A scorpion wished to cross a river. He spied a toad and asked for his help. The toad told him he would gladly take him across so long as he didn’t sting him. The scorpion agreed and the two started out across the river. Mid-way, the scorpion stung the toad. “Why did you do that?” asked the toad. “Now we shall both drown.” “I can’t help it,” replied the scorpion. “It’s in my nature.
Most of us like to think that human nature is good. We like to think that our basic instinct is to care for oneself and for others. I like to think that the majority of people walking down the street are decent. Here in Toronto they’d be more likely to jump into an assault and save a victim than they would to simply film the whole thing and download it onto Youtube. Some people take this “goodness” in people a big step further: that a leopard can indeed change its spots. People can and do make significant changes in their mentality and lifestyle, although I don’t know about changing one’s true nature. Some people, for instance, adopt a new religion, or leave one behind. Others make career changes after spending 30 years in one particular line of work. These are superficial changes in a person’s life. It is not the foundation of their being or soul.
In the early 1990s, Czechoslovakia, the U.S. and Austria, took this philosophy about the possibility of changing one’s nature and actions to a whole new ghastly level. A prolific serial killer, who actually began killing in 1974, travelled throughout these 3 countries committing atrocities against young women, specifically those he believed were prostitutes. Investigation into these women’s’ deaths was swift and intense. in Graz, Austria, which is some distance south of Prague, a prostitute named Brunhilde Masservanished. She was last seen on October 26, 1990. While prostitution is generally considered a high-risk activity, it is legal in Austria and therefore viewed with fewer stigmas than in the U.S. and other places. Sexual murders were rare, and Austria averaged around one prostitute murder per year at the time. Thus, there was reason for concern over this unusual crime, and that concern increased on December 5 when another prostitute, Heidemarie Hammerer, disappeared from Bregenz, an Austrian tourist city that borders Switzerland and Germany.
The killer’s modus operandi seemed to be the same with each woman he murdered: occasionally there were no signs of rape although the women were partially dressed or fully nude and place in explicit poses. They had their jewellery and their wallets, so robbery was not a motive. They were strangled by their own pantyhose, some were stabbed, and they were covered with leaves after the crime. Some of the bodies were terribly bruised and it was obvious with these that a great struggle had taken place as the young woman fought for her life. It was later discovered that these women had indeed been sexually assaulted. In fact the rapes were sadistic, as were the beatings and strangling the women received. In October 1991, Silvia Zagler, Sabine Moitzi, Regina Prem and Karin Eroglu vanished from the streets of Vienna. All had been prostitutes.
Finally, a 70-year-old police retiree entered the investigation. In 1974 he investigated two murders. One woman had been strangled and left in the woods. The victim was a friend of Barbara Scholz, a prostitute who had told the police what happened. She and Jack Unterweger lured the victim into a car and took her into the woods. With a belt from her coat, Jack tied her hands behind her back, beat her, removed her clothes and demanded certain sexual acts. She refused, so he hit her in the head with a steel pipe. Then he used her bra to strangle her to death, leaving her nude body face up in the forest, covered with leaves. When police questioned Unterweger, he confessed. In court, he claimed that he envisioned his mother in front of him as he killed the victim. His anger was such that he could not stop. Perhaps there is something to this “bad parenting” theory after all..” Born to an Austrian prostitute, Theresia Unterweger, on August 16, 1952, Unterweger was abandoned to his grandfathers care. Unterweger never knew who his father was, although it was rumored to have been an American soldier who had been one of her clients. For seven years, the boy lived with his violent, alcoholic grandfather, who brought home a succession of young women and prostitutes. Their house was very small, so the young Unterweger was witness to the sex acts his grandfather conducted with the women. He was sixteen when he was first arrested, and his crime was an assault on a prostitute. Unterweger later told forensic psychiatrists that he had no good memories of his childhood. Virtually all of his experiences were painful, so much so, that he refused to give details to investigators or doctors. The forensic psychologist who examined him pronounced him a sexually sadistic psychopath with narcissistic and histrionic tendencies. “He tends to sudden fits of rage and anger. His physical activities are enormously aggressive with sexually sadistic perversion… He is an incorrigible perpetratorAnger against prostitutes was rare in Austria, and Unterwegers’ mother had been one, indicating misplaced anger. He started early. He stole cars, broke into businesses, and received stolen property. He forced a young woman into acts of prostitution and used money as a sign of denigration of women.
In 1974, while Unterweger was serving a life sentence, the young convict was running the place. He had charm and people responded to him, including the guards. While he went into prison illiterate, he used the time there to learn to read and write. At every opportunity he pored over books. He edited a prison newspaper and literary review. He began writing poems, short stories, and plays that got some attention in the outside world. In 1984, his prison autobiography Fegefeur (Purgatory) was a bestseller and his rage-filled tale, “Endstation Zuchthaus” (Terminus Prison), won a prestigious literary prize. He admitted that by the time he had committed the murder that sent him to prison for life, he had 15 prior convictions for such crimes as rape and burglary. “I wielded my steel rod among prostitutes in Hamburg, Munich and Marseilles,” he wrote. “I had enemies and I conquered them through my inner hatred.”
He might have somehow talked his way into a parole hearing. Fifteen years into his sentence, just a few months before Brunhilde Masser was murdered, Herr Unterweger had been paroled. Not only was Unterweger free, he was a celebrity, an acclaimed bestselling writer and media darling. Investigators were going to have a difficult time without better evidence pinning any of the subsequent crimes on Jack.
One of the most bizarre and disturbing aspects of this case is that while Unterweger was being feted by the chattering classes and invited to glitzy soirees and parties, he was also been asked for his opinions and advice on the latest disappearance of prostitutes that he alone was responsible for. The killer by this time was now known as ‘The Courier’ and Unterweger not only participated on television talk shows about the matter but even conducted broadcast interviews on the street himself. Peter Huemer, a historian and radio talk-show host, was one of a number of Austrian intellectuals who believed that Unterweger possessed a rare talent. Like many people on the left, Huemer found the 1983 autobiography, Purgatory or
the Trip to Jail – Report of a Guilty Man, especially powerful. ‘It was
authentic, a real cry,’ he said. And like many, Huemer signed petitions proclaiming Unterweger a perfect candidate for early release on parole.
Unterweger gave the impression that he was himself a victim. Critics and prison reformists embraced his honesty and the way he’d confronted his past. They hailed him as an example of how art can redeem a criminal. Journalists contacted him for interviews and public support swelled to set him free. ]It seemed clear that he had been reformed. He could contribute to the betterment of society. On May 23, 1990, he won parole. That life is over now, he told the press. Lets get on with the new. In reality, while Unterweger was basking in his celebrity and seeing his books rise up the bestsellers list, he continued brutalising women. At the same time, Unterweger hosted television programs which discussed criminal rehabilitation, and reported as a journalist for the state broadcaster ORF, Austria’s equivalent of BBC, on the very murders for which he was later found responsible.
Police weren’t convinced by Unterweger’s new fame. Instead, they continued a silent investigation, careful not to be caught by journalists, since Unterweger was an in-demand celebrity. Unterweger left Austria and managed to enter into America. He started a campaign to make him look like a victim of police persecution and contacted the Austrian press. Unterweger managed to persuade Austrian newspapers to publish his case for defence. Playing the wronged man role and a victim of police vindictiveness, some of the papers agreed and paid him for an exclusive article. Unterweger had lied to get into the US, he could technically be arrested for this alone. US marshals saw this as an opportunity to arrest him. When police informed him he was wanted for murders in Austria, Unterweger broke down and wept. More tangible evidence against Unterweger was provided through analysis on the knots to tie ligatures on three additional Los Angeles prostitutes; these matched the pantyhose knots used on the victims in Austria. Two and a half months later even the most supportive press of Unterweger changed their views. The devious sociopath also began to lose support from the literary establishment. At the conclusion of his trial, Jack Unterweger was found guilty of nine counts of murder; the Prague victim, three Los Angeles victims and five in Austria. The court sentenced him to life in prison.
The final twist in this dark tale is that Unterweger, being a man who, like many serial killers had a preoccupation with control, could not handle being controlled. While guards were out of sight he hung himself using the string from his prison suit. He used the same knot he had so cruelly practiced on his victims.