicted of an additional nine murders in 1994, he committed suicide in prison by hanging himself.


Unterweger was born in 1950 to Theresia Unterweger, a Viennese barmaid and waitress, and an unknown American soldier whom she met in Trieste, Italy. Some sources describe his mother as a prostitute. His 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 and burglary, but also for pimping and sexual assault on a prostitute; he spent most of those eight years in jail.

In 1974, Unterweger murdered 18-year-old German citizen Margaret Schäfer by strangling her with her own bra, and in 1976 he was arrested and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Unterweger 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.

In 1985, a campaign to pardon and release Unterweger from prison began. Austrian President Rudolf Kirchschläger 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 the author and 2004 Nobel Prize winner Elfriede Jelinek, Günter Grass, Peter Huemer and 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, his autobiography was taught in schools and his stories for children were performed on the radio. Unterweger himself hosted television programs which discussed criminal rehabilitation, and he worked as a reporter for the public broadcaster ORF, where he reported on stories concerning the very murders for which he was later found guilty.

Law enforcement later found that Unterweger killed a prostitute named Blanka Bockova in Czechoslovakia, and seven more in Austria in 1990 (Brunhilde Masser, 39; Heidi Hammerer, 31; Elfriede Schrempf, 35; Silvia Zagler, 23; Sabine Moitzl, 25; Karin Eroglu-Sladky, 25; Regina Prem, 32) in the first year after his release, all garroted with their bras. In 1991, Unterweger was hired by an Austrian magazine to write about crime in Los Angeles, California, and the differences between U.S. and European attitudes to prostitution. Unterweger met with 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 prostitutes – Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Peggy Booth – were beaten, sexually assaulted with tree branches, and strangled with their own brassieres.

In Austria, Unterweger was suggested as a suspect for the prostitute murders. In the absence of other suspects, the police took a serious look at Unterweger and kept him under surveillance until he went to the U.S. – ostensibly as a reporter – observing nothing to connect him with the murders.

Police in Graz eventually had enough evidence to issue a warrant for his arrest, but Unterweger had left by the time they entered his home. After law enforcement agencies chased him and his girlfriend, Bianca Mrak, through Switzerland, France, and the United States, he was finally arrested by the U.S. 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. He was extradited to Austria on 27 May 1992, and charged with 11 homicides, including one which had occurred 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 him with narcissistic personality disorder and presented his findings to the court on 20 June 1994. On 29 June 1994, Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole.

That night, he 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 prostitutes.

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.