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Jack Unterweger

Jack Unterweger

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Jack Unterweger was an Austrian serial killer who murdered several women before committing suicide in 1994.

Who Was Jack Unterweger?

Jack Unterweger, abused and abandoned as a child, went on to murder an 18-year-old sex worker. While in prison, he became a writer and was championed by some Austrian intellectuals. He was released only to kill nine more sex workers in Europe and Los Angeles. He was convicted of the murders and found dead on June 29, 1994, having committed suicide.

Early Life

Unterweger was born Johann Unterweger on August 16, 1950, in Austria. Abandoned by his prostitute mother, Jack lived for seven years with an alcoholic grandfather. He turned to crime in his early teens and was first arrested at 16 for assaulting a prostitute.

Murder and Best-Selling Novel

In 1976, Unterweger was convicted of the murder of Margaret Schaefer and sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, he learned to read and write, eventually earning literary respect both inside and outside the prison. In 1984, his prison autobiography Fegefeuer oder die Reise ins Zuchthaus (Purgatory or the Trip to Jail - Report of a Guilty Man) (1983) became a best-seller. Convinced that he was a reformed man, the state released him on parole in 1990.

After his release, Unterweger became a literary celebrity, appearing on talk shows and booking speaking engagements. Fegefeuer was made into a feature film, and the former murderer became a journalist.

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Representative Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, speaks during a House Natural Resources Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, June 29, 2020. The hearing is titled "U.S. Park Police Attack on Peaceful Protesters at Lafayette Square Park." Photographer: Bonnie Cash/The Hill/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Deb Haaland

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - NOVEMBER 09: John Major attends the annual Remembrance Sunday Service at the Cenotaph on Whitehall on November 9, 2014 in London, United Kingdom. People across the UK gather to pay tribute to service personnel who have died in the two World Wars and subsequent conflicts, with this year taking on added significance as it is the centenary of the outbreak of World War One. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

John Major

Sentenced Again and Suicide

Not everyone was convinced of his transformation, however. After a string of prostitute murders matched the details of the Schaefer crime, police put Unterweger under surveillance. After several months of detective work, they had gathered enough evidence to arrest him.

In 1992, Unterweger was detained, but even then, he continued to give interviews freely, proclaiming his innocence and calling upon his colleagues for support. Despite his chatty demeanor, the evidence against him was overwhelming, and he was found guilty of nine counts of murder in 1994. Soon after sentencing, Unterweger used the string from his prison jumpsuit to hang himself.

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