This Supposedly Reformed Killer Found Fame Writing About His Crimes – Then Suddenly Struck Again

Even before Unterweger came into the world, he had the cards stacked against him. His mother, an alleged Austrian prostitute, met an American soldier stationed in Europe in the aftermath of World War II. The couple did not have a happy relationship – in fact, he left her before she gave birth to their son, Unterweger, in 1950.

As an infant and toddler, Unterweger lived with his mother, but she didn’t stick around for long, either. Instead, police arrested her, and her son went to live in Austrian state of Carinthia with his maternal grandfather. But that move did little to make his life better. His grandfather, in fact, had an alcohol addiction and abused the young boy.

Plus, Unterweger’s grandfather enlisted him to commit crimes with him – the boy would aid the older man when he wanted to steal animals from other farms, for example. And, at five years old, he followed his elder’s footsteps when he began to drink alcohol. Things only got worse from there for the young boy.

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What started as stealing farm animals with his grandfather soon morphed into worse crimes – and prison time – for Unterweger. As a teenager, authorities handed him 16 convictions, the majority of which were for burglary and theft. They also found him guilty of sexually assaulting a prostitute and pimping. As a result, he spent the better part of nine years in jail for his crimes.

At that point, Unterweger had discovered an inner passion for the violent crimes he committed. According to the Independent, he admitted, “I wielded my steel rod among the prostitutes and pimps of Hamburg, Munich and Marseilles. I had enemies and conquered them through my inner hatred.”

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In 1974, the violent criminal found another victim in 18-year-old Margret Schafer, a German national. He and his girlfriend at the time, Barbara Scholz, had abducted the teenager and propositioned her. After she said no, though, Unterweger appears to have snapped; first, he used an iron bar to beat her, before strangling her with her own bra.

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When authorities eventually linked Unterweger to the crime, he had an explanation for his actions. The convicted criminal, in fact, testified in court that he thought the teen’s face looked like his mother’s. An uncontrollable, intense rage then swelled up inside of him. Indeed, he argued that he suffered from a psychotic break and killed Schafer because of it.

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However, the court did not accept Unterweger’s anger toward his mother as an excuse for his actions. Instead, they sentenced the young man to life in prison. In Austria, that meant he had to serve a minimum of 15 years behind bars, at which point he could receive parole if he showed signs of rehabilitation.

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Surprisingly, life behind bars did change Unterweger – or, at least, it certainly appeared to do so. The prostitute’s son had, in fact, been illiterate until he landed in prison on murder charges. So, he used his time in jail to learn how to read and write, and he took up both as hobbies.

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Unterweger’s creative pursuits had him writing everything from children’s stories to poems and plays. He often pulled events from his own rough life and childhood to inspire his tales. To that end, his writings often revealed his resentment of his criminal inclinations. Furthermore, he appeared to see himself as a victim of his circumstances, rather than as a cold-blooded killer.

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That theme carried through to the autobiography that Unterweger wrote about his life, Purgatory or the Trip to Jail: Report of a Guilty Man. In it, he told the world his story and described how he had transformed from a violent thief, pimp and killer into a gentler writer with deep feelings.

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Surprisingly, many people ended up reading Unterweger’s words. His book, in fact, became a best-seller, and Austrian teachers even began to incorporate it into their lessons. On top of that, journalists, activists and other powerful people in the country rallied behind the imprisoned author and petitioned for his release from jail.

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Historian and radio-show presenter Peter Huemer fell in with the crowd of Unterweger supporters. Huemer said he felt particularly touched by the prisoner’s autobiography, lauding his natural writing talents and saying that the book had incited an emotional catharsis. The DJ said, “It was authentic, a real cry.”

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And, like many of the convicted killer’s supporters, Huemer genuinely believed that he had changed and deserved early parole. “Unterweger represented the great hope of intellectuals that, through the verbalization of problems, you can get to grips with them. We wanted to believe him very badly,” he said.

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In pursuit of that belief, Unterweger’s supporters began to campaign for his early release from prison in 1985. Although Socialist-leaning creatives, politicians and journalists pushed Rudolf Kirchschläger, the Austrian President, to sign off on a pardon, his hands were tied. The prisoner hadn’t yet served the required minimum of 15 years on his life sentence.

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Five years later, though, Unterweger had met the 15-year requirement of his sentence. As a result, he left prison on parole in May of 1990. According to the Independent, the governor at the time said, “We will never find a prisoner so well prepared for freedom.” Still, some people had their doubts.

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The public had already seen one reformed prisoner show his true colors after an early release. In 1981, writer Norman Mailer petitioned for Jack Henry Abbott to be freed. Abbott had a story very similar to Unterweger’s. He, too, had gone into prison a killer, but had become a renowned writer, and many believed he had completely changed.

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Mailer’s campaign worked and Abbott did walk free – but not for long. Instead, he resumed his murderous spree within weeks of leaving prison. Upon hearing the news of the parolee’s regression to his violent ways, the writer notoriously remarked, “Culture is worth a little risk.” Austrians who rallied for Unterweger’s release tried not to compare him to Abbott.

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And it seemed as though Unterweger, too, wanted to steer clear of such an ending. Instead, he basked in the glow of his new-found celebrity – his writings had thrust him into the limelight and he happily accepted the attention. The former prisoner, in fact, often appeared on TV talk shows and helmed book readings.

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From there, Unterweger became Austria’s de facto crime journalist. Many, it seems, saw him as an expert in the subject after his rehabilitation. Not only did he write about others’ wrongdoings, but also he gave the police pointers ? and criticism ? for their handling of particular cases. The newly freed writer clearly accepted his reputation as a bad-boy-turned-good; behind his reformed-criminal facade, however, something sinister lurked.

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A mere five months after Unterweger’s May release from prison, his journalistic work had taken him to Prague. He was there, he claimed, to research the Czech Republic capital’s red light district for a work assignment. And, at the same time, police found the body of Blanka Bockova close to the Vltava River.

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Bockova, aged 30, worked as a prostitute in Prague; she had children at home as well. Her killer had not only throttled her with her own underwear, but they also stabbed the young woman multiple times in the buttocks. Then, they threw her body in a stream, where police found her shortly thereafter.

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Within the year, seven similar crimes took place in Austria. There, Sabine Moitzl, Brunhilde Masser, Elfriede Schrempf, Karin Eroglu-Sladky, Heidi Hammerer, Silvia Zagler and Regina Prem had all died in the same way. It seems someone had strangled them all to death with their bras. Then, the killer hid their bodies in woodland.

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In the meantime, though, Unterweger continued to write about the slew of murders, many of which involved sex workers. He spoke to the police and gave his own thoughts on the spree. No one had any idea, however, that the reformed criminal knew more than he let on about the many killings happening around him.

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But Unterweger conducted business as usual; moreover, he continued to receive crime-centric writing commissions. In June of 1991, for example, he traveled from his European home, headed for Los Angeles, California, on assignment. His Austrian editors tasked him with researching and writing about prostitution in the City of Angels.

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On Unterweger’s trip, he had the opportunity to ride around L.A. in cop cars, and even interviewed locals, including members of the L.A.P.D., about the city’s crime trends. Once again, a series of new crimes coincided with the writer’s visit. Indeed, someone murdered three sex workers, using their bras to choke each one to death.

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During Unterweger’s absence from Austria, the walls started closing in on the so-called reformed killer. Someone had thrown his name into the ring as a potential suspect in the sex-worker killings just as police started to notice that the murders appeared to be linked. Authorities, therefore, had been watching him up until he left for L.A. However, they couldn’t connect him to the Austria-based crimes – yet.

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Unterweger’s trip to California would help crack the case, though. Afterward, authorities in Vienna caught wind of the fact that multiple murders took place during his stay. And, just like the Austrian murders, the L.A. culprit had also targeted sex workers. With the dots connected, then, police got a search warrant for their suspect’s home.

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Once inside, the police realized that their suspect had, at the very least, broken the parameters of his parole. Unterweger had stockpiled several weapons that a former felon like himself could not have. Nevertheless, he wasn’t there to give an answer to those who thought of him as a suspect.

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As soon as Unterweger discovered that police suspected him in the killings, he left town. But he wasn’t alone; his girlfriend, just 18 years old, was with him. First, the pair hid out in Paris. Then, they boarded a flight and headed to Miami on a trip that honored the former prisoner’s most beloved TV show, Miami Vice.

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From Unterweger’s American perch, he contacted an Austrian newspaper to tell them of his innocence. He even tried to sell his story to other outlets as he awaited exoneration. His girlfriend, meanwhile, earned a living as a stripper. Soon, though, the police started to close in and, in February of 1992, they took action against the supposedly reformed killer.

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The U.S. Marshal Service stepped in to support the Austrian police in February of 1992. And in May of that year, the former organization extradited Unterweger back to the latter country. The convicted criminal faced charges for 11 different murders – the one that had taken place in Prague, the three L.A. murders, and the seven Austrian slayings.

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Although Unterweger maintained his innocence in all 11 killings, prosecutors had two pieces of evidence that linked him to multiple crimes. For one thing, experts took the stand and confirmed with nearly 100 percent certainty that a hair found in the writer’s car matched with strands from the head one of the victims.

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On another victim, authorities found an errant thread clinging to her clothes. That tiny fiber matched one of the scarves in Unterweger’s wardrobe. That seemed to connect him to the crimes, as did the fact that all of the women had died similar fashion. In fact, forensic experts said in court that the same person had perpetrated all of the crimes.

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Prosecutors also used Unterweger’s own movements against him. He had been close to the scene of the crimes when each took place, even the ones outside of Austria. Some witnesses took the stand, too, and they confirmed that they had seen the journalist’s car close to what would become crime scenes in the case.

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The evidence presented against Unterweger, though, proved almost entirely circumstantial. Indeed, no one could place him with any of the victims, and none of the DNA evidence was overwhelming. And, yet, jurors found him guilty of the majority of the crimes, nine of the 11 homicides.

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On June 29, 1994, Unterweger received his sentence and, this time, he faced life in prison without chance of parole. Although he continued to claim his innocence, those who once supported the convict now changed their tune. Huemer, who once petitioned for his release, said, “I feel I was deceived, and that I am partly to blame.”

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But the story of this Austrian serial killer would end within hours of his sentencing. Throughout the trial, he had told his attorney that he would commit suicide if he was found guilty. The lawyer didn’t take the threat seriously. Unterweger, though, went through with his plan once he had returned to his cell.

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After Unterweger’s death, psychologists theorized that he had suffered from narcissistic personality disorder. That could well explain his lifelong lack of empathy and his need for attention. If this killer did, indeed, crave the latter, then he’d be happy to know that a movie about him is in development, Entering Hades, and Michael Fassbender will star in the flick.

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