PROFILES U-Z: UNTERWEGER,
One of the more interesting stories of the
last 10 years or so, Unterweger was a rare international serial
killer AFTER being released from prison where he did 14 years
for murdering a prostitute with her own bra.
He was born in Austria in 1951, the illegitimate
son of an austrian prostitute and an American soldier. He was
a problem child from day one, throwing horrific tantrums and running
around town of his own free will.
By 16 he was arrested for assaulting a local
prostitute, and over the next nine years he tacked on 16 other
convictions for the same charge. As a matter of fact, in those
nine years, he spent eight of them in and out of prison.
When he was freed in 1976, he quickly got
arrested again, this time for the more serious charge of murdering
a prostitute with an iron bar, then strangling her for good measure.
For this he was sentenced to life in prison,
and he made the most of his time, taking up creative writing.
He wrote short stories, plays, poems, and his own autobiography.
The upper crust art society of Austria were
all taken aback by his work and declared him a talented, reformed
man, and all got together demanding his freedom. They all felt
that the 14 years he spent in prison cured his violent outbursts
and with this, gained incredible insight into the arts.
Incredibly enough, Unterweger was indeed paroled
in May of 1990, with the statement, "That life is over now,
let's get on with the new."
He was soon all over Austria partying with
high society and living the wealthy lifestyle. He was also a frequent
guest on television, speaking of his rehabilitation and posing
as a stark example of prison reform.
Fitting into his life quite nicely, Unterweger
got himself designer cloths, a new car, new friends and a striking
new girlfriend. All was going well for Jack, including a string
of murders that had the police baffled.
In the first year alone after he was released,
police later found out he killed 6 prostitutes around Austria.
In 1991, Unterweger was hired by an Austrian
magazine to go to Los Angeles and write about the crime situation.
This was perfect for him, as he now had new ground to troll for
victims. He also managed to ride along with L.A. police officers
and write a few articles on Hollywood whores.
In the month that he stayed in L.A., three
prostitutes were murdered, strangled with their own bra and savagely
beaten, while also being sexually assaulted with tree branches.
What Unterweger didn't count on was the quickness
the authorities had in identifying the immistakable M.O. of "Jack".
It wasn't long before Interpol were crashing down his door in
Vienna, but he was already gone with his young girlfriend.
They supposedly went through France, Switzerland,
Canada, and the U.S., all the while Jack finding time to call
the Austrian media, telling them that he was innocent of the crimes.
Police caught up to him in Miami, Florida
through credit card receipts, and he was eventually sent back
to Austria after an argument between the two nations over who
got to keep him.
In custody once again, Unterweger was officially
charged with the death of 11 prostitutes: six in Austria, three
in L.A., and two more in Czechoslovakia.
After some lengthy delays with his trial,
it finally went before a judge in April of 1994 and lasted for
two months, with the jury returning a verdict of guilty on nine
counts of murder (he was acquitted of two charges).
Sentenced to life in prison without any hope
for parole, Unterweger took the easy way out on June 29th, 1994,
hanging himself in his cell.
BOOKS: Nothing yet, but there's a
great documentary on him, if I'm not mistaken it was originally
As far as 19th century serial killers are
concerned, there are the well known, such as Jack the Ripper from
London, and H.H. Holmes from Chicago, and then there are the ones
that people SHOULD know about, like Vincenz Verzini from Italy,
and this week's profile, Joseph Vacher from France.
Far more vicious than his London counterpart,
Vacher was active over four years, killing as he went wandering
the French countryside, begging for food.
Right after the rash of prostitute killings
in London around 1888, the south east part of France experienced
a far greater string of vicious mutilation murders.
From the middle of 1894 through 1897, no less
than eleven men and women were murdered, both mutilated and sexually
assaulted around the woods of Tournon.
So vicious were the killings, the French authorities
investigating the deaths tabbed the murders the work of the "Ripper
of the South East."
It wasn't until a local vagrant named Joseph
Vacher confessed to the murders, while incarcerated for a seperate
attack on a couple collecting wood nearby, that authorities were
able to put a face to the crimes terrorizing the area for the
last four years.
Homeless and disturbed, Vacher was a man who
just wandered the southeast area of France, begging and stealing
whatever he needed to survive. He learned this early on in his
life, being born into extreme poverty, the 15th child of a poor
He tried to escape the trappings of his impoverished
life by joining the French army in 1892, but after what he percieved
as lack of appreciation, he tried unsuccessfully to slit his own
throat. In 1893 his mental state was again tested when a young
woman rejected his advances. First, he tried killing her by shooting
her three times, but when he failed in that attempt, he then tried
to commit suicide by shooting himself in the head. All he managed
to do this time was get the bullet lodged in his ear, causing
paralysis of the muscles on the right side of his face, while
also damaging his right eye.
However, more importantly for things to come,
he did irreparable damage to his brain, leading to mental instability.
After spending a few months in a mental hospital in Saint-Robert,
Vacher was discharged in April of 1894, choosing to wander aimlessly
without work or permanent residence.
It was quite a sight for area villagers to
see this filthy, deformed looking man wandering around, begging
for food, with an eye that frequently discharged puss. Even when
he wanted to communicate with others, it was difficult to understand
him because of the partial paralysis in his face.
Over the course of the next four years, Vacher
mutilated and killed seven women and four men. He would just wander
around the countryside, with an assortment of knives, cleavers,
and scissors handy, and come across an unsuspecting villager,
begging for food. Most of the time, he would rudely demand to
be fed, and was on his way once the stranger was given any morsel
But sometimes, when the kindhearted person
would turn to get him something, Vacher would attack, sexually
assaulting and butchering their bodies.
One day, while wandering around as usual,
Vacher came upon a young woman gathering wood. He immediately
attacked, but unknown to him, her husband and young sons were
nearby, also gathering wood. Upon hearing her screams, the family
came running, and they soon overpowered the vagrant.
Once in custody, authorities considered Vacher
as the elusive killer, but there was no evidence, and more imporantly,
Then, for no reason whatsoever, Vacher decided
to confess to everything he did. He went on to tell a judge that,
"Yes, I committed them all in moments of frenzy." He
went on to explain that he felt he was insane because as a child,
he was bitten by a rabid dog, so he was not responsible for his
actions as an adult later on.
He also tried telling anyone who would listen
that it was others' reactions to his deformed face (because of
the attempted suicide) that led him to hate others so. However,
this was obviously just smoke, since Vacher was well on his way
to more serious crime by the time he was 19, as evidenced by his
conviction of attempting to rape a young boy.
None of this worked for Vacher, and on December
31st, 1898, he was guillotined outside Tournon.
BOOKS: "Murder in France";
some collective books, such as "The Worst Killers of All-Time",
and "The Encyclopedia of Serial Killers."