Serial killer Johann “Jack” Unterweger was born August 16, 1950 in Styria, a southeastern region of Austria. His mother, Theresia, was a Vietnamese barmaid and waitress who had allegedly worked as a prostitute. Jack’s father was an American soldier named Jack Becker whom his mother met in Trieste, Italy. While pregnant with Jack, Theresia spent time in jail for fraud but was released before his birth. When she was arrested again in 1953, Jack was sent to live with his violent, alcoholic grandfather in Carinthia, California.
In 1966, at the age of sixteen, Jack Unterweger was first arrested for assaulting a sex worker. Over the next nine years, he would be convicted sixteen times, mostly for sexual assault. Then in 1974, he murdered 18-year-old German Margaret Schafer, a sex worker. Unterweger bludgeoned her with an iron bar before strangling her to death with her own bra. At his trial, he told the judge, “I envisioned my mother in front of me, and I killed her.”. In 1976, Unterweger was sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for fifteen years.
During his time in prison, Jack Unterweger wrote poems, short stories, plays and even a best-selling autobiography Fegefeuer Oder Die Reise Ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or the Trip to Jail: Report of a Guilty Man) which he published in 1983. He acquired a fan base from his writing and in 1985, they led a campaign to have him pardoned, five years before he was eligible for parole. Their campaign failed, but on May 23, 1990, just after the fifteen years required, Jack Unterweger was released on parole as an example of successful rehabilitation. Unterweger convinced everyone he had left behind his life of crime, once telling the press, “That life is over now. Let’s get on with the new.”. He was hired as a journalist upon his release and even hosted a show about rehabilitating criminals. His autobiography was taught in schools and adapted into a film. And the children’s stories he had written while in prison began being read over the radio. But within his first year out of prison, he killed six prostitutes in Austria and one Czechoslovakia; Murders which he reported on as a journalist.
In 1991, he was hired by an Austrian magazine to write about crime in Los Angeles, California and the differences in European and American attitudes towards sex workers. While in Los Angeles, Unterweger stayed in the Cecil; A budget hotel in downtown LA which was occupied by Satanic serial killer Richard Ramirez only six years prior. When Unterweger beat, sexually assaulted and murdered three Los Angeles prostitutes by strangling them with their bras (Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez and Sheri Ann Long), police originally theorized it was the work of a Richard Ramirez copy-cat killer.
However, Unterweger was already suspected as the killer in the six Austrian prostitute murders. By the time Austrian police gathered enough evidence and entered his apartment, it was too late; He was already committing murders in America. After Unterweger discovered the Austrian police were onto him, he went on the run. During this time, he called Austrian authorities several times, trying to convince them he was innocent. Law enforcement chased him through Europe, Canada, and the United States before he was finally arrested by the FBI in Miami, Florida on February 27, 1992.
Jack Unterweger was convicted of the murders and on June 29, 1994, at the age of forty-three, he was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Later that night, in his cell, he hung himself with a rope made out of shoelaces and a cord from the pants of a track suit. He was found dead at 3:40am, hanging from a curtain rod in his cellSeveral audio cassette tapes he had recorded were found in his cell after his death; However, their contents have never been released.
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