Unknown even to many of the most serious true crime followers, Jack Unterweger took his supporters and police investigators on a tragic but fascinating roller-coaster ride that would touch lives from his native Austria all the way to the West Coast of the United States. Before he was through he would claim eleven lives, con his way out of prison once, and become a celebrity writer.
Born in 1951 to an Austrian prostitute (his father was an American soldier he never knew) Unterweger was a habitual sex offender that finally earned a life sentence in 1976 after murdering prostitute Margaret Schaefer, 18, by bludgeoning and strangling her. Sadly, life in prison did not turn out to be his final fate. Claiming to be totally rehabilitated, he began writing and after fourteen years fellow Austrians that admired his literary talents and fell for his charm successfully petitioned the courts for Unterweger’s release in 1990.
Fashioning himself as a prime example of the possibilites of prison rehabilitation Unterweger became a bit of a celebrity after his release. The prostitute’s son was now an honorary member of Austria’s elite, complete with the money and fame that often accompany such status. Unfortunately for Austrian prostitutes, he was nothing close to rehabilitated and six more women perished at his hands during his first year of freedom.
Hired by an Austrian publication to write a series of articles on Los Angeles prostitutes, Unterweger used the opportunity to continue his reign of terror on American soil. Shannon Exley, Irene Rodriguez, and Peggy Booth fell prey to the Austrian serial slayer in June and July. All were beaten, strangled with their own bras, and violated with tree limbs.
Shortly after his arrival back in Austria, authoritites put two-and-two together and planned to arrest Unterweger but the celebrity serial killer eluded justice and escaped. Leading his pursuers on a chase through Europe, Canada, and the U.S. he was finally cornered in Miami, Florida. At some point along the way he had found time to murder a pair of Chechoslovakian prostitutes.
Charged with eleven homicides, the Austrian government agreed to combine the Chechoslovakia and United States killings with those in their own country and took Unterweger to trial in April of 1994. Up against overwhelming evidence and the testimony of an imported FBI profiler Unterweger was found guilty in nine of the eleven murders and sentenced again to life in prison on June 18. He hung himself in his cell the following day.